Weekly News Update 19 March 2013

Highlights:
Can Yemen be a nation united?
Foreign Policy — 14 March 2013
The greatest source of Yemen’s continuing problems is the poor foundation of its 1990 national union. The political culture of this early union unfortunately showed an intolerance of differences among people from multiple regions. Yemeni society was always more diverse than indicated by the old north-south border. Intolerance of political and social differences existed on both sides of this border. But it was especially bad in the north among Sanaa’s elites, most who preferred to define the national interest in exclusivist terms. Through much of the 1990s and 2000s, these elites refused to admit a prominent newspaper publisher from Aden, the late Hisham Bashraheel, had as much right to define the national interest as anyone in Sanaa. Bashraheel and his family were constantly harassed by Saleh’s regime, which raided the Bashraheel home in 2010 and closed down their newspaper, al-Ayyam, the oldest in the country. Many other Yemenis, like factory workers in Tihama, business entrepreneurs in al-Mukalla, and devout Zaidi followers in Saada, have also been denied opportunities to define the national interest in their own terms. Until all Yemenis find a way to create a system of government tolerant of differences, the country will be burdened with division, conflict, poverty, and a lack of development. Indeed, the tolerance of differences is the only way for Yemen’s national union to continue.

Overcoming the pitfalls of Yemen’s National Dialogue
Foreign Policy — 18 March 2013
The government has called up 60,000 troops to ensure security for the dialogue in the capital; while the streets are generally quiet now, checkpoints have been established on nearly every street and the city’s residents are holding their breath. Yet despite opposition to the dialogue, it is clear that the status quo is unsustainable. The oft-repeated mantra among many Yemenis is that the question is one of dialogue or civil war. Given the stark choice, there is consensus that the dialogue will proceed. The most important issue to be discussed is the status of the South, which joined Sanaa in 1994 after a bloody civil war, and has suffered persistent and systemic marginalization since.

Yemen’s Friday of Indignity
Huffington Post — 18 March 2013
Compensation to the victims of the uprising is lagging alongside prosecutions. Only in recent months have the authorities begun to dole out partial payments, equaling at most a few thousand dollars, to families of slain protesters or to severely injured survivors. In late January, dozens of these wounded, many of them amputees, began camping outside the cabinet building in Sanaa to press their demand for medical treatment abroad. On February 12, Central Security Forces attacked some of the wounded protesters and beat a member of parliament who was demonstrating with them so severely that he was hospitalized. When pressed on accountability, Yemeni officials rightly plead to having many burning issues on their plate. These include a Huthi rebellion in the north, armed separatists in the south, al Qaeda militants seemingly everywhere, a mysterious arms shipment allegedly from Iran, and a humanitarian crisis. But justice that falls by the wayside was a driver of Yemen’s uprising.

National Dialogue/Southern Protests:
The dialogue begins
Economist — 18 March 2013
Once nicknamed “the statue” for his stolid passivity during his decade-and-a-half as Mr Saleh’s deputy, Mr Hadi has done better than many predicted. Merely surviving in the top job is an achievement. Yet few Yemenis have forgotten that it was a back-room deal within the old ruling circle rather than the popular will that brought the new man to power, let alone an election. Outside Yemen’s main cities, the central government’s control is weak. Despite abandoning their southern strongholds in Abyan province in June last year, rebels linked to al-Qaeda have proved resilient. Fighting in the central province of Bayda has brought the battle closer to Sana’a, the capital, where assassinations of government people are frequent. In the far north, rebels belonging to the Houthi clan have more or less carved out a state within a state. And in the south, which was a separate country until 1990, voices calling for secession now dominate the discussion. Across the country, the economy is in dire straits.

Yemen parties debate new political system
AP — 18 March 2013
In his opening remarks, Hadi told the 500 participants that after the uprising, the new Yemen must no longer be ruled by “one family, tribe, region, or sect.” Instead, he said, “justice and equality must prevail.” “Over the past decades, we have failed because of our inability to reach a wise political governing system … the tribe and the family were in control,” he said. During Saleh’s rule, his family dominated most positions of power and wealth, and he appointed his sons, relatives and clan members to key government, military and security positions.

Separatist rally challenges Yemen’s reform efforts
Reuters — 18 March 2013
As delegates were taking their seats, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the southern city of Aden to demand secession. Flags of a once-independent southern Yemeni country fluttered from cars and buildings across the port city. There were separatist marches in other southern towns including Mukalla, Tarim, al-Shihr and Sayoum, witnesses said. Hundreds of security forces took positions outside Aden’s main buildings such as banks and government offices but no clashes were reported, the witnesses said.

Yemen talks to reshape country post-Arab Spring begin today
The National — 19 March 2013
Hanging over the talks are fears that militant groups will target the dialogue, which will initially be held in the presidential palace. New sets of security measures for the capital were announced last week. Dozens of security checkpoints were set up and 60,000 troops deployed throughout Sanaa. The military has pleaded with tribal and political leaders that their staff should not be armed during the dialogue. Despite the heavy security, many remain optimistic that the dialogue sessions would provide a framework conducive to change.

Challenges are great, but hope remains for Yemen
The National — 19 March 2013
Yemen has already tried its hand at numerous forms of government under which corruption and favouritism flourished. It is a reality that the state couldn’t possibly tackle alone. Hence the dire need for a united stance and for a fresh start after a most tumultuous past. To hope for utter agreement between all groups concerned with the national dialogue would be far-fetched, especially in such a short span. However, Yemenis have overcome many predicaments in the past and they can be trusted to overcome their differences as long as the good of the country takes precedence to narrow regional, tribal and personal interests, the editorial concluded.

Police kill protester in Yemen anti-dialogue demo: activist
AFP via Saudi Gazette — 18 March 2013
Police shot dead a protester in the historic southeastern Yemeni city of Tarim during a demonstration Monday against a national dialogue that opened in the capital, an activist said. The protester was killed “by police gunfire during clashes with demonstrators protesting against the dialogue,” Southern Movement activist Fuad Rashid told AFP. Another activist was wounded while police arrested four others in the town located in the southeastern Hadramawt province, said Rashid.

Where is the transition heading?
Open Democracy — 12 March 2013
In conclusion, the positive points are: there is no civil war, the national dialogue might yet come up with a more democratic system, and reform of the military/security institutions could improve their performance. But massive difficulties remain: the dominance of Islamists in the transition is discouraging, the absence of any challenge to the neo-liberal economic recipes does not bode well for improvements in living conditions of the poor, many of the country’s fundamental basic problems (primarily water) are currently not addressed, the former leadership is still active and ‘obstructing’ the transition as are some of the southern separatists, the National Dialogue may fail to solve the major political dilemma and the reform of the military/security apparatus may not be completed successfully.

The show must go on
Yemen Times — 18 March 2013
The days leading up to the conference were filled with political tension and protest. When the names of the President’s List—a selection of 62 participants, handpicked by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi—were announced on Saturday, opposition groups were outraged when they saw that list included allies of former-President Saleh.  Prime Minister Mohammed Basundwa said he would not attend the inauguration, saying he cannot attend a conference full of “thugs and murderers,” according to Deputy Secretary General of the NDC Yaser Al-Ruaini. U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar pleaded with Basundwa, but could not talk him out of his position, Ruaini said. Meanwhile, in Aden, on Sunday a rally was staged by the Hirak, or the Southern Separatist Movement, protesting participation in the dialogue with leaders announcing a mass protest in the streets to coincide with the start of the conference.

Saleh:
Saleh loyalists impeding transition: Yemeni minister
Ahram — 18 March 2013
Mohamed Mikhlafi, Yemen’s Minister of Legal Affairs said that ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh will attend the national dialogue process that starts on Monday. In an interview with Ahram Online, Mikhlafi said that youth representatives, social movements, women and all political factions will join the dialogue in order to openly discuss the current challenges to the process of building a “democratic state” in Yemen.

Hot Pants
Foreign Policy — 14 March 2013
For Yemenis like my friend, it’s hard to get very worked up over something like the Saleh museum. He may no longer be president, but Saleh still heads one of Yemen’s most powerful political parties, still makes periodic speeches, and still resides in a well-protected home in central Sanaa.  Even those who continue to fight the good fight have largely responded to the museum’s opening with little more than mild bemusement. Meeting with a bunch of activist friends the day before my visit, I barely elicited a reaction when I announced my plan to visit the museum. The real offense to the revolution, one seethed, are the presumptuous gestures toward “youth inclusion” in a transitional process presided over by most of the same people Yemeni youths had taken to the streets to overthrow.

Economy/Governance:
Hundreds take part in Yemen mass wedding
Al-Arabiya — 14 March 2013
The event was organized by a local charity to help young people who are unable to afford expensive ceremonies. Dressed in traditional white robes, with white scarves wrapped around their heads, about 250 grooms filled a sports hall, carrying curved golden swords on their shoulders. Mass weddings have gained ground in recent years in Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries. Apart from arranging the ceremony, the organizers also help the couples in other ways. “We began with educating them before marriage, and then carried out medical examinations to detect genetic diseases and dangerous viruses. Thirdly, we provide limited financial assistance,” said Abdulsalam al-Salami, who chairs the charity that organized the event.

Security/Violence:
In Yemen, youths are helping to fight terrorism
Daily Star — 19 March 2013
The campaign, which has been conducted in cooperation with the Yemeni Education Ministry, encourages and authorizes Youth Creativity members to work in schools, and includes a number of activities. First, Yemeni scholars and religious leaders speak with students during the daily morning assembly about the dangers of terrorist groups. They give examples of the negative effects on both the individual and on Yemen in general. In addition, the 120 members of the Youth Creativity national team, in other words youths who were given special skills-training on counterterrorism by Yemeni trainers, circulate through schools and give classes for all levels. This team promotes further awareness by distributing pamphlets and screening videos about the dangers and destruction caused by terrorism.

Intensified security procedures to secure the NDC
Yemen Times — 18 March 2013
The Military Committee assigned with National Dialogue Conference security preparations has doubled security checkpoints in Sana’a since Saturday in preparation for the National Dialogue Conference, scheduled to start Monday. According to General Ali Saeed Obaid, a spokesman for the committee, security checkpoints are in place on 12 of Sana’a’s main avenues, in addition to several side streets.

Guns for sale
Economist — 18 March 2013
JIHANA, a nondescript village half an hour outside the Yemeni capital Sana’a, is a gun lover’s paradise. Yemen boasts a score of arms markets and Jihana is among the largest. The shops along the main road, as well as those tucked away in the market’s dusty depths, alternate between convenience stores and weapons outlets. Kalashnikovs, Turkish glocks, tank artillery and even “Libyans”, black rifles supposedly supplied by the Qaddafi regime, are all available. How and why weapons move through Jihana in such large quantities, so close to the seat of power, is worrying. Ahmed Seif, director of the government-funded Sheba Centre for Strategic Studies says that the authorities are involved in the trade in weapons. “This is hugely profitable business. It’s mafia-like.” While that remains the case, tighter controls are unlikely.

Press:
Possible Military Role in Journalist’s Killing
Human Rights Watch — 16 March 2013
Yemeni authorities should ensure that an investigation into the killing of a journalist and another man in Aden fully and impartially examines the military’s possible role and brings those responsible to justice. On February 22, 2013, at 12:30 a.m., two men wearing military vests shot to death Wagdy al-Shabi, a 28-year-old journalist, in his home in Aden, as well as a visitor, Wadoud Ali Saleh al-Somati, al-Shabi’s relatives told Human Rights Watch. A Defense Ministry statement later that morning said that al-Shabi was a “media officer” with the armed group al Qaedain the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who was killed in an attack on the military, but the ministry revoked the statement several hours later. Al-Shabi wrote for al-Ayyam newspaper until it was shut down by the government in 2009 for allegedly supporting southern separation from Yemen. An article under his name appeared on an Islamist online forum in 2012, praising the Herak southern secessionist movement and Ansar al-Sharia, an armed group formed by AQAP to benefit from its growing militant youth movement in Yemen. Al-Shabi’s family expressed doubts that he wrote the article.

Art:
The Art Scene in Yemen Flourishes in a Basement
Al-Monitor — 18 March 2013
Khaled Haidar led on his keyboard and the guitarists joined in. Methal Hamadi, 22, occasionally put down her pink guitar to play the harmonica. She also plays the piano, the ukulele and the Melodicas she ordered on Amazon — much to the dismay of her mother, the breadwinner of the family, who wants to see her daughter have a career and make good money. So, much like many talented young Middle Easterners, Hamadi is studying medicine. And if playing is prayer, then the Basement has provided a place of worship for a lot of these young artists. It all started three years ago in Saba al-Suleihi’s basement, when it was a part of the Yemini Knowledge Exchange Forum, which organized cultural and political events every Monday and Thursday. Al-Suleihi, who has since moved to Djibouti, taught workshops and organization skills to many of the activists who run the Basement Foundation today.

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