Arab Spring of Nations: what's next? -- Yemen: Troubles despite serious negotiations

by Wael Abdel Hamid, Arab Spring Series // Published April 1, 2011
The Arab world is still in trouble. Revolutionary nations Tunisia and Egypt are struggling for a successful, peaceful and democratic transition. Other peoples, especially in Yemen, Jordan and Bahrain, are still fighting for change.  In a blog series introduced on March 22 , I am focusing on what's going on in Arab countries at the center of change.  

The US has not imposed democracy in Yemen, its people have”. This quote from Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 1978 at the proclamation of Republic of Yemen has been publicly questioned as protests in the country have increased in 2011. They recognize that the Yemeni people do not enjoy full democracy, ask for major reforms including the eventual fall of Saleh.

 The socio-economical stability of Yemen is not positive. The World Bank report in 2006 revealed Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries. The poverty gap index was 8, 9% (gaps between poor peoples’ standard of living and the poverty line) and acknowledged that social spending had decreased in the last decade; water is scarce. 
To this terrible shape, there is the addition of both corruption (which is ubiquitous, with Yemen rated 119th out of 180 in the Corruption rankings) and a history of human rights being trampled

Riding on the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples examples, Yemeni have been protesting the steel hand rule of their president. Reactions to the protests at times have been quite violent. On March 18th, a protest ended with military and police killing at least 30 protestors in an action that inflamed public opinion against the government.  

But Ali Abdullah Saleh also learned lessons from these troubles. Thus, he is consequently acting to absorb protests by allowing major concessions. Among his main acts, he promised that he will leave his chair at the end of his mandate in 2013 and that his son, Ahmed Saleh, will not run to succeed him. 

On March 23, opposition parties submitted to their president five crucial reforms which were accepted by the leader to calm the violent demonstrations occurring in Sanaa, the capital city. These five points demand:
The creation of a national unity’s government responsible of the formation of a national committee for formulating a new constitution
Changing electoral law implementing Proportional representation list system 
Reshuffling the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum
Electing a new Parliament that will form the government of national unity and which will elect a new president by the end of 2011
Voting on a new constitution

President Saleh seems to give more and more concessions, and is may leave power by the end of this year. More than Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt, he seems to insure the civil transfer of power, knowing that the revolution his people are leading is hopeless for his political career. 

Moreover, it is promising that he supports the future implementation of proportional representation in a country whose political landscape has been crippled by many opposition parties has stifled for more than 30 years. It is surely an efficient reform to lead the transition and settle fair grassroots of democracy as many experts advise it

However, Yemeni youth are indeed skeptical of the president’s goodwill as they keep on protesting, sinking the country in a state that looks more and more like the Libyan civil war. Protesters are asking for the complete resignation of Saleh, rejecting his proposals and potentially creating a political deadlock. On March 29, the Yemeni government lost control of 6 of the 18 provinces in the country. There, protesters do not recognize the government authority anymore and erased any form of military control. Also, the United Nations has called the humanitarian situation “alarming”.

The question is now to know whether Saleh will follow his good-will policy in speaking his resignation, allowing a peaceful transition, or if he is going to take harder line positions to stay in power. Although a parliamentary regime based on proportional representation seems likely to emerge in Yemen, a major question will be whether this regime is tainted with blood.