Saturday, March 30, 2013

Yemen's National Dialogue Working Committee: Visual Learners Edition

(Reproduction of the following charts is permitted as long as they sourced to Yemeniaty)

On March 30th, Yemen's National Dialogue website released the names of the members participating in the nine working groups. The nine working committees will discuss the following topics: 

1) Southern Issue 
2) Sa'dah Issue 
3) Good Governance 
4) State building 
5) National Reconciliation
6) Development
7) Rights and Freedoms 
8) Army and Security  
9) Independent/Social Issues

Although it seems like the final list will need revisions since several lists appeared online and were circulated amongst Yemenis with different numbers of participants. So far 11 members withdrew from the dialogue: 

- One independent: Ahmed Saif Hashed 
- Three from Islah: (1) Mohsin Ba'Sorah, (2) Tawakkol Karman and (3)Sheikh Hameed Al Ahmar 
- Seven from Hirak: (1) Ismahan Al-'Alas,  (2) Saleh Taher Al-Isa'ey, (3) Abdulaziz Abdul Hameed Al Maflihi, (4) Sheikh Tarek Al Mohami, (5) Mahmoud Shaief Hussein, (6) Mustafa Zain Al-'Aidaroos and (7) Khaled Ba-Ras. 

The total number of participant should be 554; however, after several revisions to different lists the following charts are based on a 555 member conference. 

Here are the groups: 

In this committee, Hirak members have the biggest share. Followed by GPC, then YSP and Islah. 

This category is dominated by GPC, then Hirak then members from the President's list. This category is where child marriages and other women issues will be discussed and it has 36 women and 45 men. 

This is another group where Hirak, GPC and the members from the President's list have the most representation. 

Civil Society is represented better in this category than most of the other working Committees. 

Like the Southern Issue Committee, this group is represented by people who are affected most by it: Ansar Allah (formerly referred to as Al-Houthis). However in comparison, they are less represented since the committee is composed of 48 members (Southern Issue 40) and only 10 are from Ansar Allah. Also, Hirak has equal members to the GPC (6 seats), while Ansar Allah had only 2 seats in the Southern Issues Committee. 

This group will be looking at constitutional reform. Half of the members in this group are from Civil Society, GPC, GPC's Allies, Islah and the President's list. Possibly the least group with Hirak representation. 
The Army and Security is a surprisingly fair to the South in that Hirak has as many seats as GPC. Unfortunately this balanced is tipped off when GPC gave its allies 5 seats. The real losers in this category are women (4/45)
The main topic in the Good Governance Committee is Civil service reform. It seems to be a fair representation of the members chosen for the dialoge. 

Like expected, women are represented fairly in the development, independent/social issues, human rights and freedom, and national reconciliation group. Women are less likely to be present in serious issues like security and military, Southern and Sa'dah Issue. 

The final list of members in the Southern Issue is challenged by the Southern Hirak and the final list will be issued tomorrow. All these representations are susceptible to change.   

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

US Policy towards Yemen: An interview with Danya Greenfield

Today in DC, an event orchestrated by the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) took place discussing US foreign policy towards Yemen. During the discussion, the three speakers (Greenfield, Heyedmann and Al-Bukari) talked about the nature of US and Yemeni attitudes towards each other. Although one would assume that these opinions are public knowledge, it felt as if a big secret was finally out.  It was amongst the few (if not the first) big Washington DC-event that directly pointed out that some of the US's policies towards Yemen were "counterproductive". The event, which included the President of the Polling Center, Hafez Al Bukari, brought a lot of awareness to Americans. Danya Greenfield and Stephen McInerney (Executive Directer of POMED) collected 31 signatures to advise Obama's administration of reassessing US policy towards Yemen (emphasizing the excessive use of Drones).

I met with Danya Greenfield for the first time about two months ago and I was pleased to observe her in her element. For an established woman (she is currently the Deputy Director of the Rafik Hariri Center at the Atlantic Council), she was humble and formed her opinions carefully after doing a lot of research. She did one thing that most people in her position don't: she listened.

A month ago, I sat down with Ms. Greenfield and we talked about the relationship between the US and Yemen. Here is what she had to say:

You can find the letter to President Obama here.

Although it is common knowledge amongst Yemenis that the use of drones is not well liked, this event reveals (publicly) that there is hope for US foreign policy in Yemen. Events like this should make us aware that not all American programs in Yemen "support the use of drones".

The event highlighted how Yemeni and American officials are not having transparent exchanges with each other. Meaning that neither side had an honest discussion about how the average Yemeni is unhappy with the US' counterterrorism policies.

My own analysis is that this is frustrating to both sides. It actually creates a problem that is hard to resolve. Yemenis tell Americans what they want to hear so they can be backed up. Americans never know the real truth and support them without doing their own in-depth research. The problem gets worse when the US begins to analyze the results and put the pieces together. They have many choices but will either choose one of the two: to continue pretending that nothing is wrong or to completely stop their support of whomever they are backing up. If the US continues its support, then they look bad, but if they decrease their support, then the Yemenis on the ground will be left in an awkward position.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Secession for South Yemen would Lead to Catastrophe

Article Published in The National, you can read it here.

Yemen's "national dialogue" finally began one week ago today, after several deferrals. The agenda is dominated by the "southern issue", the question of southern secession.

The Southern Movement, commonly referred to as Hirak, is already expressing its dissatisfaction with the dialogue. Hirak has 85 seats in the dialogue assembly, but several factions within the movement said in a joint statement on March 21 that those 85 representatives do not properly delineate Hirak's demands.

Any scenario other than full Hirak participation in the talks will threaten the nation's security and will ultimately cost many Yemenis their lives. The national dialogue will be squandered if Hirak's entire leadership is not on board.

Last month alone the government reported four deaths due to clashes between the Hirak and local authorities in the South.

On February 23 the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi - originally from Dhakeen, a southern village - made his first visit to Aden, to acknowledge Hirak's grievances.

After the 1994 civil war, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh consistently overlooked the concerns of the South, as a form of revenge. There was talk of secession even then, and the movement gained momentum from 2007 to 2011, but was never unified enough to pose a real threat to Yemen's unity.

But now Hirak's fragmented leadership is a problem for national unity: if the factions cannot speak and act together, the dialogue will dissolve and chaos will follow.

Secession would not provide Hirak's divided factions with the independence they seek; rather, it would result in the creation of several weak regional regimes, in constant conflict with each other.

Yemen's government should have addressed legitimate southern concerns long ago. Now the issue will not be settled easily or quickly.

The present weak agreement among Hirak factions is the product of an interim alliance. The only thing uniting all of them is their common goal of secession, and their common enemy, the central government. Hirak members consider the South to be under occupation.

The southern proverb "he removes an onion, and grows garlic" refers to an apparent change that actually yields the same results. Southern power struggles have persisted through deceptive leadership changes, and this pattern is a good indicator of what the future would hold after secession.

The South has been divided since the days of the British occupation, which saw power struggles in Hadhramout, Abyan and Lahj. These internal rivalries continued after independence in 1967.

Over the next two decades, the South, as its own state, cycled through six presidents. Some transfers were peaceful while others were bloody, but all of them, while disguised as ideological or political, were driven by tribal politics and personal ambition.

In June 1969, a peaceful coup led to the removal of military leaders but also changed the regional balance of high-office-holders. And in January 1986, when internal "ideological" divisions occurred within Yemen's Socialist Party (YSP), several regions associated with the losing faction suffered losses; other regions gained influence based on their tribal loyalties.

These divisions still exist. Most current Hirak leaders were members of the YSP in the old southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. For these men the YSP served as a vehicle to power, and now Hirak does the same thing.

Personal conflicts still boil under the surface, damaging Hirak's leadership. No one in Hirak is capable of producing a transitional plan that can win wide support.

If secession occurs and the northern government is out of the way, a few southern leaders would opt for the creation of smaller political units, rather than consolidating the South.

Individuals such as the southern Islamist leader Tariq Al Fadhli would hope to restore their former reigns. For them, secession would be a golden opportunity.

Some within Hirak openly yearn for a return to "the old days", while others are still speaking in vague terms.

It is only a matter of time before individuals from powerful families claim authority based on their genealogy, especially if they manage to secede.

Beyond the old sultanates, there are some who would prefer a tribal emirate, another form of dynasty. And in the past few years, political Islam has gained momentum. Those who identify the most with their religious ideology are likely to demand the creation of Islamic caliphates or strict implementation of Islamic Shariah.

With a central government out of the picture, AQAP and Ansar Al Shariah could grip parts of the South.

The southern population is culturally diverse. New villages have sprung up, and older ones have expanded. Distinct identities do not exist anymore. But there are many who want distinct areas to control.

Taken together, all this means that after secession the South would have several inefficient micro-states, some of them strongly divided by prejudice and class distinctions.

Mr Hadi's government may still convince the remainder of southern Hirak to join the dialogue. Given the flexible nature of the talks, more seats can be assigned to other Hirak factions. But at the same time all elements of Hirak must consider their options and participate in the dialogue if they truly seek genuine "liberation".

For the South's sake, Hirak must submit to the dialogue and reach a settlement. The idea that secession will solve the South's problems is nothing but an illusion maintained by a few who seek power for themselves.

Secession would bring catastrophe. Participating in the national dialogue guarantees nothing, but it is the best alternative.

Follow the National @TheNationalUAE on Twitter 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pictures from My Country: Yemen's Currency

During my last trip to Yemen in August 2012, I went with my cousin to a restaurant. I bought juice and told her that it's my treat. I opened my wallet and I took out two 200 Yemeni Rials (currency code YER) to pay. To my surprise my cousin bursted out laughing telling me that I may be the only person in Sana'a who still carries that currency. She may be right. I held on to my money since the last time I was in Yemen in 2009 and things have changed.

In this blog post, I go over the history of Yemen's currency since 1990. 

Prior to 1990, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South of Yemen) used the Dinar instead of the Rial. A single Dinar was the equivalent of one British pound which was made up of 20 Shillings. Below is the currency that the South used including an image of the 50 fils coin.

Image via

Coin from

Adeni Dinar (

Once unification occurred, one Dinar corresponded to 25 Rials. Even after unity, it was possible to see Dinars floating around in Yemen; however, they were officially terminated in June of 1996. Overall, a unified Yemen used the Rial (which is made up of 100 fils). 

In the North of Yemen, around 1970, the government issued coins for 1, 5, 10, 25 & 50 fils. These coins were terminated by 1990 (especially since their value weakened). 

Terminations continued well after unity. In 1993, the 1 and 5 rials coins were sacrificed even though they existed in paper form as well. 
Image from

1 and 5 rials notes from here
Other monetary units existed in both, coins and paper form. For example 10 Rials used to be a coin, however by 1995, the Central Bank decided to produce it as a bill. The 20 Rials suffered the opposite fate, it was typically in paper form till 2004 when it became a coin. 

10 Rial Coin from
10 Rial from Bank Notes
20 Rial from
20 rials from Here
Besides coins, there are different bills for the 50 and 100 Rials ever since inauguration of Yemen's unity. In 1996, the Central bank released the 200 YER bill, then in 1997 the 500 YER bill. Following that, in 1998, the 1000 YER bill made its debut. Finally, in 2009, a 250 YER bill came out which made the 200 YER bill impossible to find. Since I wasn't living in Yemen, it was easy to spot me as a visitor since I was using the 200 YER bill instead of the 250. 

Well, there goes the 101 on Yemeni Currency. If you like this topic there is a book called "Currency of Yemen through the Ages: 2008 A.D - 1424 A.H" produced by Yemen's Central Bank. It has the biggest collections of Yemen's currency and represents the first effort by Yemen's government of sorting and cataloging its currency. Every once in a while, it is available on Amazon. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pictures from My Country: Women's Day Edition

Today, in honor of women's day, I share photographs of Yemeni women. Also, I want to point out that a women's march is taking place in Sana'a in support of peace. Sarah Jamal (who organized the march) writes: 
We are the civil peace makers and we the ones who protected it throughout Yemen's history .. Yemen only flourished during our reign and only knew of resolutions to tribal conflicts through us... On Women's International Day, in Yemen we [the women] lead the demand to civil peace without sectarian or regional conflicts... Let Yemen's women lead its peace...
Today, rather than looking at women as the inferior sex, we celebrate Yemeni women as queens. 

Photography by Abdulrahman Jaber 

Is Dialogue Yemen’s Last Resort?

Originally published on Fikra Forum 

After numerous setbacks, the Yemeni National Dialogue is finally set to commence on Monday, March 18, though there are many obstacles that remain unsettled. The final list of dialogue participants has not yet been finalized, with several parties disputing their own member selections. More importantly, leaders of the Southern Hirak (a term encompassing the many groups that comprise the Southern separatist movement) still refuse to participate even though the dialogue’s technical committee dedicated a reasonable number of seats for them. Amid declarations, statements, and political maneuvering from all sides, the chances of having an authentic deliberation seem far-fetched.

Regardless of the troubled reality on the ground, the international community continues to press onward, despite the evident flaws in the selection process of youth, independents, women, and civil society, particularly from the South. Since 2009, the Yemeni government has failed to address the frustrations of the Southern Hirak movement, negligence that has continued after Yemen’s 2011 revolution when President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s took office. In fact, political tensions have worsened after violence erupted on February 21 in Aden between Southern Hirak members and government authorities.

President Hadi’s first meeting with the movement’s leaders came on February 23, 2013, more than a year after he assumed the presidency and only after the death of four Southern protestors. To make matters worse, the technical committee, tasked with establishing the selection process for national dialogue participants, failed to successfully communicate the process and stipulations with the Hirak’s leaders, resulting in distrust in the credibility of negotiations.

Moreover, when the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) visited Yemen on January 27, massive demonstrations swept the Southern city of Aden, only to be disregarded. Following this visit, the UNSC issued a warning on February 16 to those accused of obstructing Yemen’s National Dialogue process, specifically naming former president Ali Saleh and former vice president Ali al-Beidh (1990-1994) without raising concerns about the dialogue’s political process or the Southern movement. In turn, the Supreme Council of Southern Hirak issued a statement calling the UNSC’s announcement “disappointing” for the Southern people, who expected the international body to acknowledge the Southern cause and to support their right to self-determination. Such negligence exacerbated ongoing tensions between the Yemeni government and the Hirak, further complicating negotiations between them.

The policy of turning a blind eye to Southern grievances has proved ineffective and detrimental, yet many within Hadi’s government continue to do so. For example, on March 3, Yemen’s minister of defense, Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, stated that Yemen’s unity is “firmly entrenched.” Such statements are counterproductive and unhelpful, and result in a hardening of positions on both sides of the dialogue. For instance, over the past week, several prominent Southern leaders issued statements declaring that Southerners who participate in the National Dialogue are betraying the Southern cause. They even warned that it is a continuation of the “Northern conspiracy” against the South.

Although divisions in Yemen are serious and troubling, the dialogue is nonetheless moving forward and success remains a possibility. The six members of the technical committee who suspended their membership in response to the violence in Aden on February 21are returning to the process. Among these members is Yassin Saeed Noman, the general secretary of Yemen’s Socialist Party, who announced on March 3 that the dialogue must continue even if “part of the southern movement participates, in order to prevent the halt of the political process.” The rest of the party’s members are likely to follow suit.

Yet, troubling signs remain. On March 1, the Youth’s Preparatory Committee for the National Conference announced its disbandment, signaling their disillusionment with the process. Further complicating matters, the vast majority of key players are entering the negotiations with a predetermined set of objectives, making it harder to reach a middle ground. For example, while President Hadi was in Aden, he announced that he expects Yemen to have five regions (in addition to the Port of Aden), despite the fact that a main purpose of the dialogue is to determine the structure of the Yemeni government. As the mediator of the dialogue, this position is extremely problematic, and more importantly, according to an unofficial source, it signals his adoption of the prominent Islah Party’s vision.

Preparations for the dialogue have centered on politics, dominating planning discussions and shaping its selection process. These discussions ignored crucial topics like the economy, the role of tribes, educational reform, and the effects of climate change. So far, international actors in the dialogue process have proved to be equally as important, if not more important, than the national actors. While the international community’s “democracy agenda” is an admirable goal, if expedited and not undertaken on the national level by the Yemeni people, it will prove detrimental. In an environment where people are unwilling to even enter into dialogue, it will undoubtedly take years for the principles of democracy to take hold.

Yemen has never had a dialogue that has encompassed this many factions, and it would be unwise to assume that inclusiveness guarantees success. Dialogues have been part of Yemen’s political history for years, with questionable results. In the North, the Harath Agreement between the monarchists and the republicans ended with war. In the South, negotiations among members of Yemen’s Socialist Party were signed in October 1985, only to see violence erupt in January 1986. At the unification of Yemen in 1990, the country signed Al-’Ahd Treaty between Ali al-Beidh and Ali Saleh, only to function as a backdrop for the 1994 Civil War.

If Yemen’s history has taught us anything, it is that dialogues are a last resort; they function primarily on a symbolic level. In fact, dialogues have almost been precursors for disasters to come, especially if the product of the dialogue upsets a faction of the participants. The dialogue will essentially continue for lack of a better plan. In pushing for dialogue, Yemen and its international allies did not anticipate alternative scenarios in the case of the dialogue’s potential failure.

This Yemeni experience does not mean that the current dialogue is doomed; it means that a lot more effort is required and powerful players must be willing to make painful concessions. Rather than gratifying the international community on a superficial level, real democratic foundations must take root among the national actors for the sake of the Yemeni people. Those who are invested in peace understand that Yemen has no choice but to move forward for the success of the dialogue. With the dialogue starting on March 18, time is limited. President Hadi and his government must do more to ease tensions with the Southern Hirak and the youth in order to enable the best possible environment for negotiations to occur. As dialogue participants come to the table, they must be aware of what is at stake: should the dialogue fail, Yemen will have no way out.