Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Yemen's National Dialogue Behind Closed Doors

This post was originally posted at MENA source by the Atlantic Council

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which began on March 18 and just reached the halfway point of its six-month mandate, was conceived as a core part of the transition process and is intended to bring together Yemen’s diverse political, social, geographic, and demographic groups to address the most critical issues plaguing the beleaguered country. Unfortunately, the way the dialogue was developed, designed, and directed created intrinsic flaws that may undercut its success. Some argue that the large number of participants and the lack of genuine representation outside of political parties are the reasons it is doomed for failure. Others feel that the process is advancing too quickly, leaving honest reconciliation out of the equation. One of the other major concerns is the lack of clear communication with the Yemeni public, transparency of the proceedings, and oversight of expenditures. 
Although some Yemen experts remain pessimistic about the future of the country, they refrain from critiquing the dialogue because the outcome is still unclear and many perceive the dialogue as the only way to prevent a descent into civil war. Particularly because the process is opaque and because there is genuine skepticism about the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) transition agreement and the dialogue itself, the NDC should pro-actively report on all working group and plenary proceedings, publish all records and modifications, and disclose all financial contributions and allocations. This is the time to measure the discrepancy between the dialogue’s stated intention and the reality on the ground, if there is hope for effective progress.
The Technical Committee of the National Dialogue clearly stated in a December 2012 statement that the NDC will have its own radio and television channel; however, this promise was never fulfilled. Instead, the NDC opted for the use of modern social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, catering exclusively to the international community and the less than 15 percent of Yemenis who use the internet. Since March 18, not a single Facebook NDC post received more than nine comments.
Although the Dialogue’s Secretariat has tried to provide some information on its website, there is a tendency to understate or leave out important details that relinquishes crucial information to the interpretations of partisan media outlets. While some facets of the dialogue are downplayed, others are entirely omitted. For instance, the final reports of the nine working committees remain unofficial; some reports have surfaced, but only because they have been leaked. Also, there is no updated official list of participants available on the website or elsewhere since approximately thirty members of the NDC withdrew and/or were replaced. Likewise, there is no official record of all organizations and agencies “supporting” the NDC, like the United Nations (UN), World Bank, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The lack of disclosure raises many important questions regarding the nature and amount of support that international organizations are providing. For example, the high-end Movenpick Hotel is the official NDC venue and it is reportedly packed with foreign governance experts and consultants who are being handsomely compensated, but little is known regarding the affiliation of these experts, what technical assistance they are offering Yemenis, or whether their role is beneficial and effective. With no answers in plain sight, it is easy to accuse the NDC of the selective concealment of facts.
This shortage of information and lack of community is still at times blamed on budget constraints even though the NDC’s official website reports that a total of 138 computers, thirty-five laptops and 225 cell phones were purchased. The initial budget for the NDC was an estimated $35 million dollars and according to more recent reports, $29 million has already been utilized. It is public knowledge that members of the NDC residing in Sana’a are compensated $100 per day and those residing outside of Sana’a are compensated a $180 per day. Millions are being spent on honoraria for members of the dialogue, compensation for foreign expertise, and the administrative expenses of the day-to-day operations; yet there is no easily accessible source of information regarding these expenses and the overall budget for the dialogue. This transparency is important not only for the NDC, but also because such practices would set a positive precedent as a possible blueprint for how the next Yemeni government will budget, spend, and monitor its public funds. Without budget transparency, the average Yemeni has little reason to trust the dialogue, the transitional process, or any future government.  
Just like the dialogue, transparency is a process, and in the NDC’s case, it is one that needs constant cultivation. The main facilitator of the GCC initiative and UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Ben Omar, asserts that the NDC is the most successful transitional process in the Arab World and the only transparent process that will provide real outcomes. Yet, in several interviews, he had to dismiss rumors claiming that the outcome has been predetermined or that the solutions will be determined by the old ruling elites outside the NDC process. These assertions gain steam among the public because of the obscurity surrounding the NDC; the only way to ensure a successful transitional process is to engage the Yemeni people – openly, actively, and with a genuine spirit of inclusivity. Transparency does not guarantee the success of the dialogue, but it is a fundamental requirement to gain the trust of the Yemeni people.

Friday, June 7, 2013

It Wasn't Me: Yemen's Conspiracy Theories (1/2)

Part 1 of 2

As Arabs, we love conspiracy theories. Everything is far more exciting if there is a mysterious plot to unravel. Not to mention, it's easier to abandon all responsibilities if it there a “scheme” in place and a "mastermind" behind it. In Yemen's conspiracy theories, we are the victims, the injured party, the biggest loser, and the subject of all interest. Despite being inherently realists, we exhibit bursts of borderline personality and a hint of narcissistic tendencies. When it comes to conspiracy narratives, some are outright outrageous, others are meticulously constructed (and over time become self-fulling prophecies), and only a handful are fathomable explanations.

This blog post lists some of the “conspiracy theories” circulating in Yemen. It has no interest in debunking them nor in unraveling the truth that lies behind them.

  • About a year ago, right after the NASA Rover landed on Mars, Yemeni media outlets published one of the most dangerous theories yet. Our (Yemeni) high-tech investigative techniques revealed that NASA was hiding a big secret from us. We were told that NASA had physical proof, for years, that Lailat al Qadar exists and they shamelessly hid it from us. Apparently NASA, a US agency responsible for aerospace research invested a load of their time and money to trackback this day with technology as advanced as the space Rovers. The biggest shock was that the article assumed that Yemenis needed NASA to prove it...   
Lailat al Qadr, literally translates to Night of Destiny, and is the night that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the prophet Muhammed when he encountered the angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Traditionally, it is believed to be on one of the last nights of Ramadan and there is no specific date for it.
  • Israel, one of the most notorious countries in the Middle East, is always the subject of several conspiracy theories. Overtime, it became very convenient to blame anything on them. Once the Arab Spring started, former President Saleh gave a statement that attributed the Arab Spring to a vague Israeli/American blueprint to destroy the Middle East. While many Yemenis are innately susceptible to these kind of theories, unfortunately for Saleh, it was just too little too late!  
  • Accompanying Saleh’s long shot, an article surfaced that Israel finally devised a weapon more catastrophic than any nuclear bomb. They finally succeeded in creating a special gas that can be inserted into a bomb. The secret is once the bomb is dropped in any part of the world, the gas only kills Muslims. (not to mention the Israeli belts distributed all over Yemen to make our men infertile)
  • Speaking about gas, fellow tweeter Ibrahim Muthana once wrote that a taxi driver tried to explain his lethargy. The taxi driver revealed that the US has been actively spraying Yemenis with a secret gas to keep us tired and unproductive... (Qat and malnutrition didn't come to mind..)
  • While Yemen witnessed (and continues to witness) several campaigns against women, one of the most important issues that Yemenis continue to worry about is the term “gender”.  Most Yemenis (men and women) continue to misuse the term and substitute it for “equality”. Regardless of this lack of understanding, a university dropout warned us about the dangers of “gender”. If “gender” succeeds in being a component of the National Dialogue, then it will only legalize homosexuality and adultery. At first, it is easy to dismiss such ramblings; but after serious pondering, you begin to see the light. Why? Of course! Enhancing Women’s access to education is about enlightenment... and enlightenment makes us think of the Italian Renaissance... and the renaissance is about rebirth...rebirth coincided with secularism...Therefore, if women are educated then it must mean that Yemenis will abandon their faith . Just think about it! all these literate women... reading about gay!
  • Just when you think that most conspiracy theories are generated by fundamentalists, I have to end this streak with another Arab Spring Theory. It is not a secret that the protests in Tunisia inspired the rest of the Middle East nor is it a secret that for at least a decade most Arabs living under repressive/authoritarian regimes preferred Islamist parties over other political parties for their political organization and service delivery. When the structured Islamist parties began winning votes across the Arab world, and most notably when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) won the elections in Egypt, it became apparent to liberals everywhere that the Arab Spring is an Islamist ploy to secure power. The truth is; Islamists got bored of waiting for their turn to rule. For months, even years, men from all over the Arab World gathered (perhaps in London?) to plan a revolt that would lead to the world domination. The protests in Turkey may appear contradictory to this theory, but rest assured, it is part of a bigger plan...
  • Yemen witnesses blackouts on a daily basis. Once in a blue moon, the electricity stays on. Rather than enjoying the 260 year old technology, we worry about the consequences of this abrupt reward. While electricity blackouts are not a laughing matter, many Yemenis feel better blaming such misfortune on 'Afash. Yes, it is all the fault of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Even the tribes and AQAP agree. It's all him. He always left Yemenis in the dark, literally.
  • The radical branch of the Southern secessionists in Yemen blamed the downfall of YSP on a few Northern individuals in 1986. While these radical thinkers refuse to join the National Dialogue, the Northerners are worried about something far worse: Payback. 
President Hadi is from Abyan (South of Yemen) and the Majority of his government and Military appointments were for fellow Southerners. Unfortunately, a southern majority government didn't contain Hirak but it sure worried Northerners. They believe that - and Journalist Adam Baron describes it - president Hadi is a "closet separatist". Yemen is in a mess right now and just when everything gets worse (hard to imagine), president Hadi and his government will smoothly transition to rule the South. The Southerners would enjoy heaven (Aden) and the Northerners will be abandoned without any leadership or resources.

End of Part 1, more in Part 2