Saturday, October 12, 2013

Politics and the evolution of Takfeer in Yemen

Published on Oct. 12, 2013 on The Atlantic Post

By Sama’a Al-Hamdani and Afrah Nasser
I was declared an apostate at the end of April 2013 because of a political seminar on women’s empowerment hosted at my college in Taiz. In this gathering, I stated that Islam’s most stringent provisions – whether in the Qur’an or the Sunnah – are meant to refine rather than to terrorize. A radical cleric twisted my words and said that I called the Prophet Mohammed a liar and based on it, I was labeled a Kafir (apostate).  - Sally Adeeb, age 21, law school student.
Since the overthrow in Yemen of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, 11 people have been accused of apostasy (see chart 1 below) in the practice referred to as Takfeer. One of them, Jamal al-Junid, was detained by the police in May 2013 for 15 days and finally was released after the staging of several protests. Another accused “apostate” is Ahmed Al-Arami, a literature and arts lecturer who was labeled a “secularist” in April 2013 and subsequently fled the country because of serious threats and the possibility that he might be executed. The sensitivity of offending religion is a stumbling block in the quest to return Yemen to stability.
NDC and the Evolution of Takfeer
Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which was launched in March 2013 and is part of a Gulf Cooperation Council plan for a negotiated transition for Yemen, has been targeted for accusations of apostasy by one of the country’s leading clerics. Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani, Yemen’s influential Muslim Brotherhood/Wahhabist cleric who is also listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States Treasury Department in 2004, recently released a YouTube video in which he condemned the current NDC political process. The video presentation discussed the framing of the state’s legislation being managed by “the State Building Committee” and claimed that the majority of the committee’s members had voted that Islam is “the state’s main source of legislation” instead of “the state’s only source of legislation.”
Al-Zindani is a non-official politician who influences the Yemeni masses by claiming the custodianship of the Shari’ah, or Islamic law. He established an non-profit religious university, Al-Iman, in 1993 and has claimed to have invented a cure for HIV/AIDS and to have found scientific proof that women cannot speak and remember at the same time.
In July 2013, Al-Zindani’s office, which is managed by his son, issued an official statement announcing the names of 37 NDC members who are allegedly “fighting Islam” and asserting that the named individuals “reject the Islamic Shari’ah and are the enemies of Islam.” The statement is believed to be a warrant and could become a Takfeer fatwa pointing to these aforementioned members as apostates. The action prompted an urgent press conference held by the NDC that condemned publication of the list or the issuance of any such destructive fatwas.
The dispute reflects not only the struggle for dominance between the traditional religious base and the newly-emerging civil power in the decision-making process; it is also a critical factor in the evolution of the nation’s potential new identity. As of yet, it remains uncertain whether or not Shari’ah will be the only source of legislation in Yemen.
Takfeer has long been a key tactic used by radical political Islam to silence its critics. Given its importance to Yemen’s ongoing transition, it is useful to look more closely at the nature of Takfeer in Yemen, who is mainly affected by it, who implements it and how it might be ended.
Chart 1: People Declared Apostates in Yemen since 2011 
Reason for Takfeer
Consequences/ Legal Action
Fikri Qassim
Writer and playwright
Jan. 2012
Commenting about replacing Gods on Facebook
Death threats
Bushra Al Maqtari
Journalist & novelist (YSP)
Jan. 2012
Controversial article
Legal suit
Mohsin ‘Ayed
Feb. 2012
For posting an intimate picture of him with his wife on Facebook
Death threats and wife asked for divorce after the fatwa
Mohammed Al-Saeidi
Researcher and writer
Dec. 2012
Research on Qu’ran
Tried and found innocent after a huge pressure campaign
Samiah Al Aghbari
YSP member & journalist
Feb. 2013
Speech on the death of Jar Allah Omar
Legal suit
Ahmed Al Soufi
March 2013
Authoring a book that encourages infidelity
Received fatwa asking him to apologize; otherwise he’ll face death.
Sally Adeeb
YSP member
April 2013
For comments on Sunnah and Qu’ran
Jamal Al Junaid
Employee at Yemen’s Justice Ministry
May 2013
Constant objection over corruption cases carried out by Islamist groups in the Ministry
Imprisoned for 15 days after a trial
Sulaiman Al Ahdal
May 2013
Filing a lawsuit over looted land
Escaped prosecution after fleeing from Hudaidah city with his family
Ahmed Al Tares Al ‘Arami
Lecturer, poet & critic
May 2013
Suggested a provocative reading-list for students
Escaped to Egypt after receiving death threats
Nabeel Saif Al Komaim
Threatened to revoke nationality
What is Takfeer and Who Does It? 
Takfeer is the process of identifying and labeling a person an apostate from Islam. The objective of the process is to reprimand people who break fundamentalist norms, and it penalizes them on two levels. First, it publicly shames an individual by labeling him or her an “infidel” for “religious” purposes. Second, and on a more personal level, the individual becomes an “apostate” and his or her views are renounced as heresy. The “apostate” can be punished through social and/or legal ostracism, or even in some cases by execution through official or mob action. The Takfeer process effectively coerces the society to conform to a single ideology and is a means of enforcing a certain “norm.” Ultimately, the objective is to restrict creation of a pluralistic society.
The incidence of Takfeer is wholly political and can be traced back to the Abbasid Caliphate, where the targets were primarily influential thinkers, writers and philosophers, such as Al-Tabari, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes).
The modern Takfeeri movement tends to target marginalized individuals and women, because the wealthy and influential elements in the society tend to use the process themselves as a means of maintaining their position.
Declaring women infidels is not a new trend in the Middle East and is not unique to Yemen. For example, in Egypt, there was Nawal Al Saadawi and in Kuwait Laila Al Othman and Aliyah Al-Shouaib, among many others. The recent Takfeer attacks in Yemen have not been against corrupt individuals who were economically powerful or belonged to an affluent tribe. Marginalized groups and women simply constitute the easiest targets to be attacked.
The main centers of impetus for Takfeer have been the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam associated with, but not necessarily endorsed by, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabist faction (commonly referred to as Salafism). Salafism is a Sunni movement that calls for the practice of Islam in the way that the Salaf (“predecessors” or “ancestors”) did. Technically, both Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabis are Salafis; however, in the Arab world, the term Salafi usually refers to Wahhabis only. In Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis are at times grouped together due to the lack of general understanding of their differences and to their resemblance in political perspectives.
Most Takfeeris belong to either one of these two factions, but it is essential to note that not all Muslim Brotherhood members or Wahhabis endorse the practice. In fact, several imams have denounced the Takfeer process as unethical; for example, the late Yemeni Islamic scholar, Muhammad al-Shawkani, who had supported Takfeer in his early years as a scholar, subsequently recanted and issued public condemnations of it. Another contemporary and moderate Islamic scholar, Habib Ali al-Jifri, also condemns Takfeer.
What Do Takfeeris Want?
As it is often a reflection of the nation’s underlying political trends, Takfeer is frequently an evolving process. It is primarily a means of keeping people’s attitudes in check through the manipulation of public opinion; as Takfeeris long for a theocratic state, the process of Takfeer, especially in a transitional situation such as now exists in Yemen, is likely to be reactionary rather than progressive.
During Yemen’s Revolution in March 2011, Yemeni radical cleric Abdulmajeed Al Zindani stated, “The revolutions happening in the Arab world are introductions to establishing an Islamic Caliphate.”
A modern day Caliphate would be a centralized religious dictatorship. Advocates such as Al Zindani are seeking to influence, dominate and restrain the masses. They romanticize and glorify the time of the caliphates and use propaganda to tarnish the prospect of a civil state by claiming it would corrupt faith. Takfeeris are radicals who reject compromise and claim to hold absolute truths through the exploitation of religion.
As is true of other Takfeeri groups in the Middle East, Yemeni Takfeeris seek to change and dominate the “norms” of the societies in which they operate. Takfeeris exhibit their political and religious affiliations through outward appearances such as dress and social rituals and attempt to force these on society as norms.
For instance, Yemeni women no longer wear colorful dresses but instead are covered in black. Women who do not follow this norm are easily identified and could be targeted. Such an obvious outward expression of adherence allows the group to measure its success: the more people comply to the uniform, the more authority they gain. This distinction facilitates an impression of greater cohesion. In turn, the Takfeeris have successfully created a binary community in Yemen where people are divided into “us” versus “them.”
Takfeer also is a means of suppressing dissent and effectively silencing the “enemy.” In a pious society such as Yemen’s, once God is added to the equation, individuals of faith are fearful to stand on the opposing side. The innate injustice of this situation is expressed in the quintessential proportionality argument; bringing God into a political or an ideological argument is equivalent to fighting a defenseless village with machine guns.
Takfeer in Yemen
Historically, Takfeer in Yemen has not been limited to Sunni Islam. The earliest record of mass-Takfeer traces to 1205 CE when the Zaydi (Shi’a) Imam Abdullah Bin Hamza declared as apostates a faction of Zaydis known as Al-Matrifiyah, an action that precipitated a bloody massacre in the governorate of ‘Amran in 1213 (610 Hijri).
The use of mass-Takfeer against political opponents was more recently on display during Yemen’s Civil War of 1994, when Al Zindani and ِAbdulwahab Al Dailami, Minister of Justice during Yemen’s Civil War in 1994, invoked it to legitimize war against secessionists.
Al Dailami issued a fatwa to that effect, and went so far as to legitimize the killing of civilians, accusing them of being weak Muslims for allowing the secessionists to be “shoved” among them.
Al-Dailami’s fatwa against people in Yemen’s south during the 1994 Civil War is considered one of the causes of the killing of thousands of people in the south. In the post-war era, Al-Dailami and Al-Zindani denied that they had issued any fatwa during that war.
Years later, during Sa’dah’s string of six wars that began in 2004, the beliefs and practices of the Houthis (now called Ansar Allah) were questioned, and some clerics labeled Zaydis as heretics.
During Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule (1978-2012), the Takfeeri movement targeted not only political opponents, but also journalists, artists and writers, as well as anyone else who had the potential to influence people’s minds (see timeline below for detailed information). Most of the Takfeeri fatwas issued in Yemen over the past 33 years were mandated by Wahhabi clerics.
The declaration of women as apostates is often part of the larger “us” versus “them” mentality; women who refuse to adhere to the Takfeeri dress uniform of a very conservative veil (norm) are considered “western” and therefore associated with the enemy (them). Also, women who do not adhere to the prescribed doctrines governing female behavior are considered “anti-social” to conservative norms.
Women facing Takfeer frequently are independent thinkers and are likely to have closer ties to youth movements rather than being associated with traditional political parties. The objectives of such women are usually wider than merely fighting marginalization and extend to the sort of defamation and baseless threats that are usually a part of being singled out as an apostate.
For their part, Takfeeris tend to view women as a homogenous group. Inspired by the domino theory, Takfeeris believe that if one woman leader is terrorized, other emerging women leaders would become silent. The same theory applies to other marginalized groups.

Acceptance of Takfeer 
In the past 20 years, Yemenis have experienced a crisis of governance and have come to consider Takfeeri movements as a shift from the former regime, a lesser of two evils. Moreover, religious groups were the only opposition entities allowed to operate freely under Saleh’s regime, which saved him from being targeted as an “enemy of Islam.”
Operating in such a relatively free environment for the past 23 years, the Takfeeri groups have had plenty of time to assimilate into Yemeni society, and their level of organization has been enhanced as well by funding received from individuals residing in Saudi Arabia. Unlike other political movements in the country, their ideology is easy to articulate and powerful. The current transitional period in Yemen offers a fertile ground for their continued rise to power.
The increasing prominence of Takfeeris reflects a concomitant deterioration of ijtihad, the process of independent reasoning within Shari’ah, or Islamic law. It also highlights the domination of Sunni Takfeeri trends in the nation’s intellectual milieu and hints at an underlying confusion (because of the fragile religious scholarship in the country) in the ability to distinguish between what is ‘Aib(disgraceful/dishonorable) and what is Haram (forbidden/taboo).
Indoctrination, ignorance and political aspiration are the main reasons that Yemenis accept the process of Takfeer. Illiteracy in Yemen is 40 percent (around 70 percent for women) and the population depends heavily on the guidance of jurists. In the last two decades, Yemen gave precedence to Al ‘Ilm Bil Deen (religious studies) over Al ‘Ilm Bil Donya (scientific and technical studies). Yemeni society remains interdependent and it is easy to gain public support. Others fear being labeled irreligious. It is important to remember that most Tafkeeris genuinely believe they are carrying out God’s wishes on earth.
Takfeeris should be made aware that declaring people apostates will silence some individuals but is not a long-term solution of eliminating all opposition. The practice of Takfeer has no roots to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims and Islamists will benefit from a message that Islam is a tolerant and a rational religion. Atonement was and should be an option for “sinners,” especially when the sin is narrowly defined by a particular sect. Yemen desperately needs an Islamic critique on the use of Takfeer.
It is also essential that human rights, and especially those for women, be codified in the new Yemeni constitution. Members of the National Dialogue need to ensure that future jurists selected for the drafting process are aware of the need for a detailed consideration of people’s rights of expression to prevent future strife.
Shari’ah is presently the only source of legislation in Yemen. If this simplistic and vaguely defined body of law remains, it will be important to identify which schools of Islamic law will be followed and the specific jurists who will be issuing fatwas. Strict criteria also will be required on who can be an Islamic jurist in the future (perhaps graduates of Al-Azhar University or those who hold a Ph.D. or M.A. in Islamic studies). All of this needs to be done without restricting Yemen’s Islamic diversity.
Finally,  mandatory education must be enforced to help individuals make informed decisions. The Yemeni educational system, which is currently being revamped, needs to give equal importance to scientific education (learned knowledge over memorized knowledge). More importantly, the people need to be aware of the influence of religious imperialism from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Egypt and Turkey. When it comes to governance, people need to understand that there are modes of governance other than religious orthodoxy or failed “democracy.”
Sama’a Al-Hamdani writes the blog Yemeniaty, which covers a range of topics on Yemen, focusing specifically on women’s issues. You can follow her @Yemeniaty.
Afrah Nasser is a blogger from Yemen living in Sweden and co-founder of the @YemeniSalon in Stockholm.

حصة المرأة: هل هي نجاح للمجتمع الدولي أم للمرأة اليمنية؟

نشرت المقالة في منتدى فكرة

في 15 سبتمبر/أيلول، كتب الرئيس اليمني عبد ربه منصورهادي مقالته الافتتاحية الأولى له على الإطلاق على أمل طمأنة الشعب اليمني حول تقدم المرحلة السياسية الحالية. والمقالالذي نُشر في مجلة التايمز اليمنية والمتاح فقط باللغة الإنجليزية يبرز دور المرأة أثناء المرحلة الانتقالية ويثني على وضع المرأة في اليمن. والأهم من ذلك أن الرئيس يدعم بشكل غير مباشر حصة الـ 30% المقترحة، حيث يقول "لضمان سماع تلك الأصوات، عقد تحالف جديد للنساء المؤثرات مؤتمراً صحفياً اليوم لتأييد الدعم الوطني لتخصيص حصة 30 بالمائة على الأقل لتمثيل المرأة في جميع فروع الحكومة".

وبدون شك فإن مشاركة المرأة في مؤتمر الحوار الوطني كانت قوية حيث تمثل المرأة 28% تقريباً من جميع المشاركين. كما ترأست المرأة ثلاث من لجان العمل التسع. فضلاً عن أنهن شكلن تحالفات داخل مؤتمر الحوار وخارجه لقيادة حقوق المرأة، ورغم كل هذه الجهود، إلا أنه تعذر الوصول إلى قرار بالإجماع بخصوص حصة الـ 30%. وبغض النظر عن ذلك، يبدو أن مؤتمر الحوار الوطني في اليمن سيوافق على حصة الـ 30% للمرأة في جميع فروع الحكومة الثلاثة، لكن هل هذا النجاح يرجع إلى الجهود الدؤوبة من جانب المرأة اليمنية، أم أنه يهدف إلى جعل اليمن تبدو وكأنها أكثر ديمقراطية؟

رغم أن مشاركة المرأة في مؤتمر الحوار الوطني مُلفته للانتباه، إلا أن الحوار يظل منفصلاً تماماً عن حقائق المرأة اليمنية على الأرض. لا تزال العملية الانتقالية، التي كان من المقرر لها أن تنتهي في 18 سبتمبر/أيلول، تلقى دعماً قوياً من المجتمع الدولي. وهذا يسترعي سؤالاً حول مدى النجاح المحتمل للعملية على المدى الطويل إذا كان الهدف هو تحقيق القبول الدولي مقارنة بالمشاركة الحقيقية والتأثير على الأرض.

حصة الـ30%

بحسب متطلبات العملية التي يقودها مؤتمر الحوار الوطني، يجب أن تحظى أي مادة في المرحلة الأولية بـ 90% من الأصوات بين اللجان من أجل الموافقة عليها، وإلا فإنه سيتم إرسالها إلى لجنة توفيق الآراء، التي تأسست للإشراف على عملية الحوار من أجل الحفاظ على الانسجام. وإذا قامت لجنة توفيق الآراء بتعديل المادة وإعادتها إلى اللجان، فيجب أن تحصل على موافقة بنسبة 75% وإلا سيتم إعادتها مرة أخرى إلى الهيئة الإشرافية. وأخيراً، يجب الموافقة على مسودة معدلة بنسبة 55% من اللجان. وإذا لم توافق عليها اللجان، فسوف تتخذ لجنة توفيق الآراء ورئيس الحوار القرار النهائي حول ما إذا كان سيتم المضي قدماً في هذه المادة أم لا.

تجتمع لجان بناء الدولة والحكم الرشيد والحقوق والحريات في مؤتمر الحوار الوطني لمناقشة حصة المرأة، وسوف تتطلب حال الموافقة عليها أن يكون 30% من المسؤولين من النساء عبر جميع فروع الحكومة. وقد كانت لجنة بناء الدولة هي اللجنة الوحيدة التي تمكنت من الموافقة المطلوبة بنسبة إجماع 90%، رغم أن هذا كان يرجع فقط إلى حقيقة أن بعض الأعضاء حجبوا أصواتهم على افتراض أن ذلك سوف يخفض من معدل الإجماع. لم تصل اللجنتان السابقتان إلى معدل الأصوات المطلوب، لذا فإنه بحسب إجراءات الحوار، فإن الأمر أُحيل إلى لجنة توفيق الآراء قبل أغسطس/آب. وفي ذلك الوقت، كان من المنطقي افتراض أن الموضوع سوف يُعاد إلى اللجان العاملة حيث سيتعين على النساء تشكيل تحالفات والعمل بجد للحصول على الإجماع المطلوب بنسبة 75% للموافقة على المادة.

وإذا كان للنساء والجماعات الشبابية أن يوحدن أصواتهن للفوز بالإجماع في اللجان، يرجح أن النسبة التي سيحصلون عليها ستقل عن المطلوب ولن يحصلوا سوى على 50%. ومن هناك، سيكون من الصعب للغاية الفوز بنسبة الأصوات المتبقية، لا سيما بالنظر إلى أن الكثيرين من الرجال الذين أعلنوا تأييدهم لحصة الـ30% رفضوها لاحقاً عندما جاء وقت التصويت. عارضت السلطات التقليدية في اليمن علانية فكرة تخصيص حصة 30% للمرأة، بل إن الأحزاب "الليبرالية" في اليمن اختارت حصة 15% بدلاً من نسبة الـ 30% المقترحة. غير أنه بعد المقال الافتتاحي للرئيس، غيَّر العديد من أعضاء الأحزاب المشاركين في الحوار من لهجتهم. ثم وافقت لجنة توفيق الآراء على أنه ينبغي تمثيل المرأة في جميع الهيئات الحكومية الثلاثة، ومن ثم أرجأت مناقشة حصة المرأة إلى حين عقد الجلسة العامة النهائية.

تقييم الحصة

تستند حصة المرأة إلى فكرة أنها سوف تُحسِّن من مشاركة المرأة في الحكم، بما يعزز قضايا المرأة، من خلال منهج تنازلي من أعلى لأسفل. أولاً، يقوم هذا على افتراض أن تحديد حصة الـ 30% للمرأة يضمن أنه سيتم تنفيذها، بينما في الواقع لا توجد أي ضمانات بأن هذا سيحدث. ثم هناك افتراض بأن النساء اللواتي وقع عليهن الاختيار أو تم انتخابهن سوف يقدِّمن حقوق المرأة على الأجندة السياسية لأحزابهن والسؤال الحقيقي هو ما إذا كانت هذه الحصة سوف تصنع فارقاً فعلياً وتحدث نقلة في الأوضاع المتدهورة لصحة المرأة ومعدلات الأمية والبطالة والوضع الاقتصادي. من المؤكد أنها تستطيع فعل ذلك، لكن يُشترط لذلك عمل النساء المشتغلات بالسياسة والموظفين الحكوميين بجد من أجل إنجاز هذه الحقوق.

يقول العديد من الرجال إن النساء غير جاهزات لنسبة الـ 30% نظراً لقلة عددهن، سواء بسبب التعليم أو الخبرة المهنية. بيد أن هذه الحُجة غير صحيحة. فالعديد من المسؤولين الذكور يشغلون مناصبهم بسبب روابطهم الاجتماعية وليس بسبب مؤهلاتهم. والحجة الأخرى هي أن نسبة الـ 30% هي حصة مرتفعة جداً، لا سيما وأن الرجال هم العائلون الأساسيون لعائلاتهم. وهذه الحُجة ضعيفة كذلك لأن الأرقام أظهرت أن النساء اللواتي يكسبن المزيد من المال ينفقن ثروتهن على عوائلهم. وعلاوة على ذلك، إذا اعتنق اليمن الفيدرالية، سوف تؤدي الحكومات المحلية الجديدة إلى خلق المزيد من المناصب والفرص وبهذا لن "يسرق" النساء أي من الوظائف المتاحة.

هناك تخوف بأن الحصة لن تُطبق وبأن النساء اللواتي يقع عليهن الاختيار من خلال الحصة سوف يعززن من أجندة أحزابهن وليس أجندة المرأة. وعلى كل حال، من المحتمل أن تكون حصة الـ 30% تهيئ المشهد لفشل المرأة اليمنية، لكن هذه مخاطرة ينبغي للمرأة اليمنية الإقدام عليها.

لقد عملت المرأة اليمنية بجد منذ أوائل تسعينيات القرن الماضي من أجل كسب كافة الحقوق التي نالتها. وفي حال الموافقة على الحصة، ينبغي للمرأة استخدامها لمصلحتها كفرصة لمواصلة العمل الجيد نحو تحسين أوضاع المرأة في المجتمع. إن حصة المرأة ليست الحل الوحيد، لكنها إحدى الطرق العديدة التي تستطيع من خلالها المرأة التأثير على السياسات. وللأسف، كان يُنظر إلى المرأة اليمنية في عام 2011 باعتبارها رمزاً للتغيير الديمقراطي في انتفاضة 2011 اليمنية، لكن لم يجري مخاطبتهن على الفور كفاعلين جادين في العملية السياسية. وإذا كان المجتمع الدولي والحكومة اليمنية ينظران إلى حصة المرأة باعتبارها معياراً رئيسياً "لنجاح" العملية الانتقالية السياسية الحالية بدون أي التزام جاد لدعم تنفيذها، فإن الحصة، شأنها شأن الحوار، ستكون مجرد عملية تشمل الفئات العليا من المجتمع ولن يكون لها تأثير فعلي على الأرض.

سماء الهمداني، باحثة يمنية وتكتب في مدونة يمكنك متابعتها علىTwitter @Yemeniaty

Yemen’s Quota: Success for International Community or Yemeni Women?

This article was originally published through Fikra Forum on Sept. 27, 2013

On September 15, Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi wrote his first-ever op-ed in hopes of reassuring the Yemeni people of the current political transition’s progress. The article, published in Yemen Times and available only in English, highlights the role of women during the transition and praises the status of women in Yemen. More importantly, the President indirectly endorses the proposed 30% quota; he writes, “To ensure these voices are heard, a new coalition of influential women held a press conference today advocating for national support for at least, a 30 percent quota for female [representation] in all branches of government.”

Without a doubt, women’s participation in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) has been powerful, with women representing almost 28% of all participants. Female representatives chaired three of the nine working committees. They also formed alliances within and outside the dialogue to champion women’s rights; yet in spite of these efforts, they could not reach a unanimous decision regarding the 30% quota. Regardless, it appears that Yemen’s NDC will pass the 30% quota for women in all three branches of the government, but is this success due to the persistent efforts of Yemeni women, or is it in order to make Yemen look more democratic?

While the participation of women in the NDC is impressive, the dialogue remains completely detached from the realities of Yemeni women on the ground. The transitional process, which was meant to conclude on September 18, continues to be strongly supported by the international community. This begs the question of how successful the process is likely to be in the long term if its goals are achieving international approval as opposed to true engagement and impact on the ground.

The 30% Quota 

According to the NDC process requirements, at the initial stage, an article must receive 90% of the vote among the committees in order to pass; otherwise it is sent to the Consensus Committee, which was established to oversee the dialogue process in order to maintain harmony. If the Consensus Committee modifies the article and sends it back to the committees, it must then receive 75% approval or it is returned again to the overseeing body. Finally, a modified draft must be passed by 55% of the committees. If it is not passed by the committees, the Consensus Committee and the dialogue president make the final decision on whether or not to move forward with the article.

The State Building, Good Governance, and Rights and Freedoms committees in the NDC all convened to discuss the women’s quota, which, if passed, would require 30% of officials to be women across all branches of government. The State Building Committee was the only committee that managed to pass the initial required 90% consensus, though this was only due to the fact that some members withheld their vote on the assumption that it would lower the consensus rate. The other two committees did not reach the required votes so, according to dialogue procedures, the matter was transferred to the Consensus Committee before August. At that time, it was reasonable to assume that the subject would be transferred back to the working committees where women would have to form alliances and work hard to get the required 75% consensus to pass the article.

If the women and the youth groups were to unite their votes to win consensus in the committees, they would still likely fall short with only 50%. From there, it would be extremely challenging to gain the remaining required votes, especially considering that several men who publicly endorsed the 30% quota later rejected it when it was time to vote. The traditional powers in Yemen publicly opposed the idea of a 30% quota, and even the “liberal” parties of Yemen opted for a 15% quota rather than the proposed 30%. However, after the president’s op-ed, several party members in the dialogue shifted their tone. The Consensus Committee then agreed that women should be represented in all three bodies of the government, thereby postponing the discussion of a women’s quota until the final plenary session.

Assessing the Quota

The women’s quota is based on the idea that it will improve women’s participation in governance, thus advancing women’s issues, through a top-down approach. First, this is based on the assumption that the creation of a 30% quota for women ensures that it will be implemented, when in reality, there are no guarantees that this will occur. Then, there is the assumption that the women selected or elected will put women’s rights ahead of their party’s political agenda. The real question is whether or not this quota can truly make a difference in transforming the deteriorating conditions of women’s health, illiteracy rates, unemployment, and economic status. It certainly can, but only if women politicians and government employees work hard for these rights.

Several men argue that women are not ready to have the 30% quota because too few women are qualified, either based on education or professional experience. This argument, however, is invalid. Many male officials are placed in their positions for their social connections rather than their qualifications. Another argument is that 30% is too high a quota, especially since men are the main providers for their families. This argument is also weak because figures have shown that women who make more money spend their wealth on their families. Furthermore, if Yemen embraces federalism, new local governments will lead to new positions and jobs so women will not “steal” any of the available jobs.

There are two main legitimate concerns regarding the quota: first, that the quota will not be implemented; and second, that the women selected through the quota will promote their party’s agenda rather than a women’s agenda. In either case, it is possible that the 30% quota is setting Yemeni women up to fail, but it is a risk that Yemen’s women should be willing to take.

Yemeni women have worked very hard since the early 1990s for every right that they have. If the quota is passed, then women should use it to their advantage as an opportunity to continue their good work of improving the status of women in society. The quota for women is not the only solution, but rather one of the many ways in which women can influence politics. Unfortunately, Yemeni women were seen as symbols of democratic change in the 2011 Yemeni uprising, but they have not so readily been approached as serious influencers of the political process. If the women’s quota is viewed by the international community and the Yemeni government as a primary benchmark of “success” of the current political transition without a serious commitment to supporting its implementation, the quota, like the dialogue, will merely be a process involving the upper echelons of society and will have no real impact on the reality on the ground.

Sama’a Al-Hamdani is a Yemeni researcher and writes on the blog You can follow her on Twitter @Yemeniaty.