A UN-backed solution for Yemen?

Jamal Benomar, the UN's Special Adviser on Yemen

"What's needed is a UN-backed negotiation to end the Yemeni conflict," an article in the Guardian proposed yesterday. 

It sounds like a good idea. Set up a National Dialogue to bring the warring factions together. Establish an interim government and, under UN supervision, start a political transition process which – in a couple of years, when a new constitution has been drafted – culminates in the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections.

There's a problem, however. It was the failure of just such a process that led to the present conflict.

So before advocating UN-backed solutions again, we need to consider what went wrong with the previous attempt.

Unfortunately, although it was conducted under UN auspices and supported by western governments, Yemen's transition plan was mostly shaped by the Gulf's autocratic monarchs – not the best people to map out the future of a republic which had democratic aspirations.

Worse than that, though, in order to persuade President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, they allowed him to remain in Yemen with immunity from prosecution. This allowed him to frustrate the transition and, eventually, to deploy the military forces that he still controlled to support the Houthis.

In an article for Open Democracy, veteran Yemen-watcher Helen Lackner enumerates some of the other flaws that led to the collapse of the UN-backed transition:

The transitional regime remained toothless and at the mercy of the country’s traditional political forces. In particular:

  • The Yemeni political class completely failed to address the country’s fundamental problems [water, rural development, employment creation etc] and has spent the last few decades either enriching itself or involved in in-fighting between its various factions. 

  • The security reform only affected the top level, leaving the military institutions loyal to Saleh

  • The National Dialogue Conference was badly managed and unable to deal with the country’s main political factions

  • Interim president Hadi had no power base of his own and was at the mercy of the Islah party which had the upper hand, leaving all other main political forces to join the opposition

  • The international community failed to strengthen the transition. Nice words to and about Hadi are no substitute for financial means to effectively rule the country. The argument 'no development without security' ensured that development funding remained on the shelf while only military/security related investments were made. The country is now eating the fruits of this development with the well trained Saleh forces and others fighting throughout the country

  • The UN element of the transition was left under the management of an individual [Jamal Benomar] who soon lost the respect of the vast majority of Yemenis

  • The GCC states, led by Saudi Arabia, acted according to their real interests, namely preventing the emergence of a truly democratic entity in Yemen.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 10 April 2015