March 18 marked the start of the National Dialogue Conference in Sana'a, where hundreds of delegates from different regions and factions all across the country will deliberate Yemen's future for the next six months. This process is a key part of the initiative backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the UN for the country's transition after long-time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down. The dialogue is meant to accomplish a number of key goals, among which is writing a new constitution before new elections scheduled for 2014.
Another key issue is investigating human rights violations committed by the regime against protestors in 2011 and accomplishing justice and reparations. A Commission of Investigation was established in theory, but seven months later it is still not set up. Progress on this front is slow, especially because of the immunity from prosecution Saleh received in return for stepping down. There have been frequent protests demanding prosecution and justice.
There has been prevalent obstruction to the rule of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi by Saleh loyalists and family members appointed to key positions in the government and military. The UN and US have threatened to seize assets and impose sanctions on those figures who continue to attempt to derail the transition process. President Hadi made a key move recently to shuffle influential military commanders to diplomatic posts abroad, effectively sidelining them. This is a very important action to mitigate the power of rival elite factions and unite the divided military. It is especially crucial to build state capacity in the context of the continuing threat from the Houthi, Al-Qaeda, and southern secessionist militant movements. This move will also help to curb accusations that President Hadi is a mere pawn of the former regime.Perhaps even more important to the success of Yemen's transition will be reconciling the South with the North. The South has many long-standing grievances with the North. After the civil war of the 1990s, North Yemenis seized a lot of property through privatizations and force, resulting in continuing and widespread land disputes. In cases where the courts actually ruled that property must be returned in principle, the police are often bribed so that the ruling is not enforced or carried out. Many southerners believe that the National Dialogue won't change anything, and major factions of the Southern Movement are boycotting the conference altogether and have organized mass demonstrations against it, demanding autonomy and independence. There have been continuing acts of sabotage carried out against infrastructure and oil pipelines since the start of the conference.
The National Dialogue Conference will need to enact meaningful change in order to address the deep grievances that fuel violent resistance in the south. This will be absolutely crucial for a successful transition to a truly democratic, unified government. If nonviolent negotiations fail, fractured Yemen could easily break apart into civil war.
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