In November 2011, following an authoritarian rule of more than 30 years and nine months of deadly street protests, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh acceded to a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and handed over the reins of government to his vice president, Abd Al-Rab Mansur Al-Hadi.
Under Hadi’s patronage, the National Dialogue Conference began in mid-March: An effort by 565 Yemeni citizens drawn from all sectors of society to create the reforms and recommendations to be incorporated into a new constitution and a new system of government.
- Revenge killings claim hundreds in Yemen annually
- Yemen urged to take action against al-Qaeda
- Growing anger over American drones in Yemen
Leading the Conference is a nine member presidium comprised of eight men and one woman: Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of the prominent newspaper, The Yemen Times, who spoke with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson.
TML: The National Dialogue Conference kicked-off in March 2013 with intent to repair Yemen’s society. Having just completed its mid-term General Assembly, Nadia, what is the outcome so far?
AL-SAKKAF: Now we are celebrating one of the most significant days because we passed 363 resolutions that make basically a better future for all Yemenis.
TML: What is the constitution going to look like?
AL-SAKKAF: It’s going to be democratic, civic, (bestowing) equal citizenship, human rights-respecting, promoting of minorities, basically women and youth.
TML: Describe the make-up of the different groups and how many women including you were part of the National Dialogue Conference.
AL-SAKKAF: We have 565 people in the National Dialogue Conference coming from various political parties -- old and new -- and representing youth, the civil societies, women and even the religious groups.
In the conference (comprised of 565) we have 30% women and in the presidium have only me. It’s made up of nine people and headed by the president.
TML: How does that feel Nadia? How difficult and how challenging?
AL-SAKKAF: It feels very lonely to be the only woman in a male-dominated presidency that runs the entire conference; but I feel that they respect me. I’m trying to push for more rights for youth and women in civil society.
TML: Were all Yemenis represented, including minorities?
AL-SAKKAF: No, not really. A time came when we thought everybody is going to be in, but then it was most difficult to have all the representatives of all the different groups in the National Dialogue Conference. So what we tried to do is create outreach sessions, whereby we go around to communities, to different political and social groups -- hear from them and what they need -- to take back to the conference.
TML: Did you spearhead any special group yourself?
AL-SAKKAF: No, in the presidency, we’re not supposed to be part of any group because we supervise everybody.
TML: What was the outcome of the Freedom and Rights group and what milestones were reached?
AL-SAKKAF: The Freedom and Rights group had over 100 recommendations and they talked about things ranging from political freedom to intellectual freedom; religious freedom; education; health care; the right to a dignified life; the right to practice business…so many things across the spheres. It also talks about the ability to assemble in different groups and to hold peaceful demonstrations.
TML: Nadia, the Salafis objected very strongly to the quota requirement: That 30% of the committee be women; but in the end, the women succeeded and the quota upheld. Do you feel that was a major milestone?
AL-SAKKAF: It definitely was. We had the question from the very beginning and it was a deal-breaker for all the women in the National Dialogue Conference. They stood up and they said, “Either you give us the 30% or we walk out,” and eventually, they got it.
TML: Fighting terrorism and maintaining security are as crucial to the stability of Yemen as is fighting corruption and reforming the judicial system. What measures are now set in motion through the respective groups assigned to those platforms?
AL-SAKKAF: We have a working group called the “Security and Army Group” and in this it talks about armed militias -- or removing armed militias. Ammunition and arms are to be controlled only by the state. It talked about the security of the state and its borders; and it talked about a strategy to fight terrorism.
TML: The security situation has worsened. You mentioned to me privately that there have been journalists that have been abducted. Why has it gotten so bad?
AL-SAKKAF: It has become too fragmented. There is no one authority. There is no one security power and so every province or every sub-authority is controlling one part of the region or some part of the authority structure. So the lack of security coordination between everybody gives more loopholes to people who are looking for a chance to make a fuss and create havoc.
TML: What needs to be done and will it be done? How are you going to be able to change this?
AL-SAKKAF: The National Dialogue is only concerned with the future so we don’t have an executive authority; we are only creating a roadmap for what we hope the next Yemen is going to look like. As for the current situation, the president is trying to lead an anti-terrorism and more security-strong movement. However, he’s not always successful in doing this. It’s because the whole situation; the whole country is under transformation and during times of transition we are bound to go through things like this.
TML: Speaking about President Hadi, who was elected by a 98.9% consensus in February 2012 -- has he been successful? Where has he failed?
AL-SAKKAF: (President Hadi) has been trying hard and I think that politically, he has succeeded. But on the regional level, and in gaining the trust of the groups in the south or in the north, it has been a give-and-take situation where sometimes we win them over for the National Dialogue and sometimes we lose them and they end up doing violent protests. There are clashes all over the country. So I suppose I would answer this by saying that security has become worse, and he couldn’t manage to make it better; and the other issue is economy. The economy is falling apart and whether it is a transition or a dysfunctional government, we’re still looking at the consequences.
TML: Any predictions for the elections planned for 2014?
AL-SAKKAF: I think we’re not going to be able to hold the elections on time. There is already a feeling of delay because of (the Muslim holy month of) Ramadan and eight holidays, so I think there will be more (delay0. So maybe instead of February, we will have the election in May or maybe in June 2014.
TML: Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karmen, a Yemeni herself, withdrew from the National Dialogue committee citing former President Saleh’s continued participation in politics. Does former President Saleh still hold power?
AL-SAKKAF: President Saleh is not in power but he still has some power. He is the head of the political party that is holding 50% of the government and he still has a lot of money and a lot of arms. And every now and then we hear of consequences of him still messing with power.
TML: Nadia, what are the next steps for the National Dialogue Conference?
AL-SAKKAF: We’re supposed to conclude the National Dialogue Conference on September 18. I think it will take three more months until we conclude and then we’ll have a Constitutional Building committee. This committee will be responsible for creating the next constitution; and there will be a referendum; and there will be a new electoral law. Eventually, we will have elections.
Article written by Felice Friedson
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop