In 2011, the colourful tents of Change Square flourished with hope and a dream of a dignified life. Three years later, like the tents, hope of regime change has disappeared for many independent revolutionaries.
While many positive steps have been taken in the past three years, including the official removal of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the creation of a transitional unity government, and the completion of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a complete break with the past is yet to be seen.
On February 21, 2012 on the first anniversary of the Yemeni Revolution, an uncontested “election” brought Saleh’s vice president to power, based on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s power transfer agreement. This deal, signed on November 23, 2011, was a great blow to the independent revolutionaries, as it empowered traditional forces over those calling for radical change and cosmetically addressed their demands.
In 2011, prior to this agreement, the regime, that had once neglected the youth, was forced to interact with them, due to their street power, which expanded political bargaining beyond the traditional political elite. Yet the GCC blocked this process, emphasising instead traditional patronage politics.
Business as usual
The demands of the street extended beyond the removal of the president to include comprehensive change to the entire political structure, which has been the cause of marginalisation. Many independent youth felt that the traditional opposition figures who worked side by side with the old regime do not believe in real change and have co-opted the revolution for personal and political gains.
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Creating a national unity government, while politically a positive move, meant that both traditional opposition and former ruling party members are in charge of government positions, transpiring in recruitment of government employees based on party loyalties rather than expertise. This marginalised a number of independent qualified technocrats, leaving management of many ministries to those who had no proper knowledge and blocking any reform of government institution, which is a necessary step to break away from the past.
Furthermore, the 2014 budget [Ar] allocated $11.3m to the Tribes’ Affairs Authority, which will be spent on monthly salaries for tribal leaders. In comparison, as the Yemen Times highlighted, the budget projected for Yemen’s Coast Guard Authority is $7.2m.
The fact that this line item remains in the budget post-revolution demonstrates that the transitional government is not keen on moving away from the patronage system towards a modern civic state on the basis of equal citizenship, social justice, and a plural political system.
According to a Parliamentary report [Ar], the same budget did not allocate any funds for the implementation of the NDC recommendations. This has made it difficult for people to trust the government’s political will to move forward with the decisions.
The NDC brought together 565 members from various backgrounds; seven percent of the seats were allocated to independent youth. The 300-page NDC recommendations [Ar] are significant, and emphasize revolutionary demands of equal citizenship and justice. For example, The forth recommendation of the state-building working group states, “All citizens shall be equal in rights and duties before the law, without distinction based on sex, race, origin, colour, religion, sect, doctrine, opinion, or economic or social standing.” Yet the fear is that such recommednations will remain simply ink on paper, and like many laws in Yemen will not be implemented.
While NDC members claimed that these recommendations are “binding”, there is no legislative provision that obliges either the government or the outdated parliament to carry them out.
In fact, many do not believe that these recommendations will in fact be implemented, pointing to the “20 points” as an example. Prior to the start of the NDC, the technical committee created to organise the NDC publically recommended a list of 20 points that are meant to rebuild trust between the South, the Houthis, and the government. This was supposed to be completed prior to the NDC, yet even after the end of the NDC, only a few of these points have been implemented. This begs the question: If these simple 20 points cannot be implemented, what will become of the remaining 300 page worth of recommendations?
Another example of lack of implementation lies in the absence of proper compensation for the injured revolutionaries. Despite a presidential decree ordering their treatment, many of them have been neglected and the government has provided little financial and medical support for them.
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On February 9 Abdul Jabar al-Namer, a protester who was shot in the stomach in 2011 died waiting to travel abroad for further medical treatment. Unhappy with this situation, the youth have staged numerous protests and demonstrations in support of their injured fellows, and some of the wounded have gone on hunger strikes. Despite promises to address the situation, no serious action has yet been taken. To date, four lawsuits have been filed by injured revolutionaries and their families, yet there has been no change in the status quo.
Although the presidential decrees aimed at restructuring the military were bold in their gaols, personal loyalties still control the army. In fact, Human Rights Watch reported that President Hadi informed them that “a general issue with the Yemeni military is that each brigade is formed from the same tribe.” In his words, it is impossible to “remove a commander who commits an abuse because the commander will simply reject the decision and the brigade will stand by him.”
This might explain why the committee setup by President Hadi to investigate the military attack on a funeral of a member of the Southern Movement in al-Dali last December has not yet provided any explanation or charged anyone. This lack of accountability is a natural consequence of the immunity law that provided protection for members of the former regime and enshrined this culture of impunity.
Violence by security institutions has continued against peaceful protesters, even on the anniversary of President Hadi’s “election”. On February 21, security forces shot at a large rally in Aden where people demonstrated against the outcomes of the NDC and called for secession. At the same time in the North, violent clashes between the Houthis, Salafis and tribal militias have persisted over the past months.
The NDC clearly did not succeed in addressing the main issues in the South or in the North.
There is no doubt that real change will take many years, yet the foundations need to be built correctly. With no real reform of government institutions, no rule of law, deteriorating economy and a catastrophic humanitarian situation, conflicts throughout Yemen have dramatically increased. Three years after the Yemeni revolution, we are left asking ourselves: Can the Yemen model really succeed? And can there be peace without justice?
Atiaf Zaid Alwazir is a researcher and blogger based in Sanaa. She is also a co-founder of the media advocacy group SupportYemen.