The first Arab Spring nation to have peacefully managed its transition of power through political inclusion according to democratic principles, Yemen has already been hailed a model to be followed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Earlier this January, the country appeared to be breaking apart under the sheer weight of its overlapping crises—Islamic radicalism, political instability, calls for secession, widespread insecurity and economic hardship—but is now laying down new founding principles for its institutions and political system.
Almost a year after his (admittedly uncontested) election, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has presided over the proposal of the Just Solution Agreement, an initiative that attempts to bridge the gaps between Yemen’s many factions by laying down universal principles—national unity, solidarity, social justice and fair representation—while leaving out all contentious issues.
Very much thinking outside the box, Hadi has chosen not to negotiate, not to barter, not to convince, but instead to express commonly shared principles which no political entity, civil group, tribal faction or religious group will be able to contest or reject. Under the agreement, Yemen’s factions pledge to secure a just solution to the issue of Southern demands for greater autonomy and representation—the main roadblock to progress towards political stability—within a new federal political framework.
The Southern issue—the ‘elephant in the room’ in Yemeni politics—has always been a thorn in Yemen’s side. It is the only issue that has seemed unresolvable, due to the nature of Southerners’ demands: nothing less than secession, and a return to the days of two separate states. Disillusioned by two decades of nepotism and regional segregation, Southern separatist movement Al-Hirak went into the national dialogue with only independence on its mind.
Interestingly, it was Sheikh Mohammed Abu Lahoum, veteran politician and founder of Yemen’s Freedom and Justice Party, who first theorized in 2011 that Yemen needed a new dose of federalism, offering the necessary compromise between national cohesion and greater regional autonomy: unity from the multitude. In an interview earlier this month with Asharq Al-Awsat, he explained that while the Just Solution Agreement did not offer a quick fix to Yemen’s political existential crisis, it offered a platform on which to build strong institutions. “It is important to promote trust between all negotiating parties,” he noted, adding, “The Just Solution seeks to create trust and confidence between the negotiating parties in Yemen.”
Under the initiative, all parties have agreed that over the next five years, power will be equally split between North and South, in keeping with the spirit of the 1990 unification agreement. A country of contrasts where political factions often stand on polar opposites, Yemen has found unity in the expression of its founding principles: social justice and equality. It is this shift in narrative that has allowed this formerly fractured country to redefine itself as a nation moving forward.
Keen to celebrate, Hadi hailed such political achievement as a “defining moment for the Yemeni people . . . the consecration of the people’s democratic aspirations.” With all parties in agreement, including die-hard dissidents, Yemen is ready to enter the next phase of its institutional metamorphosis, closing the book on its dictatorial past. Armed with a clear vision and sound founding principles, Yemen can no longer be called a nation interrupted, but rather one in the making.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.