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Yemenis Divided Over Potential Federal State
Times Online
Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Report by Samar Qaed: “Yemenis Torn Over Potential Federal State

With the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) approaching and the country still recovering from revolutionary wounds, experts, politicians, organizations and ordinary citizens are all talking about how to form the new Yemeni government. Federalism has emerged as a prominent option to solve the current political crisis and no doubt will be a hot topic amongst those who now hold one of the allotted 565 seats at the NDC.

However, as many see it a solution to propel Yemen forward, the opposition puts forth arguments that this approach overlooks the Southern issue, the Houthi conflict in Sa`ada and the varying dogmatic schools of thought in the nation.

A researcher at the Yemeni Research Center, Dr. Nabeela Ghaleb, said that politicians have no problem with federalism as an advanced political and administrative system but that Yemen does not have the political foundations for this to be successful. Currently there are too many marginalized populations that would be neglected by this system. First, the nation needs to construct institutions that establish equal citizenship rights for all Yemenis she said.

“Federalism in a country like Yemen, that doesn`t have a lot of experience with democracy, is unsuitable. Divergent political views in Yemen may lead to disputes between the center and regions inside the country. (This) hinders public and private interests and at best leads to confusion in the decision making (process), which will contribute to separating regions and destroying the country.”

Ghaleb furthered that Yemen is currently in a transitional period that is supposed to implement procedures to save the country, but federalism will inhibit achievements.

Omar Al-Amodi, a Political Science professor at Sana`a University, said unity in Yemen is under threat because of calls for federalism. Given the current situation, such a form of government raises the probability of separation as dividing the country into small states could sparks a civil war.

“What is happening in Yemen puts the Arab Spring at stake, not only in terms of the relation between the state and society, but even the relationship between residents themselves and also the establishment of the state and its foundations,” he said.

Al-Amodi added that at a time when the Southern issue receives national, regional and international attention, it is facing problems that must be taken into consideration.

Abdulla Al-Akwa`, a political writer, said that federalism is more complicated. He said the presence of natural resources in some areas will cause people to hoard their wealth, and this will destroy the country instead of achieving change.

With oil concentrated in Marib, a heavily tribal governorate, federalism would result in continuous disputes about access to natural resources.

Al-Akwa also makes his case against federalism by pointing out that those countries around the world, where federalism is supposedly successful, still struggle with maintaining a federalist state.

“The experienced federal countries still have problems and a desire to separate. What is happening in Canada is an example because Quebec has continued threatening the unity of Canada for decades. They hold a self-determination referendum each four years in order to become an independent country. Canadians resent this, saying Quebec attempts to blackmail Canada to get a bigger share of the national wealth” he said.

Poverty and deprivation are also huge issues to consider. The Arab Human Development Report in 2010, conducted by the UNDP, indicated that poverty rate in Yemen has reached almost 60 percent, as an increase in unemployment. With a history of tyranny and corruption in politics, there are increasing concerns regarding the ability of politicians to manipulate a federal system.

Currently this rate in Yemen is increasing more due to electricity outages and the increase in diesel price s. Yemeni society is witnessing a 3.6 percent increase in work opportunities while the workforce continues to grow by 4.3 percent each year, according to the statistics of the Yemeni Information Center

A journalist, Rashad Al-Sharabi, pointed out that some regional countries such as Saudi Arabia reject federalism in Yemen because it may result in the establishment of a Southern state and after that, a Houthi Shiite State in Sa`ada.

Al-Sharabi said neighboring and foreign countries will stand by their own interests and they usually require a united Yemen.

Yet, politicians and analysts aside, the question remains on how the Yemeni population feel about the prospect of federalism. Meeting with people on the street, the population, much like the politicians appeared divided on the issue.

Ahlam Al-Maqtari, a Sana`a resident, does not approve of federalism, considering it a way to divide the country.

“The integrated unity is the best situation for Yemen, and any suggestion of a new system will wreak havoc on the country and people,” she said.

Abdu Al-Jamei disagreed with Al-Maqtari. He supported federalism adoption saying, “It is better the country is divided into five regions, not two because a two-region division will lead to the separation of the south from the north. We fear this.”

Ghasan Al-Ariqi says the current situation is unfit for the country to adopt federalism. He justified his opinion saying, “The cultural awareness among people is not good enough to embark on this system.”

“The sectarian problems exist in many governorates. If federalism is approved, rifts among Yemenis will increase.”

The NDC is expected to take account of this variety of opinion when it begins this year. An exact date is still pending.

(Description of Source: Sanaa Yemen Times Online in English -- Website of independent twice-weekly, Yemen`s largest-circulation English-language newspaper; URL:

© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.

YES to unity, NO to federalism
Yemen Times
August 16, 2009

Tribal chieftains attend a tribal conference in Sanaa January 26, 2010. The gathering called for the end of violent conflicts in Yemen.

Over the past few weeks, there has been active debate in Yemen`s opposition camp on federalism as a possible solution to the current problems facing the country. In what follows, I will shed some light on the false logic of this debate.

Inspired, if not disillusioned, by the successful stories of federalism in different parts of the world, some elements within Yemen`s opposition camp are proposing the federal idea as a means of easing the currently very tense integration of the southern part of the country. According to them, Yemen can come out of the tunnel of the ongoing governance crisis by learning from the federal experiences of countries such as Switzerland, Canada, Germany and India.

However, in addition to carrying a high dose of threat for the fragile Yemeni central state, and for the unique achievement of Yemen`s unification, this proposal lacks basic understanding of the historical and socio-cultural context of federalism. It also lacks the appreciation of the concrete facts that what works in one country may not necessarily be relevant to another, and that federalism has its limitations and drawbacks.

A glance at the existing federal systems on the political map of the world reveals how federalism in multicultural countries such as Switzerland has succeeded in promoting stability, prosperity, transparency, accountability, civil liberties and fiscal sovereignty, while in other countries such as Nigeria, the federal idea as a means of overcoming the problems of ethnic tension and the unfair distribution of oil wealth has done more to aggravate than solve these problems.

In fact, the application of federalism in oil-rich Nigeria led to the transition of violence from being ideologically motivated to being financially motivated. The basic point I am trying to make here is that federalism is not an export product, and it is not the panacea for the complexities and ills of socioeconomic and political lives of all countries in our political atlases.

For the following reasons, federal principles should not be sponsored or proposed as a guide for the processes of governance in united Yemen.

To begin with, the structure of federalism is a very delicate institutional arrangement, which is constructed on the basis of levels, arenas, spheres and tiers of government, each endowed with its own independent legitimacy.

The politico-administrative structure of federalism is made of vertical checks and balances, which aims to divide power between a central nation and a number of states or provinces. This delicate structure of governance works well for geographically and demographically large nation-states. For instance, federalizing the relations between the central and local levels of governance has a strong logic in a big country like the U.S., where the population is spread over six time zones! It works well also for countries with highly diverse populations in terms of ethnicity, race, language and religion.

In such countries, federalism is an essential formula for preventing political atomization and violent conflicts of interests that are inherent in different ethnic groups, races, languages and religions existing in proximity to each other. India, `the land of lands`, is an excellent example of how federalism has provided the only best option for maintaining an appropriate state-society balance in a united political community of more than one billion people who speak 1.632 languages and follow tens of different religions.

The Indian federal system, however, is socio-culturally, not economically motivated, and it is highly centralized. The latter fact is clear in India`s fiscal centralization, which is implemented in order to address economic regional disparity and financial weakness of the various Indian states.

Bearing in mind that religion and language are the most important structural criteria for federal solutions, Yemen is not in need to a federal system for coping with living in unity in diversity. In the case of Yemen, diversity revolves simply around few offshoots of the same religion, different histro-political experiences of the Northern and Southern parts of the country, and the common ecological Middle Eastern dynamic opposition between tribal, rural and urban groups.

Indeed, compared to many political entities in the developing world, Yemen is one of the few countries that are not linguistically, religiously or ethnically fractured. It is also one of the few developing countries that are not suffering from colonially-inherited socio-cultural divisions. In light of this, it is inappropriate to think about the re-structuring of Yemen`s governance system on the basis of Swiss Cantons, Brazilian, US or Indian federal states.

From financial and administrative points of view, on the other hand, it is irrational to think about federalism in economically fragile Yemen, simply because one of the fundamentals of federalism-based governance is that each of the sub-national administrative and political units should be provided with sources of raising adequate revenues to discharge the functions entrusted to them. In other words, applying a federal system in Yemen does not mean that the regional and local levels of governance will not be financially dependent upon the central government.

In my view, what Yemen needs today is not a new institutional design that is borrowed from the historical experiences of other political entities in the world, particularly a federalism-based design which can be misunderstood as license for the creation of pockets of self-rule and fragmentation.

Instead, Yemen needs a political equilibrium, which is capable of enhancing political legitimacy, and strengthening the economic, bureaucratic, coercive and juridical capacities of the central government in Sana`a. Such a political equilibrium should be constructed, however, on the basis of the consensus of the majority of the people of Yemen. And, above all, the equilibrium should not, under any conditions or circumstances, damage or shake the unity and integrity of Yemen.

Here, let me pose the following one million dollar question: How, in the light of the current economic deterioration, security threats and socio-political uncertainties, can Yemen achieve this time consuming, very expensive and difficult equilibrium? I would like to request the readers who are concerned about the present and future of Yemen to share their suggested answers with the Yemen Times....

© Copyright 2009 Yemen Times. All Rights Reserved.

Yemeni newspaper on prospect of setting up sustainable federal political system
BBC Monitoring Middle East
June 20, 2011

Yemeni tribes

Text of editorial by Mohammed Bin Sallam entitled “Federalism, the shape of things to come?” published in English by Yemen Times newspaper website on 20 June

With Yemen on the verge of a political transition many political analysts debate the political and administrative structure of the country to be.

One of the main grievances upon which the revolution was based was the lack of equal citizenship and use of local resources for the central government while depriving local governorates.

Although none of the scenarios for how the country`s new image will look like is even remotely official, there has been some significant events to analyse this issue the latest being last month in Cairo lead by former president of South Yemen Ali Naser.

Along with several recognized names of the southern governorates such as Haidar Al-Attas the participants recommended a united federal system based on two states: North and South. The logic behind this proposal was based on the initial reality of Yemen being two.

“However, this new scenario will not be a repetition of the unity in 1990, it will be rather a federal system whereby each states has its own parliament of equal representation each to elect a president of its region and both are deputies of the president of the united Yemen,” read the statement from the conference in May. The conference also discussed the need for independent state institutions including executive and judiciary which also means both states will have their own intelligence system.

“This proposal is not acceptable or even realistic. It will drag the country into another civil war because it emphasizes the division between north and south,” criticized Sultan Al-Atwani, Secretary General of the Nasserite Party.

Another scenario that has found more appeal among Yemenis across the country is a multi-state federal system that could be anything between 4 and 7 states. The states will bind similar governorates which share strong demographic and geographical characteristics. The logic behind this is to remove the south-north division with all its history while in the same time provide autonomy and decentralization for the various regions.

This line of thinking was in fact what was agreed upon years ago in the agreement signed on 18 January 1994 between representatives of the south and north former governments in Jordan as a way to absorb the tensions, which lead to a civil war in the summer of that very year.

“The way Yemen was managed since its unity in 1990 did not allow for individual regions to thrive within a context of a national state. Discrimination and corruption were the main barriers and this is what we need to avoid in the stage to come,” said Muhammad Al-Sabri, media spokesman of the national dialogue committee.

This same reasoning was highlighted more than once during the discussions between the visible opposition parties today which include very different political parties such as the Islamists [Islah], Socialist, Nasserite, and somewhat Shi`i [Al-Haq] parties.

Even within the current regime there has been an endorsement of a decentralized system through the Ministry of Local Authority which was established in 2001. Through this system local councils were created in each governorate and even districts. The councils were elected by the people and the secretary general of the local council was the deputy governor in each province.

In 2008 the governorate system also changed and instead of being appointed by the central state, governors were elected and the first election was held in April 2008 although it was boycotted by the opposition parties.

Ironically, the 1994 agreement stipulated a presidential council of five members elected by the parliament and Shoura council combined, which seems to be the approaching reality of Yemen in the next phase one way or the other. The council then elects a president and a deputy from amongst its members. The agreement signed more than 17 years ago limits the president`s rule to two terms and prevents any of the council`s members from exercising any political activities relating to their independent parties.

Although the country as a whole is said to have one political capital “Sana`a” and Aden as the commercial capital, the federal state proposes that each of the federal regions has its own capital and its own democratic governance system. The regions or states will have financial and administrative independence yet share revenues from essential resources such as oil with the central state.

Source: Yemen Times website, Sanaa, in English 20 Jun 11

© 2011 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


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