Yemen National Dialogue Considers Federal Option

Despite a rocky start, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference has made certain strides, such as signs that most factions agree on a unified, federalized Yemen.

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sheikh abdul majeed al-zindani, baath

May 7, 2013

Clear indications have emerged during the first six weeks of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference that the participants might succeed in reaching agreement about the main issues being discussed, including the identity of the state, its form and system of rule. This is despite the presence of significant differences between the factions, and the forecast that additional hurdles would arise in the next few weeks of talks.

In this context, the option of “federalism” seems to be the most likely choice among the proposals made during negotiations so far. It is the favored option of the Yemeni Socialist Party, as was made evident by its proposed vision concerning the identity and form of a future state. It is also the most preferred choice of the People’s Congress Party, headed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his allies. They were joined by the Baath Party, Nasserite Party and the South Yemen Movement, with small differences between them concerning the details of future governmental “decentralization.”

The Socialist Party leans more toward establishing a composite state, with Yemen divided into an unspecified number of federal provinces possessing local governments and parliaments united by a central federal government located in Sanaa that administers all issues relating to sovereignty, such as defense, natural resources and the distribution of wealth. A central government would be overseen by a proportional parliamentary system and a presidency council composed of province governors.

The People’s Congress Party leadership has stepped up the number of consultative meetings lately, attended by Saleh, with its representatives to the dialogue, in order to discuss its stance regarding the issues being deliberated. At the same time, media sources affiliated with the party have revealed that the consultations dealt with all possible political systems that can be adopted, including the parliamentary system and local governments, the division of constitutional, administrative, and monetary powers between the state’s president — who must maintain his role as a symbol of the state’s sovereignty — and the head of the central government, in his capacity as the supreme holder of executive powers; as well as between the central and local governments which the party’s leader announced years ago his willingness to endorse.

In contrast, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (the Muslim Brotherhood) did not express fondness for the federal option, as was apparent in past statements issued by its secretary general, Abdul Wahab al-Anesi, and recent comments made by one of its prominent leaders and member of its Shura Council, controversial cleric Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, who rejected the idea of dividing Yemen into federal provinces and warned of “suspect efforts to marginalize sharia rule.” Meanwhile, he felt that “federalism was a colonial plot to weaken Yemen.” Al-Zindani further said, “They want to divide us in order to weaken us. For if we were weak, they would be able to appropriate our country’s riches and impose upon us rulers that serve them and humiliate us in the name of colonialism; just as the rulers of the past 50  years have done, when we were ruled by colonial proxies.”

But a source close to the Reform Party’s leadership told Al-Hayat to view “Sheikh al-Zindani’s as merely his own personal opinion,” while it was expected “that the party would ultimately endorse the idea of federal provinces united under a central government, because that would be the minimum acceptable solution for the southern province’s political elites. But we will not accept the formation of a federal state composed of only one northern and one southern province, as that would be a prelude to secession.”

It was worth noting that all prominent Yemeni political factions participating in the national dialogue espoused similar views concerning the “identity of the state.” The Socialist, People’s Congress and Salafist Rashad Union parties all affirmed that they would endorse the inclusion in the draft constitution the definition of “Yemen as an Arab Muslim state, with Islam as its official religion and the source of all of its laws.” A convergence of views not expected from the Socialist Party, as well as national and liberal factions which were expected to insist that the wording used be “Islam is one of the sources for legislation” or “the main source of legislation.”

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