For months citizens across Yemen have walked by signs advertising the nationصs reconciliatory conference. Public opinion remains mixed.
SANA'A, March 17 — And so it begins: Yemen steps into its impending future with over 500 men and women who are expected to debate, argue, adjust, reconcile and ultimately decide on the state's structure and pave the way for national elections in February 2014.
Or that’s the hope.
Two years after the country’s popular uprising that brought an end to former-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule, the country is fractured. The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) aims to bring Yemen’s wildly divergent political parties and factions—including separatists in the South and armed rebels in the North—together in civil conversation.
The days leading up to the conference were filled with political tension and protest. When the names of the President’s List—a selection of 62 participants, handpicked by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi—were announced on Saturday, opposition groups were outraged when they saw that list included allies of former-President Saleh.
Prime Minister Mohammed Basundwa said he would not attend the inauguration, saying he cannot attend a conference full of “thugs and murderers,” according to Deputy Secretary General of the NDC Yaser Al-Ruaini. U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar pleaded with Basundwa, but could not talk him out of his position, Ruaini said.
Meanwhile, in Aden, on Sunday a rally was staged by the Hirak, or the Southern Separatist Movement, protesting participation in the dialogue with leaders announcing a mass protest in the streets to coincide with the start of the conference.
Although, 85 southern leaders—including Mohammed Ali Ahmed, head of the National Southern Conference, and Abdulla Al-Asnaj, former Southern Foreign Affairs, and Abdulla Al-Nakhibi, former Secretary General of the Hirak Supreme Council—have agreed to participate in the NDC.
But Adeb Al-Esi, head of Southern Revolutionary Powers Coalition, will not concede. He has called on the international community to recognize a sovereign state in the South and refuses to recognize the national conference as legitimate.
“The representatives of the South in the NDC shall be selected after holding a southern-southern conference that gathers all southern powers; no one is currently representing the South,” he said.
Ali Salem Al-Beidh and Ali Nasser Mohammed (both former presidents of South Yemen), Haider Al-Atas, prime minister of Yemen in 1994, and several other southern leaders also renounced the conference.
But, with watchful eyes from the international community and repeated professions of optimism by foreign diplomats and international organizations, Yemenis are forced to proceed forward in what many are calling imperfect conditions.
As an indication, prominent members of parties outside of Hirak, like Islah Shiekh Hamid Al-Ahmar, have withdrawn from the conference.
Al-Ahmar announced his departure on his Facebook page, saying that the participants in the conference are not balanced and that there some important groups which were left out.
“However, I hope this conference comes out with good results and does not complicate the situation in Yemen further,” Al-Ahmar wrote.
Per procedures outlined by the NDC Preparatory Committee, participants who withdraw will be replaced with names from backup lists previously submitted by conference stakeholders.
An opening ceremony for the conference will be held for delegates at 10:30 a.m. on Monday at the President’s House in the presence of international ambassadors, U.N representatives and prominent government officials.