Yemen’s national dialogue has been lauded as a model for other countries in transition. While it succeeded in convening a broad range of Yemeni society on a host of issues, difficult key issues were left unresolved. Other countries embarking on national dialogues should learn from Yemen’s experience that they must balance the scale of the forum, the weight of the agenda, and the impact on other transitional processes that may be sidelined by a dialogue.

Summary

  • On January 25, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) closed after more than ten months of deliberation. The flagship process within Yemen’s post–Arab Spring transition, the NDC has been lauded as a positive model of inclusive and constructive negotiation. In Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and Sudan, similar national dialogue processes have been mooted or are under way.
  • The NDC made significant progress on a daunting range of governance, structural, and social contract issues. It broke through political and social barriers to engage a broader scope of political parties, actors, and civil society—a precedent that will be difficult to roll back.
  • Despite these achievements, the NDC missed its concluding deadline because of a deadlock over the fundamental dilemma: the future status for southern Yemen and the structure of the Yemeni state. A partial solution was brokered, but only by extending the transition process and leaving tough issues to be resolved later.
  • Meanwhile, other challenges, from unemployment to serious humanitarian shortfalls to rampant insecurity, also remain unresolved. The public has grown increasingly skeptical that either the NDC or the transition process will result in a government that responds to their needs.
  • The verdict is out on the ultimate legacy of the NDC. Even at this early stage, however, the hurdles the NDC has faced may provide lessons for other countries considering such processes. At a minimum, exploring how certain process elements may have contributed to achieving the NDC’s goals or not might suggest further areas for research, reflection, or continued engagement in the next stages of transition.
  • Other countries considering a national dialogue should streamline the agenda to the extent possible, weighing carefully which political issues do or do not lend themselves to a large-scale public forum, and ensure an appropriate balance between the national dialogue and other transitional processes.

About the Report

This report is part of a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) effort to explore how transition processes in Yemen affect the country’s rule of law, justice, and security. Because USIP is also engaged in other countries’ undergoing transition, the report also supports the related goal of developing comparative lessons about processes that create opportunities for conflict resolution and peacebuilding during periods of transition.

About the Author

Erica Gaston is a senior USIP program officer working on rule of law in Yemen and Afghanistan. Her background is in human rights, laws of war, and justice issues in conflict and postconflict states. Her previous publications on Yemen have focused on local justice and security dilemmas and the impact of transition on justice institutions.

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