The National Dialogue is an important milestone in Yemen’s transition. Following the broad grassroots revolution in Yemen that began in January 2011 and continued throughout that year, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) facilitated the transition of President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power. As part of the agreement brokered by GCC, an inclusive "National Dialogue" was held to discuss constitutional reform, key political roadblocks such as the question of southern independence and adoption of legal and administrative reforms to improve governance and rights protection, among other issues. Backed by the United Nations and the international community, the process began in March 2013 and concluded in January 2014, and resulted in nearly 1800 recommendations on many difficult and diverse issues.
While some argue that the National Dialogue did not go far enough on many of the mandated issues, most Yemenis who participated in the process considered it to be a successful exercise. At a minimum, it succeeded in bringing together different political parties, social groups, women and youth group representatives, many of whom had been excluded in previous political processes and were highly skeptical the government’s ability to achieve consensus through dialogue.
A local Sana’a-based NGO has been working to make the National Dialogue an even more inclusive process by helping a broader swath of civil society and general public learn about the National Dialogue and feed into the process. With financial support from a USIP grant, the Economic and Social Development Research (ESDR) is conducting a public education project to help increase citizens' awareness and facilitate public participation in the National Dialogue. So far, ESDR has conducted three interactive information sessions in Sana'a, Taiz and Aden, targeting representatives from the civil society sector, media, youth groups and peace activists, as well as tribal and religious leaders. Each information session was held over two days and covered in detail the political process of the National Dialogue, its anticipated outcomes and its role in the country’s peaceful democratic transition. The sessions paralleled the topics in the nine National Dialogue thematic working groups: transitional justice and national reconciliation, rights and freedoms, state-building and state structures, good governance, independent of special entities (minorities and vulnerable groups), the role of the army and security forces, the Southern issue, the Sa’da issue and sustainable development and economic rights.
Also under the USIP grant, the ESDR team conducted seven dialogue forums for political parties’ representatives participating in the National Dialogue and other community groups to discuss the community priorities and issues, increase public participation in the process and reduce gaps between the political leaders and their constituents. Each of these dialogue forums covered a different topic, including: dialogue as means for achieving reconciliation, youth and social justice, the future of Yemen under a federal state and economic development and economic reform. Representatives of the different political parties discussed their political positions and their plans for the future. While their political positions were largely opposing, there was a strong consensus among the leaders about core issues that needed to resolved in the National Dialogue process, including federalism as a form of governance which can provide solutions to the Southern Yemen secession issue, and anti-corruption and economic reform policies that will ensure greater economic growth and social justice issues. The forums gained media attention and one of the conferences was broadcast live on an Al Jazeera satellite station.
The leaders of the political parties who took part in these dialogue forums said they found them very useful, as they provided safe spaces for candid discussions about difficult and painful issues. At one session, families of the youth who died in the 2011 revolution expressed their grievances and concerns directly to members of the National Dialogue, who received those concerns with empathy. The Vice President of the National Dialogue Conference, Dr. Yassin Saeed Noman, praised the ESDR initiative as an effective avenue to reduce the gap between the members of the National Dialogue and the public. He expressed his admiration and gratitude to ESDR for taking the initiative to participate actively in the National Dialogue process.
ESDR was pleased with the success of the project. The number of participants in these forums and their level of participation in the proceedings exceeded the expectations of the ESDR team, who had to make adjustments to lengthen the sessions. ESDR’s Executive Director Marzouq Abdulwadood considers this to be a clear indication that these types of dialogue and reconciliation initiatives are very much needed and timely, are helping to fill gaps in the government led national reconciliation processes and are effective means to achieve consensus on unifying issues while parts of the country are still at conflict. Abdulwadood believes that while this is just the beginning and there is much work still ahead, he is hopeful that with the increased popular awareness and ownership of the dialogue process, a peaceful and successful transition may not be a far-fetched goal.
For more information about this project and other grants projects in the Middle East and North Africa region please contact Raya Barazanji at firstname.lastname@example.org.