The Future of Yemen: A Rare Conversation with Yemeni Political Opposition Leaders

This morning, Yemeni opposition leaders gathered to discuss the future of Yemen via videoconference with the United States Institute of Peace. The five representatives addressed the collaboration of the various tribes in instigating the ongoing protests. They described the ongoing violence, and confirmed 130 deaths and 5500 wounded civilians. These numbers exclude the factory explosion last Monday, which has yet to reveal an official casualty report. But the big question remained, “What comes next?”


Tawakkol Karman, Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, described the uprising as centered on the question of security, both political and economic. The panelists largely dismissed the challenges of accommodating ethnic tensions, particularly from the Southern Movement and the Hutsi ethnic group, explaining that a “Yemeni consciousness” would allow the major problems of the burgeoning civil society to transcend over all other daily issues. Although the token woman represented at the table, Tawakkol failed to speak to the role of women in the protests, and whether their voices would be heard once the revolution subsides.


The greatest challenge to the reconstruction of the country’s constitution may stem from the difference of opinion between the ascending political leadership and the views of the students and protestors actively engaged in the streets. While the former would emphasize the inclusion of disenfranchised political parties and the upholding of international agreements, the civil society may find their idealistic goals remain unmet. Tawakkol Karman and Shadi Khosruf, representatives of the broader community, both exclaimed, “Trust the Yemeni people, and trust the youth.” They insisted that once President Ali Abdullah Saleh is removed, the desired civic democratic state would emerge naturally.


By contrast, Mohammad Qattah, Head of the Executive Council Yemen Congregation for Reform, Sheikh Mohammad Abu Lahoum, Former Head of the Foreign Relations Department of the GPC, and Dr. Yassin Noman, current Secretary General of the Yemen Socialist Party, envisioned a more patient and prudent transition that may, at least for a time, uphold the status quo. They did, however, emphasize the need for an oversight agency, which could deter future monopolies of power, promote mobility, and eliminate political rejection. So while all parties seem to pursue the abstract middle ground, there is a divergence in perspective on how to create the road map for a new Yemen. 


Overall, the ongoing crisis in Yemen seems to be a revolution without ideology, a social contract to create a social contract. While many parties and perspectives have contributed to the uprising, it is difficult to predict whether these factions will be heard in a transition government.