Aden’s violence and restoring Yemen’s national consensus

Aden’s violence and restoring Yemen’s national consensus

During the past week, clashes have erupted in Aden between supporters of the “Southern Transitional Council” and security forces of the Yemeni government. The clashes have so far resulted in hundreds of casualties, according to unconfirmed press reports, including over 30 fatalities.
The impasse followed demands by the council, a relatively new entity with no legal status within Yemen and no formal recognition by other countries, for President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to dismiss Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed bin Dagher, accusing his government of corruption and nepotism. However, other than the council’s military capabilities, it is difficult to assess how much popular support it might have compared to older southern groups. 
The Saudi-led coalition supporting the government of Yemen issued statements on Jan. 27 and 29 calling for “de-escalation, restraint and peaceful dialogue,” imploring “all parties” to “quickly cease fire and end all military activities.” The coalition warned that it would otherwise take “all necessary measures to restore peace and stability in Aden.” It further called on the parties to resolve their differences via political means, in accordance with the three previously agreed frameworks: The outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanisms, and UN Security Council Resolution 2216. Yemeni factions, it stressed, should focus their efforts on their shared essential goals of restoring peace, security and government authority over all of Yemen’s territory, safeguarding state institutions, and defeating the Iranian-allied Houthi militias.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers endorsed the coalition’s statements. The UAE, a key member of the coalition, had also previously endorsed them. 
The reference to the national dialogue outcomes is important to the Aden clashes because those outcomes are a key framework that represents consensus among Yemenis, including on how to deal with southern issues. During the National Dialogue Conference, which took place over 10 months in 2013 and 2014, Yemenis from all regions and of all affiliations, including Houthis and southerners, as well as women and youth groups, agreed to a set of arrangements that represent a political contract on all key issues. Those outcomes were formally signed by participants in the presence of Yemeni, GCC and UN officials.
All of the South’s credible groups should take part in honest, peaceful dialogue in order to ensure the speedy implementation of the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference on the South.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
The NDC outcomes dealt with issues such as devolution of power and authority from the central government to the provinces, including in the southern parts of Yemen. The agreement includes detailed provisions on sharing natural resources fairly, including oil and gas, as well as developing and exploiting those resources jointly between the provinces and the central government. The agreement specifies the division of control over economic issues and the establishment of a national representative body to administer these relationships regarding natural resources “fairly and transparently.”
One of those outcomes dealt with the “Southern Question” i.e., grievances by the southern part of Yemen about unequal representation in government institutions. The document also dealt with governance and ensuring an equal share for the South of government services, development projects, and the exploitation of natural resources. 
Specifically, the document states that, during the first election cycle, “the South shall have 50 percent of all leadership positions in executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, including the House of Representatives and the armed forces and internal security.”
The document stipulated that laws should be enacted, and directives issued, by the President of the Republic and Prime Minister to “end the present inequality in civil service, armed forces, and internal security forces, to ensure the elimination of discrimination and equality of opportunity for all Yemenis.”
The agreement established an affirmative action policy for southerners, stating that in order to remedy past unequal treatment, “southerners shall be given priority in occupying vacant positions in civil, military and internal security services, as well as places in training and qualification programs, according to the civil service criteria regarding needed qualifications and skills. No one shall be arbitrarily dismissed.”
Ever since, the transitional government of President Hadi has tried to implement these provisions to increase the participation and representation of southerners in the government, wherever possible, to the chagrin of some northerners. 
Restoring full southern confidence in the national government is important after decades of neglect and unfair practises by the previous regime. It requires honest, peaceful dialogue between all parties. Not just the STC, but all credible groups in the South should take part, including those groups and individuals who signed the “Southern Question” accord as part of the NDC outcomes. The purpose of this dialogue should not be to renegotiate that document, which would be extremely difficult because of the war in the North. Instead, the objective should be on the practicalities of its speedy implementation and addressing the specific grievances expressed prior to the recent violence. 
• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. He can be reached via email: [email protected]. Twitter: @abuhamad1
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