Yemen transition stalls amid growing unrest and poverty
DUBAI - Agence France-Presse
Boys on their way to school walk past a building damaged during protests and clashes in 2011 in Sanaa. Many establishments still bear damages and have yet to receive government compensation. REUTERS photoTwo years after Yemen's long-ruling leader stepped down in the face of Arab Spring protests, the political transition has stalled and Al-Qaeda has stepped up attacks across the impoverished country.
Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down in a November 2011 deal brokered by the United Nations and the Gulf countries that saw him hand power to his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi following months of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Hadi was later elected as interim president for two years, during which a new constitution was to have been drafted ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in February 2014.
But as in other countries rocked by the Arab Spring, Yemen's leaders have struggled to agree on a way forward, while extremists have stepped up attacks and living conditions have further deteriorated.
The transition "has been facing threats and obstruction," UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar said, prompting the Security Council to threaten sanctions against former regime figures and "political opportunists" impeding the process. The United Nations has expressed its "concern over continuing reports of interference by those intent on disrupting, delaying or derailing the transition process and undermining the Yemeni Government," he told AFP. A national dialogue began in March, bringing together representatives of political parties, northern Shiite rebels, and factions from the formerly independent south, as well as young activists who had led the 2011 protests.
But the talks have stalled, making it impossible to meet the February deadline for elections, participants say.
"We are heading towards extending the transition period for two more years," Jamila Rajaa, a former diplomat who represents independents in the talks, told AFP.
"Big issues cannot be resolved in six months." The participants have agreed in principle on transforming the republic into a federal state, but southerners want Yemen to be divided into north and south, a proposal rejected by northerners who see in it a return to the borders that preceded the 1990 unification.
Saleh's General People's Congress and the Islamist Islah party have instead proposed dividing the country into six regions, according to participants.
Northern troops overran the south in 1994 after its last attempt at secession.
"The dialogue has taken Yemen as far as it can," April Alley, a Yemen specialist at the International Crisis Group said.
"By delaying and not agreeing upon next steps, politicians are opening Yemen up to significant backsliding and a return to violence, that we are witnessing already." Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has stepped up attacks on security forces, government officials and foreigners in recent months despite Yemeni military operations and a covert US drone campaign.
On December 5 the group launched a brazen attack on the defence ministry complex in Sanaa in which 56 people were killed, including expatriate medical staff.
Fighting between Shiite rebels and Sunni militants has meanwhile escalated in the north, and the sabotage of electricity and oil infrastructure is rife in tribal areas, triggering power cuts in Sanaa that have fed the sense of crisis.
Oil minister Ahmed Dares said Wednesday that attacks on oil and gas pipelines cost the country some $4.75 billion between March 2011 and March 2012.
Petroleum accounts for around 25 percent of GDP and 70 percent of government revenues in Yemen, which is the poorest country in the Arab world and is running desperately short on water.
The World Bank estimated that 54.5 percent of Yemen's population was living in poverty in 2012, up from 42 percent three years earlier.
UN agencies appealed for humanitarian aid earlier this week in Geneva, saying more than half of Yemen's population of more than 25 million needs some form of assistance.
They said 10.5 million people are food-insecure or severely food-insecure, and over one million children under five suffer from acute or severe malnutrition.