Political Reform Prospects in Yemen

As in much of the Arab world, 2011 was a year of social upheaval and momentous change for Yemen. Following eleven months of popular protest, and under significant international pressure, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to a UN-backed transition initiative in November 2011. The initiative ensured a transfer of power from Saleh to his deputy, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and mandated a two-year period of national dialogue to resolve long-standing political issues and produce a new constitution before elections are held in 2014.

The transition agreement was a uniquely Yemeni solution to the events of the so-called “Arab Spring”. At its core it is an elite compromise that provided domestic immunity for Saleh in return for his resignation. While brokered between established political actors, including the former ruling party and the opposition bloc, it promises to include a wider spectrum of stakeholders: youth, women, southern separatists, and Huthi rebels, in the national dialogue process.

Today the country is in a historic moment of transition, yet the degree and direction of change are far from certain. Understanding the prospects for political reform requires attention to a number of inter-related factors including the social, economic, regional and security context.

Within this framework, the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law is launching a multidisciplinary research project, Political Reform Prospects in Yemen: A Holistic Approach. By engaging Yemeni scholars and practitioners from diverse backgrounds, this research provides new voices and original scholarship to help influence policy and development assistance to this country of strategic importance. The project is driven by the need to arrive at a thorough understanding of political reform prospects in Yemen, which can only be done by examining political, economic, security, and social factors and linkages among them.

The project will generate a series of policy papers authored by Yemeni scholars and practitioners that will examine the context of political reform in Yemen and particularly obstacles and opportunities during the transitional period. Papers will be distributed to the policymaking and development community in the US and abroad to encourage greater understanding of a country that is understudied and oftentimes misrepresented in the media. Of particular significance is the fact that this research is conducted by Yemeni experts who represent a cross-section of Yemeni society, providing an authoritative account of these complex topics.

The final papers will be available in Arabic and English and will be publicized on the Arab Reform Program website in 2012. They will eventually be compiled in an edited volume.