Yemenis are celebrating the second anniversary of the launch of nationwide protests which culminated in the overthrow of president Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power. Tens of thousands gathered in the capital Sana’a to celebrate the occasion and a sense of achievement was writ large on their faces. “February 11 is a day that Yemenis will always celebrate,” said a statement released by the organising committee.
While Yemenis have the right to celebrate their achievements, they must use the occasion for stocktaking, to assess the progress made so far and the challenges ahead. Like other Arab Spring countries, Yemen too is going through a difficult period of transition which must be handled carefully.
Saleh agreed in November 2011 to step down as per a Gulf-brokered and UN-backed initiative that brought Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, Saleh’s then deputy, as an interim president for two years, which stipulated presidential elections in February 2012. The initiative granted Saleh and his aides immunity from prosecution but it demanded a complete restructuring of the military and security forces and a national dialogue to draft a new constitution and electoral law for general polls in 2014.
There have been charges that Saleh’s men still wield great influence on power and occupy several key positions, which has infuriated the pro-reform people. But both sides need to address the issue through discussions. The country has commendable progress in terms of peace since the exit of Saleh and those gains need to be protected. The peace has created hope, and compared to other Middle East countries where the revolution has created the same number of problems it solved, Yemenis have been relatively grateful about the success they have achieved so far.
Hadi has set March 18 as the date for the much-anticipated dialogue on drafting a new constitution. The committee which organised yesterday’s rally in Sanaa welcomed the dialogue. But drafting constitution is a difficult task and Egypt is a good example of how things can go wrong terribly. All the parties involved will need plenty of patience and a willingness to make concessions.
Yemen now has a golden opportunity to emerge from poverty, deprivation, terrorism and tribalism. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, and home to a dangerous unit of Al Qaeda. A clean-up operation can be undertaken only by a powerful government in Sana’a, which has the support of tribal groups and the Yemeni population. The international community is ready to help with cash and kind, if the Yemeni government proves that it’s capable of doing the job expected of it both by the world and Yemenis.