Tag Archives: Yemen

Case Studies on Democratic Reform in Yemen and Paraguay

paraguay debate

Democracy is a process of governance most often based on compromise, grounded in broad-based inclusiveness of differing viewpoints and the representation of diverse constituency interests. While free and fair elections are certainly one of the most recognizable hallmarks of the democratic process, a vibrant dialogue between political candidates preceding an election makes a vitally important contribution to the quality of governance.

Candidate debates serve multiple purposes. First, debates inform the electorate of the issues being considered. Second, televised debates offer an opportunity for voters to form an opinion and differentiate between candidates based on the substance of their policy positions. Third, debates promote transparency and improve the quality of democratic governance as candidates are able to directly express their views to the electorate, engage with their colleagues, and elevate certain issues over others in the national consciousness. Similarly, input from the private sector and civil society in the formulation of economic and social policy is another characteristic of a vibrant democracy as broad-based participation in the policymaking process ensures that proposed legislation represents the interests of all constituents.

CIPE possesses over thirty years of experience in strengthening democracy worldwide and promoting market oriented reforms in various country contexts. In the forthcoming publication Strategies for Policy Reform, two case studies from Paraguay and Yemen represent distinct approaches to ensuring that democracy delivers economic and political freedoms to citizens. 

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The Road Ahead in Yemen

yemen-ndc

On September 18th, the bumpy road toward democracy in Yemen was supposed to have arrived at a critical juncture. The day marked the end of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a six-month long discussion among 565 delegates representing rival factions and marginalized groups.  However, the Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi recently announced that the national reconciliation talks could be delayed by “one, two or three months” due to unresolved political issues.

If the bloody carnage in Kenya’s Westgate mall points to the devastating consequences of state failure in neighboring Somalia, the possibility of a failed state in Yemen is all the more chilling. With the potential resurgence of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the most dangerous branch of the global terrorist network, Yemen’s future hinges on whether the delegates can reconcile the deep political divides and look beyond the years of mutual distrust.

However, there is also a growing disconnect between the political talks going on inside the luxurious Movenpick hotel and the socioeconomic realities on the ground. In the capital, Sana’a, the pothole-ridden streets serve as a daily reminder that Yemen’s transition still has a long way to go. In August, heavy rainfall swept through the parched capital and killed scores of people in various governorates. Despite an estimated $4.7 million set aside for improving the capital’s roads, the lack of proper drainage systems turned rainwater into flash floods that ripped open paved streets. As contractors dug up roads to install water pipes and telephone wires, the streets were left in worsened condition. Unfortunately, the digging does not stop there.

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Is Yemen Ready for a Social Market Economy?

A billboard advertises Yemen's national dialogue process. (Photo: FP)

A billboard advertises Yemen’s national dialogue process. (Photo: FP)

Two years have passed since disgruntled Yemeni protesters stormed the streets in an attempt to oust then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But the dust has not settled yet. The National Dialogue Conference, a six-month-long discussion involving 565 delegates from Yemen’s various factions, is hammering out a set of principles that will guide the country’s new constitution. As a new Yemen is being forged, foreign investors are wondering what lies ahead for its debilitated economy.

At an economic forum months before the Arab Awakening, one of Yemen’s former economic ministers noted “that the reliance on the social market economy system has proven its success in a number of countries with similar conditions to Yemen.” He envisioned a system that would require the state to take on a greater role in the market, providing healthcare, unemployment benefits, and other social welfare programs. However, is the social market economy a viable system for Yemen?

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Arab Spring Grievances Still Not Being Addressed in Yemen

A street vendor in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Rick McCharles)

A street vendor in Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo: Rick McCharles)

More than two years ago, the suicide of a Tunisian street vendor named Mohammed Tarek Bouazizi set off a string of protests that eventually led to regime change and promises of reform throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the root causes of Bouazizi’s frustrations have still not been addressed in countries like Yemen.

In 2011, after having his wares confiscated for failing to pay a bribe, Bouazizi succumbed to the pressures of poverty and desperation, committing suicide by self-immolation. This tragic act led to what later became known as the Arab Spring, arguably the greatest geopolitical realignment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the millions of street vendors and others who work in the informal sector have not yet realized the promise of democracy. They remain vulnerable to extortion, harassment, and other forms of abuse. By not addressing the root causes of the Arab Spring, emerging democracies such as Yemen risk losing the popular support and legitimacy that are essential to a thriving democracy.

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Yemen’s National Dialogue: Economic Reform Key to a Successful Democratic Transition

yemen-event

The Arab Spring uprisings brought about unprecedented opportunity for change and reform to the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, much has happened: new governments have come to power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. However, with this change numerous challenges have confronted political transitions across the region as nations strive to build institutions, erect new political and legal frameworks, and lay the foundations for economic prosperity. In Yemen, security threats and humanitarian crises have frequently overshadowed the National Dialogue process, which, though marred by challenges such as sectarianism, security threats, and humanitarian concerns, shows great promise for helping to build a better Yemen.

The importance of economic reform was highlighted at an event sponsored by CIPE on January 25, 2013, entitled “Yemen’s Ongoing National Dialogue: Moving Forward” featuring Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Former Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) & Former Minister of Human Rights for Yemen. Alsoswa emphasized that a successful democratic transition and security in Yemen will only be sustained if Yemeni citizens enjoy greater access to economic opportunities.  

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Hope on Yemen’s horizon

Overlooking the Sana'a cityscape. Masjid Al Saleh (Saleh's Mosque) is brightly lit towards the middle of the shot. (Photo: CIPE)

After living in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman, and traveling through other countries in the region, Yemen remains one of those still left on my list of places to visit. Since the country took a turn toward political uncertainty, I wonder what will have to happen before I get a chance to cross it off.

It is apparent to me that Yemen has democratic prospects on the horizon and that there are strategies to halt what may seem an inexorable march toward crisis. I was heartened to read Christopher Boucek’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. In his remarks this Tuesday, Boucek stressed that,

“Washington must do more to address the underlying sources of instability—a collapsing economy, rampant corruption, unemployment, and resource depletion—if Yemen is to avoid becoming a failed state and a breeding ground for terror.”

The Arab Spring has confirmed that there is no state stability when citizens live under regimes that squash their dignity and fundamental freedoms – the freedom to participate in the political process, and the freedom to work and provide for one’s family. At this unique point in history, it is becoming increasingly clear – not just for Yemen experts such as Boucek, but for representatives in Congress, the administration, and State – that a “Yemen strategy” focused solely on combating terrorism follows the age-old metaphor of the doctor who treats the symptoms not the infection itself.

Instead, Boucek offers reality-based solutions to address the systemic problems that Yemen faces: improve the legal system, support land reform, and build state capacity.

Some will inevitably say, “Great, but how?” But we cannot under appreciate the importance of correctly identifying Yemen (and the region’s) core challenges.

Only then can policymakers apportion government funds to most adequately support Yemen’s retreat from failed state territory.

Only then can international actors and local partners construct programs that adequately respond to issues that negatively influence daily life for Yemenis.

Only then do I have a chance of someday visiting Bab al Yemen.

CIPE’s groundbreaking film, Destructive Beast, exposes the economic and social costs of corruption in Yemen. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Khadija al Salami, the 43-minute documentary film captures the toll that abuse of power, neglect, and bribery have taken on economic growth and development in a country already on the brink of collapse. Please e-mail Yemenfilm@cipe.org if you would like to view or download a copy of the film, available in Arabic with or without English subtitles.

Opportunity amid concern in Yemen

Sana’a street just inside Bab al Yemen, Sana'a (Photo: CIPE)

These days, many can rattle off the statistics on Yemen – half of the population in under the age of 18; more than 50 percent of youth are unemployed; per capita income is a mere $1,200; GDP for a country of 24 million is only twice that of Bahrain, a state of just 800,000; and 54 out of every 100 individuals owns a gun. But few can give context to these figures as can CIPE Regional Director for Africa and the Middle East, and Yemen native, Abdulwahab Alkebsi, interviewed yesterday alongside former Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

Alkebsi emphasized that while there is great cause for concern in light of changing political currents in Yemen, the country has remarkable potential. As Alkebsi underscored, Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen is a result of the hopelessness of an overwhelmingly young population that is forced to live without political and economic freedoms.

Yemenis need to recover their dignity – through meaningful work and economic empowerment, and the ability to participate in the political process. Recent protests have given Yemenis a seed of hope, but only institutional reforms that address systemic issues such as corruption, arbitrary implementation of the law, unprotected property rights, and a weak education system will create an environment that will allow a possible democratic transition to deliver for citizens.

CIPE has a robust program in Yemen, as Alkebsi mentions, which seeks to break down obstacles to market-oriented reform. Destructive Beast, a CIPE-produced documentary film, not only highlights the destructive effect of corruption on the Yemeni economy, but offers constructive solutions to jumpstart a debate on policies to combat corruption.

Entrepreneurship, civic education, economic journalism, and corporate governance work have also placed CIPE and its partners at the intersection of local efforts to promote economic and political reform in Yemen.

Though Yemen is often discussed as a failed state, Alkebsi points out just a few of the advantages Yemen has in its back pocket: the Yemeni diaspora has capital to invest in the country and assets such as the Aden port can blossom – should the investment environment improve and security be ensured.

Listen to Alkebsi and Bodine discuss these topics and more – including religious, territorial, and security issues in Yemen as well as the challenges facing a political transition.