July 23, 2011

Yemen’s Three-Way Transitional Council

After six months of peaceful protests and no end of the regime in sight, Yemen’s revolutionaries have announced three transitional councils since last Saturday. First Tawakul Karman, a member of Yemen’s Islah party, announced a 17-member “Youth Revolution Council” independent of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), to which Islah belongs. The JMP soon followed with its own “National Council for the Forces of the Revolution,” with the stated objective of uniting the Houthis, Southern Movement, civil coalitions and popular opposition groups. The JMP says a formal declaration will be issued on August 1st.

For the time being the youth coalitions have opted for their own platform, announcing a revolutionary council from Change Square on Thursday.

Two perspectives split from these three groups. Unifying Yemen’s political opposition has been as challenging as expected, and internal competition may arise from their power plays. Karman’s council met initial opposition before the shock wore off (Yemen’s leading female activist is know to act on her own), while the unpopular JMP’s “counter council” has provoked new suspicions. Neither street council is as weak as U.S. officials claim, locking them in stalemate with political and tribal opposition. On Friday Khaled Al-Ansi, a founder of Karman’s council, said that most members had responded positively after their surprise announcement. The council had been dubbed “Towakil and Khaled al-Ansi’s council” by some protesters, and ensuing councils from the JMP and youth coalitions suggest a persistent divergence.

Conversely, separate entities might merge into a functioning construct that would protect their objectives and identities: the urban youth, tribal blocs and political opposition would check and balances themselves. They also need each other’s mass to outweigh the ruling General People’s Party (GPC) and resistant military officials. Karman’s council includes former president Ali Nasser Mohammed, former defense minister General Abdullah Ali Aleiwa and Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas, Prime Minister from 1990 to 1994 and a figure within the Yemeni Socialist Party. The JMP’s council will presumably include its own heavyweights.

Both groups need the youth’s vigor as much as the youth need their political and military muscle. Although gridlock could easily result, Karman’s goals suggest no weakening to the despised GCC initiative. Her council’s three priorities begin with the abolishment of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, followed by management of the transitional period to an election, and finally the prosecution of Saleh, his son, nephews and all other officials involved in human rights abuses against the Yemeni people.

The fluidity of events has limited information on these groups’ relations. We are working to clarify their interconnection and will update when a more accurate picture becomes available.

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