The Yemen Model: A Solution for Syria?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: One possible solution to the Syrian crisis that diplomats have been discussing is the so-called Yemen Model. That country's longtime dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed to step down in February and hand power over to his Vice President, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi. Saleh's resignation came after months of massive protest and violence in Yemen, but in the end the negotiated solution was relatively peaceful. Jamal Benomar helped broker that transition. He's the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Advisor on Yemen. Mr. Benomar, how did you convince Ali Abdullah Saleh — the most powerful man in Yemen to step aside?

Jamal Benomar: Look, I was the mediator in this conflict and I managed to bring the parties together and it ended with an agreement on a detailed roadmap for a peaceful transition. But first, both sides started to see that they cannot win, militarily, this fight and that's what enabled us to start talking to both sides about the need first to have a direct face-to-face dialogue in November; that was against some very interesting backgrounds. It was in October the Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution on Yemen. There was consensus. Basically, the international community started to see that the deterioration of security in Yemen would have serious implications in terms of peace and security in the region. I think the fact that the international community spoke with one voice, the fact that there was an impartial mediation which is the United Nations and with a clear line which is implementing the Security Council resolution, that's what helped.

Werman: I've got to say some of the details you mentioned in your narrative of Yemen are very similar to what we've seen in the past year in Syria. However, the cost of the conflict in Syria right now is already very high. Do you think the Yemen Model could work in Syria and if not, why not? What's different?

Benomar: We're talking about two different situations. One, I have to underline that in Yemen there was a lot politics and a history of political life. There was a real opposition operating in parliament. Outside of parliament, there was a very active civil society which is very different from Syria. The second big difference here is that both sides came to realize that they cannot win. They cannot win through military means. In Yemen, the one thing that's been very helpful also is the personality of the Vice-President at the time who is currently the President. He was, from day one, the consensus candidate.

Werman: Let's talk a moment about what's happened in Yemen since Saleh has departed. The new President, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, gets passing grades from Yemeni human rights activists and Nobel Laureate Tawakkul Karman whom we'll hear from in a moment, but she and many others want Hadi to remove former President Saleh's friends and family members from top jobs in the military and security. How is that going?

Benomar: First, segue to sector reform is on the agenda of this transition. It was part of the deal. The new President already appointed a new head of the air force. It led to a reaction and it needed our intervention, but the half-brother of President Saleh was removed and moved to another post. Also, other nephews of President Saleh have moved now from their position. What the President is trying to do is to make sure that the Yemeni army will reflect the composition of Yemeni society and not have just one group or clan have the monopoly over the security forces.

Werman: Mr. Benomar, we have heard about Mr. Saleh's son, Ahmed, who heads the Republican Guard Forces in Yemen and Mr. Saleh's nephew, Yehia, who commands the paramilitary Central
Security Forces; we know who they are. Why does the U.N. draft resolution not name names?

Benomar: The resolution basically covers a wide range of action that could undermine the government and this transition. It talks about the implementation of presidential decrees that are being challenged by a number of military officers, quite a number. It talks about the continuing attacks, constant attacks on oil and gas and electricity infrastructure. In fact, this costs the government something in the region of 250 million dollars a month, something that would be in the region of 3 billion dollars a year. For a very poor country, the poorest country in the Arab world, this is very serious. So, it's the combination of all these action that undermine the government that the resolution tries to address. So, obstruction of the [???] of the transition and it is in these contexts that discussions are even underway to include language that would imply further measures including under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter if these actions continue. The clear message from the Security Council is that, one, the Council speaks with one voice; the Security Council wants a peaceful transition; the Security Council wants this model for peaceful change to work and it is in this context that the Security Council is prepared to take further measures.

Werman: Jamal Benomar is the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Advisor on Yemen. Good luck and thank you for speaking with us Mr. Benomar.

Benomar: Thank you.