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Today, 17 August, Yemen's opposition groups met in the Grand Hall at Sana'a University, amidst tight security, for the formation of a national governing council to unite various groups in one legitimate opposition voice. The 1,000 members could only enter the Grand Hall after submitting their identification and obtaining their name cards.
The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen's main opposition coalition, began circulating the idea for the governing council for a couple of weeks, and discussions have been underway between various forces. Initially, two of the largest groups outside the JMP, the Houthis and southern secessionists had agreed to join. However, at the last minute their position was unclear. Houthis announced their rejection of the council the night before due to a number of reservations including unfair representation. (Click here for a list of the Houthis reservations). The southern secessionists announced that they wanted fifty percent representation but it was unclear at the meeting whether they had fully rejected the council or not. Media inaccurately announced the presence of both the Houthis and the southern secessionists in the council.
Today's meeting was the first step in the forming of a legitimate opposition group that comprises many different political affiliations. More than a 1000 people gathered at the meeting today from various governorates and backgrounds. High-ranking members of the JMP, independents, youth representatives, members of civil society, and women's rights activists were present. For this council to be truly effective it will need to include the Houthis and the southern secessionists as they represent a large number of people and have a strong force. As stated in the meeting, the general assembly will remain open for any individual or group to attend.
With over 1000 people present, today's gathering served as the first meeting for the national assembly. From this national assembly of 1000 members, a national council was created of 143 individuals, of which twenty-three will serve as the executive committee, and will elect a president for the council. (Click here for a list of the 143 names in Arabic).
As usual, there was lack of organization and insufficient time to have a real deep discussion on the issues. In today's large meeting, people were expected to give their comments, questions, and suggestions on a three-page draft, in only two hours (since we started two hours late). It almost felt that organizers were doing this only as a formality. A more effective way would have been to have smaller working or focus groups meetings prior to this large meeting and then the 1,000 members could have come together to discuss findings and suggestions at the meeting.
Nevertheless, it is a good first step for the unification of the opposition. In addition, a group was tasked with drafting the bylaws, plans, and tasks, which will guide the council. Creating a process and ensuring transparency is key for the legitimacy of this council.
A Facebook survey shows that a vast majority of Yemeni Facebookers strongly support this national council. While the majority of youth seem to accept this initiative as a step in the right direction, many feel hesitant about the intentions of the JMP. Some youth even rejected this idea, saying that the JMP is hijacking the revolution. Distrust between the independent youth and the JMP must be overcome for real collaboration to take place.
People were feeling very tense for the past two days, especially after yesterday's speech by Saleh and after Abdu al-Janadi, deputy information minister said that that the decision by the JMP to form a national council was "a declaration of a civil war." Nevertheless, the meeting went smoothly.
While this is a great first step, the legitimacy of this council will depend on the transparency of the group and on the internal democratic process. Many questions come to mind: Will the national governing council govern differently than the previous government, given that many in the council members were part of the previous regime?
Will one political party be the key decision maker or will the collective group share in this responsibility? How will decisions be made? Will there be oversight from the national assembly? How can members of the national assembly impeach members of the executive committee? How much collaboration will there be with people on the ground? Finally, will the other forces including Houthis and southern secessionists be part of this council? The council needs to truly push for their inclusion in order to have a strong opposition united force.
The national council, is a great first step, but its success will depend on the way these questions are answered. The council fills me with worry, anticipation, and hope at the same time. I worry--what if the independents are just used to legitimize a group that is identical to the previous regime? Or could this be an opportunity to create a new democratic world?
[This article was first published on Woman from Yemen.]
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