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Research Report

Mediating Transition in Yemen:: Achievements and Lessons

Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2014
Pages: 20

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[i])
  2. (pp. [ii]-[iii])
  3. (pp. 1-1)

    Yemen remains the only site of an Arab Spring uprising that has ended in a negotiated agreement and a structured, internationally supported transition process. As Jamal Benomar, the United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen, stated, “Yemen was definitely heading towards a Syria-type scenario” before international actors, including the United Nations (UN), helped to shepherd a complex transition process, which continues at the time of writing.¹ Benomar, with support from a wide array of stakeholders, helped avert an escalating conflict in Yemen by stepping in to offer the good offices of the UN secretarygeneral without waiting for the...

  4. (pp. 2-3)

    Yemen is a complex and dynamic environment marked by several ongoing conflicts, entrenched tribal issues, intersecting political and economic interests, shifting alliances, and strong regional and international involvement.⁶ Even before the Arab Spring, Yemen was facing a range of interconnected humanitarian, political, and security challenges. The country remains by far the poorest in the region and has the second lowest level of food security in the world. Amid these social and economic challenges, the regime of former president Saleh maintained power for thirty-three years—ten of those as the head of North Yemen— by purchasing loyalty from key power-holders and...

  5. (pp. 4-9)

    The UN played a key role in facilitating dialogue among the various stakeholders noted above and many others. Its engagement was led by Benomar himself and his team, which this paper refers to collectively as the Office of the Special Adviser, or OSA. The OSA included a small number of team members deployed by the MSU, though it functioned as a single office rather than necessarily having a stand-alone MSU contingent. The OSA generally had seven to ten international staff members, though the numbers fluctuated. However, only three of these were generally in Yemen on a nearly full-time basis, with...

  6. (pp. 9-12)

    The narrative above, while identifying some challenges, is altogether a promising one with significant implications for the UN. Despite not referencing the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation,37 the OSA’s work reflected many of its core messages and principles. Benomar and his team earned the consent of the major stakeholder groups involved in the transition, and the special adviser himself was generally seen as impartial despite having good relations with multiple groups (aside, perhaps, from those closely associated with the ousted president in the later stages of the transition). The UN also took great pains to ensure the process was inclusive...

  7. (pp. 12-15)

    The UN mediation of Yemen’s transition was ultimately crucial in helping to head off a broader conflict and build broad consensus regarding the post-Saleh transition process. The proactive and low-key use of the secretary-general’s good offices represent a promising practice that merits further replication under appropriate conditions in the future. That said, it will be important to avoid generalizing too broadly from the Yemeni case. Benomar’s ability to proactively engage in Yemen reflected a number of very specific conditions. The uprising in Yemen was being watched closely by several global powers, not least the US and Saudi governments, but no...

  8. (pp. 16-16)