On the occasion of the International Day of Non-violence, the Yemen Policy Center with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office is pleased to launch Al-Siyasa al-Madaniya (Civil Politics), a project to help advance the non-violent activities and politics being advocated by Yemenis to promote peace, open dialogue, and improved living conditions in their country.
At the heart of Al-Siyasa al-Madaniya is the blog Majlis. In sharing the perspectives of Yemeni and non-Yemeni experts, the platform takes its place alongside civil society organizations and activists calling for an end to the civil war through peaceful, non-violent means and constructive debate. These partners include, among others, the magazine Al-Madaniya, the Peace Track Initiative, the Development Champions, and Muwatana for Human Rights.
The Yemen Policy Center is kick-starting Al-Siyasa al-Madaniya with a campaign focused on resolving the Yemeni conflict through an examination of opportunities and obstacles at the local, regional, and international levels. As a first step, over the next several weeks the center will initiate a transnational discussion taking a deep dive into non-violence and peace in Yemen.
The Yemen Policy Center (YPC) was conceived in March 2020 by a group of Yemeni and German researchers associated with the Yemen Polling Center, an independent Yemeni NGO headquartered in Taiz and the center’s predecessor. Through its work, the center seeks to influence Yemeni and international policy making to improve the living conditions of the Yemeni people and bring about a lasting peace.
Our research-based activities focus on local politics and facilitating communication between Yemeni civil society and state institutions. By seeking out and sharing positive stories and best practices, YPC also aspires to put civil society activities in the spotlight, promote non-violence, human rights, and social change, and provide Yemeni and international actors with the necessary analysis on Yemen to ensure sound policy making. Its tools include research, education, activism, and public policy engagement.
Further, YPC supports young Yemeni researchers by creating genuine opportunities for career development. A remarkable number of Yemenis has ceased researching, writing, and publishing due to war-related constrictions of the independent spaces and platforms required to pursue and share their work. Today, only political interests—rather than academic, journalistic, or scientific standards—drive local discourse. This situation has been to the detriment of all Yemenis. The YPC’s approach is to help Yemenis thrive and overcome their isolation during the ongoing conflict by providing them the space and the tools they need to function, including social networks.
With formal spaces for self-expression through art and writing, discussion, and commentary becoming increasingly unsafe in Yemen, the YPC has settled a transnational discussion on non-violence and peace in Yemen as the inaugural campaign of its Al-Siyasa al-Madaniya project.
Safe spaces are moving into the digital and private realms, but what are the consequences of this? With public opposition and criticism silenced, public opinion is inherently stifled and no longer taken into consideration. This further means that solutions to social, political, and economic problems can no longer be publicly debated.
Confronted with difficult circumstances, Yemenis’ engagement in non-violent, “everyday” politics and activities not only reveals their resilience, but also highlights their drive to improve their communities and to actively shape peace and state building at the local level. To this end, they have launched various initiatives, among them awareness campaigns, community training programs on water and sanitation, personal hygiene awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic and cholera outbreaks, and environmental reclamation in their area.
The possibilities of such everyday politics seem, however, to end where the intervention of regional states, with their own vested interests in Yemen, begins. Many Yemenis are disappointed by regional states that advertise themselves as brothers, but then only pursue their own interests. Many otherwise creative and resilient Yemenis are rendered powerless in the face of the players who view Yemen only as a strategic location or a place for resource extraction. They are even more disappointed in their own leaders, but nonetheless refuse to give up on their country’s future.
While the United Nations has tried without much success to get the internationally recognized government and Ansarallah around the table for peace talks, Yemenis remain bitterly aware that more than that process will be needed to deliver the peace they so desperately want and deserve. Nationwide discussions that allow for broad public buy-in are another essential element in procuring a long-lasting peace.
At the Yemen Policy Center, we believe that only a state that recognizes and equally respects all Yemeni identities will bring about peace. Such a state will not be created with military hardware. It can only emerge through non-violence and participation in public deliberations that permit free and independent comment. Yemenis need spaces where this state can be envisioned and discussed and where they can reflect on the events of the last decade, understand developments from different points of view, and exchange perspectives on why Yemen’s politics, society, and economy took a turn for the worse.
Majlis is the first platform through which Yemenis of different social and regional backgrounds, as well as non-Yemenis, can enter into a dialogue with each other to exchange ideas and expertise on society and politics. Moreover, juxtaposing international and local perspectives and different views and methods will deepen research on Yemen and help taken-for-granted ideas and approaches.
In essence, the platform advocates plurality, dialogue, participation, and non-violence. These are the values that Yemenis have demanded since the start of countrywide protests in 2011 against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Together with YPC’s partners at Al-Madaniya, we are creating a space, where ideas and thoughts can be expressed in an open, respectful, constructive, and fruitful manner. It is our contribution to peace: a call for words over guns and rational thinking over ideological purity.
Yemen Policy Team
Editor : Robin Surratt
Photographer : Ahmed al-Hagri