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Yemeni National Dialogue Conference aims at peaceful transition

Amal Basha, spokeswoman for the National Dialogue Technical Committee, is seen at a press conference with Committee Chairman, Dr. Abdulkareem al-Aryani. [Mohammed Thabet/Al-Shorfa]

Amal Basha, spokeswoman for the National Dialogue Technical Committee, is seen at a press conference with Committee Chairman, Dr. Abdulkareem al-Aryani. [Mohammed Thabet/Al-Shorfa]

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Preparations are under way for Yemen's upcoming National Dialogue Conference, according to Amal Basha, official spokesperson for the technical committee tasked with organising the conference.

Yemenis of all backgrounds are keen to resolve the country's problems through dialogue since the alternative is a catastrophic war for everyone, she told Al-Shorfa.

But the dialogue holds no place for al-Qaeda because it is a terrorist organisation, she added.

Al-Shorfa spoke with Basha about the committee's work.

Al-Shorfa: How far have you progressed in preparing for the National Dialogue Conference? What are [the conference's] main features?

Amal Basha: In line with the presidential decree that formed [my] committee and specified its tasks -- including drafting the conference agenda, identifying its themes, elements and mechanisms, and implementing its policies and rules -- we are 95% along in terms of preparing for its key themes.

[These include] the issue of [Yemen's] South, the Saada issue, the constitution, transitional justice, national reconciliation, rights and freedoms, good governance, development, social and environmental issues, and issues with a national dimension like vendettas, weapons, armed groups, counter-terrorism, rationalising natural resources and qat, among others.

We also developed a media campaign to accompany the conference, [established] the rules and policies, [developed] a methodology for how conference groups and leadership will be structured, [developed] guidelines for how conference sessions will run, estimated a budget, and [did] all else necessary to ensure the conference is successful.

Al-Shorfa: Can you give us a quick idea of conference structure and length?

Basha: The conference convenes in about six months and comprises three plenary sessions. The first session includes selecting conference leadership and forming nine dialogue groups based on [the topics above], which will be discussed over a two-month period.

In the second plenary session, groups will inform conference participants of their findings and open the floor for general observations. After this, [the groups] will resume work for another two months. [Finally] in the third plenary session, we will adopt a conference document based on group findings and solutions, and emerge with decisions that will be binding on the government and parliament.

Al-Shorfa: What do you think the most important outcomes of [the conference] will be?

Basha: The most important conference takeaways involve the criteria for forming the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the [new] constitution. [This assembly] depends on the decisions that emerge from the conference, particularly those related to forming the [new] government, which in turn depend on the outcomes of group discussions on the South [Yemen] and Saada issues, and rights and freedoms discussions.

The constituent assembly will draft the constitution, which will be put to a general referendum. With that, we will be deciding whether [Yemen's new] electoral system is to be presidential or parliamentary, and after that, [we will hold] parliamentary and presidential elections and form a new government.

Al-Shorfa: How will you address the issue of al-Qaeda, seeing as it is one of Yemen's problems?

Basha: Al-Qaeda is carrying out bombings, massacres and attacks on innocent civilians in Sanaa and other provinces, and is trying to impose itself by force. It is therefore a terrorist organisation, and there is no place for terrorism in the National Dialogue Conference.

Al-Shorfa: Are women and youth participating in the conference?

Basha: We in the technical committee made sure women will participate in the nine groups. They will make up at least 30% of participants, and youth must also have representation in all conference components.

Al-Shorfa: Will the South Yemen Movement participate in the dialogue?

Basha: President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has said he is in [regular] communication with the leaders of the South Yemen Movement, which has differing plans and visions that we will also discuss [at the conference]. Whatever the conference decides will be binding on all.

Al-Shorfa: Some accused [your] committee of diverting attention from main national dialogue issues because you introduced peripheral issues such as child marriages. What is your response to that?

Basha: The conference seeks legal protection for vulnerable segments, [the end to offenses that] violate children, and the advancement of women. We in the committee identified the ramifications of these issues, whether for marginalised groups like the disabled and minorities or for [children], and included [offenses like] child labour, child trafficking, recruitment of child soldiers and child marriages on the conference agenda.

Al-Shorfa: How will the nine groups reach their conclusions if they cannot reach a consensus? What constitutes a consensus?

Basha: In the event the group cannot reach a [unanimous] consensus, we require that at least 75% of the group's participants reach consensus. In the absence of a 75% consensus, a consensus committee comprising the heads of [all the] committees in partnership with the conference presidency would work to resolve conflicts and reach compromise solutions.

Al-Shorfa: What is the role of the media in ensuring the dialogue process succeeds?

Basha: To successfully promote a culture of dialogue in the media, [my] committee developed a media plan that calls for official audio and print media to devote efforts to [promoting] dialogue, adopting a positive narrative, and refraining from incitement and bickering.

We have observed that all groups and parties are keen to resolve Yemen's problems through dialogue, because without it war would be the deciding factor. No one wants to get to that point, because everyone knows the consequences would be catastrophic.