With factions in Yemen -- Southern Secessionist Movement aka al-Harak and the Houthis, Shia rebel group based in the northern Yemeni province of Sa'ada -- continue to call for the boycott of the much anticipated National Dialogue, politicians are advancing federalism could hold all of the nation's answers and preserve its unity.
But while federalism as a political concept - a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units - has been welcomed across the political spectrum as a viable solution to the nation' southern issue and the Houthis' demands for greater political autonomy, detractors have put forward Yemen's fickle relation to democratic principles and its tribal make up as cons, warning the country as an entity is not ready for such a jump.
Speaking to the Yemen Times earlier this month Dr. Nabeela Ghaleb, researcher at the Yemeni Research Center noted“Federalism in a country like Yemen, which does not have a lot of experience with democracy, is unsuitable. Divergent political views in Yemen may lead to disputes between the federal government and the federal states/provinces. This would hinder public and private interests and at best leads to confusion in the decision making process, which in turn will contribute to a disintegration of the nation."
Others, such as Mohammed Abu-Lohoom, Funder and President of the Justice and Building party - one of Yemen's rising political star - or Haider al-Attas, South Yemen former Prime Minister have long advocated the contrary, putting forth the theory the very divisions -- tribal, provincial and regional -- which have so far plagued the nation and hindered its democratic evolution could be used trough a federal system to channel change and development.
Political analyst Marcy Kreiter reckons federalism in Yemen is the only viable solution because it implies decentralization at the core of its power sharing mechanism.
"Power sharing is Yemen's main issue; whether it is a power struggle with tribal chiefs, provinces or factions .... The central government needs to redefine the ownership of powers. Although decentralization alone has its advantages, only federalism guarantees its protection."
Decentralization is the transfer of power from central authorities to local units.
Kreiter is arguing that in a unitary state - such as Yemen under its current constitutional configuration - all powers are owned by the central government and can be therefore recalled at will, hence decentralization has no legal or constitutional foundation, but that granted by the government.. In a federal system, the constitution protects and defines that sharing of powers.
Beyond Yemen's governing reinvention and democratic renaissance one need also to look at how the poorest nation of the Arabian Peninsula would, with stable institutions, interact with its neighbour on a regional level.
Yemen move toward federalism could lead to regional integration and hence promote regional stability. The GCC's ugly step-sister could find herself sitting at the heart of a new Gulf alliance.
Division of Powers
Because federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments, the central government while remaining strong concedes a level autonomy - defined and organized in the constitution - to its sub-entities, promoting a form of independence while retaining a sense of unity.
The right to self governance of the component states/provinces is almost always constitutionally entrenched, and therefore not subject to challenge or reforms.
Keeping in mind that southern separatists and the Houthis are advocating their right to self-determination, one as a national entity one as politico-religious denomination, federalism would directly remedy their yearning for self-governance, while maintaining Yemen's territorial integrity.
Whether Yemen which is after all about to re-write its Constitution will decide to adopt a symmetric federal system, where all components state/provinces of the federation possesses the same power, or an asymmetric federal system where states/provinces are granted different powers based on their specific nature.
For example provinces in Yemen could be given greater autonomy to appease nationalist leaning.
Pros and Cons
With many arguing that a federal system will lead to a further fracture of the state and propel Yemen into a lethal institutional meltdown fueled by internal dissensions, others believes federalism will prevent the country from reverting to dictatorship and therefore inscribe deep into Yemenis' psyche the principles of democracy.
Abdullah Hamdani a political science student in London believes federalism would lead to tribal and regional disputes over natural resources, and lead to mass migration to richer states within Yemen, hence creating economic discrimination.
Hussein al-Maqtari, a revolutionary youth based in Taiz said in his view federalism in Yemen could creates laboratories of democracy - "pilot programs could put in place by states/provinces without disrupting the fabric of the federal state. It could help Yemen figure out what works and what does not." -, promote economic and political pragmatism - "States/Provinces will be better equipped to deal with local challenges that the federal state, because of proximity and ability to relate " -, encourage pluralism - "People will learn to interact with local officials. This will enhance social and political involvement, the basis of a thriving democratic state" - and protect the nation against tyranny.
Dr. Adel al-Sharjabi, professor of political sociology at Sana'a University, said "The federal system will enable the regions that wish to complete the achievement of the revolution goals to do so. These regions will be able to manage their revenues the way they want, and appoint the officials that see them the best to achieve its objectives. As for the regions that will choose not to complete the revolution, maintaining this kind of elites will not harm the interests of the other regions.
The concept of federalism in the Middle East took hold in 2003 as American soldiers took it upon themselves to depose President Saddam Hussein, dissolving in one swift move of the hand the complex structural make up of Iraq.
Political historian Adam Patterson believes federalism was born from the decentralization movement of the late Ottoman Empire - first decade of the 21th Century -
Patterson explains that federalism in Yemen but to a greater extent the region altogether would serve the discourse of Pan-Arab nationalist as it will act as a catalyst to not only national but also regional unification.
"Countries in the Middle East in their current national borders remain a western creation in the sense that they were imposed by western powers upon the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The West divided the Arab world as one would do a loot ... We are witnessing a readjustment," said Patterson.
Under a Pan-Arab philosophy, federalism would act as a catalyst, a tool for greater integration.