By Acil Tabbara (AFP)
February 21, 2012
SANAA — UN envoy Jamal Benomar cautioned that Tuesday's polls in Yemen are the first step towards a difficult process resulting from a negotiated political settlement that averted civil war in the country.
"This is the beginning of a difficult and thorny road, but there is hope," Benomar told AFP in an interview.
Yemenis voted in referendum-like polls to endorse Vice President Abdrabuh Hadi to lead the country during a two-year interim period, based on the deal Benomar played a leading role in hammering out.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the Gulf-brokered and UN-backed deal in November, bowing to months of deadly unrest at home and pressure from abroad.
Benomar said "Yemenis have realised that there could be no winners or losers ... as the international community and the UN Security Council helped them reach this political agreement."
He said, however, that Yemen faces "many dangers -- a lack of confidence among political parties over the political plan, a deteriorating security situation, the state's absence in several regions and the dangerous humanitarian situation."
The political impasse caused by Saleh's repeated refusal to step down led to deadly battles in Sanaa last spring between the president's opponents and loyalists.
That raised fears the country might slip into chaos, especially with some army units supporting the uprising.
Under the agreement, a military commission oversaw the withdrawal of fighters from the streets.
But Saleh's relatives continue to command key positions in the security apparatus, such as the notorious Republican Guard, headed by Saleh's son, Ahmed.
Saleh's nephew, Yehya, commands the central security services while Tariq, another nephew, controls the presidential guard.
When asked about this, Benomar said it is "necessary to restructure the army" as per the Gulf deal, but this is "a long-term project that will not take place in a month or two, or even three."
The UN envoy said Tuesday's election must be followed by "a far-reaching national dialogue bringing together all parties especially those who have so far not taken part in the current political process."
Among them are the youth whose ranks saw hundreds of deaths in a crackdown by Saleh's forces on their protests, and the main opposition groups that boycotted the polls -- the separatist Southern Movement and Shiite rebels in the north.
The rebels are more likely to take part in dialogue, while the Southern Movement is more concerned about achieving autonomy or even independence.
"A new constitution will be created, which will be a new social pact among Yemenis," Benomar said. "This will be followed by general elections after two years."
Banomar, who is visiting Yemen for the ninth time since April, said the vote is "unique in the Arab world because it came as a result of a compromise that would prevent Yemen from slipping into civil war."
Autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt were forced to resign last year, bowing down to mass uprisings.
In Libya, rebels backed by NATO forces captured and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in October after an eight-month struggle, and Syria is on the verge of civil war as President Bashar al-Assad attempts to crush an uprising there.
The 54-year-old diplomat, who was a political prisoner in his home country of Morocco, has worked tirelessly to get Yemenis to sign the deal, prompting Yemen's English-language daily Yemen Times to name him "Person of the Year."