Federalism in Yemen: Unasked Questions and Uncertain Solutions

Is federalism the answer for Yemen? In this Policy Alternative paper, Yemeni researcher Maged Al Madhaji analyzes the challenge of introducing a federalist system in a complex country beset with internal divisions and major economic problems. Once considered taboo for a country that was reunified only in 1990, a new federalist system composed of six regions has been proposed within the framework of the National Dialogue Conference. However, the six-region proposal, and the way it was pushed forward by the transitional government, has caused much disagreement and highlighted the need for a clear understanding of what benefits a federal system is expected to bring.

With significant imbalances of population and economic resources, a poorly designed federal system may exacerbate the risk of strengthening sub-national identities at the expense of a national Yemeni identity. Rather than entrenching discord by forcing through a divisive federalist option, Al Madhaji recommends that the government implement the 20 agreed points for building public trust and restoring citizen rights, strengthen the national government’s authority, and develop a national strategy for demobilizing armed groups.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.