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.