Long-time president of Yemen (and of North Yemen, before), Ali Abdullah Saleh, has announced that a new constitution will be crafted for Yemen reducing the power of the presidency and increasing the power of the parliament. Many feel that Saleh made this announcement to protect Yemen (and him) from an Egyptian-style revolution — or worse.
Yemen is the country on the southern-most tip of the Arabian peninsula. Before the end of the Cold War and unification, it was composed of Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). The North received independence from the Ottoman Empire as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen; the South became a protectorate of the United Kingdom, who held the port of Aden. In 1962, the North overthrew the monarchy and replaced it with a Nasser-inspired republic. In 1967, the British were forced out of South Yemen — two years later, a communist regime took over and gave the Soviet Union a port on the Gulf of Aden, close to a choke-point for the Red Sea. With the end of the Cold War, the two Yemens joined to form a united Yemen, whose style of government and president were that of North Yemen.
Recently, with the increasing costs of food and with the dwindling natural resources in Yemen, international aid flowing into Yemen has been increasingly ending up in the North. Last year, several riots broke out in the South, protesting the continued poverty, endemic hunger, and the lack of help from Sana'a. (These riots were over and above the AQAP presence in the east and the al Houthi rebels in the extreme north.) The recent spate of political revolutions and protests across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Pakistan, included Yemenis calling for the resignation of Saleh.
Few details of the soon-to-be-written constitution are available. Saleh does promise a reduction of presidential power and an increase of legislative power. Al Jazeera states that the new constitution will be firmly based on the idea of separation of powers. BBC suggests the new governmental form will be parliamentary. Both tell us that the constitutional referendum will be held by the end of the year.
If he is serious about the constitutional reform, this is what he would do. If, however, he merely wanted to buy time and wait for the protests to naturally fade away, he would do this, as well. However, his earlier promise to not seek another seven-year term in 2013 did not quell the violent protests. Thus far, approximately 30 people have died in the protests. Will the protesters back off and wait until they see a draft of the new constitution? If so, will Saleh postpone that draft? Good questions.