Workshop Report

Project: Middle East and North Africa Programme

Chatham House

Download paper in Arabic here

This is the summary of a one-day workshop held in Cairo in October 2011 which brought together Yemeni youth activists and international policy-makers. The workshop aimed to increase mutual understanding of each of these groups' roles in the transition process in Yemen: participants discussed mutual perceptions and their respective priorities for change in Yemen.

Yemen Forum.

Executive Summary

Download Executive Summary here



Yemeni activists perceive the role of the international community in Yemen negatively, seeing Western and Gulf states as acting in their own self-interest, prioritising the security dimension and failing to actively address the acute concerns of Yemeni citizens around human rights violations and the need for root and branch political change.

Within international policy circles there remains a perception that the Yemeni youth movement is divided and lacks clear priorities for transition.

Steps can be taken by both sides to improve communication and mutual understanding, including increased outreach and transparency on the part of the international community and more tailored advocacy strategies by Yemeni activists in order to 'speak to the interests' of policy-makers.


The widespread and acute effects of the current conflict and economic crisis on the Yemeni population impede the work of civil society activists towards establishing a new political future for Yemen. Activists struggle to focus on long-term strategic goals while bringing an end to the violence is the overwhelming priority.

However, there is a unifying vision for the movement in the desire for democracy, equality, citizenship, protection for human rights and the ultimate goal of a civil state. 

Yemeni activists largely agree on the most urgent priorities: the removal of the regime; stopping the current conflict and stopping attacks on protesters; addressing the humanitarian situation; and addressing the ‘southern question’.

International actors have diverse interests at stake in Yemen including counter-terrorism, long-term stability and poverty reduction, and these elements sometimes work at cross-purposes. This apparent lack of clarity on priorities increases Yemenis’ negative perceptions of the international community’s role. 

Moving forward

Youth activists need to nominate leaders and agree on representation; improve their advocacy and communications strategies; tailor their messages and ‘speak to the interests’ of policymakers, in particular security concerns; and improve their documentation of human rights abuses. 

Policymakers need to build diverse networks and invest in relationships; improve their own outreach and transparency; and engage more directly with Yemenis’ concerns about human rights violations and military aid to factions of the Yemeni security services.

Action Points

The following points for international policymakers and Yemeni activists are short-term actions for advancing the long-term goal of reshaping Yemeni politics to be more democratic, inclusive and accountable.

  • Increase frequency of meetings between Yemeni civil society activists and international representatives and ensure diversity of participation;
  • Design consultative processes during the transition period to prioritise inclusivity;
  • Training and support for Yemeni NGOs in documenting human rights abuses, developing advocacy strategies and speaking to the media;
  • Develop a central resource where people can access manifestos of the youth movement and clear, accessible information explaining the role of international organizations in Yemen.