In the south -- an independent country until Yemen's 1990 unification -- the activists of the Southern Movement, largely suppressed since the group's 2007 emergence, have come out empowered -- and defiant. Rejecting calls for dialogue, many of their leaders have instead raised calls for complete disengagement with Sanaa. It's a viewpoint that is by no means universal among southerners.
But as leaders in the divided grouping jockey for influence, the struggle for legitimacy has pushed many away from pragmatism. Radical voices have increasingly come to dominate the conversation. And as Sanaa-based politicians and international diplomats have strived to fulfill the transition's ambitious, fast-paced roadmap, southern leaders have stressed the need for dialogue among themselves -- which many have characterized as a near prerequisite for any possible involvement in talks on a national level -- underscoring the challenges of forming a representative body out of groups that are often far from cohesive themselves.
"It's not possible for any faction in the South to claim that it represents the south or all southerners," said Ali Nasser Mohamed, a former president of South Yemen who has yet to commit to entering the National Dialogue, commenting by email from exile in Cairo. "We hope to emerge from [internal] southern dialogue with a compromise vision and leadership that can represent the South in national dialogue."
Then there are also the Houthis, a clan once mired in a devastating, nearly decade-long conflict with the central government. They have already appeared to take the upper hand in Yemen's far North, where they have carved out virtual control in the northern governorate of Saada and parts of neighboring provinces. In Sanaa, the territory is pejoratively referred to as a "state within a state;" Houthi leaders have dismissed such claims as political posturing, stressing that the group has unambiguously agreed to enter the dialogue process.
But their participation comes amidst a tense climate. Many Yemeni politicians and foreign diplomats claim the Houthis are working with Iran, repeating longstanding accusations that the Islamic Republic has provided arms and funding to the Zaydi Shi'a-led group. For their part, Houthi leaders have countered by labeling the current government as a reshuffling of old elites, condemning Hadi for his alliance with the United States, and stressing that national dialogue will not serve as the panacea that many seem to hope it will be.
"The [GCC] initiative only allowed a wing of the regime to rule again; the people do not accept this," said Saleh Habra, the head of the Houthi's political bureau. "The dialogue comes in this context. Entering into dialogue isn't a solution."