It's a viewpoint that's shared by many across political and societal lines. Even if the National Dialogue ends up with the wide-ranging participation necessary to claim legitimacy, the conference's ability to achieve consensus -- let alone its ability to do so quickly enough to allow for elections to take place on schedule -- remains an open question. And while they've dominated discussions so far, the concerns of the Houthis and the Southern Movement will join a slate of other issues once the dialogue begins. While the participation of the GPC and the JMP has long been a given, many fear that their divisions will taint the dialogue process. And then there's the role of potential spoilers -- most notably the former president, who has resided in the capital since returning from medical treatment in the United States this February.
Beyond these factors, of course, are the deliberations of the conference itself. Subjects as diverse as women's rights, the extension of apologies and possible compensation to victims of Saleh-era conflicts, and widely discussed (though deeply controversial) ideas for changing the structure of the government to a federal or parliamentary system could very well lead to the collapse of the dialogue. Getting everyone to the table, while a key step in the process, is only one of Yemen's worries.
Expectations are high, but a general sense of pessimism is widespread. On a rhetorical level, the goals of the dialogue -- reckoning with longstanding issues while paving the way for a break with the past and establishing a mandate for an accountable, democratic governance system -- have nearly universal support, whether on the popular level or among Yemen's elite. However, on a practical level, it remains to be seen whether factions deeply invested in the status quo will be willing to make the compromises necessary to make them a reality.
The fears have been focused on the National Dialogue's potential failure, which could very well plunge Yemen into conflict. But even if the dialogue succeeds, restoring unity to this notoriously fractious country will still prove a tall order. Across the country, powerful tribal leaders maintain their hold over their own fighting forces; even the Yemeni army, many here complain, are closer to a collection of private militias than it is to a truly national military. Rather than holding a monopoly on power, the post-Saleh government often appears to be at the mercy of various factions whose interests often seem to diverge from those of the nation as a whole. In some sense, it's a thorny paradox: As the country aims to move forward, the cooperation of such divergent interest groups is key. But their continued sway, many argue, could render any progress in Sanaa moot.
"The source of Yemen's problems is clear," says Mujahid al-Kuhali, who serves as Minister of Expatriate Affairs in the unity government. "The center of power remains in the hands of certain armed groups controlled by men... who work for themselves rather than for Yemen. Until this changes, the problems will not be solved."