Thanksgiving in Yemen

I did not plan to spend Thanksgiving Day in Yemen. As a matter of fact, I had ordered a fresh turkey from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that I support. I was ready to brine the turkey, whip up some potatoes, and create a variety of side dishes from the new edition of Bon Appetit magazine. I looked forward to sharing the meal with my family. But in my line of work, sometimes plans need to be changed.

We had planned to travel to Yemen earlier this month but there had been a serious increase in violence, leaving many dead in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. This would not only make security a challenge, but would signficantly decrease freedom of movement around the divided city with armed checkpoints indicating the pro-government and pro-opposition factions. In this environment, meetings would not be productive. So we regrouped and rescheduled as soon as a “calm” window appeared open.

And so here I am, in Yemen, on Thanksgiving Day. It is one of the biggest holidays in the US where we gather with family and friends to celebrate such relationships and for what we are grateful in our lives. Being in Yemen where so many have suffered greatly, yet stand resilient and in search of stability, justice and peace, I am ever mindful of how I have so much to be grateful for.  (I was just watching Al Jazerra and a piece they covered emphasized this modern gratitude aspect of Thanksgiving but also discussed its historic tie to Native Americans and the lost of land and lives that they suffered at the hands of America’s early settlers. Here is wikipedia’s description of its origins:

Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. Though the origins of the holiday in both Canada and the United States are similar, Americans do not typically celebrate the contributions made in Newfoundland, while Canadians do not celebrate the contributions made in PlymouthMassachusetts.) 

So on this Thanksgiving Day, in the spirit of its modern meaning, I express gratitude for my family who are sharing this year’s feast without me.  At the same time, I thank my new friends in Yemen for sharing a wonderful traditional Yemeni meal with me. Our Thanksgiving, Yemeni style. It was a truly amazing feast and I plan to find a Yemen food cookbook and pick up some spices before I leave. So I suspect a future blog will report on how my attempts to recreate traditional Yemeni food.  So stay tuned….

In conclusion, on the day after the power transfer agreement was signed between the Yemeni President and opposition groups, I wish a peaceful transition for all Yemenis. I met with many brave and amazing youth over the past few days. They have protested peacefully for positive changes in Yemen, despite suffering violent attacks on themselves and witnessing the killings of their friends. The youth in Yemen are an inspiration. They are committed to a peaceful process. As one impressive young woman activist said today, darkness cannot be changed by darkness, but only by bringing in the light. May we all follow this path.


Yemen in Transition: Signing of the GCC Initiative Today

Photo Courtesy of Manal Omar

I have been so honored and privileged to be in Yemen and have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful Yemenis over the past few days who are working to build peace in their country. It was also very interesting to arrive in Sana’a the day before an agreement, the GCC Initiative, was signed between the President and opposition parties whereby the President would step down from his post and a coalition party would govern. For all Yemenis, I hope this is the beginning of a peaceful transition that will see Yemen as a model for justice and rule of law.

Here is a quick piece that my colleague Manal Omar and I put together on today’s events:

USIP Building Bridges in Yemen

November 2011 | On the Issues by Manal Omar and Colette Rausch

November 23, 2011

Manal Omar and Colette Rausch are in Sanaa, Yemen meeting with a wide range of stakeholders from across the social, economic and political spectrum to learn the approaches for building peace.

How has the news been received on the streets of Yemen that President Saleh will cede power?

The Gulf Cooperation Council agreement signed between President Saleh and the Yemeni opposition sets forth a gradual plan to transfer power from the president to a national unity government. This comes on the heels of popular uprisings in several governates across Yemen that led to a standoff between pro-government and opposition members. There has been a wide range of responses to the agreement, which took many by surprise.

Despite news of his trip to Riyadh, many Yemenis with whom we spoke believed he would not sign the agreement because he had promised to sign the agreement but decided not to do so. Although there is a strong consensus that the nine-month standoff needed to come to an end, there are still many concerns about moving forward. The concerns most often raised come from the youth, who comprise more than half the country. During interviews in Sanaa, youth from different governates expressed concern that the original issues that led them to occupy public squares may not be addressed, given this was a political negotiation that included provisions with which they did not agree, most notably the immunity granted to Saleh.

Opposition leaders understand the concerns expressed by the youth, but have emphasized the agreement is the first step in a gradual process that will lead to long-term change. They also recognize that compromises were crucial to ensure a peaceful transition and to avoid violent confrontation or civil war.

What are the immediate challenges for implementation?

Many Yemenis we talked to believe the potential for Yemen to provide a new constructive model is high, benefitting from lessons learned from other “Arab awakening” transitions. Naturally, there also are many concerns. One of the first concerns raised was whether Saleh will truly leave the political scene or continue to be active in the political life of Yemen – or even support efforts to impede progress. There also is a strong concern people expressed that the new national unity government must maintain national unity and move forward with the implemention of the process as outlined. Further, that they must avoid political infighting and stalemates.

The youth fear they will continue to be marginalized, and that this will be a change of the regime but a continuation of the political process as usual. Some women fear there will be an unwinding of the progress they have made. Despite the concerns expressed, one thing shared by all groups is that there will be a successful transition leading to a peaceful Yemen. All agree that it will be challenging, but that it is just the beginning. As with many transitions, it is difficult because people will need to have patience and manage expectations, but at the same time tangible change will need to be seen.

What are the immediate next steps for Yemen?

The national unity government must demonstrate transparency, openness, and an inclusive process – and that it is not business as usual. This includes dealing with a host of immediate problems, including the North-South divide, further fragmentation, ensuring that their is an interated national army protecting and serving the security of all Yemenis, and establishing a system of fair and equitable governance over all of Yemen.

The GCC agreement grants immunity to Saleh, it does not eliminate other options for the development of accountability mechanisms to address past crimes, human rights abuses, and corruption. The general sentiment across the board is that the principles of justice and accountability should not be lost. Yemenis have expressed the need for an independent system of justice that is trusted by the public. There is a need for a process for achieving justice and accountability, but in a Yemeni context determined by Yemenis in a national dialogue. Youth want to ensure that they are at the center of this dialogue and have more than just a voice. They expect an active decision-making role.

Yemenis are determined to reverse the negative stereotypes of them as terrorists, drug abusers, and citizens of a failed state that they feel has been perpetuated in the last few years. In fact, during interviews the level of sophistication of the youth movement, civil society, the political debates, and the commitment to a new future taken place is a positive indicator of the potential for a positive outcome. Yemenis have expressed a commitment – and demonstrated an ability – for putting the interests of the nation above any individual interests. The best thing external players can do for Yemen is not to impose solutions, but is to provide space and resources for this movement to grow and support an enabling environment for the emergence of local leadership.

Libya in Transition: The Significance of U.N. Resolution 1973 and Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Fitzpatrick/USIP

Today we held an event on Libya. It was a fun event. We had over 100 people in the audience, together with about 80 folks who joined us via the webcast.  There were lots of great questions from the audience and through twitter.  The panelists provided very insightful comments. While acknowledging the challenges, overall, the panelists were optimistic about Libya’s transition to democratic governance. Here is an overview of the event:

Libya in Transition: The Significance of U.N. Resolution 1973 and Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

At a time when people in the Middle East and North Africa are calling for democracy and human rights, the United Nations Security Council, inspired by the Responsibility to Protect principle, approved Resolution 1973 to protect Libya’s civilian population against escalating violence. Subsequent actions by NATO and allied Arab country forces have helped bring about the fall of the Qaddafi regime and recognition of the revolutionary National Transitional Council as Libya’s legitimate government. The efforts to establish justice, security, and the rule of the law in Libya offers lessons for other Middle Eastern and North African countries seeking democratic rule.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted an event to assess the effort to establish democratic rule in Libya, the role of the U.N. resolution in that effort, and the importance of the transition and resolution to democracy efforts throughout the region.


  • Dean Pittman, panelist
    Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
    Bureau of International Organization Affairs
  • Laith Kubbapanelist
    Senior Director, Middle East and North Africa
    National Endowment for Democracy
  • Manal Omarpanelist
    Director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa Programs
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Ted Picconepanelist
    Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Foreign Policy
    The Brookings Institution
  • Colette Rauschmoderator
    Director, Rule of Law Center
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Dick Rowsonintroduction
    Board Member
    United Nations Association-National Capital Area


United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

“The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), a chapter of UNA-USA, is a membership-based nonprofit that works to promote constructive U.S. leadership in an effective United Nations. UNA-NCA uses our unique position in the nation’s capital to inform, inspire, and engage local residents and national leaders through a wide variety of outreach, education, and advocacy programs. Joining UNA-NCA provides opportunities for networking, using and developing your leadership skills, making your voice heard, and having an impact both globally and locally.”


Helping Libya’s New Leaders Move from Euphoria to Reform

It was a busy week last week with news of the imminent fall of Qaddafi in Libya.  For those of us working in the “rule of law” field, questions of what next? were being posed. My thoughts are set forth below. In addition, I did a live TV interview for Alhurra TV and a radio interview for Voice of America.  My main points are as follows:

•     Transition is a difficult period.  Elation is followed by the hard work of building a new Libya

•     There will likely be a foreseeable justice and security vacuum

•     That new leadership has to instill confidence right away

•     People are going to look for a leader or governing body that is credible,  just, accountable, transparent  and inclusive

•     Goal is to achieve a diverse and competent civil society

•     Reform will take time and patience and working together

Here is the link to the Voice of America radio interview:


Helping Libya’s New Leaders Move from Euphoria to Reform

 August 2011 | On the Issues by Colette Rausch

August 24, 2011

USIP’s Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation, discusses the situation in Libya and what issues Libyans will have to address after Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is out of power. While no two countries are exactly alike, USIP’s Rule of Law Center has been there before – helping countries like Nepal, Kosovo and Iraq as they navigated the minefield that is a transition from dictatorships to civil societies.

What are biggest hurdles facing Libya in the coming days?

The biggest challenge is just the transition, because so many things can happen during that time of uncertainy. You have elation, then that’s followed by reality. You have insecurity because it’s unclear who’s in charge. And this is that critical period. That reality is, you’re going to have a situation where you will have a security and justice problem. You saw this in Iraq, for example, when you had looting and general insecurity.

Police are worried about retribution or are unclear of their place in a new order, so they may step back and that creates a vacuum. If you have a country where you had a leader who kept a firm hand on things, then, when the firm hand is off, you may see old grievances emerge, retribution against the old regime and people going after those who were aligned with Qaddafi. This may cause members of the old regime to continue to fight on. These are all the types of things that can happen in these environments.

How should the world expect to see Libyans react during this period of change and uncertainty?

The Libyan opposition has had the luxury of time in thinking about what they would do when Qaddafi’s regime ends. We know the Transitional National Council has been researching top issues and “gaming” the end of the regime. But we won’t know how effective any of that preparation is until the transition really begins in the coming days and weeks.

What’s so critical in this period of time is, people are going to look for a leader, and they are going to look for a credible, just and inclusive leader. And not just a leader, but a governing body. That new leadership has to be firm and fair and instill confidence right away. If the new Libyan leadership fails to instill that confidence early on, that could lead to problems because it’s hard to get it back once trust is broken. Their first steps have to set the scene. They need to deliver, in the form of instilling confidence and providing even basic services, even if it is taking small but positive steps forward.

It’s also critical for Libyans to take a consultative and inclusive approach to making decisions, say in terms of how to handle past abuses or creating approaches for transitional justice. Quick or impulsive decisions made in the heat of the moment will not serve the new Libya well.

What will transition look like?

Ultimately, it will take a long time to infuse the new institutions, like the “police service,” the judiciary and other institutions with the values demanded by Libyans. The road to true reform takes a long time – years and years, but initially, there is no time to focus exclusively on those bigger picture concepts. One needs to keep the long-term goals in mind – strategic overhaul and reform of Libya’s rule of law institutions such as the judiciary and police service.

At the same time, its new leaders must keep an eye on what can be done in the short term to adapt these institutions in smaller ways that meet the long-term objectives of overall reform. That’s why in the immediate aftermath of the crumbling of the Qaddafi regime, it will be critical to begin both a “bottom-up” and “top-down” process for rebuilding Libya’s institutions. In some cases, we’ve seen where a country’s new leaders emerge from a conflict only to focus on developing institutions at the higher, “top-down,” level, ignoring the day-to-day needs of the citizenry. That runs the risk of significant disillusionment at the lowest – but arguably, the most important – level.

You need to work with the institutions that are already there. No existing institution is perfect, but otherwise, you’re creating a bigger gap. No transition plan survives initial execution, it will have to be adapted, but that will have to be the first step. My hope is that a discussion about what the long-term outcome of this revolution will look like can occur at the same time as the new Libyan leaders focus on the very pressing needs of a population looking for immediate answers to their questions about justice and security.

What are some practical things Libyans can do to begin to rebuild critical justice and security institutions that are so important right now? Would a Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) work?

Maybe, in some form. A JSD is a way to convene security forces and local community leaders to identify what a “new Libya” should look like. What do the people of Libya want in their justice and security systems? It can help build that critical relationship between the two entities in a country such as Libya that has experienced intense conflict and injustice. Such a dialogue is essentially an ongoing conversation between governing officials, security forces, civil society leaders and the citizenry to work through issues of mistrust and injustice that have grown over the years and in particular due to the conflict.

A JSD is a tool, created by USIP, to address the power and security vacuum caused by a leadership change. It worked well in Nepal, where King Gyanendra fell after a revolution, creating a void that had to be filled quickly. The dialogue helped to foster new understanding, a stronger relationship between society and its police, and ultimately, a society defined by a new rule of law in those critical days and weeks following a leadership change. It is also working in Kirkuk, Iraq.

What role can USIP play?

This is a classic situation where USIP has a wealth of information on other types of transitions. No place is the same, but there are certain principles that guide each transition. We have provided quite a bit of rule of law material to those in Libya working on a transition plan in recent months.

USIP’s Manal Omar, who is in Libya now, is exploring ideas with Libyan officials on how USIP might support their efforts as they seek to establish a new government with reformed institutions. These Libyan officials have expressed interest in USIP’s thoughts on education, the role of civil society, the role of women and the rule of law. She is identifying Libyans that we might work with in these and related fields. She will also discuss with these officials some of the work we have already done in other countries in the Middle East.

More specifically, we are quickly developing plans to launch three programs: one would be an alliance of Libyan facilitators, another would be a network of nongovernmental organizations that focus on conflict mitigation and transformation and a third will be a workshop designed to convene Libyan nationals across the country on the constitutional process.

Peace over Planting

Well, I had fully intended to plant my tomato seeds this weekend.  I had it all planned out.  At my recent Nursery visit, I purchased “Tricolor Cherry Tomatoes:  Garden Candy” and “Orange Cherry Tomatoes: Sungold” seeds.  I had visions of my last year crop of Sungold and its seemingly never ending production of deep orange sweet “cherry” tomato size magnificence that sent me into a deep trance of worship every time I went out to harvest them for our dinner salad.  I found myself zoning out in dreamland with visions of bucket loads of tomatoes.   So with such thoughts of what would grow in a few short months, I pictured myself spending my weekend grabbing my gardening journal to carefully log in the date, type of seed and information about the tomato (such key information as the germination period, when to transplant, etc.)

But reality did not mesh with my visions.  I kept meaning to go out to the shed to get my grow lamp and pots.  I even talked about how I was about to go out to the shed.  I even put the bag of seeds and recently purchased potting soil on the table to remind me.  But alas, I did not make it out to the shed.  The seeds and potting soil remain in the shopping bag and no seed have been planted.  Why?  Well, peace intervened.  Or I should say the threat to peace intervened.

I work at the United States Institute of Peace and the US House of Representatives recently voted to zero out the funding to our institute. By gardening terms, that means they refused to even provide the hospitable environment in which we could ourselves cultivate the soil and plant the seeds of peace. Consequently, my weekend was consumed with sowing seeds of a different type than tomatoes:  grassroots.  More later on this front.

Peas or Peace??

Peas or Peace? I have been intending to start a blog about gardening and my newly found but now deeply rooted (ha ha) connection to the dirt, seeds and things that grow from a vegetable garden. I suppose that I am one of the modern day vegetable gardeners who found herself passionately in love with seeds, seedlings and the magical process of growing vegetables.

I was so excited about the thought of spring that I went to the nursery two weeks ago, despite the fact that it was 30 degrees outside. With total excitement, I scanned the seed packets, trying to distinguish between the dozen or so types of tomato varieties. Then the selection of peas. Oh, so many!! What to choose?? Focusing on peas because they will be the first that will get planted in my cold frame and tomatoes because that is what I will be starting inside this year. Purchased some seeds and soil and brought them home intending to plant them this past weekend. But they have yet to be planted. Why?

Well, that is where the peace part comes in. The Peas or Peace part. (And tomatoes too but given this blog starts with peas, well I HAVE to include them or where would be the required symmetry be?) Okay, I digress. The peace part. Well, the issue is when I was ready to get started on spring, a kinda late winter storm came crashing down. The US House of Representatives decided to zero out the funding of the United States Institute of Peace. That is where I work. So my focus and energy was immediately shifted to the need of planting seeds of a different type: peace. So no peas. Stay tuned. Still working on the peace…..and peas.