Tag Archives: Yemen

Abdalhadi Alijla – From Saleh to Hadi: Who destroyed Yemen?

Abdalhadi Alijla is a Swedish-Palestinian academic and the Regional Manager for ‘Varieties of Democracy Institute’ for the Gulf countries at Gothenburg University, Sweden. He is the executive director for the Institute for Middle East Studies, Canada (IMESC).


As the Arabian’s coalition strikes against Yemen stop, a new era starts with the question “What next?” Yemen’s crisis is not a new one. It is not even a crisis of the post-2011 demonstrations against former President Ali Abdulla Saleh. Rather it dates back to the 1960s. On many occasions, violence has been part of the atmosphere, yet it was managed through the common ground political equation and the strong informal institutions of Yemen (Tribal system). In most of the previous Yemeni crises and the current crisis, the causes have their roots in the political system, specifically the Head of the State.

In the 1960s, the Republic of Yemen in San’a fought against royal forces for about seven years. It ended with a so-called national reconciliation. After southern Yemen’s independence from Yemen in 1967, two wars between the south and the north erupted in 1972 and 1979 respectively. In 1982, the People’s Conference was established, setting its agenda as the unity of the two Yemens. As a result, a new commission and supreme council were established by the conference. A ministerial joint committee worked together until unity was achieved in 1990. They set a time period of two and a half years as a transition phase to merge institutions. The unification agreement included the decentralization of institutions, neutralization of the military, a modern electoral system, and new local governance arrangements. The two leaderships signed the agreement in Amman in February 1994. In the summer of 1994, a new war erupted between the military of the two countries and ended with a defeat for southern Yemen and its socialist party.

The historical legacy of fragmentation in each part of Yemen and the proliferation of militias based on ethnicity and tribalisms suggest that what is currently happening in the country may bring about something worse than what we could have expected.

The latest data from ‘Varieties of Democracy Institute’ shows that there is a huge crisis of the executive in Yemen. V-Dem has collected a unique database of data on democracy from 1900 until today. The aim of the project is to provide better and clearer measures of democratic development for practitioners, academics and policy-makers. Using V-Dem data, we can measure the role of the executive in undermining democracy and peace in countries such as Yemen.

In the following graphs (Graphs Nos. 1 and 2), V-Dem data show how Head of States in both South Yemen and Yemen respected the constitution from the 1950s until 2012. Surprisingly, the Head of the State (Ali Abdullah Saleh) had violated most provisions of the constitution without any legal consequences after the unification of South Yemen and Yemen. Comparing that to the pre-unification agreement in 1990, Southern Yemen had a higher ability to take legal measurements whenever the executive violated the constitution. The second graph shows the Head of the State’ s ability to propose legislation. According to V-Dem data, the Yemeni president could propose legislation in all policy areas or share this power with the legislature.

Within a society such as the Yemeni society where informal institutions, tribalism, nepotism and patrimonialism prevail over good governance and respect for laws and the constitution, the Yemeni president undermined democratic values and liquidated the constitution by appointing relatives to the military and high official posts. Not only that, but he founded and organized paramilitary troops that are loyal to him, violating the constitution signed in 1990 that states that only minister of defense manages and controls the military of the state.


Ymen_Propose legislation

More surprisingly, after the unification of the south Yemen and Yemen, the level of judicial constraints on the executives (Head of the State, Head of Government and Ministers) decreased significantly in south Yemen and by a few degrees in Yemen (Graph 3 below). This can be explained by the collapse of the unification agreement. The war in 1994 between south Yemen and Yemen (after the unification) ended with the defeat of the socialist party. After the war, the South Yemen governmental and formal institutions collapsed, and the People’s Conference took over south Yemen. After that, the unification agreement between South Yemen and Yemen ended by amending the constitutions along the lines of a presidential system (not a presidential council as the agreement stated). The new constitution gave the president complete authority over all policy areas, including judiciary and legislative ones. With corruption widespread, Yemen’s president appointed his relatives and loyalists.

YemenJudical constraints

The current Yemeni crisis is not about the Houthi or Iran’s influence in the area. Taking a look at the egalitarian index of democracy (below) for both south Yemen and Yemen, we see a huge difference between the two. The dissatisfaction among southern Yemeni increases as they were excluded from power. “The egalitarian principle of democracy addresses the distribution of political power across social groups, i.e. groups defined by religion, and ethnicity. This perspective on democracy emphasizes that a formal guarantee of political rights and civil liberties are not always sufficient for political equality. Ideally, all social groups should have approximately equal participation, representation, agenda-setting power, and protection under the law, and influence over policymaking and policy implementation. If such equality does not exist, the state ought to seek to redistribute socio-economic resources, education, and health so as to enhance political equality”. As graph No. 4 shows South Yemen had a higher egalitarian index than Yemen. However, after the unification, both countries had a significantly lower egalitarian index which reveals that some part of the population was excluded from some of their political or social rights. With increasing voices by Southern Yemeni for separation, it seems that the unification has failed, not because the population failed, but because the political system failed (1).

yemen Egalitarian

It seems that the present crisis is not a political one linked to the Houthi and political reform, rather a political, economic and societal dilemma between the Southern Yemeni and Northern Yemeni. The complexities of presidentialism in Yemen accompanied by corruption, nepotism and exclusion of the southern Yemeni led to ongoing deadlock. What is needed is a new political system, preferably power-sharing with southern Yemeni to avoid separatists increasing influence among Yemeni, which may not be a good omen for the future of Yemen.

(1) http://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/2014/11/13/اليمن-خيارات-سياسية-وأمنية-أمام-الجنوبيين

Yemen – President resigns amidst turmoil

There are few historical coincidences as ironic as the simultaneous occurrence, last week, of the resignation of Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The recent takeover of power by the Shi’a Houthi movement had been one of the major anathemas in Abdullah’s life. After the Houthi’s Ansar Allah (‘Partisans of God’) occupied the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2014, forcing the government to resign, their ascendance has been overwhelming. As a result, Saudi Arabia has completely lost control over its neighbouring country, after a long tradition of political indirect patronage, fuelled by personal clientelist relations. Saudi’s last residual share of influence on Yemen withered away with the resignation of President Hadi, the trustworthy man of Ryad.

President Hadi’s resignation came after it became de facto impossible for him to exert his authority, as by now the Houthis control a share of the Yemeni territory stretching from Sa’ada, at the northern border with Saudi Arabia, to the southern province of Thamar. That said, he does not lack popular support. On 24 January around 10,000 people took the streets to protest against his decision to step back, thus formally accepting the Houthis’ coup d’état.

In the meantime, some reported that the international community has already started talks with the young and charismatic leader of the movement, Abdel Malik al-Houthi. If true, this would also explain why President Hadi – once backed by US and Saudi diplomacies – has hastened his resignation. Nonetheless, the political impasse that is afflicting the country is nowhere near approaching its end. On the contrary, new and old dynamics are dangerously merging to create an explosive cocktail.

Ansar Allah’s triumph over Sana’a has been generally depicted as one of the many ‘hot’ proxy wars between the two rival Middle Eastern powers – Saudi Arabia and Iran – that are fighting a Cold War for the regional leadership. Yet, it is not a mystery that the sophisticated weapons in the hands of Ansar Allah militants are of Iranian origin, and that Teheran’s funding of the Houthis  increased tremendously after 2011 at the peak of the Saudi-Iranian Cold War. The Houthis are also depicted as a Yemeni Hezbollah, the main proxy ally of Iran in the region – although their organisation and their ambitions sharply differ from those of the Lebanese ‘Party of God’.

In the same vein, some have provided a sectarian explanation for the current political turmoil in Yemen, claiming that the current impasse is the outcome of the fitna between the Sunnis and the Shi’a in the Middle East.

President Hadi is a Sunni from the southern province of Abyan, among the most active regions of Yemen, reviving irredentist claims of secession from the north. However, it would be reductive to see southern secessionist stances as a mere reaction to Houtis’ advancement. In fact, this claim goes back to South Yemen’s ‘persistent objections’ to the unification of the country in 1990, cyclically reviving during periods of Yemen’s long-standing instability. In addition, what is further exacerbating tensions in the South is al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the unprecedented weakness of the central authority. The ambiguity of the US, and the general fear over the future of the country, has also pushed many in the Gulf to sustain some radical Sunni Islamist militias, in the hope of pushing back the Shi’a Iran-sponsored Houthis.

The elephant in the room here remains the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In another blog post, we highlighted the pernicious role that Saleh has been playing in fostering and aggravating the current political blockage. Forced to resign from power in 2011, under the pressure of a notorious ‘informal’ US-Saudi joint effort to placate the popular uprisings, Saleh tried to take his revenge, through further destabilizing the country. In so doing, the ex-President has mainly relied on the many military and political figures – his “deep state” – that survived his departure.

Saleh’s political gambling aims at preparing the rise of his son to the presidency. Many officers and key tribal leaders, still loyal to him, still support his project. The paradox is that, in spite of the sectarian narratives, Saleh and his loyal basis have allied with the bitterest enemies (the Houthis) of their new enemies (President Hadi and his Saudi-backed political entourage). This is happening in spite of the fact the Saleh harshly repressed the Houthis during the period of his presidency.

Sectarian narratives are informing the fabric of the current Yemeni domestic conflict, and have undoubtedly played a role in galvanising militants. However, by delving deeper into the layers of a complex reality, what is once again fracturing Yemen seems to be mainly a cynical Machiavelian game, leaving little room for religiously motivated stances, while magnifying pragmatic personal interests.