MA dissertation, Department of Politics, University of
The Yemeni Experience
Institutional changes and
acknowledgements, abbreviations, appendices and bibliography.
WITH THE ADVENT of the 1990s the Yemen entered a new era,
which represented a watershed in the political history of the Yemen. The unification had
been achieved, Yemeni workers had lost their preferential status in the GCC, new
institutions had been created and others had disappeared, while two mass elections had
taken place. Some of the prosperous developments were tarnished by a ruthless civil war,
which lasted for about two months and which resulted in the diminishing of one of the two
main creators of the unification, the YSP. This took place at the expense of the expansion
Two main features characterised Yemeni politics during the
period 1990-1997. The first was the struggle for power among the political elite, where
conflict rather than co-operation predominated. A wide range of manoeuvring policies were
applied, ranging from coalitions to large scale war. For this reason, the politics of
survival were given a priority, while the building of a nation sate lagged behind. The
second was that from the very outset of unification the country suffered a sever economic
recession, which started with the expulsion of the expatriates from the GCC shortly after
the declaration of unification. This was a reflex action indicating the Yemeni point of
view in the Gulf crisis. The results of this were exacerbated by the termination of most
external aid as a direct result. This, added to the poor performance of the government,
the modest revenues derived from the hydrocarbon sector with the uncertainty of its
future, has had considerable repercussions on the economy and consequently on the people.
The above mentioned issues have been pursued analytically
in this research, which is divided into five sections. The first of which is an
introduction, which acts as prologue to the research.
The second section covers problematical issues, where the
conceptual problem has been identified. The distribution of power in the new Yemeni state
and the attempts to overcome state weakness in the face of the fragmentation of social
control is the main problem that has been addressed. With regards to this, different
institutions were created or dissolved, the rivalry of elites and the politics of survival
were considered collectively as part of the theoretical framework. Migdal's theory about
the relationships between state and society in the third world has been used as a tool to
explore the problem, for, although Migdal does not mention the Yemen in the case studies
that he used, the theory has here been applied to the Yemeni case as it seems an
appropriate tool for approaching the subject.
The third section has been subdivided into four
categories. The first covers the Yemeni experience in the pre-unification period up to
1990, when the unified Yemen emerged. The distribution of power and the capacities of the
state in the two former partitioned states have been examined. This required an analysis
of the ways in which both states controlled social order and dealt with the power centres
of society. The institutional changes that took place over time are revealed to facilitate
the understanding of the socio-economic and political evolution that propelled Yemens into
the unification process.
The second category refers to the interim period between
unification in May 22, 1990 and April 27, 1993, when the first representative elections
took place. This section aims to demonstrate the changes in the structure of control,
either formal or informal, at both centre and peripheries. The interim period witnessed,
on the one hand, a coalition between the two erstwhile regimes in order that the unity
might be preserved, while the institutions necessary for the creation of a new state were
set up. On the other hand, a parallel development which influenced the process of
unification, avoided the merging of certain institutions such as the armies. This meant
that no strong administrative foundations were established and that there was a
concentration on policies of manoeuvre and a struggle for the consolidation of power. In
addition, this all took place in an uncertain socio-economic context.
The third category reveals the changes that occurred after
the first representative elections on April 27th, 1993. The structure of control changed
and was accompanied by changes to both the formal and informal structures. This resulted
in a new politics of balance.
The final category deals with the pre-conditions that led
to the civil war in 1994 and with its aftermath. In this section, the reasons for the
deterioration that led to the war have been traced. In addition, analysis has been made of
the impact of the war on the power centres at both national and local levels.
The fourth section discusses the establishment of a new
structure of control, which brought with it an institutional changes and where the power
was redistributed. The post war period witnessed anew tacit struggle, which became much
clearer after the second representative elections that took place on April 27th, 1997. In
this section, analysis is concentrated on government strategy to re-arrange and
consolidate the structure of control and also to mobilise resources and people, as well
as, whether such strategy works or not. The defeat of the YSP created and/or revived a
triangle of accommodation, which might be described as a consociational/corporatist
experience, which can be examined in order to discover the government's formula for
control. In addition, the characteristics of the Yemeni political parties that have
impeded their political development have been sketched. There is, also, discussion of the
economic situation taking into consideration the structural adjustment that has been
implemented in co-operation jointly with the IMF and the World Bank. In the last, Migdal's
conditions, which are prerequisites for the creation of a strong state have been applied
to the Yemen and an assessment has been mooted for the creation of a potentially strong
Finally, a conclusion was drawn, ending with an evaluation
of the usefulness of Migdal's theory as a tool in studying the Yemeni case. Inevitably,
critical assessment was made to ascertain to what degree this approach was useful and what
were its limitations, if any, and to consider what alternative analytic tools might be
used to fill the gaps. The conclusion, also, highlights the problems, which face the
Yemeni state and limit its capacities, and which can break down the triangle of
accommodation. So, it is worthwhile focusing on the future of the structure of control and
its impact on democratisation in the Yemen.
2. Problematic issues
THE MAIN problem of the Yemen can be summarised as
underdevelopment, which covers most aspects of both personal and public life. One aspect
of this problem has been determined precisely and elaborated on exclusively in this
research; this is the elites rivalry to assume power in a weakened state and a fragmented
society, that has affected development processes and depleted the state resources. With
regards to this, this research concentrates on the distribution of power in the new Yemeni
state after the unification in 1990 and the attempts to overcome the weakness of the state
in association with the fragmentation of the social order.
Although Yemeni unity was a predominant and popular goal,
it was only achieved after many abortive attempts and materialised on 22 May 1990. Despite
the formal appearance of unity, the two Yemens were amalgamated rather than integrated. In
other words, there was a merger of previously independent units, but the institutions and
practices have not developed to the point that "the peaceful exchange of
interdependent expectations" could be assumed for a long time [Deutsch: 5-9].
The actual day of unification marked the beginning of a
process of political integration. The fact that the Southern and Northern Yemenis felt a
sense of common identity on cultural, historical and social levels was no guarantee in
itself that political integration could be taken for granted. In reality, beneath the
surface, the two political establishments, which had been joined but not merged, were both
manoeuvring to maintain and/or expand their own autonomy and power [Hudson, 1995: 10].
On a formal level, structures of an integrated polity were
established: constitution, parliament, elections and bureaucratic mergers. An arena for
freer political expression was opened up; there was proliferation of the press, the
establishment of political parties and associations and the convening of public
conferences. However, on the level of applied politics, the two former authoritarian
regimes approached the merger with a lack of good faith and trust in each other [Ibid.:
10]. At the same time that the General People's Congress (GPC), the ruling party of the
Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the ruling party of the
People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) had both agreed ostensibly to a power-sharing
formula on a roughly 50-50 basis, (although there was an 80-20 ratio in the population)1.
These two establishments were also preparing fallback strategies and contingency plans for
an expected conflict. Each side sought to develop its own military capabilities, paying
only lip service to the principle of unification of the military. Each side cultivated
support from outside. Both sides seemed to share an implicit interest in thwarting the
development of independent political forces and in corrupting the attempts of the emerging
civil society to enter Yemeni politics in an effective way.
Rather than collaborative, there emerged a conflictual
context. The Yemeni political rivals have used all capacities they had to gain dominance
and survival ranging from coalitions to war on a large scale. This competition for power
and control peaked and consequently was reflected in institutional changes and a worsening
the socio-economic situation. In the mean time, power centres have been involved
representing economic, social and religious interests. Such a context of unrest was
exacerbated by antagonistic regional attitudes and actions that resulted from the official
Yemeni position towards the Gulf crisis.
In order to address the politics of survival and elite
rivalry in gaining the power and controlling the social order in the Yemen, it has been
found that Migdal's theory might be a useful tool with which to approach these issues.
Migdal  explained that the prevalent literature on
the Third World falls into two categories. The first, approaches societies at the ground
level, focusing on peasants, patronage and nepotism. The second, focuses on the
influential elements of society; the political elite, merchants, religious groups and so
on. Migdal, however, criticised these studies on account of the first remaining enmeshed
in the complexities of social life, while the latter assumed facilely that leaders could
effectively repress, transform or reform the rest of society [Migdal: xvi].
Migdal offers an alternative model and a theory for
understanding the relationship between state and society in third world countries. He
emphasises the distribution of social control among the many organisations in society
which enables us to understand the capabilities of the state. Migdal starts his argument
by defining a "strong state" a strong state is able to penetrate societies,
regulate social relationships, and extract resources and determine how they are used
[Ibid.: 4-5]. They are able to reshape societies by promoting some groups and classes, at
the same time repressing others. It is a fact that most developing countries have very
weak political institutions. This duality feature is reflected in the strength of the
state penetration coupled with its weakness in achieving social change [Ibid.: 7-9].
This inertia may result from the fact that although the
overall power of authority may be high, the exercising of it may be fragmented. In other
words, social control in society is distributed among numerous groups rather than being
concentrated in the state. This means that the state is one organisation among many, such
as sects, tribes, institutions of particular social classes, villages and others, who
enforce rules of the game singly or collectively, offering individuals the components of
strategies for survival [Ibid.: 28-9]. Thus, state and society are engaged in a struggle
to determine who has the right and ability to make the rules that control people's
Three problems have resulted in political deficiency. The
first, is the fragmentation of social order, which result from the distribution of social
control among numerous and fairly autonomous groups. The second, includes disasters such
as civil war that decreases the overall level of social control by taking rewards and
sanctions out of the hands of leaders. These are accompanied by institutional changes. The
third occurs when society is weblike with ties of patronage and clients rather than
pyramidal or centrally based as under state control, so, that there are formidable
barriers in seeing policies through [Ibid.: passim]. These features have a mutual effect
on the centre and the peripheries for society shapes the state as deeply as the state
influences society. The units of society at ground level are mobilised by loyalty, rewards
and sanctions very different from what the state intended to achieved. The result of this
was that the strong men used state resources and institutions to build their own power
[Ibid.: 177-198]. This forced the state to become involved in accommodation processes
which have been the actual politics of many Third World societies. In such weak states,
leaders find themselves with the acute dilemma of being threatened by both state agencies
and power centres. Consequently, they inclined to adapt the politics of survival.
THE POLITICS OF SURVIVAL
EFFECTIVE strategies of survival demand a set of
institutions in order to administer rewards and sanctions meaningfully. Domestic and
external dangers may be countered through political mobilisation, achieved by constructing
state agencies and then strengthening those agencies. Paradoxically, this may at the same
time hold risks for state leaders: Migdal has explain more this paradox by using three
models: a market model, a physical model of centrifugal and centripetal forces, and a
model of risk taking [Ibid.: 208]. As in a free market, where there is no single actor,
who can affect supply or demand sufficiently. The same, leaders seek sufficient channels
of mobilisation, with the result that no single state agency can gain control of the state
mobilisation capacity [Ibid.: 208].
The physical model assumes that any state agency creates
centrifugal tendencies in itself. State agencies compete for the allocation of resources,
status, influence and interaction. This creates internal loyalties among the top officials
which threatens the coherence and stability of the state. Therefore, the leaders need to
create centripetal forces to counteract the centrifugal tendencies in order that their
agencies may be kept acting cohesively. As there are many channels for mobilisation, the
leaders ability to create centripetal forces is high. Where social control is highly
fragmented, the influence of society on the state becomes obvious. However, in an
oligopoly the centripetal forces are much weaker since so much social control remains with
the power centres Ibid.: 209-10].
The risk taking model is carried out to overcome the
fragmentation, which occurs through attempts at political mobilisation. Leaders need
strong state agencies to achieve their own goals, so they are inclined to concentrate
coercive capabilities in a handful of security agencies. The irony is that these agencies,
such as the military and security apparatus could turn out to be dangerous and a threat to
the leaders themselves [Ibid.: 210-11].
The paradox faced by state leaders, that leaders need an
effective agencies which may at the same time hold risks for them. This paradox forces
leaders to strive to build continual a centripetally in order to minimise the risks to
their own survival. One option is to balance two or more strong agencies against each
another, such as opposing the military with the security, or to create more than one
military force, so that they counteract each other.
Another option is to isolate units from one another, or to
make appointments or promotions on the basis of loyalty. These methods plus the creation
of overlapping functions have all become essential methods in decreasing the risks of the
leadership being overthrown. To effect this, some paramilitary forces come, not under the
control of the Ministry of Defence, but are commanded directly by the leaders [Ibid.:
Another option for the leaders is to rely on a specific
group, such as a certain social class or sect...etc., in order to counterbalance informal
power centres and to better control society. Moreover, leaders may make designs to prevent
a concentration of power from arising. Migdal calls this the policy of pre-emption, which
can take the form of weakening a potentially strong state agency or of even destroying it.
To reinforce political survival, the idea of mobilisation capacity is set aside, despite
the domestic or international risk in order to mitigate any potential centrifugal force
that might threaten the ruler, Migdal calls this "the politics of survival".
Several different kinds of action characterise the
politics of survival. There is firstly, the big shuffle, in which the leader has the power
of appointment to and dismissal from office, and frequently replaces top officials to
prevent loyalty building up within strong agencies that might threaten the leader. This is
a set of pre-emptive actions that prevent centres of power from coalescing. It is a
process of constant circulation of the elite that looks like a game of political musical
chairs [Ibid.: 214-17].
Secondly, there is the technique of nonmerit appointments,
where officials are appointed to top positions for their deep personal loyalty to the
state leader. Patrimonial characteristics based on kinship ties are used as a standard for
promotion to state posts2. Personal ties may also be linked to
provincial, ethnic, tribal or sectarian backgrounds [Ibid.: 217-18].
Thirdly, there are the dirty tricks methods, including
illegal methods or quick changes of law in order to remove key state figures, or to
pre-empt the emergence of threatening power centres by weakening or destroying groups in
the state institutions which are already powerful enough to threaten the ruler's
prerogatives. Such actions include illegal imprisonment, torture and assassinations. Both
state and non-state power centres can be exposed to dirty tricks [Ibid.: 223].
All the types of politics of survival reflect a weakness
in the state institutions and limit the prerogatives of state agencies. Although the use
of the politics of survival may contribute to the longevity of regimes and leaders, at the
same time they cause continuing turmoil in bureaucracy, they are a waste of time and limit
the efficiency of state institutions and administrative rationality. They prevent the
development of state institutions which, when all is said and done, are needed by rulers
as a means of defence against both internal and external violence. This means that rulers
have had to make sufficient allowance for such agencies to carry out the necessary tasks.
However, there can arise, power centres outside the state
organisations. These are an additional risk to the leadership. These can be run by strong
men in both urban neighbourhoods and rural areas. The same occurs in the state agencies,
where leaders need the services of such strong men as tribal chieftains, holders of
capital, religious rectors, leaders of association and so on. At the same time, the
leaders need to confine the powers of these strong men so as not to allow their influence
to exceed certain limits that might affect the state's capability for mobilisation. In
this case rulers of the state lack the power of appointment and big shuffles, but they
have used dirty tricks widely against these power centres [Ibid.: 226-7].
Where the social organisation is large and dirty tricks
have only a limited effect, leaders have tried to incorporate these organisations or their
functions into the state organisation or into state-allied institutions. Such manoeuvring
invariably involves coercion, co-option and accommodation [Ibid.: 228-37].
THE TRIANGLE OF ACCOMMODATION
POLICIES are carried out by the implementors, that is
those who are responsible for effecting programmes in specific and constricted areas at
the ground level of the state. They are usually far removed from the state leaders, often
far removed from the sight of the top personnel in their own agencies. These implementors
are strategically placed between the top policy-makers and most of the country's
The political game subjects these intermediary roles to
pressure and risks from four different groups. The first of these is their supervisors or
those immediately above them. The second, is the intended clients of the programme, that
is those who benefit from or are regulated by the rules of the programme. The third, is
made up of regional actors, bureaucrats and politicians. The last group includes the
non-state local strong men.
Migdal argues that the structure of society has an
important indirect effect on implementation of policy. The politics of survival evolves
from a society with fragmented social control. In its turn, the politics of survival
lessens both backing for implementors and the threat of sanctions from supervisors. This
make the implementors more attentive to the possible career costs of strong men and peer
officials, in other words, implementors are open to a wide range of pressure. This results
in a further weakening of the state's ability to make rules that govern the behaviour of
the people [Ibid.: 238-41].
The state is witness here to accommodation on two levels.
In the first, the top state leadership has accommodated two kinds of social control: the
first, where the local strong men have been allowed to develop social control for the
purpose of gaining social stability at local level; the second is at national level
through power centres where the leaders conduct their dealings through discriminatory
and/or preferential policies [Ibid.: 245].
The second level of accommodation takes place at local and
regional levels, where the implementors, their peer officials and strong men have
accommodated one another in a web of political, economic and social exchange. Their
bargaining determines the final allocation of state resources to the region [Ibid.: 245].
These two sets of related bargaining are together called
the "Triangle of accommodation". The results are unexpected and usually quite
different from those designed by the makers of state policy. The bargaining can lead to a
major distortion in the use of state resources, where state policies are deflected and
resources are redirected as they filter down into society, reinforcing social
fragmentation. Because of the politics of survival in many societies, the distribution of
social control has not changed radically from a weblike to a pyramidal configuration
In sum, to overcome state weakness, Migdal points out four
conditions that lead to the creation of a strong state. The first, is the occurrence at a
historical moment in the world, where external political forces favour concentrated social
control3. The second involves a serious military threat either
from outside or from communal groups within a country4. The
third is where there exists a social grouping with skilful cadres who are sufficiently
independent of existing bases of social control, believing that their interests coincide
with those of the state, to affect policies. Such interests must necessarily transcend
loyalty to religious sects, ethnic groups, regionality and so on. Finally, in order to
take advantage of the conditions to build a strong state, there must be a skilful top
leadership in existence [Ibid.: 271-77].
3. The Yemeni experience
Structure of control in the
The politics of the Interim
Elections and power imbalance
The war road, power redistribution
UNDOUBTEDLY, the concept of a unified Yemen was the
supreme goal at both official and public levels in both the former Yemens. In addition to
the historical and the emotional expectations, the vision of union was also viewed as the
proper way towards a better future in the light of socio-economic circumstances. However,
before further analysis of post-unification, the strategies and techniques followed by the
two states of Yemen in the pre-unification period, which aimed to manage society and
control the social order, should be studied. This is an important aspect as it reflects in
the politics of the unified Yemen.
Structure of control in the pre-unified
With a population estimated at only 1.5 million, the PDRY
presented two different pictures. On the one hand, was the cosmopolitan city of Aden with
its urban focus. Ship chandlering, bunkering, oil refining and other large-scale economic
and commercial operations generated a certain affluence that in its turn produced a better
education system by regional standards and developed a skilled labour force, and to a
lesser extent the other main seaport al-Mukalla. On the other hand, was the more rural
hinterland, where tribal social structure was predominant [McClintock: 199].
The South Yemeni State emerged in 1967 out of the
victorious struggle against British colonial rule1. The ruling
party had been founded in 1959 in Aden as a branch of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM).
The North Yemen revolution of September 26th 1962 paved the way for the local branch of
the ANM to form the National Liberation Front (NLF) in August 1963. Subsequently, in 1978,
it transformed itself into the Yemeni Socialist Party YSP [Deeb: 452].
The radical ideology of the YSP was the product of certain
historical conditions, that were both local and regional. Although the Marxist-Leninism of
the YSP is a borrowed ideology, its adoption was accelerated by political and ideological
developments in other parts of the Arab World. It also had a local dimension which was
rooted in South Yemen society itself [Ibid.: 452]. The members of the nine organisations
that formed the NLF were drawn mainly from the petite bourgeoisie which was influenced by
the great ideological ferment of the 1950s and 1960s with the demand for independence and
the abolition of the quasi-feudal and tribal systems. This trend, enhanced by a
well-organised trade union organisation, the Aden Trade Union Congress ATUC, acted on
behalf of workers interests [Kostiner, 1981: 454].
The vast majority of the people backed the NLF and other
national independence movements against traditional power centres, as the Sultans (rulers
of the Southern Arabian Shaykhdoms), Sada (religious seniors, who were descendants of the
Prophet) landowners, tribal leaders. There were, also, elements of the newly formed strata
of educated officials, who hoped for modernisation and the alleviation of poverty[Ibid.:
Nevertheless, there were four reasons for the shift to
Marxist-Leninism. Firstly, there was the 1967 relapse and the Nasser defeat, which
inclined the ANM to a radicalisation away from the Nasser streamline. Secondly, the
closure of the Suez Canal during 1967 affected the port of Aden, the main source of
revenue at a very critical time for the nascent state. The NLF attempted to strengthen
ties with the USSR, Eastern Europe and China, who at the peak of the Cold War, provided
various types of developmental and military aid. Thirdly, there was a power struggle
within the NLF and the country as a whole, in which the faction supporting President
al-Sha'abi relied mainly on tribal elements, that feared other NLF leaders, remembering
the experience of North Yemen when conservatives dominated the republican regime. Finally,
there was not a significant upper bourgeoisie to resist such a trend and the army and
police force, which were products of the colonial era, were neither sufficiently united
nor strong enough to challenge the radical trend [Deeb: 454].
Control and transformation of society
There were two turning points in the political structure's
consolidation of its control. The first, was in 1969 when power was settled to the
advantage of the left wing. The second, also came after an ideological conflict in 1978,
which was followed by the establishment of the YSP in which the commitment to Marxism was
more explicit2. Both these events were followed by further
tendencies towards centralisation [Abu-Amr: 170-75].
The first turning point came after independence in 1967,
the rural ruling class was destroyed: the rulers, landowners and tribal leaders were
expropriated and the influential urban classes, primarily the commercial bourgeoisie and
the upper section of the colonial state apparatus either fled or were stripped of their
economic and political power [Halliday, 1979: 4]. These old classes were substituted by
alliances of new and heterogeneous social forces: members of the intelligentsia, workers,
peasants, petty bourgeoisie and also some of the national bourgeoisie [Abu-Amr: 171].
A second tool of control was agrarian reform, which gave
the leadership a great power to mobilise the people. The first Agrarian Reform Law (no.
27) of 1970, decreed the immediate confiscation without compensation of the land and
properties of the old classes. The law also limited land ownership to 25 acres of arable
land and 50 acres of non-arable land. The second agrarian reform bill was more radical,
lowering land ownership to 20 acres of irrigated land and 40 acres of land watered by
rain. A peasant militia was armed and took on the implementation of the agrarian reform
law. Peasants committees were headed by members of the political organisation of the NLF.
These peasant committees confiscated land and redistributed it among the new owners who
regrouped into co-operative farms [Ibid.: 177].
The third step in this move against the old centres of
control was the nationalisation of all means of production, which came into effect with
Law 37 of November 27th, 1969. The key to the new economic system was central planning.
The state controlled all sectors of the economy, even the retail sector. Considerable
efforts were made to mobilised the society and prevent the control of power from leaving
the leading party. Therefore, greater equality of income was applied after the reductions
in salaries and wages of the 1968-1972 period. Also, the position of women was transformed
within the framework of the Orthodox Socialist Programme which was organised by the Family
Law of 1974; a women's organisation established and had branches throughout the country.
This was totally controlled by the party [Halliday, 1979: 7-9].
The fourth means of control was the establishment of a
centralised communist party. The NLF had transformed into the YSP in 1978. The state
apparatus was very much under the control of the political leadership. Party functionaries
who played an active role were located at every level throughout the country. Unlike in
other Arab regimes, the top state officials were not drawn from the army and the party was
an independent force that controlled the state apparatus itself [Ibid.: 4-10]. The army
played a less prominent role in public life than it did in other Arab countries. A
paramilitary force had been established since 1973. This was a people's militia, which was
based on the place of residence, involving about 100,000 people; 60 per cent were
peasants, 30 per cent were workers and the other 10 per cent were local and regional
commanders who had strong loyalty links with the party. The other important apparatus was
the state security, which was so strongly linked to the party and had such a great
influence on society that it was hard to distinguish between class struggle from sordid
vendettas [Abu-Amr: 178].
Beyond the party, were the mass organisations such as the
General Union of Yemeni Workers, the Democratic Yemeni Youth, the General Union of Yemeni
Women, the Peasant Organisation, Popular Defence Committees and other groups which were
all organised, legitimised and influenced by the leading party. Those organisations
filtered to even the remotest villages in the country thus ensuring that all aspects of
the party's policies were implemented, regulating and redirecting daily behaviour by this
Finally, the regime attempted from the outset, to
marginalise the role of Islam in order to diminish its capacity to mobilise the people.
After independence, the first few years were characterised by violence against the
country's religious establishment. The NLF inspired an uprising that resulted in the
public humiliation, torture and killing of numerous clerics during these years. In 1970,
the regime nationalised all the religious endowments which had contributed to the
independence of the clerics and influenced society. Since then, the state had paid the
salaries of appointed clerics and had sought to channel all the funds for mosques from
foreign sources through official government bodies [Cigar: 185].
However, in the late 1980s, government leaders appeared to
temper their aggression against Islam following advice from the Soviet Union3.
As a result, leaders appeared at public prayers on Holy Days and the media carried reports
of their meetings with Ulama (jurists) all of which was part of restoring support for the
regime as it sought for regional aid. As a part of its amended strategy, the regime sought
to show that Islam and Socialism were compatible. The co-opted clerics translated all the
state's decisions into every day life4.
In sum, the party destroyed all the major power centres
and had a massive influence on the society. The party's weakness had emerged from within,
where internal rivalry among its leaders marked its history.
The YSP had assumed such massive control over society that
there were no counter power that could challenge its dominance. Paradoxically, throughout
its existence, the NLF and then the YSP, were marked by factionalism. After independence,
there was an initial intra party conflict between the quasi-Nasserite faction under
President al-Sha'abi and the Marxist-Leninist left. The latter came to power with a
bloodless coup on 22nd June 1969 [Halliday, 1986: 37].
In 1978, another major factional conflict broke out. On
June 26th, 1978, President Salim Rubaya Ali tried to seize power against the majority of
those on the Central Committee, where he was defeated. His successor Abd al-Fattah Ismail,
after less than two years in office, was ousted in a bloodless change in April 1980. The
factional conflict within the YSP culminated in a ruthless civil war in January 1986,
which resulted in the exile President Ali Nasser Mohammad. He was succeeded by Ali Salim
al-Baydh who was involved with the process of union with the YAR in 1990.
Such struggles resulting from the rivalry between top
leadership is characteristic of the history of the YSP, which contributed to the politics
of the unified Yemen as will be seen. Yet, one of the explosive issues that led to the
crises of 1969, 1978 and 1986 was that of
the promotion and demotion of officers, indicating that
the factional disputes within the civilian political apparatus found a continuing
reflection inside the armed forces themselves [Halliday, 1979: 10].
Despite all the ideological propaganda the tribal factor
was still important. In a predominantly peasant society, tribal loyalties survived even
into urban life. Recruitment for the party, militia, border guards and so on, invariably
took on tribal dimensions and such allegiances were clearly visible in all conflicts
[Halliday, 1986: 39]. All disputes were seen as a streamlining of the ideological path,
and against those who tried to deflect the trend of the Scientific Socialism. The
assumption might however be true, that the top leadership prompted by both external and
internal economic and political pressures tended to adopt a real politic or pragmatic
strategy, which always were exploited from rivals and viewed as individualism and
opportunism by rivals anxious to bring about an abdication.
The leadership which created the revolution of 26th
September 1962 in the North Yemen, was preoccupied from the outset by the necessity to
create a state that could maintain public security and provide a minimal level of
services. The previous theocratic state had insulated Yemeni society from the modern world
before the coup. Government as a set of offices was almost non-existent; so bureaucracy
had little power to regulate the behaviour of citizens or to extract resources and use
them in productive ways. For example, the Imam (the ruler) relied on levy from the tribes
in times of need, for there was no real standing army. As a result, the tribal leaders
were more the allies than the subjects of the Imams, and traded arms and allegiance for a
virtual autonomy in their lands [Dresch, 1989: 227-8]. The new leaders then had to create
a bureaucracy that could meet minimum needs of the people.
After the revolution, the country was wracked by a civil
war between the royalists, who were backed by the Saudis, and the Republicans, who were
supported by the Egyptians under Nasser. The balance of power between the tribes at the
periphery and the state at the centre tipped towards the tribes in the civil war. The
Yemen was quickly divided between the republicans and the royalists, with the tribes
securing subsidies and autonomy by playing the two competitors for the state off against
each other [Burrowes, 1992: 43].
The new leaders then were always concerned about public
security and of balance political power of the tribes in order to keep order. The YAR
which was created in 1962, lacked an articulated political mechanism and an organised
support base, so that tasks of state-building lagged behind the maintenance of order and
security, resulted in the failure to create an effective capacity to monitor, influence
and control the rate and direction of socio-economic changes. Since then, the tribes have
been extensively involved in politics, and this has made politics of control difficult.
The Iryani/Hamdi period
The Egyptian withdrawal from the Yemen in 1967, quickly
led to the overthrow of President al-Sallal, and these events opened the way to a
reconciliation between republicans and royalists that finally marked the end of the civil
war in 1970. The price paid was the rejection of the left modernist trend of the
In 1970 a modern Constitution was adopted. Some of the
ministries and other agencies established after revolution were strengthened in order to
improve the power of the central authority. Among them the Yemeni Bank for Reconstruction
and Development, the Ministry of Finance. The Central Bank was set up and the Central
Planning Organisation was founded. Economic needs caused President al-Iryani to focus on
financial and economic institutions rather than on the military, but this regime was
eventually ousted by a military coup under accusation of corruption and ignorance of the
country's security [Ibid.: 45].
President al-Hamdi, who forced President al-Iryani into
exile in 1974, believed in the concept of a modern state and worked to realise it. He
promoted the creation or reform of state institutions at the centre, initiated the major
reequipment and reorganisation of the armed forces and fostered at a popular level an
ideology of development and the idea of exchanging the benefits of state-sponsored
modernisation for allegiance to the state. He sought, in other words, to create and
strength the power of a new centre.
One aspect of the reconciliation between republicans and
royalists the granting of high office and positions of influence to leading tribal
Shaykhs, both had been in the central government, and over the fragmented tribally based
army. This enabled them to block attempts to strengthen the state in relation to the
tribes, resulting in the weakened position of all advocates of a strong state [Ibid.,
As a result, Al-Hamdi was unable to strength his position
while the Shaykhs a key power centres protected the tribal system. So he moved swiftly to
drive them from the Consultative Council (CC) and from other institutions of the state. He
dissolved the Constitutional Council and suspended the 1970 Constitution. The tribes
responded with a virtual rebellion. The President attempted to compensate for this loss of
support by the creation of a centripetal force through reincorporating the modernist left.
This attempt to create a more broadly based centre-left coalition involved three
initiatives: the Local Development Association (LDA); the correction movement; and a
general people's congress. The LDA, launched formally in 1974, held out the promise of a
nation wide grass-roots organisation . The correction movement which was revived in 1975,
offered a means to train and to place political cadres at all levels of the state. The
general people's congress was hit by the assassination of the President in 1977, reverse
dirty tricks, according to Migdal's definition [Ibid., 1992: 46].
The Salih era
Salih followed the 8-month tenure of Ahmed al-Ghashmi, who
like al-Hamdi before him, was assassinated. In the late 1970s, the fortunes of the Salih
regime reached their lowest point and many observers were confidently predicting its
imminent demise. Indeed, the CIA station chief in Sana'a was taking bets and giving good
odds that President Salih would not survive the spring [Ibid., 1987: 94].
Yet he did survive, and began to expand his control.
Salih's regime gradually increased the capacities of the state both in the provinces and
in the cities, improving civil services and state agencies. At the same time, the armed
forces were reformed, enlarged and reequipped in 1979, 1986 and 1988. The successful
introduction of conscription, coupled with professional training for the officer corps,
strengthened the military in both the ranks and at the top. These gains were only partly
compromised by the new privileges and presumptions of the military in general and by the
officers appointed from President Salih's own tribe in particular, nonmerit appointment
used as tools of survival [Ibid., 1992: 47].
The regime used rewards and sanctions to increase its
presence and authority. After rebuilding the army, he created the Republican Guards, which
was a new military agency, completely separate from the army and commanded by the
President's brother. These troops were recruited mainly from the President's own tribe. It
was given sophisticated weapons and wide privileges to counterbalance any threats that
might come from the army. The security apparatus was also expanded and modernised. In
addition, the President established a force known as The Central Security Troops, which
were commanded by another of his brothers. All these agencies were commanded by brothers
or other relatives of the President in a non-merit appointment as described by Migdal, in
which enabled the President to monopolised the capacity for mobilisation. After
consolidation of his power, Salih controlled the country by rewards and sanctions, giving
privileges to the key power centres (the Shaykhs). He also punishing those who did not
obey and took armed actions such as that against the tribes in the eastern areas in the
The regime conceived and carried out an impressive
programme of political construction during the first half of the 1980s. This programme
began with drafting of the National Pact, which then became the subject of a long national
dialogue. Elections for the 1000 commissioned members of General People's Congress (GPC)
were held in the summer of 1982 for the purpose of adopting the National Pact. The GPC
declared itself a permanent political organisation, which would be selected every four
years and be led by the 75 members of the Standing Committee which was headed by President
Salih [Ibid., :50].
This political structure did much to strengthen the
regime. It provided a political process, which was largely defined and managed by a regime
into which elements of the Yemeni left could be safely incorporated. In 1985, through the
quite open and honest elections of 17,500 members of Local Councils for Co-operative
Development (LCCDs), which were a new institutions created out of a merger of the old
LDAs, and worked at ground levels throughout the country and assumed responsibility for
the implementation of state policies [Ibid.: 50].
Another step taken by the President Salih to generate
support and legitimacy, beginning in 1979, was the ingathering of leading political
exiles, internal as well as overseas. Salih invited them all back. Ex-presidents al-Sallal
and al-Iryani accepted the invitation to come home from exile in 1982. Political returnees
included many leading modernists and technocrats. Most of them became members of the three
governments formed between 1980 and 1988.
Finally, the expansion of the Presidential Council in 1988
gave additional posts to a broad array of groups and tendencies. Most leaders were
co-opted into the regime in one way or another by the late 1980s in a successful series of
accommodation processes [Ibid.,: 51].
of the Interim Period
The Yemeni unification was proclaimed in May 22nd 1990,
after a series of meetings between the President Salih and the Secretary General al-Baydh.
Despite talks about different types of federation or even a confederation, it was decided
to merge the two Yemens into a unitary system. The reasons for the rush to unity, that the
two ruling parties were worried that opponents of the merger would grow in strength as
time passed. Opponents in the North included many of the conservative tribal leaders and
Islamists in the urban areas. Opponents in the South included some who feared that the
more conservative North would roll back the southern progressive approach. The most
influential was the spectre of Saudi Arabia, backing the conservative tribes and far from
enthusiastic about creating on its border a potential strong unified state. Also, Iraqi
pressure, before the invasion of Kuwait, was involved in the precipitated union of the
The Yemeni leadership, therefore, hoped to address these
opponents of unity by simply pre-empting them, delivering Yemeni unification as an
accomplished fact. The date on which the new Republic of Yemen was to be proclaimed and
its constitution put into force was advanced six month from November to May 1990, and a
30-month transition period was added in order to allow time for the complete merger of
state institutions as well as the reorganisation of political life [Burrows, 1992: 56].
The unified Republic was governed by a five-member
Presidential Council (Article 79) headed by President Salih with al-Baydh as vice
President. A 39-member Cabinet consisted of most of the current ministers of the two
Yemens, and a 301-member Council of Representatives was made up of the 159 members of the
YAR's (Presidentially -appointed- Advisory Council), the 111 members of the PDRY's Supreme
People's Council (The Presidium) and 31 new appointees. For the duration of the interim
period, the positions in government were to be allocated equally between the two parts of
the ruling bodies.
The draft Constitution, was adopted by the legislatures of
the two parts of Yemen on 21st May 1990, and on the following day President Salih
proclaimed the birth of The Republic of Yemen from Aden. The military had been withdrawn
from the old common borders, and units from one part of Yemen had taken up new positions
in the other part.
Ministries and the high command of the armed forces were
officially merged, and foreign missions were unified. The Central Banks gradually merged
their functions during the course of 1990-1. The joint committee for a unified political
organisation recommended a multiparty system [Nonneman: 70]. The acceptance of a
multiparty system was not merely a matter of democratic values, but was rather a means to
avoid imposing a uniform ideology and organisation on diverse political groups, which
could only have alienated them. This multiparty activity was a strategy to integrate the
many groups into the new state, without committing them to a single ideology or leading
party [Kostiner, 1990: 711].
With the beginning of the unification, nearly forty
political parties were identified, but the most important ones, in addition to the two
governing ones, were the Yemeni Reform Rally (YRR, al-Islah) which represented a
tribal-commercial-Islamic mix under the leadership of Shaykh Abdallah al-Ahmar, a
chieftain of the Hashid tribal confederation; the Ba'ath party (Iraq line); the
Nasserites; and al-Haq party (Zaydi Islamic school) [Ayubi: 430].
From the outset of the debate over unification, President
Salih and his entourage seemed confident of having the dominant voice in the unified
state, not only because of the Northern predominance in terms of population, but also
because it was recognised that the position of the YSP in the South was not very strong.
The newly liberated media attacked the regime in the South reflecting its failing
popularity. At the same time, the collapse of the communist world increased the regime's
sense of vulnerability. These events combined with a fear of potential challenges in the
YSP itself, coupled with the undoubted enthusiasm of the population for unity, all helped
drive al-Baydh and his colleagues towards an accelerated time frame and the unity formula
Two trends or approaches toward unification emerged, one
view advocated more gradual unification, permitting both sides to become acquainted before
the final steps of unification. This view proposed a federal regime which would leave
considerable power with the existing state authorities. All this was disregarded in favour
of a swift union. Thus, when unification was actually declared, only a small number of
government bodies had merged or were at least functioning in any kind of co-operative
fashion [Kostiner, 1996: 17].
Forty six laws were approved regarding unified procedures
for customs, taxation, the issue of passports, banking and diplomatic representation, but
in practice, banking, currency and other key functions remained separate. The army
commands of the two states were amalgamated, but the units remained separate In similar
fashion, such major national bodies as trade unions and the militias were only united at
the top, while retaining their previous composition in the middle and lower levels of
ranking [loc. cit.].
Rivalry of elites
The multi-party system became a framework for intense
political struggle between the various elites; such as the leaders of the major political
parties and the leaders of other major tribal, religious and social groups. According to
Kostiner, two issues characterised the politics of the united Yemen Republic. The one
involved the inter relationship between the elite groups, where the backbone of the
unification was formed by the two leading parties the GCP and the YSP, with their inter
relationship determining the effectiveness and stability of the new government of Yemen.
The second was the substance of the discourse between the elites [Kostiner, 1996: 22].
From the beginning of union the GPC hoped to utilise the
new RY system to eliminate the South as a political entity quickly5.
In contrast, the YSP hoped to penetrate and mobilise the Northern society. A formula to
merge the two parties was suggested. From the point of view of President Salih, the GPC is
the largest political organisation, but in fact, it is not a political party in its
structure and functions, it is rather an umbrella organisation encompassing a wide range
of political tendencies. This political organisation was intended to serve President Salih
as a mechanism for rubber stamping executive decisions. The GPC possesses neither coherent
philosophy nor political programme, but is run through a vast network of patronage and the
distribution of resources [Latta: 59-60]. For this reason, the YSP will be dissolved and
absorbed by the GPC.
By contrast, there were two opposing factions in the YSP.
One, the pragmatist wing, headed by Salim Salih Mohammed a member of the Presidential
Council and Yasin Said Numan the Speaker of Parliament, urged closer co-operation with the
GPC. They increasingly conformed to President Salih's view that only a unified GPC/YSP
would create the political conditions needed for economic prosperity and the comprehensive
unification of the political and administrative structure of the YAR and the PDRY. The
second group, the hard-line wing, led by Jar Allah Omar and the Minister of Local
Administration Mohammad Said Abdallah (known as Mohsen), argued for the party to distance
itself from the GPC and align with the opposition. Al-Baydh, the Secretary General, tended
towards the latter group until the elections of 1993 saw him switch to the pragmatists
[Ibid. : 61-2].
In the context of such rivalry, each side started to
cultivate its power in the area dominated by the other side. For this reason, the YSP
continued to control affairs in the South and preserved the old PDRY military units, which
had not been amalgamated with the northern army. The YSP with its relatively good
qualities of administration, started an active programme designed to penetrate and
cultivate centripetal forces allied to it among the deprived social strata of the North.
The Bakil tribal confederation, which is the main tribal aggregation, but with fragmented
leadership and which has been excluded from the ruling privileges in the North, was
attracted to become involved in extensive negotiations with the YSP6.
The lower Northern Yemen areas (Hujaryya) which represented the urbanised and intellectual
strata in the YAR and which were historically deprived and sympathetic to the South, were
widely penetrated by the YSP. A third stratum constituted women, who in the PDRY had
enjoyed extensive legal rights based on a progressive family code, and good access to work
and education7. The YSP gradually was able to mobilise most of
the gender organisations in the YR.
Finally, the Gulf crisis led to the expulsion of nearly
one million Yemeni workers from the Gulf, most of whom were in Saudi Arabia. The loss of
workers remittances which resulted caused an estimated loss of $3 billion to the Yemeni
economy without taking into consideration the private losses. Construction projects and
tourism came to a virtual standstill in Yemen, as did Yemeni trade relations, leading to
economic collapse and the rapid growth of inflation8. It was a
serious problem for the poorer elements of the population. The YSP exploited the situation
by standing against the pro-Iraqi position. It portrayed itself as the representative
vanguard of the workers and the poorer classes.
However, despite all these active steps, the YSP remained
fragmented and vulnerable. The party was overshadowed by the legacy of three decades of
Stalinist rule. The disputes of 1967, 1970, 1978 and 1986 created a segmented
organisation, each of whom were seeking revenge. This stripped a great deal of support
from the YSP. This division was exploited by the GPC. This weakness in the position of the
YSP was also exacerbated by its mistreatment of the ex-Southerners after unification, when
the YSP failed to return lands and properties sequestrated in the years after
independence. In addition, YSP officials in the countryside in the South continued an
antagonistic attitude to the ex-Southerners mostly for traditional and historical reasons.
This gave the GPC an advantage in attracting and maintaining their loyalty.
Unlike the elite of the South, the Northern elite was both
better organised and enjoyed wide support. Despite the multi-party activity, the power
structure of the Northern elite reflected the attempt of President Salih to continue
ruling the RY in the same way he had ruled the YAR. He cultivated a network of officials
from his extended family and close associates, who emanated from Sanhan and Hamdan tribal
groups of the Hashid confederacy. Control by the ruling family was sustained by retaining
the leadership and control over military and administrative institutions, and by
allocating jobs within those institutions to activists of other, notably Hashid tribal
groups. this turned them into clients and won their support. A broad network of Salih's
clients based on patronage thus ran the Northern security forces, public administration,
and dominated the main commercial sectors and key tribal groups. In this respect, Shaykh
Abdallah al-Ahmar, the paramount Shaykh of the Hashid confederation, joined Zindani, an
Islamic activist, in forming the Yemeni Reform Rally (YRR), which was also part of the
Northern patronage network which extended into urban centres and associated with the GPC,
from which it stemmed [Kostiner, 1996: 22-28]. In sum, the power base had three legs:
military, tribal and commercial.
However, the seeming solidarity of the regime in the North
concealed a deep fragmentation. The ruling structure which was based on a
tribal-military-commercial complex to use the term coined by Paul Dresch, distanced the
ruling elite from their constituencies. The power and wealth were concentrated in a few
hands, some tribal, some not, and make up a coalition within the North between top ranking
officers, mainly relatives of the President, powerful merchants and some tribal Shaykhs.
This formula persisted after unity including some Southern figures [Dresch, 1995: 33-55].
Politics of survival
Salih treated the South according to the principles of
northern politics, making inroads into southern groups through personal contacts,
appointments and subventions [Ayubi: 434-7]. Soon it became evident that the larger
northern population was unreceptive to overtures from the YSP for cultural and ethical
reasons and that it tended to favour the GPC and the YRR.
Tension developed between the GPC and the YSP over
government public works, which were run on a formula of 50-50 sharing. Every YSP minister
was besieged by GPC officials in an attempt to deter him in his work and obstacles that
could be publicly blamed were placed in his way. The Minister of Defence, a member of the
YSP leadership, was subjected to an intense struggle over the control of the armed forces9.
The GPC was able to halt the immediate unification of the armies, and the YSP was also
excluded from the internal security network, which was controlled by the GPC officials.
Furthermore, in the first few years of unification many YSP activists had been
assassinated or had had attempts made on their lives. Most of these attacks were blamed on
the Islamists of the YRR, which had become a junior ally of the GPC and which was
politically and ideologically unhappy about the new partnership with the Socialists. The
GPC was also able to build up clandestine groups inside the YSP among the upper middle
The building of the state was a rather conflictual matter,
with the YSP calling on the government to implement a national programme for reform, which
it adopted in principle and to take responsibility for mistakes and negligence. These
reforms would lead to comprehensive administrative and institutional changes, to reform
security measures, education, the health system and price control. These improvements must
of necessity be accompanied by strict moral behaviour at the top, and include a readiness
on the part of officials to resign over past mistakes10. This
programme was absolutely refused by the GPC and the YRR. In response, al-Baydh withdrew to
Aden in September 1992 in order to express his disagreement. Later these demands became
the basis of the YSP platform, the only way that the YSP had to drag the GPC down to its
own level of weakness.
By comparing the two camps, it can be seen that an
alliance had been formed among the GPC, the YRR and Hashid tribal confederation. The GPC
functioned as the leader of this diverse camp, which embraced and shared economic and
political interests, a common heritage, family and tribal loyalties and an involvement
with the institutions [Ibid. :44]. This coalition was cemented and exploited by
connections with the pre-unification administration, military and social bodies and by
facing a common threat from the YSP. These ties were manipulated through the control that
the GPC had over the unified state resources.
By contrast, the YSP emerged as a body that shared common
values and concerns with the modernists of the left in the RY. The elite of the YSP, as
viewed by Michael Hudson, tended towards a bureaucratic, institutionalised and formal,
legal state order. Despite a certain degree of disagreement among its leaders.
Before the first representative elections, the public
opinion, ironically, expressed in protest and demonstrations in both urban and tribal
sectors, but reveals the inability of Yemeni society to establish a socio-political
alternative to the governing elites. The protests were intrinsically non-institutionalised
and failed to form broad and lasting inter tribal or urban-tribal coalitions [Ibid.: 43].
Therefore, the actual political scene was confined to the two leading parties and their
allies and this was later identified as rivalry between the South and the North, despite
the fact that neither was represented fully or legitimately by any single party.
In sum, the politics of survival predominated the Yemeni
politics from the outset of unification, which marginalised policies of development. This
created a frustration among people, who were hoping to improve their live standards with
Elections and power imbalance
The elections of 1993 was the first major step towards
implementing the new pluralist constitutionalist order. Ironically, it ended up by
exacerbating the latent tension between the two former ruling parties. Despite the
accumulation of disputed issues since the union in 1990, grievances were mitigated in the
hopes of securing a triumphant victory through the ballot box. At the time each side had
prepared contingency plans for an expected dispute, each was working to weaken the other.
The stability and continuity of the union experiment
depended to a large extent on co-operation between the GPC and YSP. Therefore, President
Salih raised the divisive issues indirectly through his ally the YRR. Since there was no
clear distinction between the GPC and the YRR in either ideology or organisation11,
this was possible . For example, with reference to the referendum of May 1991 on the
Constitution, which was approved by the majority12, the YRR led
an unsuccessful boycott purely because the Sharia (religious law) was described as
"the main" instead of "the only" source of legislation13.
This action was directed mainly against the YSP which was presented as atheistic. Another
example lay in the conflict raised against The Institutes of Learning (religious schools
belonging to the YRR) which were outside the state system of schooling14.
These institutes threatened the YSP, since they were devoted to training fundamentalists.
In this context, the different parties turned to the
society in pre-election preparation. Among the formal civic institutions were at least
forty political parties, unions, syndicates, human rights groups and political action
committees. Some of these parties and organisations were survivors from the YAR or the
PDRY, while others were post-unification. Some civic initiatives were encouraged by the
GPC and some by the YSP in order to counterbalance or abort organisations manipulated by
the other [Carapico, 1996: 307].
A democratic atmosphere permeated the civil society15,
prior to the elections and away of the government influence, with a series of mass
conferences providing the means of expression and mobilisation for the articulated
elements of the opposition. These conferences, held throughout the country, gathered
thousands of diverse people: tribesmen, urban intellectuals, Journalists and
professionals. They all issued demands for: civil and human rights; local elections;
depoliticisation of and the merge of the armies; judicial independence; fiscal restraint
and management; peaceful resolution of tribal disputes; and many other reforms16.
These events were reported by over one hundred newspapers, both partisan and independent,
which provided critical commentary and unbiased information about the opposition and the
conferences of the non governmental organisations (NGOs).
The unexpected critical response from units of society and
the NGOs forced both the GPC and the YSP to amend their strategies in order to decrease
dependence on popular support to defeat the rival party. While the YSP sought support from
external powers, the GPC adopted the Migdal's "physical model" in the struggle
for survival. In fact, the GPC had adopted this model from the outset of union, but it
culminated at this period. President Salih succeeded, through promises and rewards, to
imposed fragmentation in the YSP. Also, actually within the YSP an allied forces for him,
he focused on the military and security institutions of the YSP and penetrated them
extensively, which was particularly damaging to the YSP during the civil war as will be
seen later. The pragmatic wing of the YSP politburo was encouraged and eulogised by the
The President's monopoly of state resources, even of the
revenues from the southern oilfields, gave him a great capacity of manoeuvre and
influence. He did this by bribing some of the political figures who were in parties
sympathetic to him or some who were allied to the YSP for the purpose of dissent. The
phenomena of fragmentation in some parties was apparent in the period that preceded the
elections. For example, the Ba'ath (Iraq line) was divided into two streams, and the
Nasserite party was divided into three factions18. It has been
observed that this fragmentation occurred only in the leftist parties which were in
agreement with the YSP in many aspects of the issue of state-building.
In addition, to working to fragment the left opposition,
the huge advantages that the President had enabled him to create new power centres in the
South. Active steps were taken, mainly with previous tribal and society personalities, to
repatriate them and to restore their old social influence, which had been eradicated by
the socialisation policies of the YSP after independence. The response these measures was
largely positive. The economic deterioration of the post Gulf war added to the
vulnerability of the YSP. These restored power centres were able to influence rural
society in the South in favour of the GPC or the YRR under the slogans of traditional or
Any hindrance to the development of state policies or to
the alleviation of poverty was blamed on the YSP. During the PDRY people were used to
depending on the state to provide them with health care, education, security, amenities,
pricing and so on. By contrast, people in the YAR, where the tribal structure was strong
and the state was weak, did not expect nor demand that the state should provide such
functions19. Therefore, economic recession had greater
repercussions in the South.
The YRR took the initiative to help people in the South.
It filled gaps in the social services: health care, emergency relief, post-secondary
vocational training, religious education, needle work classes, summer camps and group
marriage ceremonies for those who could not afford a traditional wedding were all provided20.
These projects of the YRR Social Welfare reached many thousands of lower income families,
mainly those in the South. This convinced people that they should give their allegiances
to the YRR in particular and the GPC in general, which served to worsen the position of
the YSP in the South and increased its vulnerability. The resources available for use were
viewed as a pure YRR initiative funded by its own budget in order to marginalise the role
of the YSP, although in reality they were partially funded by the state
By comparison, the North can not be portrayed as a single
solid unit. It also was fragmented, indeed even more than the South, but there were limits
for fragmentation and disagreements were dominated by rooted and prevalent social ethics.
The vast majority of the Yemenis were organised tribally, so on the one hand they were
sympathetic to the YSP's programme for development, and its aim to lessen the dominance of
the GPC. On the other hand, they wanted restraints so that the YSP would be confined
within certain limits, because they were fearful of its history and its known antipathy
towards the tribal system. These fears were played upon by the GPC in the pre-election
Despite the institutional character of the parties, the
majority of candidates presented themselves as independents. Out of 3,181 candidates who
presented themselves on election day (including 24 women), 1,968 were independents 62%
while 1,213 (including 17 women) 38% were party candidates. This may be explained in two
ways. Firstly, the multi-party system was a new departure and to some extent party
activity was ignored in the countryside, where the rate of illiterate voters was (70-80%)21.
Many candidates, therefore, preferred to present themselves as independents. Secondly,
there was a hidden game played by the leading parties against each other to turn around
the agreement between them, where they had agreed on gerrymandering.
Out of 301 seats, only two were won by women: one for the
YSP and the other an independent. Both were from the South22.
The independents won 48 seats, and the rest were won by 8 different parties, distributed
as follows: GPC-123, YRR-62, YSP-56, Ba'ath (Iraq line)-2, al-Haqq-2, and there were 3 won
by three different Nasserite factions23.
Despite some instances of disorder and violence, and
scores of complaints24, the outcome indicated a genuine contest
[Carapico, 1993: 3]. The results of the elections on April 1993, however, did not
replicate the power-sharing formula. The GPC took the lion's share of the votes, while the
YSP not only found itself a very junior partner, but also discovered a new rival, the YRR.
Despite their rivalry, the leading parties were acutely
aware of the necessity of implementing pre-existing governmental arrangements post
election in order to avoid a political vacuum. Abdallah al-Ahmar, leader of the YRR was
elected the chairmanship of the Council Of Representatives (COR). One of the YSP leaders,
Attas as Prime Minister, appointed a new government consisting of 15 ministers from the
GPC, 8 from the YSP, 6 from the YRR and 1 from the Ba'ath.
The countdown for containing and stripping the YSP of its
power had begun. After the elections were over, the political struggle centred on two main
issues; Constitutional reform and power sharing.
road, power redistribution
The leaders of the YSP entered unity in the belief that
they would remain at least an equal partner with the GPC regime in Sana'a. They had an
agenda for development that they hoped would overcome the traditional structure of
tribalism, corruption and backwardness that had characterised northern politics. Yet, they
feared falling under the domination of a northern political way of life for which they had
no respect. Therefore, when they lost the elections, the YSP leaders had to rethink their
attitude towards the key issues of unity.
During the summer of 1993 after the elections,
demonstrations and strikes by workers and students in Aden and al-Mukalla escalated,
following price rises and food shortages in the South. The YSP sought to preserve its
influence, so it opposed any expansion of President Salih's personal power. The YSP,
therefore, advocated a new presidential format, in which the entire electorate
participated in direct elections, on a single ticket for the offices of President and
Vice-president, thereby providing a chance for YSP candidates to fill the posts. The GPC,
however, objected to this constitutional amendment25.
In October, al-Baydh took another tactical step to
maintain a power base by presenting the government with an aggressive eighteen-point
letter of demands. Al-Baydh's letter was comprehensive and pointed, explicitly outlining
the differences between the perceptions of state-building as seen by the YSP and that
followed by the northern parties. The letter stated that it wanted the following: a
Consultative Council with equal representation for the RY's eighteen governates; a new
presidential format; the reorganisation of the police and armed forces on a national
basis; recognition for personal qualifications and merits; the reorganisation of the
provincial governates to eliminate their pre-unification divisions and prepare for local
elections; limits to the government's interference in implementing laws and ordinance
pertaining to society; and to develop plans for the economy that would pay more attention
to the free trade area of Aden [Kostiner, 1996 : 62]. In brief, the YSP wanted a state
that would eliminate the power structure of the GPC and the YRR. Such claims might have
seemed reasonable had they featured within the negotiations for unity prior to 1990, but
now with the poor electoral showing of the YSP in 1993, they seemed rather a policy of
ultimatum than an inspired doctrine.
Another aspect of the power struggle that worried the YSP
was the inclusion of the YRR in the government, for power now had to be shared among three
rather than two. Since the GPC and the YRR had common interests, this was seen by the YSP
as diminishing their own power. It was thus vital to strengthen the YSP, and to this end
its leaders concentrated their struggle on the military and the security forces. The YSP
tried spread its authority over the entire Yemeni armed forces, which were under the
jurisdiction of a YSP Minister of Defence. Through its government officials, the Minister
of the Interior and the Chief of Command of the security forces, the GPC reacted and tried
to abort the efforts of the YSP by creating bureaucratic and technical obstacles. The YSP
then turned to cultivating underground YSP militias in the South where GPC authority was
Another aspect of the struggle centred around uncontrolled
terrorism. According to al-Baydh, over one hundred and fifty members of the YSP had been
assassinated by late 1993 [Nonneman: 79].The YSP accused the YRR of supporting these
The issue of constitutional changes itself, represented
another aspect of the power struggle between the YSP on the one hand and the GPC and the
YRR on the other. The YSP, for example, sought to expand its power base by proposing
elections in the provincial governates. The YRR sought to build its power through arguing
for the Shari'a as the sole source of legislation. The GPC aspired to the same goal by
suggesting of the power of the President through the abolition of the Presidential Council
[Kostiner, 1996: 64].
A deep conflict emerged which reflected the failure to
create a joint platform for co-operation due to the gap between their differing
perceptions of the course of future development for Yemen and the declining balance of
power between them. The only solid ground that the YSP had to support its position against
its rivals was its control over the army in the South. As time went by, a naked struggle
erupted for governmental, economic and military power.
As the crisis deepened, in January 1994, concerned Yemenis
from across the political spectrum met together in a National Dialogue Committee to try to
work out a formula agreeable to the power centres in both Sana'a and Aden. The membership
of the Dialogue Committee included', in addition to key officials from the GPC, YSP and
YRR, many figures from smaller parties which grouped together in the Union of National
Forces and the National Opposition Bloc. In addition, there were representatives of civil
societies, including the Organisation for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms, the
Federation of Women, the Federation of Doctors, Journalists, Writers, as well as
professors from Sana'a and Aden Universities27.
After months of deliberations, the committee drew up the
Document of Pledge and Accord, which spelt out comprehensive reforms. The document had a
positive reception from the majority of the public and intellectuals, and it was even
accepted and signed by the two leaders of the GPC and the YSP in Jordan in February 1994.
Yet, the lack of trust and antagonism between the President and the Vice-president was not
diminished. Al-Baydh returned to Aden from the signing instead of Sana'a, insisting that
he wanted to see action on the agreed points.
In fact, the Document of Pledge and Accord was
contradictory. The YSP aims (and many of the main concerns of the YSP were reflected in
the Document) for putting the GPC in critical position in order to prepare for and justify
the secession. Although, the GPC had agreed with the document at the time, it was
unwilling and unable to implement its points, having agreed to withdraw from the play the
card that the YSP had so long played, and to gain enough time to prepare for the battle.
The Document of Pledge and Accord, in fact, was too idealistic in relation to the
conditions of Yemen, and as a political scientist at Sana'a University noted such an
ambitious plan would have been very difficult to implement even if there had been perfect
harmony between the main leaders28. The logic of the situation,
from the perspectives of either the GPC or the YSP led to a "zero-sum", for any
gain for the YSP was a loss for the GPC and vice versa [Hudson, 1995: 16].
The disputed issues between rivals were like two parallel
lines which can never meet, which in fact, centred around those who assumed power, for the
power-sharing formula did not work. This was exacerbated by the fact that, from the
beginning, the different factions did not trust each other. Both sides sought to achieve
their aims by encapsulating them in justifiable and legitimate demands. The YSP wanted a
decentralised state, which would grant considerable powers to its regional components, and
give the vice-president greater autonomy and wider executive duties. They also wanted to
disband the elite Republican Guards of the North and to merge of the two armies under the
Minister of Defence, a YSP member. Also, the YSP demanded was the reorganisation of the
security forces, the constrain and control of the state budget and resources, and the
implementation of detribalisation policies. It is logical that the GPC should object to
all these demands. Its superiority, in alliance with the YRR, was based on a majority in
the legitimately elected parliament. It was clear that the demands of the YSP would strip
the GPC of the vital pillars that had enabled President Salih to survive since 1978.
War seemed inevitable, and the signing of the Document of
Pledge and Accord was recognised by both sides as only a temporary truce. The YSP believed
that if war broke out, it would be restricted to skirmishes on the former international
borders and a ceasefire would soon be brokered by both regional and international
mediators. This would be to their advantage, and recreate the South as a separate entity.
The YSP seemed confident that the GPC would be crippled by internal unrest, mainly from
the Bakil tribal confederation. Meanwhile, the GPC and the YRR were strengthening their
military positions and, surprisingly, they had been able to mobilised society
successfully. The expected large-scale fighting broke out in early May 1994, and after two
month the GPC and its allies had swept through the South and destroyed the military and
security capabilities of the YSP.
Factors that Led to the Dominance of the GPC
Miscalculations characterised the domestic and foreign
policies of the YSP. After the YSP lost the election, they put all their cards in the
hands of the Saudis, hoping for their support against Salih's regime, which was at the
time in a relationships of turmoil with Saudi Arabia. YSP quite forgot that Salih and
Shaykh al-Ahmar are the actual, old Saudi allies. The time-honoured Saudi policy towards
Yemen is to keep it under control by any means, so Saudis were quite willing to back any
side willing to ignite the war. Many Saudis hoped this would re-divide Yemen not only just
to pre- unification status, but even further into a number of mini-states. Saudi Arabia
backed the formation of the YRR, which was the party most antagonistic to the YSP, with
the aim of exhausting both Islamists and Socialists, which disfavour them for strategic
security reasons. The Saudis since abdication of Yemeni monarchy, have financed the
strengthening of the tribal structure at the expense of the central and modernised state
that the YSP decreed. Also, the YSP was still thinking according to the Cold War
principle, divide and rule: they envisioned that the secession. would have the blessing of
the USA. Again they miscalculated, for the USA preferred a stable Yemen as part of the
re-arrangement of the Middle East post Cold War. The USA played a crucial role in the
termination of the attempt by the GCC led by Saudi Arabia to recognise the new
secessionist state the Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was declared on 20th May 1994.
At the domestic level, the YSP made vital mistakes. The
first, was at the beginning of the union project, under pressure of the disintegration of
the Soviet Union, intra-party disputes and fears of a military coup, the YSP leadership
rushed into unity that under-estimated the power of the North. No sufficient arrangements
for sustained unity and integration of the institutions were made which deteriorated
The second, was that the YSP stuck to its radical ideology
and refused to change either its radical policies or its name. They ignored the fact that
of the fourteen million added to the population after unification, most were illiterate,
conservative and of tribal origin. The YSP's anti-Islamic political platform and its
announced de-triblisation policy deprived it of the support of the majority, where, with a
slight modification of its ideology it could have increased its appeal.
The third mistake was, that the YSP ignored, for
ideological and personal reasons, the ex-southerners. These exiles had among them military
units, administrative cadres, merchants, religious leaders and influential key figures.
These people may have been willing to negotiate new relationships with the YSP and to have
"come home" politically to the YSP as a "southern" party. The
chauvinistic point of view of the YSP however drove them towards the GPC and YRR. These
ex-Southerners played a crucial role in the defeat of the YSP in the war of 1994.
The fourth mistake was the concentration of the YSP on
urban areas in a country which was dominated by an illiterate countryside. Tribal
structure represented about 90% of the population. The YSP ignored the fact that the
forces of violence and wealth were dominated by people of rural extraction. To a large
extent, the countryside, was mobilised by the rivals of the YSP, who shared values and
life style with the rural people.
The fifth mistake, was that the YSP put their faith in an
uprising by the Bakil tribal confederation, as a competitor to the Hashid tribal
confederation which belonged the political elite of the North. At the start of
unification, each state deployed military units inside the other state. All the YSP
military units were deployed in areas dominated by Bakil tribes. The YSP expected to be
supported by them should conflict with Salih arise. However, for ethical reasons, and to
maintain the balance (see above), the Bakil leadership refrained from political activities
and from taking sides, remaining neutral during the fighting [Kostiner, 1996: 87]. This
enabled the President's troops to surround or destroy these Socialist military units
The sixth mistake was allowing intra-party fragmentation
to arise at the critical time of the onset of the war. With the declaration of an
independent Southern state, the unionist wing of the YSP distanced itself from the
al-Baydh leadership and denied his decision. This encouraged many non-members and
political parties, sympathetic to the YSP to back President Salih. A schism within the YSP
occurred, when the new separate government allied itself with conservative and tribal
Saudi-based southern elements. This act weakened the YSP by deepening the fragmentation
and disagreement inside the party. As well as, damaging the party's credibility. Finally,
the endless internal debate of the YSP constrained decision-making, making the leadership
appears weak and hesitant, which gave President Salih a strategic advantage. Salih was
able to impose intermittent truces, which he exploited to refuel his troops and to
mobilised forces against the secessionists.
By comparison, the GPC led by President Salih and his
allies implemented a fruitful plan, which started at the outset of unification, to
eliminate the YSP. At the same time they also sought to strengthen the coalition of
military, tribal and commercial complex. This patient, step by step plan, was based on
destroying the YSP from within, strengthening the coalition and mobilising resources and
people. The President played the politics of survival skilfully. Firstly, he kept his
military and security organisations out of the control of YSP, and penetrated the
political, military and security institutions of the YSP. Through Presidential monopoly of
state revenues and distribution function, and through the appointment and rewards of some
of the senior figures of the YSP, he was able to gain their flexibility on many issues
opposite to the point of view of their leadership. This helped to create fragmentation
within the YSP as each faction or wing became suspicious that the other might be allies of
the President. Also the YSP's strategic plans were clandestinely revealed to its rivals.
Secondly, many YSP senior officials and activists were
assassinated in dirty tricks by the President's security apparatus or his allies. Thirdly,
the YSP ministers and officials in the government shared with the GPC and headed by a
prime minister from the YSP, were overwhelmed by the GPC members in the same organisation,
for they aborted their policies, and consequently, the YSP was blamed for the failure by
the public. Fourthly, the GPC had a great capacity for the mobilisation of people by
rewards and sanctions, through its access to the state revenues. This was cemented by its
alliance with the YRR with its Islamic cliché and tribal connections that left the YSP
lagging behind. Fifthly, through non-merit appointments and rewards, the President
succeeded in fragmenting and weakening the political parties which were sympathetic to the
YSP. Several dissents took place in the left-orientated parties, which affected their
constituents and deflected attention to internal problems, thus weakening their support
for the YSP.
Sixthly, the GPC took advantage of the mistakes of the
YSP, and with a wide co-optation process they included most of the ex-Southern elements,
in their ranks including 10 thousands soldiers who formed the military vanguard which
conquered the South during the 1994 war. Seventhly, great attention was paid to the power
centres of the South, which were supported by the GPC and incorporated into its
organisation. These power centres played an important role in the disintegration of the
southern front, both politically and militarily, for the YSP was assuming this front as
its real backbone. From the very beginning of unification, political mobilisation had
taken place against the YSP in the South, led by the Southern power centres which were
allied to the GPC. At the same time, the YRR with its Islamic platform had mobilised the
ancient religious centres in the South, which were revive after unification at the expense
of the YSP. During the war of 1994, many southern areas announced their allegiance to the
GPC and were ceded peacefully.
Eighthly, in extensive an extensive programme of
propaganda put out by the GPC and YRR, the YSP was accused of being anti-Islam and they
called on all Yemenis to be loyal to the mother country against a party that had begun to
mortgage its policies to foreign interest29. The declaration of
the new Southern state gave the President the motivation, justification and encouragement
to renew the war campaign and also gave him a real legitimacy as the genuine defender of
Ninthly, various military advantages were achieved by the
President forces. They neutralised the Southern units deployed in the North, while
retaining their forces already deployed near the southern cities. In addition, the high
command planned, supervised the long logistic lines and the intelligence of the
President's troops were much better than that of the YSP ones31.
Finally, the cohesion and organisation of the President
campaign was far superior at all levels to that of the YSP.
The new Democratic Republic of Yemen was officially
recognised by no country other than Somalia, which soon collapsed after sweeping victories
by the Unionist forces. Yemen was reunified under the coalition of
military-tribal-commercial complex. This coalition itself contained contradictions, which
required later remodelling and a triangle of accommodation to make it work.
4. Institutional changes and
AFTER THE WAR, President Salih moved quickly to relieve
frustration in the South. He was aware that with the integration of the country, when all
Yemenis needed commendation, the faithful from the South needed particular attention. He
promised reconstruction and reconciliation to follow his pledge of an amnesty for all the
participants in the war, with the exception of the sixteen DRY leaders, who were put on
trial. The President kept channels open for dialogue with the leaders of the YSP, who were
included in the amnesty decree. He also promised to compensate the Southern population and
normalise public life in the South, while continuing the process of democratisation and
activating the development process [Kostiner, 1996: 102]. The President also, gave urgent
orders to remove any impact of the war from Aden by rebuilding, reconstituting the social
services and ordering the withdrawal of all military units from Aden, leaving only the
Central Security Forces and the police force to regulate daily life.
The institutional changes
By defeating the YSP in the war and destroying its
institutions all obstacles to re-modelling the state according to the interests of the
winners, had been removed. The power-sharing formula was still in existence, but now the
agreement was between the GPC as senior partner and its wartime ally, the YRR, as a junior
partner. Although, they had much in common and there was relative harmony between the two
partners, nevertheless, the President was worried about the increasing power of the
Islamic wing of the YRR. However, they co-operated during this period to re-organise the
political scene and to implement constitutional and institutional changes, thus
There were attempts to destroy the YSP. Soon after,
however, a decree issued by the Constitutional Supreme Court called for the confiscation
of all property, equipment and liquid assets that belonged to the YSP. The YRR called for
the dissolution and disbandement of the YSP under accusation of high treason for igniting
the war and for threatening the unity. The President vetoed this demand and instead called
on the YSP to elect a new leadership and open a dialogue to prepare for rehabilitation.
The President's fear of the Islamists led him to retain the YSP as a counterbalance1.
Having lost its two wings, the military and security capacities, there would be no more
threats arising from the YSP, which was now under control. The YSP elected a new
leadership, which condemned the war and the secession, and entered in a long hard dialogue
with the GPC.
At the same time, merging processes were stepped up in
order to incorporate southern institutions. The most important of these was the merging of
the armies2, with the Southern army being distributed into
different branches of the state's army, so that there should not be any aggregation of
officers or soldiers belonging to the same tribe or province. Those holding high ranks in
the southern army were retired or dismissed. Also, the security apparatus of the YSP was
dissolved and was not incorporated into state security system.
A special government meeting held in Aden on July 12th
1994 was devoted to the reorganisation of the army. It decided that in future the army
should be free from any political influence. It also agreed on the absolute illegality of
private armies and unofficial militia3. Though appearing to be
aimed at the YSP role in the uprising, in reality it reflected Salih's preparations for
future problems. This decision aimed to put Islamic paramilitary activities, which were
run by the fundamentalist wing of the YRR under the law of violence. An announced first
step was to close their training camps. Meanwhile, the army remained influenced by the GPC
through the Political and Moral Direction Department, which had branches in all army
divisions headed by intelligence agents affiliated to the GPC. In addition, the high
ranking officers and the Minister of Defence were members in the GPC.
Integration of the key sectors and power centres
continued. The Central Bank in Aden was closed and its functions were transferred to the
Central Bank in Sana'a. Moreover, it was announced that the Yemeni Dinar (PDRY currency)
had been cancelled, and a limited period of time was allowed for holders of this currency
to replace it with the unified Yemeni currency, the Riyal, at the banks. In addition, the
PDRY airlines (al-Yamda) was merged with the Yemeni airlines (al-Yemenia). Many employees
lost their posts, either through retirement or dismissal4.
YSP cadres who occupied positions in the state
organisations were replaced by members of the GPC. Many of these new appointees were
followers of the former southern President Ali Nasser Mohammad, who had been ousted in
1986. They had been incorporated into the GPC since they were defeated in 1986 and they
played an important role in the fragmentation of the YSP during the interim period. Again
this control tactic had both an inclusive and a defensive role. These ex-Southerners
received Salih's gratitude and came to own him their positions. In addition, President
Salih was unwilling to establish an Islamic republic based on Sharia'a and was therefore
interested in involving these southern in government to counterbalance the YRR5.
After the war, in a pre-emptive action, to control a
burgeoning new power centre, President Salih abolished the Presidential Council, which was
running the country as the ultimate executive authority, according to the unity agreement6.
There were two reasons behind this decision: one was to allow the President more political
independence and thus to concentrate control into his hands. Secondly, it was to remove
al-Zindani, the general guide of the YRR and the actual leader of the Islamists, from the
position of influence that he enjoyed as a member of the council. The COR ratified the
abolition of the council on 22 September 19947.
To mitigate the loss of Zindani, as a trade off. The GPC
did not obstruct a new parliamentary ratification of the Constitution, which declared that
the Sharia'a (Islamic law) should be the sole source of legislation in Yemen8.
The President thus avoided a direct confrontation with the Islamists. He also has tried
other forms of political accommodation. A key safety valve of the accommodation process is
Shaykh al-Ahmar, the speaker of the COR and the leader of the YRR. Although, he is not an
Islamist, he founded the YRR out of a coalition of tribes and Islamic currents. Al-Ahmar
plays a key broker role between Salih and the Islamists. The Islamists needed al-Ahmar as
protection and in order to get access to power through him. Obversely, al-Ahmar could keep
them under control to prevent them from threatening his mutual interests with the
President and to use them, when necessary, for either domestic or foreign policy pressure
on Salih. However, given the majority the GPC and the YRR command in the COR, they impose
many institutional changes, although, they did not always agree on all issues.
The President passed a project for a new administrative
re-division of the eighteen governates of the RY to the COR. The government justified this
change as eliminating the old border lines between the two Yemens by merging parts of the
governates on the border, to form new ones. The aim also was to divide the larger
governates such as Hadhramowt (in the south) into two or more smaller ones to facilitate
the implementation of development plans and to ease and accelerate the people's dealings
with the government.
This project has caused controversy, for the opposition
suggested that it must be linked with the decentralisation of local authority, in which
the people elect their own governor, governate council and chief of local police. The
opposition based their argument on the Document of the Pledge and Accord (DPA), which
called for combined legal and administrative reforms. The GPC objected and the President
declared that the DPA was cancelled. Strikes and demonstrations ensued, mainly in Aden and
al-Mukalla calling for local authority, but the President then brought his influence to
bear on the YRR to bloc the push for local authority in the COR. Subsequently, the
government withdrew its demands for administrative division9.
Notwithstanding this defeat, the GPC has paid great attention to administrative division,
which would improve their control over the country. The Minister of Legal Affairs (GPC)
has indicated, that this decision will be among the foremost tasks of the new government
after the elections of 199710.
The President also worked to the contain key social
figures through the establishment of the Consultative Council (CC). The appointees
included; merchants, tribal leaders, politicians, intellectuals and religious leaders11.
The CC offered a prestigious alternative as compensation to these power brokers, who may
have suffered loss in the elections of 1997. It also established new links to those, who
were free of any linkage of interest with the regime. In addition, the CC appeared as a
vehicle for the expansion for political participation. The CC's role however, was
restricted to consulting with the head of state, which is quite different from the
situation envisaged in the DPA, where it was asserted that binding decisions could be made
by the elected CC, whose functions were complementary to those of the COR.
Another key institutional change, was in the Military
Economic Establishment (MEE). This organisation was founded by former President al-Hamdi
in mid-1970s. Its main goal was to involve the military forces in development processes
through construction and joint production. During the rule of President Salih, its
functions had been shifted. The MEE dominated state export-import activities, with
exemption from taxes and had its own undeclared budget. The MEE became one of the main
sources of revenue for the President, which in turn gave him greater influence. After
unification it was renamed the Yemeni Economic Establishment and its activities decreased
under pressure from the YSP. However, after the defeat of the YSP in 1994, its previous
status was restored and it expanded its activities to include the South. The way it linked
the military and economic elites deepened.
Finally, the regime encouraged and supported dissension
among the opposition. A compliant National Council for Opposition has been created,
consisting of seven political parties which had dissented from their mother parties. These
were given a legal license, declaring them as new and independent parties12.
The regime's goal was to substitute and topple the genuine Supreme Co-ordinating Council
for Opposition. An organisation set up, this tame opposition called for making concessions
to the government, taking into consideration the critical circumstances of the Yemen. The
regime also used it to improve its democratic image abroad thus helping Yemen acquire
grants and loans.
The new control framework
While still beset with a vast array of domestic and
foreign problems, President Salih announced a reduction of some 50,000 men in the
country's armed forces13. There were a number of announced
reasons for this supposed decrease in power. In particular, Salih argued that these cuts
were made in line with austerity measures recommended by the international lending
institutions. Such claims are hard to credit as the cuts were far from comprehensive; they
were in fact restricted to recruits of the YSP, those who had not shown themselves
strongly loyal to the GPC and those who deserved to retire on a pension. It has been
observed, that dismissal was confined mainly to the southerners14
in a comprehensive process of purging. In fact, these changes strengthened Salih's control
and tightened Yemen's defensive position. Great attention was paid to the purchase of
increasingly sophisticated military hardware and to the modernising of the military forces15,
particularly the elite Republican Guards. Clearly, the President was not reducing his
military might, he was rather streamlining it.
Similarly, the Political Security Office (PSO) has played
a very important role in strengthening the position of the President. The PSO is heading
by a key figure in the GPC, who is a very close to the President. The PSO expanded its
activities all over the country, penetrating different political organisations, military
units, government bodies and even the NGOs. The PSO working to achieve two goals. The
first, was to detect and remove any centrifugal forces that might threaten the regime. The
PSO employed a number of tactics to undermine other power centres. In particular, they
created dissension in rival political parties16, and
perpetrating dirty tricks such as assassinations, kidnapping, torture or espionage. Active
NGOs were particular targets, where they had penetrated and established allied civil
bodies17. A second goal of the PSO was to consolidate all
centripetal forces, that supported the regime vis-à-vis its rivals, for example, they
formed the National Council for Opposition (see above), supported the new southern power
centres (see above) and co-opted some sympathetic Islamists in the GPC.
The GPC has a well established frame of control which they
inherited from the pre-unification era. This is based on tribal- military-commercial
complex18. Therefore, post-war attention was paid to the
expansion of the structure of control in the South and to the merging of it with that in
the North into a single network. It is widely believed, that the regime has instigated
tribal conflicts and encouraged arbitration under tribal law, rather than civil or Islamic
law, where the punishments under the tribal law depleted a tribe's resources19.
This gave the regime a double advantage. First, it deflected tribal's power away from the
opposition to the regime. In addition, the tribes weakened each other rendering their
leaders dependent on the state for either support or mediation. Secondly, it gave the
regime leverage over the tribes for the creation of a new tribal leadership. These new
leaders were intermediaries, who controlled society on behalf of the regime, and were
incorporated into the state controlled interest-complex. In addition, all the governors of
the southern governates were nominated from among GPC members in order to consolidate the
control and to eradicate any residue of the influence of the YSP.
The President showed concern for growing power of the
fundamentalist wing of the YRR. He used them to balance off the YSP during the interim
period and mobilised their forces against the YSP during the war. But, since 1994 they
have became dangerous and the President has dealt with them in a number of ways. Firstly,
some of their moderate leaders have been co-opted to the GPC and given nonmerit
appointments in the government. Secondly, a law was issued that prohibited the formation
of any militia, in order to dissolve the Islamic militias (see above). Thirdly, the
Learning Institutions, those institutions belonged to the YRR, which used for teaching
political Islamic ideology and for military training, have been targeted for merger into
the educational system (an old YSP demand). The Learning Institutions are a major power
base for YRR consisting of 300,000 students, they have an independent budget of 5 billion
Yemeni Riyal20. Meantime, the YSP were permitted to retain
confiscated properties and frozen credits21, in order that a
controlled YSP should counterbalance and so diminish the Islamic activities.
Finally, efforts were made to reconcile and normalise
relationships with Saudi Arabia. This could increase the President's power, for Saudi
Arabia would give up supporting his rivals and would relieve economic sanctions by
rehabilitating Yemeni workers and giving financial aid. Towards this end, a memorandum of
understanding was signed between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in 1995, which resulted in the
formation of different mutual committees to solve disputed issues. Positive signals were
released that they are almost ready to announce an agreement that would cover the
demarcated borders, workers, trade, security and so forth22.
The elections of 1997
The Yemeni electorate was called upon to elect the new COR
on April 27th, 1997. About 4.6 millions voters, a turnout of about 80 percent of eligible
voters, went to 2070 polling stations23. Of the candidates 754
were partisan and 1557 were independents with 20 women among them24.
Yemenis turned out in huge numbers to choose the new 301 seat parliament in what has been
described as a largely fair elections25. The main opposition
(the YSP, the Yemeni Unionist Aggregation, the Union of Popular Forces and the Sons of
Yemen League) boycotted the polls, citing alleged irregularities.
Among 15 eligible parties competed for the COR, the
Supreme Elections Committee announced that the GPC won 189 seats, the YRR 53 seats, the
Nasserite Unionist 3, the Ba'ath 2 and the independents 54 seats. The GPC parliamentary
bloc should include another 39 legislator who ran as independents. The YRR bloc was also
reportedly joined by 10 independents26.
The YRR had grievances about the conduct of the vote, but
nevertheless refrained from challenging the whole electoral exercise, preferring to remain
engaged in the political game. The election was marred by the deaths of 11 people, but
this was considered a reasonable toll in a country that was so largely tribal and where
there are three times as many guns as people.
The comfortable majority won by the GPC, along with the
defeat of most of the prominent figures affiliated to the YRR hard-line, enabled the
President to end the coalition with the YRR. The Saudis appeared relieved that
fundamentalists received a drubbing at the polls, and were likewise delighted that the
tribal element in the YRR, headed by Shaykh al-Ahmar who has close ties with the Saudis27,
did so well. President Salih said that achieving a parliamentary majority would make it
easier to approve a border deal with Saudi Arabia28.
Rapprochement with Saudi Arabia is at the top of the President's list of priorities,
because of its security and economic repercussions.
So, despite the GPC majority in the COR, the GPCs MPs
elected Shaykh al-Ahmar to the chairmanship of the COR. This shows that there was no
intention in Yemen to eliminate Saudi influence, and that there was the intention to
preserve the old-new coalition of the tribal-military-commercial complex, for which
al-Ahmar was one of the pillars.
An independent southern personality Faraj Ben-Ghanim, an
economist and professional technocrat, was commissioned to form the new government. This
revealed that there was no discrimination towards southerners and sent a clear signal to
the Yemeni street, the Saudis and international lenders that Yemen focusing seriously on
In addition, the President said that they would only
accept a new formula whereby there would be participant rather than partners in the
government, meaning that he wants to shoulder the responsibility, with participants in
government doing so on a personal basis and with the intention of implementing the GPC's
The government headed by Ben-Ghanim as a prime minister
contained 28 portfolios. Apart from four, the rest were affiliated to the GPC. The major
portfolios which remained in the same hands were Interior, Planning, Development,
Information and Industry. Defence went to a new minister. The appointment of the Secretary
General of al-Haq, another Islamic party, as Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments) did
not bode well for the YRR, which had held this portfolio in the previous cabinet. This
indicates that the government intend to strike at the fundamentalists and take control of
the mosques, most of whose preachers are considered supporters of YRR. The al-Haq party is
a supporter of the Zaidi tendency [an offshoot of the Shiite Muslim sect] while YRR
fundamentalists are Sunnite Muslim31.
The Yemeni political parties
One ancient Yemeni poet says: "The unluckiest man
in the world is who rides the lion or rules Yemen".
This shows how much Yemeni politics is complex. Many lines
become crossed and contradictions coexist, where ideology goes hand in hand with patronage
and nepotism with discipline.
The multiparty system in the Yemen was a new experiment
implemented with the unity not a choice, but out of a necessity for compromise before
unity. In the North, the erstwhile regime was closed to parties, their activities were
depicted as treason or allied with foreign interests. The former regime in the South, on
the other hand, was adapted to a single-party system. At the outset of unification as the
system was opened, political parties proliferated reaching a total of around 46. Some of
these had already existed and worked underground, but the majority were new.
By August 1997, however, only 15 parties continue to
existence; the rest have disappeared. The most important are: the GPC, YSP, YRR, the
Ba'ath (2 lines), the Nasserite factions (7 lines), al-Haqq, the Sons of Yemen League, the
Union of Popular Forces and the Yemeni Unionist Aggregation.
There are two aspects of Yemeni political parties that
should be highlighted. The first, is internal, consisting of social, economic and
political features. Parties resemble their context since Yemeni society is weak and
fragmented, with about 70 percent illiteracy. This is reflected on the political
consciousness, where personality is more important than the party programme. Also, a
weakness of the production base means there is a lack of funds to enable parties to carry
out their original functions. Society has definite social strata, which pushes parties
toward a populism discourse and ambiguous programmes. Parties look for financing either
from the government or from abroad, both of which expand the gap between leadership and
constituency. In addition, there is the phenomenon that the popularity of some parties is
based on personality, family or tribe. Personal connections and patronage assume greater
importance than the programmes and policies. Lacking of intra-party democracy leads to the
party being treated as if it is a private asset. The party activities and the political
agenda, if at all, are centred around the personality of the leader. This explains one
aspect of the frequent cycle of violence in the Yemeni political scene.
The second point is, that all Yemeni political debate is
based on imported ideologies. For instance, the Nationalist discourse is borrowed from
Nasser or the Ba'ath, the international socialist is borrowed from Marx, Lenin or Mao, and
the religious discourse is an extension of Wahhabism, Iran, al-Turabi or the Muslim
Brethren. Enrichment of political discourse is desirable, but a discourse that is based
on, and reflects the Yemeni peculiarity and dealing with the Yemeni problems in a rational
way is still absent, and the solutions that are submitted are irrelevant32.
This means it difficult to mobilise the masses.
The economic situation
Four key economic variables impinge on Yemen's future: the
development of the hydrocarbons sector and the revenues obtained from it; the fate of the
returnees, mainly the former workers in Saudi Arabia; the level of international aid; and
the success of the programme to restructure and the subsequent efforts to attract domestic
and expatriate investment [Nonneman: 86]. The way these develop depends to differing
degrees on the political stability of the government. Given the acute financial
difficulties and the high level of unemployment in the Yemen, these are urgent problems.
Yemen's economy is in a state of acute crisis,
characterised by a chronic deficit in the balance of payments, a continuing deficit in
government spending, and a mounting foreign debt. The projected deficit for the country's
current account for 1995 was $1.1 billion, rising to $1.5 billion in 1996. The
government's budget deficit has been running consistently at between 20 and 30 per cent of
the GDP in recent years. No budgets were issued in 1993 and 1994, but the deficit in these
two years has been estimated at some 30 billion YR and 50 billion YR respectively [Ibid. :
87]. When the 1995 budget looked as if it was spiralling still further out of control, the
government promised to reduce the deficit from 60 billion to 37 billion YR, a promise that
it was unable to keep33. The average exchange rate of the YR
against the US dollar was 29 (1992), 54 (1993), 130 (1994), and 125 (1995): this in itself
is an indication of the difficulties the economy is suffering.
By the end of 1995 the official foreign debt was estimated
at close to $10 billion. This includes a debt of $3-4 billion owed to the former Eastern
bloc. At current exchange rates, it will be hard to repay this debt. There is however, no
agreement over whether the Eastern bloc debt will be repaid and, if it is, how this will
be done [loc. cit.].
The flow of aid depends in large measures on good foreign
relations, especially with Saudi Arabia. There has already been some modest success
achieved in this respect. Although, Yemen still receives some foreign aid, it is, however,
unlikely ever to receive aid at the levels that prevailed in the 1980s.
There is an urgent need to regain a higher level of
expatriate employment, both for the relief of the financial deficit and because of the
extremely high level of unemployment. In mid-1995, it was estimated that between 40 and 50
per cent of the labour force were either unemployed or underemployed34.
As well as being a huge social and economic problem, this may have serious political
implications. Again there is a serious need for improved foreign relations with the Gulf
Government spending must be kept under tight control. The
difficulty here is that reductions in subsidies are likely to be politically unpopular,
and that patronage spending is likely to continue. In addition, the situation has been
exacerbated by an uncontrolled presidential budget and on going high scaling down of
There is a desperate need for aid from the IMF and the
World Bank, although this depends on the restructuring and stabilisation of the Yemeni
economy. In December 1995 and January 1996 a package of reforms and measures was agreed by
the government and the international institutions and by the January 1996, both sides
declared themselves moderately confident about the chances of the package proving
successful. This agreement holds out significant promise for further liberalisation of the
economy and investment conditions. The government promised that some 15 to 20 public
enterprises would be privatised with a reduction of some 60,000 public employees, and also
subsidies on energy, water, health and education would be reduced36.
Oil production in 1997 might be expanded to 400,000 b/d,
with the government receiving 40 per cent of its revenues. However, it seems clear that
the government's share of oil revenue would remain at under $1 billion in 199737.
Taking into account the modest production, modest proven reserves, generous acquisition of
oil by the companies and the uncertainty of the expectations of the liquidation of natural
gas project, it is clear that oil on its own cannot be the answer to the Yemen's problems.
Outside the hydrocarbons sector, and apart from the
potential of fishing which has remained till now seriously underdeveloped, it is clear
that in the longer term what is required is economic diversification and the growth of
industry. It is important that the country promotes production for export as well as
attracting expatriate and foreign investment.
Potentiality for the creation of a strong state
According to Migdal [271-77] there are four conditions
which are prerequisites for the creation of a strong state: world historical timing,
military threat, a basis for an independent bureaucracy and a skilful leadership. With
regards to the Yemen, the first two conditions have been accomplished, but the latter two
do not yet exist.
The historical moment was created by the disintegration of
the former Soviet Union and the emergence of a single world order; a high level of Arab
co-operation and solidarity in the first half of 1990, which allowed Saudi Arabia to see
Yemen unification in a more positive light. These contributed crucially to the existence
of the unified Yemen as it stands as an historical moment. At this point, the external
political forces favoured concentrated and streamlined social control under a unified
regime, which would make a good ally.
This was cemented by a vulnerability in both former Yemeni
regimes under the pressure of their financial deficiencies. A provisional economic gain
from the mutual ownership of oilfields made them more enthusiastic to proceed towards
In addition, to the popularity of the idea of unity among
the people. The unification in itself provided the opportunity for an aggregation of power
and resources, especially as economic disparities were negligible. Finally, this led to
the merger of the two states as the first step towards the creation of a strong state.
The military threat arose from within, rather than from
outside, namely, from the power struggle between the GPC and the YSP, through which the
leaders were motivated to consolidate their power. The victory of President Salih was a
further step towards the creation of a strong state. Although possibly at the expense of
democracy, it enabled the regime to assume and concentrate power. It was assumed that had
the YSP won the war, the cost would have been much higher, because of the disparity in
population, for the resistance would have weakened the state. In contrast, despite
grievances and frustration, the majority of the people supported the unification and were
incorporated into the new way of life. Therefore, the war of 1994 led to a concentration
of control and power instead of dispersal, one of the prerequisites for the creation of a
Paradoxically, there exists neither skilful top leadership
nor any social groupings (such as a cadre with skills) independent of the existing bases
of social control. These two strata are not clearly distinguished in Yemen. The structure
of control that exists today is largely the same as the one that predominated in the YAR
before unification. Inevitably some features have changed. For instance, with unification,
the area and the population of the state increased, and there was an increase in the
revenues from the acquisition of the resources of the South. Also, a manipulated democracy
was adopted. Apart from these adjustments, the structure of control remained much the same
as it had been under the old coalition in the YAR.
After the 1962 revolution in the North (YAR), a civil war
erupted between the royalists and the republicans. Both sides called on the tribes for
support, thus creating a critical moment for the tribes with the potential to restore
their power. Since then, the tribes have found themselves in a favourable position to
maintain their political and military autonomy vis-à-vis the state [Peterson, 1982: 174].
Long after the war ended, the tribes remained heavily armed, with the respective
governments have found themselves managing rather than governing the tribes. The tribal
Shaykhs constituted a key political elite, who controlled the linkage between the
tribesmen and the state. Therefore, Shaykhs were getting a financial payment from the
state in order to maintained social stability, while at the same time they were also
receiving another revenues from Saudi Arabia for that country's own political ends
[Dresch, 1989: 19]. Furthermore, the regime in the YAR co-opted the Shaykhs, who
represented key power centres, into the cabinet, the Advisory Council and the army
[Peterson: 183]. Drawing on huge revenues, the Shaykhs participated in business and trade
these with other entrepreneurs and merchants, who managed the business, while the Shaykhs
retained their status and positions as both tribal leaders and government officials
A triangle of accommodation has been created at the
centre, consisting of military leaders, the most powerful of the Shaykhs and the
influential merchants. Initially, the regime had tried to neutralise the power of the
Shaykhs, but later found it expedient to involve them. By this means, the Shaykhs gained
massive influence based on power and wealth. The merchants gained through preferential
deals with the state and being able to flout the law and regulations. Paul Dresch has
called this structure of control the "military-tribal-commercial complex"38.
There are also middle-ranking Shaykhs, connected with the
people and extremely honest. The government and the top Shaykhs depend on them for the
implementation of their policies39 in co-operation with the
middle-level of officials, who are the working intermediaries. This stratum does not form
part of the complex, but is rather one of its tools and sometimes its victims. These
middle Shaykhs and officials compete for ties with the centre to acquired wealth and
power. The ruling complex, however, prevents the accumulation of wealth and power outside
its own ranks by instigating tribal disputes40, a move which
depletes the wealth of the middle Shaykhs and exhausts their power. This leaves these
intermediaries in need of connections with the centre in an endless and vicious circle.
The centre also uses its power of appointment and dismissal to prevent the middle-level
officials from consolidating their power. However, because of the modest state presence at
the local level, this accommodation process have not been very effective.
After the war of 1994, the previous structure of control
was expanded to cover the whole of the unified Yemen. The changes that took place included
the incorporation of some influential southern figures into the dominated complex. It is
worth noting that with the exception of the military ruling group, the dominated complex
has not drawn from any particular tribe or province, but tribal parochialism has been
replaced by nepotism and corruption41.
With such a context, the state has both strong and weak
characteristics existing at the same time. It is strong, mainly in the urban areas, in its
penetration of society and in maintaining control, but it is weak in carrying out expected
functions, such as providing good health care, reasonable education, social security and
so on. The weak production base, exploration of oil and poor development plans mean that
the government prefers to continue as a rentier economy. A large share of the state's
revenues has gone to fuel the means of violence, such as the army, security forces and the
PSO. This is accompanied by the excessive spending of the President, which is vital for
the survival of the regime, but means that the government has failed to accomplish its
development plan because of the financial shortages. However, the elections of 1997 gave
such a majority to the GPC under President Salih, that the blame for failure can no longer
be shifted onto other shoulders. Unless the government can be seen to achieve some success
in the alleviation of poverty, decreasing of inflation and the rate of unemployment,
sustaining the regime's strategy for control will be difficult.
AS IT has been observed, Yemeni politics during the period
1990-97 were characterised by discontinuity in terms of their methods and their targets.
Whereas, the politics of survival predominated during the first four years of the
unification 1990-94, ending with the defeat of the YSP. A consociational/corporatist
policies have prevailed from 1994 onwards.
The main point that one should notice is that
consociational/corporatism is not a new policy adopted in the Yemen. If one imagines the
policy as a line extending from the beginning of President Salih's rule in 1978 up to
1997, it will be observed that corporatism has been a main policy throughout that
streamline. This streamline was interrupted only during the period 1990-94, after which
all its previous characteristics were restored.
Nevertheless, some variables, which did not exist before,
such as manipulated democracy, the evolution of civic organisations, changes of
demographic features of the state and the adaptation of structural adjustment, were
introduced into the Yemeni political scene. These variables might create a modified
consociational/corporatism, which might include some new groups and/or exclude others.
Also, by changing the institutional base, on which corporatism was previously dependent,
the above mentioned variables had developed an expanded institutional structure that could
push towards new forms of coalition.
For this reason, although Migdal's approach was an
impressive tool, useful for the understanding of Yemeni politics between 1990 and 94, it
has shortcomings in explaining Yemeni politics in ensuing years. Inevitably ,therefore, an
approach must be sought to fill the gaps left by Migdal's. Therefore, in addition to
Migdal the approaches of Bianchi, Ayubi and Dresch might be found suitable for the
creation of a skilful perspective in the explanation of Yemeni politics.
Migdal provides a proficient tool for explaining some
aspects of Yemeni politics. For example, his approach exhibits the duality of the state of
Yemen, where the strength of the state can be seen in its ability to maintain social
control. Alongside the weakness of the state, which may be seen in its failure to achieve
social change, to carry out effective administrative functions and to provide adequate
Migdal's approach does give a detailed explanation of the
politics of survival, the main politics in Yemen for the period 1990-94. This approach,
therefore, is appropriate for a political analysis of that period. For example, a physical
model, that had been applied excessively during these years, is that where a state agency
creates centrifugal tendencies within itself while the leaders attempt to counterbalance
these tendencies by creating centripetal forces. As has been seen, the GPC and the YSP,
rivals for power, both adopted this model in order to consolidate its own power and to
weaken the rival's power. President Salih used this method skilfully, enhanced with his
monopoly of state resources and his use of rewards and sanctions to cause fragmentation
and to create dessintions within the YSP.
All three types of action constituting the politics of
survival had been used: the big shuffle, nonmerit appointment and dirty tricks. The big
shuffle, occurs when the leader has the power to appoint to or dismiss from office. Both
the ruling partners, the GPC and the YSP were in competition for the important government
posts. Despite the formula for sharing power, that they had both agreed to, there grew up
a tacit rivalry by which one impeded the other, and each of the partners tried to
manipulate the organisation of the state for its own political interest.
The second action in the politics of survival is the
nonmerit appointment, where the only criteria for making an appointments is personal
loyalty. This method was used mainly by the President, who relied on patronage and client
ties that he had inherited from the YAR. So, key posts in the government were occupied
either by President's relatives or by persons loyal to him, mostly from the Sanhan and
Hamdan tribes, who are part of the Hashid tribal confederation. Relatively, the YSP lacked
power in this kind of political action, because of its ideological platform and its
organisational structure, which thus minimised the concentration of power in certain tribe
The third action, dirty tricks, includes illegal methods
of removing rivals. Although these methods, mainly assassinations, were used by both the
GPC and the YSP, the YSP was the bigger loser because of the involvement of a third party,
the YRR. The YRR was the ally of the GPC and it was accused by the YSP for the most
assassinations that were laid against the YSP's members. This gave the GPC a great
advantage, appear to be a mediator, although in reality they were who running the show.
In addition, as Migdal has explained the accommodation
process, it takes place on two different levels. In the first level, the top state
leadership accommodates two kinds of social control: the first, is when local strongmen
are allowed to develop social control in order to gain social stability at a local level;
the second is through power centres at national level, in which the leaders conduct their
dealings through discriminatory and/or preferential policies.
The second level of accommodation takes place at local and
regional levels, where the implementors of state policies, their supervisors and local
strongmen accommodate one another in a web of political, economic and social exchange.
This accommodation concept contributes to the explanation
of the way that state policies in the Yemen have been distorted and the resources
redirected as they filter down to society. The predomination of the politics of survival
forced the rivals to become involve in the accommodation process.
The GPC and the YSP were competing to consolidate their
power and to mobilise people, which led to their strengthening their ties with different
influential groups and individuals. Whereas the YSP neither re-incorporated the
ex-Southern powers nor achieved loyalty of Northern power centres, the GPC had a well
established network of interdependent military, tribal, commercial and religious
interests. This was strengthened by incorporating those southern powers, that the YSP had
failed to incorporate or was not interested in.
Nevertheless, the balance between the rivals created a
sort of accommodation, involved groups without sufficient influence, which would otherwise
not be involved. After the threat of the YSP was removed, such groups failed to sustain
their privileged relations with the centre. These groups included the middle Shaykhs,
local notables in the peripheries, intellectuals, workers and peasants. This accommodation
process was not effective because of the modest presence of the state at the peripheries.
Despite the usefulness of Migdal's approach, it leaves
gaps in the understanding of Yemeni politics. For example, it fails explain the
discontinuity of accommodation in the peripheries. Also, it is deficient in elaborating
the politics of the post-war period 1994-97, during which the politics of survival
diminished as a result of the YSP defeat. In addition, this approach does not explain
determinants of the different coalitions or the changes that took place during the time of
transition from one mode of production to another, or the situation under the pressure of
structural adjustment where the need for modernisation is concomitant with an awareness of
the need for maintaining control.
The shortcomings of Migdal's approach might in part be
overcome by the concept of corporatism. Although, Migdal has sketched the corporatism in
his theory, but Bianchi  has clarified it in details.
Bianchi deals with the continual formation of new
associations and organised interest groups and the various attempts to mould them into
some coherent or manipulated pattern of political representation. Yemeni politics are
greatly influenced by the presence of actors and groups emerged as a result of the
conciliation between the royalists and the republicans in the early 1970s. President
Salih, who himself assumed power in 1978 reflected the interests of these actors and
groups. So, the victory of Salih in 1994 has entailed the continuation of the
For this reason, Yemen ended up with a situation of a
compartmentalised politics, where the state policies impeded by special interests. This
has resulted in a strategic compromise, a system of corporate pluralism, which involves
endless bargains made between the regime and the leadership of individual groups.
Subsequently, results in an increasing incoherence of policies and institutions, but
prevents the emergence of strong interest group coalitions or of a united opposition.
However, a limited development of associations in Yemen
makes the different interests represented through personal contacts, patronage or client
ties. Ayubi's approach of consociational/corporatism, enhances the analysis here. Ayubi
 asserts, that it is not true, as modernisation theories claim, that political
integration and state building can only take place through the eradication of traditional
solidarities and intermediary linkages. Patronage and bureaucratic linkages are not
necessarily alternative, they can go hand in hand. In corporatism generally, individuals
and classes do not interact with the state directly, but rather through intermediaries.
Ayubi defines consociation as a grand coalition based on
high internal autonomy, with a proportionate measure of representation and mutual veto
[Ayubi: 190]. Thus, he assumes the premise that consociational/corporatism is based on a
collaborative rather than a conflictual approach. It is probably more typical of
articulatory periods during which class or group hegemony is not possible.
The formula of corporatism in the Yemen after 1994 gives
the appearance of avoiding disastrous conflicts between the GPC and the YRR, where it has
solved the problem of the power distribution and modernisation without the sacrifice of
the identity of the society. This formula appears to be convenient for elites wishing to
initiate modernisation, while controlling its form and direction.
Notwithstanding, that corporatism in Yemen tends to be
community-centred, which emerged in conditions of early modernisation, representing an
attempt to involve pre-capitalist social groupings in which classes were not yet well
defined yet. By this means, the consociational/corporatism formula ends with a weak state,
which embedded in its social environment and impeded by contradictory interests.
In the Yemeni situation, the military group was dominant
and applied a policy of differential incorporation to other groups, such as the tribal
Shaykhs and merchants. For this reason, it may prove useful to use the approach of Dresch,
who describes a military-commercial complex.
Dresch [1995: 34] indicates, that the GPC was established
in the North, at the beginning of the 1980s, as an alternative to party politics. It was
intended that local committees should elect regional committees, and the whole would
culminate in a national committee structure, which would reflect the will of the people.
Very rapidly, however, the system came to work from the top-down, through an elaborative
system of patronage, opposite to the intended direction. The state became corrupt, turning
into and a family business. Power centres developed around the military family, which were
strongly linked to the centre by interdependent interests. This is what Dresch called a
military-commercial complex. High-ranking army officers, important Shaykhs and a few great
merchant families all had their hands in each other's pockets, and between them they had
the state under their control.
In order to understand how this complex evolved, it should
be borne in mind that, historically, in pre-unification period, North Yemen witnessed two
types of economic system. The first, predominated in Lower Yemen, a semi-feudal system
existed, in which the tribal leaders owned the arable land and tribesmen were obliged
under their need to work on this land. This meant, that the wealth was concentrated in the
hands of the leaders , and it explains the spread of progressive social thought in this
part of Yemen.
The second type, predominated in Upper Yemen, where a
pastoral economic system existed, where in the tribal leaders owned no more land than any
other tribesman. In this case, the leader's power was derived from an unwritten code of
practice, which was inherited and passed from generation to generation, whereby tribesmen
owed loyalty to the leader and were expected to obey and support him. Later in 1970, the
reconciliation between royalists and republicans gave the tribal leaders of Upper Yemen
power gained from wealth derived from their access to state resources through their
Therefore, the tribal leaders of both Upper and Lower
Yemen had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which is why they have always
resisted any programme that might restrict their power. This stance has also been
reinforced by external support.
When President Salih seized power in 1978, he appeared to
be continuing on the same broad course that President Hamdi laid out of state building,
institutionalisation and the leading role of the state in promoting socio-economic
development. President Salih, however, retreated from pursuing these programmes of
development in order to escape the same fate as Hamdi, who was assassinated in 1977. In
part, this explains why the nation-state building still lags far behind.
There are two main points, that clarify the structure of
military-commercial complex. The first, is that the tribes and the government are not
separate entities, where the tribesmen hold governmental jobs, but the tribal leaders are
prominent in the state apparatus.
The second point, is that the majority of the people of
Yemen are from tribal origins and are most of them deprived, even those whose leaders hold
high posts in government. This shows that the co-optation of tribal leaders into the state
apparatus does not necessarily lead to benefits for their tribes.
During the last decade, a filtration process has taken
place, which has resulted in narrowing the circle of the complex. In other word, confine
the influence of wealth and authority on a less number of actors and groups as much as
possible. Also, the centre has dealt with other actors and groups through intermediaries.
Two results have ensued; the first, is that there has been a concentration of power and
wealth in the hands of high-ranking army officers, the most influential Shaykhs and a few
commercial families. The second result, was the distancing of the President from his
constituents leading to a reduction in his popularity as well as the distancing of the
major Shaykhs from their followers.
It is ironic that heritage and culture were based on
morals, which ensured that individuals gave respect and obedience to their Shaykhs, even
when these leaders sought benefits for themselves at the expense of their followers.
This potential power of the Shaykhs was the driving force
behind the President's attempt to control the army through tightly knit connections. For
example, President Salih's brother Muhammad commands Central Security, his half-brother
Ali Salih Abdullah is in charge of the Republican Guards, Muhammad Salih runs the air
force, Ali Muhsin Salih the First Armoured Division, and so on. The North Yemen,
therefore, entered the unification, where this complex was the genuine ruling structure
and after the defeat of the YSP in 1994, this complex has retained its efficacy.
With regard to the domestic balance, it is naive to assume
that the President has the power to implement policies, that might disaffect the power
centres. The President has neither the sufficient power, nor the inclination to risk
losing their support. Coalescence of the military-commercial complex, however, has been
cemented by two factors. The first, was the exposure to an external threat such as that
posed by the YSP.
The second, was the existence of interdependent interests,
where the commercial part of the ruling complex has managed the assets and maximised the
profits of tribal and military parts of the complex. Also, the commercial part has been
used by the authority to balance the exchange rates and to stabilise the economy. At the
same time, the tribal part of the complex has guaranteed social stability, while the
military part of the ruling complex has provided the tribal and the commercial parts with
the needed protection and using official influence for their own interests.
Despite the successful working of this strategy, there are
two factors that could lead to the break down of this coalition. The first, as al-Wazir
 points out, that there is a reveres relationships between the power of the army and
the power of the Shaykhs. As the army grows in strength, so the Shaykhs weaken and vice
versa. The tribal part of the complex, therefore, is keeping an eye on the army, but lack
the ability to influence it. The Shaykhs do believe, that once the army reaches a certain
level of power, then the President will topple them.
The second, is the economic development. Before
unification the government relied on neighbouring states to give financial support to the
Central Bank. Moreover, the workers remittances were participated in the relief of
poverty. But after the union in 1990, such hand outs from Yemen's neighbours came only at
a very high price politically. Also, the repatriation of workers from the Gulf states
after the Gulf crisis deepened the financial crisis of the government. This has been
exacerbated by the prevalence of corruption and mismanagement.
Therefore, unless achieving an economic progress, which
can alleviate poverty and decreases the rates of inflation and unemployment, it will be
difficult to sustain a strategy that will retain control of the military-commercial
Finally, the package of perspectives must include:
Migdal's, Ayubi's, Bianchi's and Dresch's approaches in order to produce an understandable
and logical analysis of Yemeni politics. Using but a single approach would provide only a
partial picture of what appears to be a dense and complicated forest.
Copyright © Ahmed Abdel-Karim Saif 1998