«Changing Seasons The Arab Spring’s Position Within the Political Evolution of the Yemeni State Alexandra Lewis PRDU Working Paper Series Enquiries ...»
PRDU Working Paper Series
No.3 I May 2012
The Arab Spring’s Position
Within the Political Evolution
of the Yemeni State
PRDU Working Paper Series
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PRDU Working Paper Series No.3 I May 2012 PRDU Working Paper Series No.3 I May 2012 Changing Seasons The Arab Spring’s Position Within the Political Evolution of the Yemeni State Alexandra Lewis Preface This paper emerges from continuing doctoral research on violent crime and youth aggression in Yemen. It is influenced by three years of independent research on the Yemeni development context, field work conducted in Yemen in 2010 with the Postwar Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) at the University of York, consultations with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders obtained through such fieldwork, and independent distance research conducted through online surveys and social networking sites in 2011.
Acknowledgements The following people deserve special recognition for their assistance and contributions to the research presented in this paper; Professor Sultan Barakat, Dr. David Connolly, Dr. Sean Deely and the staff of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit.
Recognition should also be given to those who offered their time and support in helping to develop and publish this paper; Dr. Tom Waldman and Katherine Bishop. Finally, special thanks should go to Julian, Lena and Philip.
About the Author Alexandra Lewis is a final-year doctoral student and researcher at the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit. She has conducted extensive research on the Yemeni development context, where her focus has been on violent criminal behaviour among children and youths. She currently specialises in state fragility as a cause of deteriorating relationships between state structures and young people. For more information on her work, please visit http://york.academia.edu/AlexandraLewis/
way, with some, like Jordan, quickly placating demonstrators with the removal Alexandra Lewis 1 of several notable public officials, and others, like Libya, attempting forceful repression and descending into all-out civil war. In light of these serious discrepancies, it remains questionable to what extent the Arab Spring offers a useful analytical lens for the study of given contexts. As shall be discussed further below, in relation to the Yemeni case study it is equally debatable how far 2011 can be taken as a step away from past continuities in the contemporary history of Arab Spring countries. In order to better understand the full implication of these analytical limitations, this paper aims to provide an overview of the evolution of the Arab Spring label and its use as an analytical framework within academic and practitioner research while striving to understand the root causes and varying manifestations of the Arab Spring in Yemen.
Yemen was hit by the Arab Spring particularly hard, and it is easy to forget that the causes of demonstrations in 2011 were strongly correlated with longstanding development-based grievances and security concerns. Demonstrations became firmly intertwined with existing struggles for power and representation, making them difficult to disentangle from local conflicts. While coverage of the Yemen crisis rightly focused on calls for institutional reform (as resulting from governmental corruption and a failure to incorporate competing narratives into the mainstream political sphere), one severe limitation of the Arab Spring framework is that it underplayed Yemen’s history throughout this time, which sets the country apart from other states in the region. The focus of much Arab Spring and post-Arab Spring research in Yemen has therefore remained on the urgency of the present: the sensationalism of democratic reform, a tendency that has been escalated by Yemen’s new mass-strike crisis in 2012 – dubbed the Revolution of Institutions – and emerging struggles between a post-Saleh state and a resurgent Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). Yet, as a result, both media and academic reports have often failed to touch on the viability of the ruling regime’s removal as a solution to the country’s on-going unrest, with President Saleh’s departure in 2012 now marking a new period of uncertainty for Yemen, and with little investigation into new potential political crises further down the road. This paper will therefore address issues of change and continuity in Yemen in order to determine whether the Yemeni Spring was a product of cross-national revolutionary fever, or whether it was in fact merely a new manifestation of old challenges.
The paper is divided into five sections. The first analyses the Arab Spring framework itself and is followed by a background of the Yemeni development context and its evolution. The third section provides an overview of events in 2011 and the fourth maps other on-going conflicts and political crises. The final section concludes by assessing the utility of the Arab Spring as a framework for the analysis of Yemen’s process of transition. Ultimately, the author finds that the Arab Spring framework is severely limited in its ability to interpret political events in Yemen, which are in fact inseparable from entrenched grievances and on-going struggles for increased access to resources and representation.
3 of new pathways of analysis. After all, as Randall Khun argues in his study on The Role of Human Development in the Arab Spring, ‘As we move further away from those initial events, we can look beyond the precipitating causes and consider the forces underlying the revolutions’ (2011, p. 1), and, as scholars of international development, it is very much our duty to do so.
As argued in the introduction to this paper, however, comparative analyses of Arab Spring countries come neither easily nor naturally, with many analysts, including Khun, striving to determine regional commonalities within a diverse set of development contexts that could have led to the rise of revolutionary fervour in 2011. Paradoxically, many identify positive socio-economic development as an important precursor of change, rather than a decline or shared worsening in living conditions, as may have been expected in times of nationwide calls for reform. Thus, Fouad Ajami notes that the Arab Spring ‘erupted in a small country on the margins of the Arab political experience, more educated and prosperous and linked to Europe than the norm’, before spreading to Egypt, a country that is significantly more prosperous than Yemen, for instance, and other states to later be affected (2012).
Similarly, Khun links the emergence of the Arab Spring to ‘the quiet but exceptional achievements of Arab nations in reducing mortality’ and ‘early childhood morbidity’ while generating improvements in ‘nutrition, schooling, and other dimensions of human capability’, so that there now exists ‘quantitative evidence linking human capability expansion to political mobilisation’ (p. 1). His analysis is supported by the work of multiple cultural psychologists, including David Matsumoto and Linda Juang, who have connected sudden socio-cultural change with the increased prevalence of suicidal behaviour, particularly within cultures ‘that foster high perceptions of external control’ (2004, p. 214), perhaps putting a different spin on the emergence of self-immolation as a form of political dissidence in 2011. Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, Adeel Malik and Bassem Awadallah attribute the Arab Spring to ‘a clear economic underpinning’, writing that protests ‘were fuelled by poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunity’ (2011, p. 2), with increased unemployment across the region aggravated by the latent effects of the 2008 Global Economic Crisis, as well as by consistent population growth and rising resource scarcity.
While a gradual improvement in development indicators across the region is indeed evident in an analysis of Human Development Index data gathered over the past two decades (and a simultaneous increase in unemployment among young people and qualified graduates is reported in government surveys of many Arab Spring countries), both sides of the Arab Spring debate are supported by claims of increased access to social media in the Arab World.
These claims have included Albrecht Hofheinz’ interpretation of rising internet usage across the region, which has been used to argue that increased awareness of the growing inequality between the global West, Far East and the rest of the world. This has helped aggravate existing tensions and frustrations in the Middle East and Africa, despite gradual socio-economic improvements, PRDU Working Paper Series leading to a rejection of existing government programming and institutions. No.3 I May 2012
tional development will be striving to understand the phenomenon for several Alexandra Lewis 5 decades to come. However, for this reason above all others, it is crucial that we now strive to better understand these events as they have emerged on a country-by-country basis. In-depth contextualised analyses hold greater potential to yield localised lessons that might be more adaptable to a regional setting than comparative research designed to deliberately identify universal development forces.
The Yemeni Background
In light of the severe limitations of comparative research in generating concrete conclusions about the causes of the Arab Spring, this paper has opted to provide an in-depth analysis of development within one context affected by this phenomenon: Yemen. In doing so, it looks at both the emergence of this latest political crisis in the country and the historical continuities and existing development challenges that have contributed to it. Implicit within this analysis is the question of whether or not the Arab Spring in Yemen does represent a move away from pre-existing political trends. In order to pave the way for the answer to this question, this section offers a background of the Yemeni development context, which includes an overview of the country’s geographic and demographic composition, as well as an introduction to the evolution of its infrastructure.
Geographic and demographic composition Due to its geographic location and development status, the Republic of Yemen is today directly affected by the political and economic fluctuations of both the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. As a result of its location, and due to its comparative stability and weak border management capacities,Yemen has attracted numerous refugees and (usually irregular) labour migrants from the North-East of Africa through shipping and sailing lanes, the majority of whom arrive from Somalia and Ethiopia. At the same time, unemployed Yemenis tend to look to their wealthier Middle Eastern neighbours for employment opportunities, travelling to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and other places, often illegally, in search of work. Relations with its immediate neighbours have therefore historically proven to be of crucial importance to Yemen. In fact, many of its most recent governmental development priorities, as listed in the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation’s National Reform Agenda (2010) and 10-Point Plan (2009), have involved building stronger regional relations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in order to boost Yemen’s struggling economy and business sector.
Development across Yemen has always been uneven, with the North occasionally benefiting from trade routes with Saudi Arabia (particularly during the 1980s) and the South receiving strong material backing from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, despite fluctuations in inequality, governmental development programmes have traditionally favoured PRDU Working Paper Series the centre over the periphery, both before and after the formation of what is No.3 I May 2012
7 woman being born between 2005 and 2010 according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (though the accuracy of such data is difficult to assess in light of Yemen’s very weak rate of birth registration).