GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Cain and Abel in the Land of Sheba: Elite Conflict and the Miliary in Yemen
Paper Proposal Text :
While popular mobilization in Yemen has triggered a severe regime crisis, it cannot explain the course of action and regime trajectory since the early demonstrations in spring 2011. This paper argues that the uprising served as a catalyst for the outbreak of a simmering conflict that henceforth came to characterize transitional politics in the Southern Arabian country. The defection of core members of the political and military elite—most importantly Saleh’s long-time ally Ali Mohsen—was a consequence of subliminal intra-elite rivalries since the mid-1990s. Fissures have appeared within the politico-military elite, in particular between the family of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and core members of the Sanhani elite. These intra-elite fissures have created and deepened cracks in the regime’s institutionalized infrastructure, in particular in the security apparatus and the military.

As a consequence of the 2011 uprising, military defection occurred in a vertical manner, that is, entire army and security units refused to follow ordersof the central demand and engaged loyalist forces in a low-level, urban stand-off during 2011.Yemen serves as an intriguing exemplary case, counter-intuitive to the dominant paradigm in the conceptual political science literature on civil-military relations and on the loyalty of armed forces during popular uprisings. First, defection patterns show a high degree of group cohesion—a surprising finding when considering that Yemen’s armed forces have been built largely as a conglomerate of tribal militias, rather than a modern, “professional” army in the Huntingtonean meaning of the term. Second, the Yemeni military’s behavior challenges the assumption that patrimonial security forces—that is, security apparatuses organized along ethnic, tribal, religious, and/or family bonds—would support autocrats challenged by their own people.

Empirical evidence in Yemeni helps us better understand the rationale of loyalty and defection during popular mass uprisings and demands a closer look at the political economy of intra-elite dynamics, rather than military organization. The findings in this paper are based on a three-week long research mission to Sanaa in January 2013, during which I conducted multiple open-ended, semi-structured interviews with political observers and members of the Yemeni military. I will explain the course of events that the uprising took during 2011 and developments after the take-over of power by Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.