GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Understanding the Rise of Radicalism in Yemen; and Notes from Pakistan
Paper Proposal Text :
My paper seeks to understand and trace the roots of the radicalism (Saudi versus Iranian?) in Yemen in the unfulfilled promise of the old revolutions in both the former North (1962) and South (1967) of the country. A secondary question it asks and attempts to answer is: in the present confrontation in the country between a Saudi-led invasion on one hand and a Houthi rebellion, allegedly supported by Iran on the other, where does the fate of the Arab world’s poorest state lie: between either an Arabia Felix or a Saudi Yemenia? It has four main objectives. Firstly, it will attempt to present a more historically grounded general background to the rise of radicalism in the Arab/Muslim world which began with the collapse of secular Nasserism in Egypt and the rise of Saudi Arabia. Secondly, it will contribute to a nuanced understanding of the present crisis in Yemen, firmly grounded in the troubled history of the country, which erupted in the final years of the Saleh regime, in the form of the Shia Houthi movement on one hand and the much-exaggerated al-Qaeda presence on the other. This implies that a greater engagement with the conflict in Yemen is needed than has been the norm in the West, obsessed as the latter is with the fate of the bigger states where the uprisings have erupted (Egypt, Libya and Syria). This understanding will ground my prognosis for the future of radicalism in the country. Thirdly, the paper tries to address and correct the often ahistoric and grossly exaggerated references to Yemen as a land of al-Qaeda, bombs, beards, burqas and hostile tribes where the only people for the West to do business with are either the former dictator or the military (builds up on my previous journalistic and review work). This has characterized much of the recent analytical and journalistic writing on Yemen especially since the tragedy of September 11, 2011 and must be challenged with counter-examples and counter-narratives of revolution and resistance to foreign occupation going back to the Cold War; (south) Yemen was the first Arab country where a Marxist Republic was proclaimed in 1967 introducing radical reforms. The failures of that experiment as well as the experiment of ‘unification’ thus help explain the rise of religious radicalism in the country, reinforced by dictatorship and periodic Saudi-American interventions. Fourthly, the paper will engage with some of the alarmist big tomes which have come out on the country recently, and which fail to engage with Yemen’s history and convolute the most important issues of the country needlessly with specialist jargon, unintelligible to an interested lay-majority. The paper will engage with this specialist literature by using other nuanced counter-narratives of Yemen. I will also be sharing my own impressions of Yemen since my first trip there in May 2010 on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Yemeni ‘unification’, including interviews with a wide cross-section of Yemeni civil society in both the North and South of Yemen, communist activists, poets, writers and women activists, among the latter the recently-awarded Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman; as well as comparing my native Pakistan’s own experiences with the rise of radicalism and what lessons can be learnt to challenge it in the Arab world, especially Yemen.