GRM 2010 GRM 2011


Title: The Future of Yemen's Unity

Workshop Directors:

Dr. Isa Blumi
Associate Professor, History Dept. Georgia State University
United States of America

Dr. Ahmed A. Saif
Sheba Centre for trategic Studies



Yemen is at a critical juncture. The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) calledfor constitution drafting, a constitutionalreferendum, and new elections. The timetable has slipped, and, for the moment, no end date has been set.The question of the state's structure is tied inevitably to thesouthern issue – shorthand for the political, economic and social demands emanatingfrom the south, which had been an independent state prior to 1990. There, a looselyaligned mix of organizations and activists known as the Southern Movement (called Hiraak) is calling for separation or, at a minimum, a temporary form of a two-state federalism followedby a referendum on the South's future. Separatist sentiment is running high andappears to have strengthened over the course of the present transition process.

The Hiraak NDC delegation demands significant concessions, arguing thatanything short of two-state federalism and/or a promise to organize a referendumon the South's future status is unacceptable. Then there are those from Hiraakwhoremained outside the NDC and did not recognize it and who insist on immediate independence. Most Hiraakmembers, however, bank on the negotiations'failure, either due to the inability to reach a substantive compromise orlack of implementation on the ground. They vow to escalate protests and a civil disobediencecampaign, regardless of the NDC decisions, until they achieve independence.A constitutional referendum would provide a focal point for their opposition, triggeringa boycott and likely violence. The result would be to further undermine thetransition's legitimacy.

While the GCC initiative was successful in facilitating the departure of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forming a new transitional government, it fell short on providing solutions to the massive and intractable challenges threatening unity and a sustainable peace in Yemen. In particular, the GCC initiative ignored the country's past, including the numerous human rights violations and the deep rift between various political factions. It also allowed the ruling party to continue as a major player in Yemeni politics without undertaking any serious and substantial political reform effort. As a result, the GCC initiative did not address major underlying causes and conditions of the conflict in Yemen. It was designed for regime renovation rather than regime change, and therein lay the seeds of the current instability.

Besides, there are more complicated questions of how to strike a balance between accommodating former ruling party members and completely removing them from public life. In addition, the southern separatist Harakmovement and the Houthi rebellion (called Ansarullah – meaningGod's Partisans) were not directly addressed in the GCC initiative.

Description and Rationale

If Yemen hopes to forge a more stable future, it desperately needs to agree on thefundamentalquestion of its state structure. Agreement on the issueis difficult in light of circumstances where basic trust, legitimacy, and consensusare lacking. Forcing an agreement at this stage would be more than a fragile state, fragmented country, andfractured political class could handle. Instead, it would likely further discredit the process,strengthen more militant southern views, and provoke dangerous brinkmanship andbloodshed.

The workshop, therefore,seeks to bring about a better understanding of the country's current situation and the latest developments, whileidentify the critical factors at play. The case of Yemen suggests that overthrowing a despotic regime is relatively easy, while the building of a new equitable political order to replace the old regime is much harder. In between the long durable authoritarianism and the stability of a newly emerging political system, there may be a grey area of instability, hybrid regimes, and possible chaos that couldlast longer than expected.

The current situation is characterized by numerous destabilizing factors.First is the ineffectiveness, even absence of state institutions. In Yemen, the central government has only limited control over its territory. Its authority remains confined mostly to the major urban areas. With three quarters of the population living outside the cities, however, service delivery to remote areas is not only extremely difficult but it also raises questions aboutthe state's overall legitimacy.

Secondly, as a result of unification in 1990, the state is burdened by an oversized public sector. While some 1.2 million people work in the public sector, 60 percent actually hold military and security-related positions. The cost of sustaining such a large workforce is staggering. However, the government sees their continuation in these positions as critical to their continued loyalty to the regime.

Thirdly, Yemeni citizens have low confidence in the current government's ability to successfully handle the country's future economic challenges. In the people's perception, the government's legitimacy has weakened because of the patrimonial system that co-opted tribal figures and some security and military officials. As a result, this group not only controls significant parts of the state's policy-making process, but also important parts of the private economy. Ordinary Yemeni citizens see their exclusion from economic opportunities as the biggest threat to their security.

In light of these factors, the current transitional phase has brought about more instability and radicalization in the immediate term. In the post-revolution transition period since 2011, the situation in Yemen has actually gone from bad to worse. To date, the unity government has failed to gain the trust of many citizens and is yet to implementany meaningful reform to meet the people's demands. It has failed to deliver basic services such as securing and sustaining electricity and preventing gas pipelines from continuing attacks. The government has not taken steps to implement the 20 points agreed upon to address the southern issue and continues to violate public trust by appointing unqualified individuals for public office – such appointments are largely based on affiliations and loyalty rather than merit. These failures provide a reason for separatists to continue their call for secession. The Ansarullahhave not handed in their militia's heavy weapons orengaged peacefully in the political process, but rather are creating more instability.Most importantly, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been able to exploit the absence of the state.

Ansarullah have used violence and the threat of civil war to seize power in Sanaa, resulting in the defeat of their rivals General Ali Muhsin, the Ahmar family, and the Islah party. Ansarullah also forced President Hadi to dissolve the reconciliation government and appoint a new technocratic one. Ansarullahand the southern Harak, both of which have long been excluded from Yemeni politics, now have broad powers to shape Yemen's future government. Ansarullah, whether intentionally or not, have, for religious reasons, even become a reliable partner for the US in the fight against AQAP.The sudden power shift associated with Ansarullah's rise has broad repercussions for Yemeni politics and for regional dynamics. The NDC, meanwhile, is pursuing the plan to divide Yemen into a six-region federation, leading Ansarullah,after seizing Sanaa,to force all players to sign a new accord 'The Peace and National Partnership Agreement' which,among other provisions, calls for arevisit of the six-region federation proposal.

A fair resolution of the southern question may preserve the security and stability of aunited Yemen on a federal and inclusionary basis through a new structure and a new social contract for the state. This new federal state could then initiate a period that represents a complete break from the history of conflict, oppression, abuse of power, and monopoly of wealth.

Scholarly Contribution

It is widely believed that the quest of the south for potential secession will be the major issue in Yemeni affairs in 2015 as it might result in the disintegration of the country. So far, no in-depth scholarly papers have analyzedthe various potential scenarios for the immediate future of Yemen. While many writings focus on the GCC initiative and the transitional period, there is a dearth of resources examining and analyzing the southern movements and the possibility of them staying in or breaking away from a unified Yemen. This workshop seeks toshed light on this unaddressed issue by encouraging many scholars to participate.

Anticipated Participants

For potential topics for papers that this workshop seeks to receive, the following list can be considered:

  • Remainingunited: What is needed?
  • Creating aunified legitimateSouthern political representative: Examining the southern political fragmentation
  • The role of external players in determining the South's destiny
  • Potential scenarios for the disintegration of the state
  • Is separation possible?
  • If separation happened, what would a southern state look like?
  • Reflections on the Southern quest for the political & security situation in the GCC countries
  • What is the possibility of having a monarchical state in an independent southern Yemen?

Workshop Director Profiles

Ahmed A. Saif has a Ph.D. (2000) in politics from theUniversity of Exeter, UK. He taught at Exeter, AUS, and Sanaa universities. Currently, he is the director of Sheba Centre for Strategic Studies. He hasauthored several publications and among the most recent of themare:"Yemen: Politics and Society," "Misperception and Mistrust Relationships: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE vis-a-vis Iran";"Citizenship Prospects in Post-Revolutionary Traditional & Multi-Fragmented Yemen"; "Void vs. Presence: The In-between-ness of State & Society in Yemen";"Deconstructing before Building: Perspectives on Democracy in Qatar";"Rethinking the Arab Spring: Potential Scenarios" and"Paradox of Regional and International Intervention in the Democratic Transformation Countries.".

Isa Blumi is Associate Professor of Global History and Middle East Studies at Georgia State University, USA. His work covers the late Ottoman period and successor regimes as part of a global process that interlinks the Balkans, the Middle East, and the larger Islamic world. He researches societies in the throes of social, economic, and political transformation, thus allowing him to expand his work to include the 20th and 21st centuries. In this respect, Blumi explores processes of change induced by, for instance, refugees/migrants throughout Muslim communities scattered throughout the world as a means to question how we understand forms of social organization and the origins of violent conflict in regions as diverse as East and South Arabia, the Western Balkans, and Southeast Asia. Examples of his approach are the books Chaos in Yemen: Societal Collapse and the New Authoritarianism (Routledge 2010) and Ottoman Refugees: Migration in a Post-Imperial World (Bloomsbury 2013). Dr. Blumi has taught in the American University of Sharjah, Leipzig University, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva while serving on advisory boards to organizations concerned with international affairs and development.

Selected Readings


  • Alley, April Longley."The Rules of the Game: Unpacking PatronagePolitics in Yemen,"Middle East Journal.
  • Butters, Andrew Lee (et al.) "The Most Fragile Ally," Time, 0040781X, Vol. 175, Issue 2, January 18, 2010.
  • Day, Stephen. "Barriers to Federal Democracy in Iraq:Lessons from Yemen,"Middle East Policy, Vol. XIII, No. 3, Fall 2006.
  • Dorlian, Samy. "The Sa'da War in Yemen: between Politicsand Sectarianism," The Muslim World,Volume 101, April 2011.
  • Freeman, Jack. "The al Houthi Insurgency in the North of Yemen:An Analysis of the Shabab al Moumineen,"Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 32 (2009):1008–1019.
  • Hammer, Joshua. "Yemen: Days of Reckoning,"National Geographic, Vol. 222, Issue 3, September 2012.
  • Hill, Ginny, Peter Salisbury, LeonieNorthedge, and Jane Kinninmont. "Yemen: Corruption,Capital Flight andGlobal Drivers of Conflict," A Chatham House Report, September 2013.
  • ICG.  "Yemen’s SouthernQuestion: Avoidinga Breakdown,"Middle East Report No. 145, September 25, 2013.
  • Jones, Clive. "The Tribes that Bind: Yemen and the Paradoxof Political Violence,"Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34 (2011):902–916.
  • Miller, Laurel E., and Jeffrey Martini."Building Democracy on the Ashes ofAuthoritarianism in the Arab World."Workshop Summary, RAND, April 24, 2013.
  • Peraino, Kevin and Michael Hirsh. "Our Man in Yemen,"Newsweek, 00289604, Vol. 155, Issue 3,January 18, 2010.
  • Poirier, Marine. "Performing Political Domination in Yemen: Narratives and Practices of Power in the GeneralPeople’s Congress,"The Muslim World, Volume 101, April 2011.
  • Sadiki, Larbi. "Whither Arab ‘Republicanism’?The Rise of Family Rule and theEnd of Democratization in Egypt,Libya and Yemen,"Mediterranean Politics,Vol. 15, no. 1, (March 2010): 99–107.
  • Saif, Ahmed A. (ed.)Yemen: Politics and Society. Sanaá: SCSS, 2011.
  • Sprusansky, Dale."Yemen's National Dialogue."Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 87554917, Vol. 32, Issue 7, September 2013.
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin. "Dancing on the Heads of Snakes in Yemen."Online publication, May 21, 2011, Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011.
  • Vincent Durac. "Yemen’s Arab Spring – DemocraticOpening or Regime Maintenance?"Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 17, no. 2 (July 2012): 161–178.
  • Yadav, Stacey Philbrick. "Antecedents of the Revolution: Inter-sectoral Networks and Post-Partisanship in Yemen,"Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 11, no. 3 (2011).