Panel 7F

Yemen: Conflict, Identity and Change

9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Helen Lackner, London Middle East Institute

The Role of Migration in Yemen’s Development 1980-2015

Helen Lackner, London Middle East Institute, SOAS

Yemen has been a country of outmigration for centuries.  Its weak natural resource base has forced people to migrate in search of income generating possibilities to East Africa, south and South-east Asia, and even Europe and the USA.  People travelled in search of better opportunities, to escape famine during droughts, and to sustain their families back home through remittances.  Until the current war,  Yemen was often described in development circles as a country extremely dependent on foreign assistance.  Interestingly throughout the period since the establishment of the Republic of Yemen, remittances from its citizens abroad was more than 3 times the value of incoming aid.  The paper will discuss the relevance of migration for – political and social changes in migrants’ home areas, eg  the influence of Saudi Arabian Salafism on Islam in Yemen and the rise of Islamist parties –  development perspectives and ambitions: how migrants changed state development and political programmes – the extent to which remittances have contributed to development investments and changed the citizen-state relationship in the past four decades. – Changes in patterns of occupation on the basis of the ascribed social stratification system, for example the role of Hadrami sada in South east Asia,  or of southern highland tribesmen in the steel industries of the UK – World economic and social considerations determining different destinations and activities over time – The role of 21st century international focus on terrorism on restricting and transforming migration patterns and  destinations for Yemenis.

The Yemeni Political Crisis: Elites, Uprisings and the Civil Society

Susanne Dahlgren, University of Tampere/National University of Singapore

The civil war in Yemen (2015-) is an outcome of elite power struggle that has involved foreign intervention. Still, understanding the Yemeni political crisis should not be limited to the elite in-fighting. Equally important is the unprecedented rise of a civil society, manifest in local security provisions and in attempts at municipal governance. Such activity, based on individual or small group initiative, has engaged all social strata, young and old, and in many parts of the country, witnessed women’s unprecedented participation. This promises good for the future rebuilding of the country, and speaks against the failed state thesis. Still, most of the problems the country faces today are life threatening, such as famine and water scarcity, or risk the future of the entire nation such as the collapse of health and educational systems and destruction of agricultural lands, and remain without the reach of the local community efforts. I suggest to look at the Yemeni crisis from a Gramscian perspective, meaning that I analyse the uprisings of 2008 (the Southern Cause), 2011 (the Change Revolution) and 2014 (the Huthi Revolt) as “wars of position” (Gramsci 1971) against the political system and look at how the regime in each case managed to survive, much to the help of foreign powers, in the Gulf and overseas. To stop the vicious circle, I argue, foreign powers interested in lasting peace in Yemen need to reconsider their stakes. My paper is based on ethnographic field studies in Yemen and on archival and online sources.

A Border that has Defied Unification

Noel Brehony, MENAS Associates

This paper will examine how the border between north and south agreed in 1904 influenced Yemeni political history. The focus will be on the south showing how the border has remained a major influence on the attitude of Yemenis.  In 1967, the border between the YAR and the PDRY was seen by both Yemens as a temporary although the southern leaders were determined to build a state in their Marxist image whilst publicly proclaiming their commitment to unity.  The existence of the border plagued relations between the two Yemens: border wars in 1972 and 1979. Unity in 1990 came about because the southern leadership had been weakened by internal divisions at a time when its Soviet ally was collapsing. The flaws in the unity agreement of 1990 were quickly exposed as Sana’a saw it as giving it the right to extend its systems to the south whilst the southern leaders interpreted it as akin to a confederation.  In their minds the border remained in existence. The subsequent civil war of 1994 – during which the southern leadership tried to re-establish the border – resulted in the imposition of its system on the south.  To southerners, this came to be seen as f occupation and gave rise to a new southern movement in the 2000s.  The feeling of southern separateness was strengthened in the Arab Spring and the flawed GCC political transition deal, whose failings were exposed in the rapid rise of the Huthis and then the current civil war and Saudi-led intervention.

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“Death to America, Death to Israel, … Victory to Islam”: The Huthi Movement’s Framing of Localised Grievances in Terms of International Politics

Alexander Weissenburger, Austrian Academy of Sciences

In the beginning of the 2000s, a movement commonly referred to as the ??th?s emerged in Yemen. Despite hailing from —and being deeply rooted in— the hyper-localised context of the religio-political heartland of the Sh??ite Zayd? faith in the north of the country, the ??th?s regularly frame the political, social and cultural grievances of the Zayd? community in reference to international politics and the wider Muslim community. This is markedly obvious in the movement’s slogan, which invokes death upon America and Israel. The article will shed light on this paradox in order to get a better understanding of what has drawn Yemenis to the movement. While the scant literature on the movement mainly sees the group’s growth as a function of relative deprivation and political or cultural repression, this article analyses the movement’s ideological output in relation to the group’s constituencies. Using social movement theory and digital-fieldwork, the paper will argue that the movement’s references to extra-national influences resonate because they tap into widely experienced feelings of identity loss and resentment of the perceived negative influences of the international system. The concentration on the ??th? movement’s ideological framework gives valuable insight into the way the effects of globalisation are experienced by many religious and cultural minorities around the world and gives an example of how increasing global interconnectedness almost inevitably leads to the resurgence of identity politics.

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Transformation of Tribal Perceptions on the Yemeni-Saudi Border

Lisa Lenz, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The present paper addresses the issue of foreign influence on local regions in the wider context of nation states and border formations. On the basis of an evaluation of the border conflict between today’s Republic of Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that started more than a century ago and continues until today, it will be discussed how the tribes of the border region perceive the existence of the common border that partly divides their territories and how these perceptions have changed throughout history as well as the shift of meaning of the borderline. The central hypothesis that underlies this study assumes that tribal societies of the Yemeni-Saudi borderland adopt different strategies of instrumentalizing the international border for their own interests and adjust their opinion on the boundary depending on how successful their strategies are. By analysing the transnational activities and relations of the respective tribal societies from an anthropological perspective, it will be shown how modern Western ideas and concepts such as nation states, drawing up a frontier and controlling one’s borders have influenced and transformed not only ruling authorities in the remote and for a long time isolated area of South Arabia but also the local population off site the governmental sphere of power in different ways. Tracking the movement of people, networks, relations, money, goods and contraband provides an opportunity for researchers to bring local phenomena into a wider global discourse referring to theories on nation states, border studies and transnationalism.

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