News Update 20 February 2015

Highlights:
The “Yemen Model” as a Failure of Political Imagination
International Journal of Middle East Studies — February 2015
Unfortunately, there is something of a vicious cycle in this process. The seeming irrelevance of formal institutions to crisis management—let alone to the more robust standard of accountable governance—is at once a symptom and a contributing factor to activists’ turn outward. Yet activists will find it difficult to effect change without engaging state actors and institutions. How will the informal meet the formal without being subsumed by its impoverished logic of representation? By failing to account for the role of informal practices in building formal institutions, scholars and policymakers may overlook a critical ingredient in the development of the kind of state capable of responding to Yemen’s current crises and to the broad and diverse aspirations of Yemeni society.

The Failure of the Transitional Process in Yemen
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik — February 2015
In the end, only the Yemeni stakeholders can lastingly counter the political crisis in Yemen, and then only through political action. Given the complex mesh of Yemeni actors, external military intervention is more likely to aggravate the situation. Since the international community no longer has any real influence on these stakeholders, it can only attempt to exert pressure by either approving or disapproving of specific Houthi actions. Germany and its partners therefore need to urge the Houthi movement to make real compromises; and they must reject its unilateralism. At the same time, they should insist that all stake holders participate within the framework of the existing political institutions. It is especially important to integrate the Hirak leaders so as to prevent further radicalization of that movement.

In Yemen, Hard Times Remain a Constant as Rebels Take Charge
New York Times — 6 February 2015
Difficult is just how life is in Yemen, yesterday, today and every day. It does not matter that the president and his cabinet have resigned, that the government has not functioned for weeks or that the gunmen in control of the streets say they plan to set up a new regime to their own liking. Families have always had to struggle to get through their days in a country where the government has long been incapable of delivering essential services. There is hardly any running water now — and there was hardly any before the political crisis. Continue reading

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News Update 29 January 2015

Highlights:
How the Houthis Did It
Foreign Policy — 23 January 2015
Abubakr al-Shamahi, who until recently worked as a researcher in Sanaa, says that Hadi’s decision to resign was inevitable given this week’s events, but may not have been what the Houthis ultimately wanted given that their modus operandi has been to chastise Hadi for neglecting to address the population’s economic grievances and policy failures. Yet, the Houthis don’t seem intent on governing: thus far, they have failed to provide practical alternatives and have never showed a keen interest in ruling, preferring rather to pull strings from behind when convenient. After all, trying to lead Yemen is not a task for the faint of heart. “It puts them in a bad position. Who else do they have to blame? The president’s gone,” said al-Shamahi, who also reports for London-based newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed.

In Yemen, Violence Pays
New York Times — 28 January 2015
Throughout a six-month Houthi onslaught last year, Mr. Hadi refused to send army reinforcements to fight the Houthi militia in the north. Instead, he set up a series of mediation committees to try to arrange cease-fires as well as involve the Houthis in the political process. This approach made sense to Mr. Hadi and the United Nations — they wanted to avoid outright civil war, and thought diplomacy would work. But Yemen moves to a different rhythm. In our country’s culture of tribalism, a party to a conflict must engage in the ritual of violence, if only for the sake of saving face, and leave it to third parties to negotiate. Mr. Hadi’s repeated failure to punish Houthi aggression and his tepid calls for peace were read as weakness.

Yemen Conflict Alert: Time for Compromise
International Crisis Group — 27 January 2015
The current situation is dire, but it offers opportunities as well. All political groups, as well as the majority of average citizens, are dissatisfied with Hadi’s stewardship of the transition. Since the September takeover, especially, he is widely perceived as weak and unable to put the political process back on track. His departure, while destabilising, offers a chance to Yemenis to select a more broadly acceptable and effective leadership. This, in turn, would make it possible to forge the informal political consensus necessary to implement and clarify existing transitional agreements. Until now, the Huthis have had little incentive to compromise. As the victors, they have increasingly been enforcing their interpretation of existing agreements, while claiming to speak for all Yemenis. In doing so, however, they are alienating and even radicalising their opponents, particularly Islah and southern separatists. Under the current circumstances, any attempt by the Huthis (Ansar Allah as they prefer to be called) to form a military or presidential council without genuine buy-in from other parties would result in a significant domestic and international backlash against them. Continue reading

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News Update 23 January 2015

Highlights:
Yemen crisis: A coup in all but name
BBC News — 22 January 2015
The true extent of Houthi ambition is unclear; but the fact that they did not kick Mr Hadi out of the presidency or claim the premiership indicates they prefer to control from behind the scenes by placing their members in ministries and high-level government positions. This allows them to consolidate power, but without being saddled with ultimate responsibility. But the resignations of Mr Hadi and Mr Bahah now turn the table on their strategy. Sadly, the rebels’ tactics affirm the power of the gun over the power of persuasion, and it marks a massive setback for the democratic transition process that began in 2011 with a youth-led uprising against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a new government, and a successful National Dialogue Conference that produced agreement on the country’s most pressing problems.

Yemen in Crisis
ECFR — 23 January 2015
The next few days will unquestionably be crucial. At writing time, Houthi fighters reportedly have the homes of many members of the now-resigned cabinet under siege. All eyes are set on Sunday’s meeting of the two houses of the Yemeni parliament, which could very well reject the president’s resignation, sending the country into further uncertainty. Indeed, little remains clear at the moment, except for the fact that the country is likely facing its most crucial juncture since the overthrow of the Mutawakkilite Monarchy on 26 September, 1962.

The End Of Yemen?
Buzzfeed — 22 January 2015
Huthi spokesmen on al-Jazeera television have suggested that the movement will name a presidential council to take control of what is left of the government. But any such Huthi move toward a consolidation of political power in Sanaa, will likely be met with opposition in the south of the country. Already there are reports from local television in the southern port city of Aden, which has long desired secession, that orders from Sanaa are to be disregarded. Continue reading

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News Update 16 January 2015

Highlights:
Thousands protest in Yemen against president, Shiite rebels
AP via Yahoo! News — 14 January 2015
Thousands of people have demonstrated in Yemen’s capital to demand both the ouster of Shiite Houthi rebels who control the city as well as the country’s beleaguered president. The demonstrations Saturday were the first of their kind demanding President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi step down since he took over the presidency after a popular revolt toppled his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in 2011. Many in the streets chanted slogans accusing Hadi of mismanaging the country to the point where state institutions collapsed and militants could take over. They have named their protest the “rejection” movement.

Iran’s shallow influence in Yemen
Al-Monitor — 12 January 2015
Iranians are very wrong to believe that the delicate situation in Yemen ended with the Houthis’ control of the capital. In Beirut, Iran has extensive influence held by Hezbollah, which is playing its political role as part of a specific and clear process divided among different parties. In Syria, the sectarian dimension of the regime has only just appeared. In the past, this dimension was marginal in a regime leaning more to nationalistic dictatorships, such as the Baath Party in Iraq. In Iraq itself, the situation is also different. A sectarian regime was established there and favored Shiites after the US invasion in 2003. However, in Yemen, things are completely different, since there is no state and the real power of the president and government is almost totally absent.

Defying the expected: Yemeni women in the formal economy
Yemen Times —1 January 2015
Recent decades have seen a large increase in the number of women entering the formal economy on a global scale, but countries in the Middle East and North Africa are lagging far behind. According to a 2013 World Bank report on gender inequality and development, over 50 percent of the female population aged 15 and above are participating in labor markets in every other region of the world, but the corresponding figure in the Middle East and North Africa is 25.2 percent. In Yemen, it is estimated that just five percent of women are involved in the country’s formal economy. It is easy to assume that tradition or social customs explain this lag, but there is often more involved. “Not surprisingly,” the World Bank report reads, “the lowest participation rates are in fragile or conflict-affected states such as Iraq, Palestinian Territories, and the Republic of Yemen.” Continue reading

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News Digest 26 December 2014

Highlights:
Yemen: What next?
IRIN — 22 December 2014
Unsurprisingly, the deteriorating security situation and the withdrawal of Saudi support means there is little optimism about 2015 either economically or politically. The UN envoy to the country has warned that the state may be unable to pay its civil servants within months. ECFR’s Adam Baron summarized the scale of the crisis. “It is difficult to overstate the economic challenges facing Yemen: roughly half of all Yemenis are below the poverty line, and the government is on the brink of financial collapse. The economy is in tatters, the government’s control over much of the country borders on nonexistent, and planned parliamentary and presidential elections appear to be postponed indefinitely,” he said.

To build an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Yemen
Yemen Times — 18 December 2014
The challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Yemen, as Jamal Al-Mutareb pointed out in his interview, mainly result from an underdeveloped entrepreneurship ecosystem. There is a lack of well-rounded entrepreneurs in Yemen who understand the market and are able to identify and include local demands in formulating business initiatives. Entrepreneurs who can accurately assess the potential of their startups and understand investors’ interests and expectations are equally rare. There is a lack of supportive governmental policies and regulations that recognize the fragility of startups and their need for special care to grow into fully productive companies. The legal system is not transparent and fails to ensure the rights and duties of all contracting parties, including the protection of copy rights. Importantly, moreover, there is a lack of capital and willing investors in Yemen, which effectively blocks the creation of startups.

Malnutrition Hits Millions of Children in Yemen
New York Times — 18 December 2014
Yemen is the most impoverished country in the Middle East, and among its grim distinctions is having one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world. Political turmoil since the 2011 uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left an already feeble government even less able to care for its indigent citizens. Chronic challenges have become emergencies as the state’s presence in much of Yemen has started to dissolve. One million children younger than 5, roughly a third of the age group in Yemen, are suffering from life-threatening malnourishment, according to Daniela D’urso, the head of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid office in Yemen. About two million children are chronically malnourished. Nearly 60 percent of Yemeni children suffer from stunted growth, according to public health workers, who in the past few months have noticed other worrying trends, including cases of malnutrition giving rise to other maladies like tuberculosis. The crisis is “unprecedented,” Ms. D’urso said. Continue reading

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News Update 12 December 2014

Highlights:
A Poor People’s Revolution
MERIP — Winter 2014
Though the entirety of southern society supports the cause, it is the poor who confront the troops sent by Sanaa. The revolutionaries who brave the bullets are primarily young boys with no shoes. In many squares, meanwhile, it is poor women of all ages who play the most vocal part with their demands for a normal, decent life. It is the poor who organize the demonstrations and attend the lectures in the squares. These places of street-level organizing can be found in almost every district of Aden. The uneducated learn about the city’s history, and the young learn about life before unification, when there were no water and power cuts and every graduate got a job. Occasionally, a preacher is invited, and numerous men of religion have joined the movement, but overall the movement is clear that southerners will not be subordinated with appeals to faith. One of the key demands of the hirak is an apology for the fatwas that reactionary northern clerics have issued against “unbelievers” in the south.

The Breakdown of the GCC Initiative
MERIP — Winter 2014
The Houthi militia’s advance from their base near the Saudi Arabian frontier through Zaydi strongholds in ‘Amran (seat of the Hashid confederation) into Sanaa — and onward into Shafi‘i-majority provinces like Hudayda (on the Red Sea coast) and Ibb (in the mountainous midlands) — must be read as positioning, an intent to renegotiate Yemen’s political regime. As such, a regime is understood by political scientists as a system of rules and norms by which power is distributed across and through state institutions. Yemen’s political regime is in the process of being rewritten. By engaging in armed conflict and political maneuvering around the composition of the new government and revolutionary populist appeals, the Houthis have hoped to influence Yemen’s future regime on several fronts. On another level, Yemen’s convulsions can never be comprehended as separate from the power structures of the Arabian Peninsula, dominated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other filthy rich petro-kingdoms of the GCC, which in turn are protected by the US military.

Saudi suspends aid to Yemen after Houthi takeover – sources
Reuters — 4 December 2014
Saudi Arabia has suspended most of its financial aid to Yemen, Yemeni and Western sources said, in a clear indication of its dissatisfaction with the growing political power of Shi’ite Houthi fighters friendly with Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran. Yemen, which is battling an al Qaeda insurgency, a southern secessionist movement, endemic corruption and poor governance, has often relied on its richer northern neighbor to help finance everything from government salaries to welfare payments. The Saudis also fear the movement’s strong emphasis on Zaydi Shi’ite rights will aggravate sectarian tensions that al Qaeda could exploit to carve out more space in Sunni areas and launch attacks against the kingdom. “The Saudis have conditioned any aid on the implementation of the (deal). The Houthis have to leave before they pay,” a senior Yemeni government official told Reuters. Continue reading

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News Update 28 November 2014

Highlights:
Army splits that let Yemen’s capital fall augur new risks
Reuters — 27 November 2014
While many details of the surrender of Yemen’s capital by 100,000 Republican Guards to some 5,000 Houthi fighters on Sept. 21 remain murky, the nature of the capitulation bodes ill for President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s fragile grip on power. Home to an al Qaeda branch held responsible by Washington for three attempted bombings of aircraft in the United States, Yemen is close to becoming a failed state, thanks in part to covert maneuvering from its own ousted ruler and Iran. Corruption, internal splits and competing loyalties in the army began before former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted by protests in 2011 and are now reaching a critical stage.

Yemen crisis a boon for people smugglers
IRIN — 20 November 2014
Yemen’s security crisis is leading to a rapid expansion in the people smuggling trade, with thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa desperate to use the country as a gateway to Saudi Arabia. In September – the most recent month for which statistics have been released – the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) reported 12,768 arrivals – predominantly from Ethiopia. It was more than double the figure for September 2013 and represented the single largest monthly influx on record.

Yemen: Civilian Toll of Fighting in Capital
Human Rights Watch — 19 November 2014
The Houthi armed group and the Yemeni armed forces’ Sixth Regional Command appear to have committed violations of the laws of war during fighting in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, from September 17-21, 2014. The government should investigate alleged violations by both sides and appropriately punish those responsible. Human Rights Watch documented six incidents that resulted in the death of one civilian and injuries to 15 others. In two of the incidents, fighters appeared to have unlawfully targeted civilians. In other incidents, two hospitals came under attack. Continue reading

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