Yemen, it’s women were applauded for their revolutionary spirit in 2011, is a country considered to be in a very critical position for years now, and has seen its Failed States Index relatively worsen from position 18 in 2009 to 8 in 2012. All the factors that contribute to the failed state methodology used by the Foreign Policy magazine are dire in Yemen, though some stand out:
- security apparatus
- factionalised elites
- group grievance
- delegitimisation of the state
Recent news articles speak of the serious humanitarian crisis that looms in Yemen, rendering any discussion about political transition irrelevant. In March 2013, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen, addressed in the Guardian that,
“We came here to remind the Friends of Yemen that the humanitarian situation will be one of the biggest risks for Yemen’s transition if it’s not dealt with properly. What we are seeing is a lot of attention on the political agenda, and we acknowledge this is moving ahead.
“But, unfortunately, people seem to forget that there are 10 million people in need of food assistance – five million in need of extreme food assistance – and one million children suffering acute malnutrition. We need to remind the world that, while the national dialogue and preparations for the election are important, it’s vital that we deal with the current humanitarian situation.
“If we don’t receive support, there will be destabilisation in Yemen, and this is the main message we’ll be emphasising at the Friends of London meeting. It’s important for the world to realise that there will be no stability in Yemen if we don’t deal with the humanitarian situation. There is more awareness of the magnitude of the problem, but it’s not enough. If we don’t intervene now, we may see some of the same images that have emerged from the Horn of Africa; the situation is comparable.”
Politically, there is no sign of democracy
In the north-west enclaves of the Yemeni capital, a renegade general’s forces control the streets. In the southern reaches of Sana’a, Yemen’s former president exerts influence from his mansion. And in a neighbourhood nestled in the middle, a powerful tribal family wields authority on the ground and in political circles.
A year after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in a deal brokered by the US and Yemen’s Arab neighbours, the country’s three most influential families continue to cast a shadow over the political transition. Unlike leaders of other nations altered by the Arab spring, Yemen’s elites were neither jailed nor exiled. They have remained inside the country, free to operate as they will.
The continuity has helped prevent Yemen from descending into a Syria-like civil war or erupting into the violent political turmoil seen in Egypt and Tunisia. But the elites’ lingering influence has also impeded Yemen’s progress, say activists, analysts and western diplomats.
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains the head of his party, with the current President, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi deputy to Saleh. On the other hand, the central figures in Yemeni politics are Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and the influential al-Ahmar tribal family
Mohsen’s forces remain in the north-west of the capital and control Sana’a University, near Change Square, the encampment erected by the protesters two years ago. The Ahmars have positioned their own tribal fighters in their strongholds. “The president does not have the power. He is not in control of the security of the country,” Karman said, [joint-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011]. “In reality, Ahmed Ali is still heading the Republican Guards, and Ali Mohsen is still in control of the 1st Armored Division.”
The above gives us an explanation behind the relative deterioration of Yemen’s position in the Failed States Index of Foreign Policy Magazine.
According to Charles Tilly, Yemen’s 2011 revolution would probably be called a failure — in the 1980s a studied about 700 revolutionary episodes of which a meagre 23 had been successful.
What about Jack Goldstone’s Rethinking Revolutions? Is it that Yemen is in stage 5 of its revolution, and we have a long way ahead of us, but things might turn out for the better within this episode?