Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Salih Regime and the Need for a Credible Opposition

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Salih Regime and the Need for a Credible Opposition

Article excerpt

Analyses indicate that the Republic of Yemen (ROY) needs to effect major reforms in the next several years if Yemeni society is to again become viable; and that, given the re-election of President Salih in 2006, the best hope for this coming about depends on the emergence of a credible and formidable opposition able to pressure the regime to effect reforms. The evolution of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) through 2006 suggests that such an opposition has emerged and could have the required effect between now and the next parliamentary elections.

This article assesses the Republic of Yemen's presidential and local council elections in September 2006 against a set of political remedies prescribed by one of the authors for the dire political situation in which the ROY found itself in early 2006.1 In turn, these remedies grew out of a rather apocalyptic analysis and critique of the Yemeni political and socioeconomic systems done in late 2004 by the same author.2

YEMEN'S POLITICAL ECONOMY DESCRIBED AND EXPLAINED

According to this analysis, in 2004 Yemen's economy and society were in danger of collapsing in less than a decade. The regime of President 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih had demonstrated clearly since the mid-1990s that it lacked the will and capacity to adopt the major economic and political reforms needed to reverse this descent. Specifically, after a good start from 1995 through 1997, it had failed to implement the International Monetary Fund and World Bank package of structural reforms and aid designed to attract the domestic and foreign investment required to replace the remittance economy that had fueled growth in the 1970s and 1980s.

The evidence for this lack of will and capacity was overwhelming in 2004, as well as in 2006: First, the Yemeni economy, now so dependent on the state, modest oil revenues, and outside donors has not created enough jobs and income to keep up with the rapid growth in population, with the result that the alarming levels of unemployment, poverty, and malnutrition have remained as high or higher than they were a decade ago; moreover, the once-promising middle class has been pauperized and has shrunk, and the gap between the rich few and the many poor has grown much wider and more visibly so; finally, education, health, and other social service systems are worse than they were a decade ago, qualitatively and quantitatively, and are now close to being dysfunctional.3 For a growing majority of the population, life has become a struggle just to make ends meet and a sense of despair and hopelessness is pervasive and growing. Longer term and more intractable, Yemen's small and finite reserves of oil and water are rapidly being depleted. Aquifers in densely populated regions are being tapped at a rate that far exceeds that of their being recharged, and known oil reserves will probably be exhausted before 2015. As water and oil go down, the population goes up, driven by one of the highest birthrates in the world.

The evident lack of will for reform can be traced to the composition of Yemen's political regime and the nature of its state. The trappings and beginnings of democracy notwithstanding, the ROY is still best described as an oligarchy, an example of rule by the few.4 Most of the relatively few persons and families who get the most of what there is to get - be it political power, economic well-being, good health, or high social status - come from the northern highlands of old North Yemen. This group has either or both strong tribal and military (or security) connections. To the military-tribal complex of the late 1960s and 1970s was added a northern commercial-business element after 1980.5 Political power was increasingly concentrated in the hands of these shaykhs, officers, and northern businessmen in the 1980s; this trend accelerated after the war of secession in 1994 eliminated or weakened politicians from former South Yemen and their Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP). …

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