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Contentious dynamics for sociopolitical change?

The case of the Islah Party in the Republic of Yemen
Anahi Alviso-Marino
p. 57-90

Résumés

Des observateurs ainsi que des membres du Parti Islah ont tendance à présenter et expliquer les différents courants qui forment cette formation politique comme un « dialogue pluraliste » entre divers groupes, idéologies et personnalités. Dans ce sens, le Parti Islah est décrit principalement comme un amalgame d’idéologies, de discours, de répertoires d’action et de projets de réforme qui coexistent en son sein sans le diviser. Cette pratique dite « pluraliste » du dialogue, qui a jusqu’à présent maintenu le parti unifié à l’extérieur sans pour autant garantir de cohésion à l’intérieur, n’a jamais été épargnée par ce que Tilly, Tarrow et McAdam ont appelé des « répertoires de protestation ». Cet article propose d’analyser ce que, avec le temps, ces répertoires de protestation ont généré comme dynamiques à l’intérieur du parti. La première dynamique est celle d’un rapprochement vis-à-vis du régime au pouvoir, tandis que la deuxième mène le parti vers une opposition à ce régime. Si le dialogue pluraliste, élément donné comme constitutif du parti, permet de justifier l’existence de ces dynamiques contradictoires, où se trouvent les limites de l’unité de cette formation politique, et quelle peut être sa viabilité sur le long terme ?

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Texte intégral

  • 1  In this regard and as pointed out by Seiler, 2001, “from an etymological point of view, the word ‘ (...)
  • 2  TillyandCastañeda, 2007, p. 39.
  • 3  Tilly defines repertoire (social movement repertoire) as the employment of combinations from among (...)
  • 4  Sites of contention are human settings that serve as originators, objects, and/or arenas of conten (...)
  • 5  Brackets are mine.
  • 6  TillyandCastañeda, op. cit.p. 39.
  • 7 Lipset and Rokkan (Ed.), 1967. Lipset and Rokkan explain that there are four cleavages product of c (...)

1Since its formal establishment in 1990 the Islah Party, (literally Reform Party or “Yemeni Congregation for Reform,” al-Tajammu‘ al-Yamanî li-l-I/slâ/h) has been the result of a pluralist dialogue between different groups and ideologies, simultaneously organized around different personalities. Although the existence of dynamics of contention is maybe not specific only to the Islah Party1 (for it is possible to find them in other political parties, which are perhaps ideal sites of contention, like the ruling General People’s Congress, the Yemen Socialist Party or the Ba‘ath Party), this paper will focus specifically on this political formation. The Islah Party matters because the pluralistic practice that until today has maintained the party externally united but not internally cohesive, has never been free of what Tilly, together with Tarrow and McAdam, called “contentious repertoires,” that is, arrays of contentious performances that are currently known and available within some set of political actors2. These repertoires3 have produced over time what this article proposes to analyze as contentious dynamics inside the party, which are the product of distinctive actors who have constructed their own political narratives and practices. These actors, the informal relational networks they create around them, or the organizations they establish through the Islah Party or outside it (although always related to the party in a way or another), all conform sites of contention4 that have created contentious dynamics. These dynamics are contentious in the sense that they imply interactions in which actors make claims that bear on someone else’s interests, leading to (relatively) coordinating efforts on behalf of (relatively)5 self-perceived shared interests, in which the government is a target, the object of claims, or a third party6. The concept of dynamics appears in this case as a preferable analytical tool for the study of the underlying causes of change over the concept of cleavages or social divisions as presented by Lipset and Rokkan7. Although cleavages have some dynamic properties, they propose a rigid model based on the contradiction between categories that generate divisions. In the case of the Islah party the opposition between the dynamics that inhabit it is not completely based on contradictory or fixed categories. Albeit in opposition, these dynamics are flexible enough to sometimes include one another in even incoherent ways. What are the limits of the pluralistic dialogue that maintains an un-cohesive unity inside the Islah Party? Where are these contentious dynamics leading the party? Do they represent a threat to the unity and existence of the party? These are the questions this article will try to disentangle.

  • 8 Tilly and Castañeda, op. cit. Episodes are explained as “bounded sequences of continuous interactio (...)
  • 9  Interview held with ‘Abd Allâh Sa’tar, president of the Social Welfare Committee and member of the (...)

2The first dynamic is characterized by a mobilization that revolves around a publically demonstrated allegiance to the president of the Republic, ‘Alî ‘Abd Allâh /Sâli/h, performed by members of the Islah Party. This allegiance is central to Yemen’s government political formula, which in an oversimplified way, is a formula based on power relations determined by tribal, religious, economic and political elites’ positions. The arrays of contentious performances that have led to the construction of this dynamic have been carried out by two prominent members of the party, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî and Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar, the paramount leader of the /Hâshid tribal confederation until his death in late 2007, a position that his eldest son /Sâdiq currently holds. The last episode or sequence of continuous interaction8 observed inside this dynamic occurred during the summer of 2008 when al-Zindânî and /Sâdiq al-A/hmar created what attempted to be a religious repressive authority in Yemen, the “Vice and Virtue Authority” (VVA, Hay’at al-fa/dîla). In the eyes of different observers, the creation of such an authority was perceived as a political act and a performance of power that aimed at changing alliances inside the party before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2009. Finally, these elections were delayed following a boycott supported by the reformist wing of the same party. This case provided a possibility to observe the evolution of contentious repertoires and how political actors adapt new strategies, such as creating an authority depicted as a moral institution that, in the eyes of its founders, “simply wanted to alarm the government and prevent it from “badthings” to happen”.9 However, and despite the fact that it was not presented as a political party or as a political organization, the VVA was perceived as politically oriented and aiming to effect the political competition. Ultimately, this case study revealed a change in the manner actors within this dynamic have performed contention.

  • 10  The parties that compose the JMP are: the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah), the Yemeni Socia (...)

3The reformist group mentioned above leads the second dynamic, which mobilizes around the creation of a viable opposition to President /Sâli/h. Its trajectory has been consolidated throughout the years, although not without difficulties, leading to the creation of what today constitutes the main opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP, al‑Liqâ’ al-Mushtarak). The JMP is an alliance of six parties10, among which the Islah Party and the Yemeni Socialist Party (al-/Hizb al-Ishtirâkî al-Yamanî) are the most prominent political formations. The new episodes observed within this dynamic are demonstrations and JMP’s boycott campaign of the parliamentary election process of 2009 under the conditions dictated by President /Sâli/h’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC, al-Mu’tamar al‑Sha‘bî al-‘Âmm). Following the boycott campaign, an agreement was reached between the opposition and the ruling party wherein the elections, which were to be held in April 2009, were postponed until 2011.  

  • 11  Although other contentious dynamics might exist inside Islah, this paper will focus on the two dyn (...)
  • 12  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit., p. 204.

4These two groups of actors, their mobilization around challenging ideas of allegiance and opposition to the government, as well as the trajectories thus generated, have constituted the two main contending dynamics and standardized performances that this article aims to study11. Although the Islah Party has been the focus of study for many researchers, applying Tilly, Tarrow and McAdam’s contentious politics approach provides a new lens for the analysis of what has commonly been considered pluralistic practices and repertoires existing and coexisting inside the party. Using these sociopolitical lenses, it becomes clearer that claims striving for opposite ideas of reform are being produced and practiced inside the Islah Party. As party members explain, the mechanisms that account are those related to the maintenance throughout the years of different ideas, strategies and objectives without dividing the party. However, this paper will question, in light of these contentious dynamics, the apparent unity of the party as a plausible opposition to the ruling party. Finally, the reader must note that applying the contentious politics approach to this case is an explorative exercise and a tentative to read the internal dynamics of the Islah party as other than pluralistic practices. This analytical exercise will ultimately try to identify outcomes or changes in conditions at sites of contention that are under study12. Hence, this article can be considered as a proposal for further research.

5In order to analyze these possibilities, the article will first review the history of Islah so as to provide the reader with a chronicle of Yemen’s political life and of the limitations and resources the party has in order to eventually act, support, and/or contest the ruling party. Secondly, the two dynamics aforementioned (contention towards the regime and contention leading to an opposition), will be disentangled by tracing and analyzing the actors, performances, and repertoires that characterize each of them independently. A case study exemplified through the “Virtue Authority” will be developed in order to illustrate the first dynamic and to demonstrate how there may be changes happening inside this dynamic. Finally, all these elements will be brought back together, merged with Tilly’s work on contentious politics, in order to provide a broader analysis of the party as a whole and understand the significance of these dynamics, what are the mechanisms and processes taking place, and what are their possible outcomes.

Overview of the Islah Party: “a mixed bag of Islamists”13

  • 13  Expression borrowed from Browers, 2007.
  • 14  The YAR was established in 1962 through a military coup against a theocratic state ruled by a here (...)
  • 15  The PDRY was established in 1967, when the British troops withdrew from the port of Aden giving pl (...)
  • 16  Political Action Program of the Yemeni Islah Party, Draft for the Yemeni Republic, p. 5. Undated.

6In 1990 the North (or Yemen Arab Republic, YAR14) and the South (or People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, PDRY15) united to form one single Yemeni republic (Republic of Yemen, ROY). After unification, significant political opportunities appeared for parties and all kinds of organizations, which were banned and considered illegal before unification. Within this historical juncture, the Islah Party was established only four months after the unification (13 September 1990) “to be a lively continuation of the modern Yemeni reform movement and a framework for all who seek to reform and change the current situation to a better one guided by Islamic faith and shari‘a,” as formulated in the party’s program16.

  • 17  Wiktorowicz, 2004, p. 210. For further reading refer to Burgat and Sbitli, 2003, p. 47-67.  
  • 18  As argued by Burgat and Sbitli, the idea of reform among the Yemenis that were influenced by /Hasa (...)

7The city of Taez, commonly considered a center of knowledge and enlightenment, was one of the sites that reunited the religious core of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwân al‑Muslimûn), whose presence in Yemen dates to the 1930s17. Although the establishment of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood as a party remains unclear, the formation of this somehow “blurred” movement included some of the same people who would later transform the search for reform in Yemen into what became the Islah Party18. Among the former members of Islah there were also tribal leaders, religious scholars, merchants and businessmen.

  • 19  Interview held with Nâsir Yahyâ, September 8, 2008, and with ‘Abd Allâh Sa‘tar, op. cit., November (...)
  • 20  In relation to how the party is externally described Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî, member of the parliament (...)
  • 21  Interview with Nâsir Yahyâ, Ibid.
  • 22  Phillips, 2008, p. 51.
  • 23  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 70.
  • 24  Browers, op. cit., p. 566. Schwedler’s work referred by Browers is Schwedler, 2006.

8For analytical purposes, specialists and observers of the Islah Party have traditionally divided the party along three major groups: the tribal, the reformist and the conservative stream. These divisions have been useful to describe the party but have also shown important disadvantages, for they can be interpreted as rigid categories that obfuscate a clear understanding of the dynamics that transform and inhabit political organizations in general and the Islah Party in particular. Therefore, these divisions need to be nuanced in the sense that they are not fixed and impermeable categories, and also because there exists a certain level of reticence to accept them among party members. In this regard, members of Islah19 have stated that these three streams or groups do not exist as such and that the divisions have been imposed from outside, especially from the media20. They explain that differences exist, that there are more or less strict points of view, but they stress that this does not mean that the party is divided in groups. For instance, Nâsir Yahyâ, member of the Political Committee of Islah (al-Dâ’ira al-Siyâsiyya li-/Hizb al-Islâh) in the capital Sanaa argues, “there is no such thing as a “Muslim brotherhood stream” as some analysts state when referring to the reformist group, for all i/slâ/hîs are somehow Muslim brotherhood representatives. There are ideological differences, as they exist in any other party”21. In this sense it must be noted that in the GPC there are also Islamists, former socialists, merchants, tribal leaders, moderates, hard-line religious conservatives, and progressive reformers, all existing side by side inside the same party22. As Schwedler notes, “the labels “tribal” and “religious” wrongly suggest a level of cohesiveness among the various branches that obscures complex relationships and does not reflect the group’s internal dynamics. In practice, tribal leaders are also religious, and many Islamists have tribal ties.”23 Labels such as radical, conservative and moderate might also be understood as part of the indigenous language that internally describes these tendencies. However, in neither case these categories are to be understood as free from a certain level of ambiguity or uncertainty, so as to avoid obscuring the complex relations between the personalities and groups thus named. Having these clarifications in mind, this paper will refer to the three streams as the bibliography does, dividing the party to facilitate its analysis in groups that are also divided on the basis of support for historically influential and powerful personalities. It is in this line of thought that Browers, following the analysis of Schwedler, has called the Islah Party “a mixed bag of Islamists,” focusing less on the political party as a whole and more on the party actors working through alternative political forums24.

9The “three major groups” that are used in the bibliography to describe this political formation are the tribal stream, the intellectual reformist group, and the conservative group.                                            

  • 25  Yemen’s tribal system is dominated by two main tribes, the /Hâshid and the Bakîl. For a more detai (...)
  • 26  In 1982, when the GPC was created, Shaykh al-A/hmar was appointed to the permanent council of this (...)
  • 27  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 67.
  • 28  Ibid, p. 64.

10The tribal stream was led until December 2007 by Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar, head of Yemen’s most influential tribal confederation25, the /Hâshid, from which President /Sâli/h hailed. Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar was the founder of the Islah Party and remained its president until his death. Also recognized as one of the most powerful individuals in Yemen and a symbol of the close relationship between the government and the party26, Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar served as speaker of North Yemen’s National Assembly, a position he held under three parliaments in unified Yemen. After he passed away, his eldest son and successor to the /Hâshid tribal shaykhdom, Shaykh /Sâdiq bin ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar, replaced his father as paramount leader of the tribe. /Sâdiq al-A/hmar has also been appointed to the Yemeni Consultative Council or Upper House (Majlis al-Shûrâ) under the Islah label27. The tribal stream still exerts an important influence over the government and constitutes a “reservoir” of people and votes among which allegiance to the government constitutes a priority28.

  • 29  Burgat, 2003.
  • 30  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.
  • 31  “Unlike al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar, Islah leaders al-Yadûmî, Qa/htân, and al-Anisî are each referred (...)
  • 32  The Islah Party re-elected al-Yadûmî as successor to Shaykh al-A/hmar in the presidency of the par (...)
  • 33  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.
  • 34  Browers, op. cit.

11The second group is the intellectual reformist group, integrated by Muslim Brotherhood ideologues. This group called by Burgat “the modernist wing”29 of the Islah Party promotes a moderate and modernist elite, marked by an ideological setback in favor of a pragmatic approach30. The prominent “professors”31 of this wing are Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî, ‘Abd al-Wahhâb al-Anisî and Mu/hammad Qa/htân. Al-Yadûmî has been re‑elected president of Islah, a position he has held since Shaykh al-A/hmar’s death in 200732. Former vice-prime minister al-Anisî is secretary-general of the party and Qa/htân is one of the ten members of the High Committee of Islah (al-Hay’a al-‘Ulyâ)33. These three figures have promoted dialogue with the Yemeni Socialist Party (a former ideological enemy of the Islah Party) and as Browers notes, they have been among the major “architects”34 of Yemen’s Joint Meeting Parties.

  • 35  Salafism developed during the beginning of 1980s around the figure of Shaykh Muqbil bin Hâdî al-Wâ (...)
  • 36  Phillips, op. cit., p. 138.
  • 37 Ahmad Al-Yamanî, 2003, p. 51.

12Lastly, there is the conservative group, internally considered the radical faction due to its religious creed based on the Salafi35 interpretation of Islam. This stream is represented and led by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî, one of the founders of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood movement. Al-Zindânî is a prominent figure in the party: he was Chairman of the Islah Party’s Consultative Council until 2007, continues to be one of its 130 members, and is one of the ten members of the High Committee of Islah. In addition to his political obligations, he is also the rector of the al-Imân University in Sanaa and his name appears on the United States Treasury Department List as a “specially designated global terrorist,” although he remains openly in Yemen36. The conservative stream, “mostly because of its ties with Islamic movements in other Muslim countries, has a strong influence over the party’s international policies”37.  

  • 38  Phillips, 2008, quoting Schwedler, p. 54.
  • 39  Ibid, Phillips is here quoting Saif.

13It must be noted that the diverse coalition of members that lies at the creation of the Islah party is not the product of a cohesive ideology that would have brought them together, rather the party is better explained through studying its leader’s positions in Yemen’s power centers38. These positions, such as being shaykh of a tribe, religious shaykh, or businessman, and how they were related to the regime, help to explain how these varied members came together in a party that, in its early years, presented an organizational structure and policies almost identical to those of the GPC39.

  • 40  Namely four: center-periphery, church-state, land-industry and capitalists-workers.
  • 41  Church-State may be adapted as Islam-state, center-periphery by Arabism-decentralism, capitalists- (...)
  • 42  Camau andGeisser, 2002, p. 242.
  • 43  Catusse and Karam note this specifically when dealing with political parties from Algeria, Bahrain (...)

14Although the literature on political parties refers to cleavages as some of the main reasons bringing people together to join and establish a party, in this case the reasons that have brought these varied members together seem to respond to a different rationale than the one provided by Lipset and Rokkan. The cleavage approach explains the formation of political parties (specifically of party systems of democratic policies) through social divisions40 that are part of historical junctures. Although these cleavages have been adapted by Baduel41 in order to be applied to Arab countries, they do not seem to contribute to a clearer understanding of the logics behind the political affiliations of the Islah Party. Camau and Geisser have already noted this in the study of the Tunisian case42 and Karam also revisits it in relation to the study of six countries (Yemen among them). Karam explains that these cleavages are indeed present in Arab societies when readapted as Baduel does, “but the political organizations, parties and proto-parties obey to other logics that are more determinant and sometimes even opposed: they try to obtain their partisan legitimization from a permanent strategy of using euphemisms when referring to social cleavages instead of provoking exacerbation”43.

  • 44  This argument is developed in the following pages.

15In light of this, the creation of the Islah Party rather than being explained through social divisions might be better understood through a macro phenomenon that affected the formation of the Yemeni party system as a whole: the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, which implied a political, social and economic change. The north-south cleavage might be considered one of the causes that brought Islah’s members together in a government coalition with the GPC so as to defeat the south. This coalition also included Socialists but soon it became clear that /Sâli/h was determined to control the entire political arena44. /Sâli/h, president of north Yemen since 1978, showed an increasing intention to monopolize Yemeni politics after the short war of 1994, as the GPC effectively started to rule Yemen almost alone. This is a cleavage that played a part in the composition of the first government of unified Yemen and that became diluted as power alliances shifted (namely, as the south was defeated after the 1994 war). As an instance of this dilution, if Islah members first rejected southern socialists, years later when the government’s regime started to marginalize Islah from power, party members would turn towards the socialists to create and join an opposition coalition, the JMP. For these reasons even the north-south cleavage has not been sufficiently and constantly present as an autonomous dynamic and thus as a determinant cleavage for the case presented here.

  • 45  In this respect founding member of the party Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî explains “we called it ‘congregati (...)
  • 46  This trap first described by Sartori, 1994 (in which “conceptual stretching” tends to be used to e (...)
  • 47  Tilly, 1981, p. 4.

16Another element that challenges the use of the cleavages approach in understanding the reunion of such a varied membership under the Islah Party lies in the official name, “Congregation for Reform.” The term “congregation” may question the possibility of Islah being created through contradictory and irreconcilable categories as the cleavages theory would have it, and rather it stresses the idea of congregating different ideologies and projects of reform45. In this line of thought and having in mind the “trap” that might imply conceptual elasticity46, the Islah Party would be better described among other things as a group of repertoires of action that are not completely irreconcilable but that imply contending interests. Repertoires of action thus refer to “the mobilization of numbers and commitment on behalf of articulated claims to power and/or on power holders”47. In the present case, the articulated claims happen to contend each other. In this regard, not applying the cleavage theory to the Islah Party’s case does not respond to a will to defend a “Yemeni specificity”. Moreover, this responds to a search for tools that, rather than stretch to encompass this case, simply better suit the demonstration at stake.

  • 48  SchwedlerandClark, 2006.

17Another feature of the Islah party, which is worthy of mention, is its political trajectory. The Islah Party has engaged throughout these years in complex and fascinating power relations: From close participation with the ruling GPC party, to what Schwedler and Clark have called “Islamist-leftist cooperation”48, the JMP, a platform of opposition to the ruling party.

  • 49  President /Sâli/h’s GPC won 121, and the YSP obtained 56 seats. DreschandHaykel, op. cit., p. 406.
  • 50  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16. Three members of the GPC and two socialists previously formed (...)
  • 51 Ibid.

18In April 1993 during the first parliamentary elections held in unified Yemen, Islah joined the ruling coalition government, winning 62 seats out of 30149. In October of the same year President /Sâli/h appointed Shaykh al-Zindânî as member of the presidential council composed by five members50. Also in 1993, Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar was elected speaker of the parliament. A short war followed lasting from May to July 1994 during which the collaboration between the ruling power and the Islah Party was maintained: the Islamist stream within Islah theologically legitimated the war of the north against the “impious” southern socialists51.   

  • 52 Burgat,op. cit .
  • 53 Browers,op. cit. p. 559.

19However, the post 1994 political prospects changed and after the southern socialists were defeated, the President and his ruling party no longer needed allies to defeat the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP). A process of marginalization started to become visible in the 1997 parliamentary elections when “the GPC returned to its old custom of being the sole ruling party winning an absolute majority of the seats in the parliament and all but one of the government portfolios”52. Islah’s influence continued to diminish and the party entered in decline in terms of its relationship with the regime, which contributed to create new alliances. Among these new alliances, the Islah Party began a dialogue prior to the 1997 elections with the YSP and other parties of the Higher Coordination Council for the Opposition (HCCO, al-Majlis al-A‘lâ li-l-Tansîq) to address mounting irregularities in voter registration and other violations of electoral law53. It must be noted that despite this progressive marginalization, certain figures of Islah such as Shaykh al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî remained close to the government.

  • 54  Phillips, op. cit. p. 142.
  • 55  Wedeen, inAl-RasheedandVitalis, (eds.), 2004, p. 252.
  • 56  National Democratic Institute (ndi), Report on the 2006 elections in Yemen, p. 8.

20During the 1999 presidential elections the Islah Party did not present a candidate and nominated President /Sâli/h as its own candidate54. The GPC won the elections with the 96.3 % of the votes55. The 2001 local council elections revealed the beginning of a significant shift in relations between political parties: for the first time neither the YSP nor Islah negotiated seats with the GPC in advance of the election, and a genuine opposition appeared to be developing56.

  • 57  Browers, op. cit. p. 571.

21The adoption of an oppositional strategy was marked by collaboration amongst the various oppositional parties, led mainly by the YSP. Since 1995 the YSP was engaged in the HCOO, a council that reunited the opposition by bringing together reformist figures. The approach between socialists and islahis was symbolized by the dialogue initiated by Jâr Allâh ‘Umar, “the only socialist intellectual and activist that possessed the skills and traits necessary to play the role of “architect” of the ‘joint meeting’ coalition”57.

  • 58  Ibid, p. 570.
  • 59  Phillips, op. cit., p. 143.

22It was during the 2001 local council elections that Islah, in alliance with its former archenemy the YSP and other opposition parties that it had previously opposed, engaged the opposition58 winning at least 22 percent of the seats in the preliminary count59.

  • 60  Browers, op. cit., p. 578.

23The following year, 2002, witnessed the assassination under unclear conditions of YSP’s Jâr Allâh ‘Umar. The opposition platform of the JMP, which ‘Umar helped to build, did not participate in the parliamentary elections until 2003. After this electoral experience in which the GPC won 76% of the seats, the Islah Party 15% and the YSP 2%, the JMP published a common project for reform in 2005. Among its most significant features was a call to replace the current system of “one-person rule” with a parliamentary system predicated on a separation of power, with an independent judiciary, and administrative decentralization60.

24The presidential and local council elections held on September 2006 questioned the capacity of the opposition to propose and achieve a change in power, and whether or not the political system (more so than society) was ready for a change of power.

  • 61  Fay/sal bin Shamlân held the post of minister of public works and transports in South Yemen in 196 (...)
  • 62  Opposition parties refused to accept the vote result, alleging that /Sâli/h won only 68.86% of vot (...)

25Although the candidate for the JMP, Fay/sal bin Shamlân61, represented a challenge, ‘Alî ‘Abd Allâh /Sâli/h was re-elected as president of the Republic of Yemen, a post that he had been holding since Yemen’s unification in 1990. However, the support that brought him to power almost a decade ago was reduced from 96.3% votes in 1999, to 77.2% in 200662.

  • 63  The core of the dispute concerned the aborted reform of the electoral system and the electoral com (...)

26In summary, the Joint group provided Islah with a platform to effectively contend the GPC dominated structure of power, and also exemplified a fascinating shift of alliances. Since past elections in 2003 and 2006, the JMP (and Islah inside this coalition) have been slowly, and not without several constraints, formulating a plausible opposition. In the time leading to the 2009 parliamentary elections, the JMP coalition boycotted the preparation for the April election, refusing to participate according to the conditions required by the GPC63. Consequently, the election was postponed to 2011.

Contention towards the regime: putting the party’s unity at risk?

27The Islah Party was based on a tribal and conservative formula, which together with the inclusion of prominent Yemeni merchants and intellectuals have formed a complex mix of personalities, interests, ideologies, and ideas of reform.

28Some of Islah’s leaders were key figures in the ruling elite that came about to constitute the government of the unified ROY in 1990. The conservative stream led by Shaykh al-Zindânî, and the tribal stream led by Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar and later on by his son /Sâdiq, have long maintained a close relationship with the President of the Republic. This relationship is the first characteristic of the dynamic of contention that strives to support /Sâli/h’s regime.

  • 64  Detalle, 1996, p. 333 and p. 335. It must be noted that the shaykh’s father and brother were decap (...)
  • 65 Schewdler, 2006, op. cit. p. 70.
  • 66 Ibid.
  • 67  Browers, op. cit. p. 568.
  • 68 Bonnefoy and Poirier, op. cit. p. 3.
  • 69  The Scientific Institutes developed during the 1970s as a way to create a parallel school system f (...)

29The relationship between President /Sâli/h and important figures of the Islah Party can be traced to the early days of the YAR. As stressed by Detalle, the Republic would have probably not survived if it were not by Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar’s immediate support, and later on by that of the /Hâshid tribal confederation. Only four months after /Sâli/h’s access to power, the shaykh and his tribes saved the regime from an attempt of coup d’état organized by an underground group created after the assassination of President Ibrâhîm al‑/Hamdî (1974-1977). This “debt” of the republic vis-à-vis tribal society constitutes a structural element of Yemeni political life64. In addition to this, “after 1962, Muslim Brotherhood leaders formed the group’s first formal consultative council under the leadership of Shaykh al-Zindânî. The group later joined other conservative trends in supporting the new republican leadership against the more left-leanings members of the revolutionary guard. From the earliest days of the YAR, the Muslim Brotherhood, who was at the core of the formation of the Islah Party, had close relations with the political elite”65. Al-Zindânî remained its leader until the late seventies, when leadership changed in what has been described as an internal coup against the shaykh66 after which he left to Saudi Arabia. Upon his return to Yemen, President /Sâli/h appointed and maintained al-Zindânî in posts always close to him. It is worth noting that since as early as the 1970s al-Zindânî has also acted as an adviser to /Sâli/h on educational matters67 and was entrusted with the religious education of North Yemen through the Office of Orientation and Guidance (Maktab al‑tawjîh wa al-irshâd)68. This power was derived from his ties with the Saudi Kingdom, the control of an important network of thousands of Scientific Institutes (al-ma‘âhid al-‘ilmiyya)69, his lucrative business investments, and his strong Islamist credentials.

  • 70  As Tilly notes, repertoires have several different levels: action, performance, campaign and array (...)
  • 71  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 176.

30Al-Zindânî has always maintained a radical repertoire70 that has frustrated particularly the Muslim Brotherhood ideologues inside Islah, and generally party members as a whole for his almost systematic contradiction of formal Islah positions, such as the party’s role as an opposition force. Among the most important instances of this contradictory repertoire are his individual position regarding unification and democracy. Al-Zindânî opposed the terms of unification considering it cooperation with the South’s avowedly secular, Leftist regime, which he considered communist, infidel, and full of non-believers. What can be considered as rhetoric becomes here a form of individual action that plays a significant part in the claim‑making dynamic led by al-Zindânî, especially when his discourses, actions, and performances are viewed as a whole and as part of a larger dynamic. In addition to this, his positions are embedded in forms of action and collective claims made also by other members of the party that do not necessarily share al-Zindânî’s ideas. Regarding this issue, Islah’s members opposed the unification process reclaiming that the constitution should reflect the sharia as the only legal source of the unified countries. Although al-Zindânî’s position towards this issue was highly radical, it must be noted that the majority of the political actors brought together under the banner of Islah as an Islamist political party aimed in large part to aid the leaders of the former North in defeating the South’s Socialist Party in national elections and thus diminishing southern power in post-unification Yemen71. This pictures the manner in which the Islah Party engaged in unification as a member of a coalition with the ruling GPC. It is in this vein that al-Zindânî’s individual actions can be seen as part of a collective action inscribed in north-south rivalries and therefore cannot be reduced to mere speech. Once the sharia issue was more or less settled with the amendment of the constitution stipulating that theshariawas the main source of legislation, Islah’s members defended unification, but this defense was not free from an important antagonism with the YSP.

  • 72  Ibid, see p. 180 and p. 185 in relation to these two positions towards democracy.

31In relation to democracy, al-Zindânî opposed it characterizing democratic practices as secular tools of Western imperialism. Nevertheless the party, since 1993, was engaged increasingly in a democratic narrative72. In any case, however radical al-Zindânî’s repertoire of contention has been, it has never undermined his relationship with President /Sâli/h. Furthermore, neither Islah party members in general nor its reformist group in particular, have been successful in challenging him.

32In addition to this, other members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement maintained allegiance to President /Sâli/h through a group called the “Islamic Front”. Muslim Brotherhood members, conservative tribal leaders, and a few Islamist groups, thus created another strong tie with /Sâli/h through their willingness to fight for the regime. When the Islah Party was established after unification, it reunited members of the Islamic Front as well as the other members already mentioned (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood, tribal shaykhs and merchants).

  • 73  Ibid, p 61-62.
  • 74  Ibid, p. 61. The work cited by Schwedler is Carapico, 1998.

33In this light and as Schwedler argues, the political formula of unification was marked by the fact that President /Sâli/h secured de facto political authority in large part through patronage, the granting of economic favors, and the allocation of prominent government positions, resources, and salaries to tribal shaykhs and other clients. As an example, when in 1994 the country was plunged into a short war, the relationship between the President and Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar played an important role in proving that the President’s political authority rested in part on the consent of local elites and their support in bringing their constituencies to respect government authority in certain spaces73. As Schwedler further discusses, “there is considerable evidence that during the conflict, few tribal groups became involved, leaving the two armies of North and South to fight it out.” In this light, she quotes Carapico who has indicated that “/Sâli/h accomplished this feat through bribes and promises to various tribal leaders, and through the considerable mediation efforts of Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar”74.

  • 75  Ibid, p. 104. Nine posts were given to Islah’s members. Al-Anisî was promoted to First Deputy Mini (...)

34Following the war and with the defeat of the secessionist south, the YSP entered a political decline. Islah’s members were given posts in the new GPC cabinet and occupied high positions such as first deputy prime minister (Islah’s highest executive position in the government)75. However, the aftermath of the war marked the beginning of Islah’s political marginalization from the government as a party although the relationship between certain personalities such as al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî remained close to the President.

  • 76  A Web site of the Yemeni Defence Ministry reported that the US request was part of a letter from U (...)
  • 77  Hassan Al-Zaidi, “al-Zindânî: My reservation is due to security and intelligence factors,” The Yem (...)
  • 78  This is also a strategically challenging position for /Sâli/h, who has to deal with US’s demands a (...)

35Similarly to 1993 and 1997, in 2003 and although the Islah Party participated in the elections as an opposition party inside the JMP coalition, the parliamentary bloc of the ruling GPC nominated as speaker Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar, president of the opposition Islah Party. However, and since the decline of the relationships between Islah and /Sâli/h’s regime, the relationship between al-A/hmar and /Sâli/h went also through some difficulties, especially in terms of al-A/hmar’s stance on the “War on Terror” that started after the September 11 attacks, in 2001, and in relation to his viewpoints about Islah after it became an opposition party. Also, /Sâli/h’s investment in increasing Yemen’s relationship with the US after 2001 generated an ambiguous point of contention between him and al-Zindânî, whose critical position against Western imperialism has been already noted and who was convicted in the US of supporting terrorism76 and for his relations with Usâma bin Ladin when both met during the Afghan-Russian war77. Despite /Sâli/h’s efforts to maintain a close and good relationship with the US regarding the “War on Terror”, and despite al-Zindânî’s compromising ties and rejection to the US, al-Zindânî remained in Yemen78. Regardless of the differences, al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî have remained close allies to the president and since al-A/hmar’s passing away, his son /Sâdiq has not contradicted this alliance.

  • 79 Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 113.
  • 80 Browers,op. cit. p. 582.
  • 81  Poirier, 2008, p. 140.

36The role Islah leaders maintained by “remaining central to the highest circles of power even as Islah’s influence decreased”79 became more complex as Islah’s reformist figures together with the remaining members of the “Joint Meeting” platform started to formulate an increasingly viable political opposition. As the Islah party shifted alliances and turned to other parties to construct what today has become an opposition to the ruling GPC, both Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî have performed contentious repertoires, under the form of public statements, individual actions and performances against their party’s official position and in favor of President /Sâli/h. Already in 2003, when the JMP first appeared on the political scene as a contending political force, al-A/hmar showed support to /Sâli/h and his GPC Party instead of supporting his own party, a support that was rewarded with the GPC nomination of the Shaykh as speaker of the parliament. This somehow contradictory nomination (GPC nominated al-A/hmar from the opposition party, and al-A/hmar supported the party he was supposed to politically oppose) exemplifies the complexity of power relations when tribal and political allegiance is at stake. In the following elections where Islah participated in the JMP-led opposition in 2006, the JMP presented Fay/sal bin Shamlân as presidential candidate to compete against /Sâli/h and the GPC. In this instance, al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar “made a final-hour decision to back /Sâli/h’s reelection despite their parties’ formal position as sponsors of a JMP presidential candidate”80. As Poirier clarifies, al-A/hmar announced only a couple of weeks before the elections that he would vote for /Sâli/h. Al-Zindânî opted not to participate in any of the meetings held by the JMP and received /Sâli/h at his university, al-Imân, where the President organized two conferences to open and close his campaign81. These acts were framed as “personal decisions” made by the two shaykhs and not representative of the party members as a whole. In any case, whether through a public declaration or through a symbolic performance, both al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî organized their repertoires around their display of allegiance to President /Sâli/h.

  • 82  Browers, Ibid.

37The following year, 2007, ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar was reelected party chairperson despite attempts to replace him and in violation of Islah bylaws that limit leadership to three terms82. A year later and again against the party’s political positions, his son /Sâdiq together with al-Zindânî established a controversial moral authority, the Vice and Virtue Authority.

38The mechanisms through which the aforementioned Islah members maintained a strong allegiance to President /Sâli/h over the years clearly question the efforts of other groups inside Islah to propose a strong opposition inside the JMP. In any case, division does not appear as a possible outcome and perhaps consequently, the members that lead this dynamic of contention continue to test the limits, as the case of the establishment of the VVA illustrates. Until the creation of the VVA al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar father maintained a repertoire of action that remained mainly reduced to showing support for /Sâli/h. In performative terms, this dynamic appears limited as it has organized its repertoires around displays of allegiance that are always reduced to more or less explicit public statements, rhetoric, and performances. It lacks a coherent and broad mobilization beyond individual acts. However, the creation of the VVA provides an instance of the subtle renewal of repertoires of action and of changes in the conditions and characteristics that shape this dynamic.

A case study: The establishment of the Vice and Virtue Authority in Yemen

  • 83  Document from the Virtue Authority, Multaqâ al-fa/dîla al-awwal li ‘ulamâ wa mashâyikh wa wujahâ’ (...)

39Under the slogan “May the ship (Islam/Yemen) not sink”83, /Sâdiq al-A/hmar joined al‑Zindânî during the summer of 2008 in the establishment of an authority that was highly critiqued inside and outside the Islah Party: on July 15th and in front of a crowd of some 6000 male attendees, they declared the establishment of the “Authority for the Protection of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” (Vice and Virtue Authority, VVA), the first of its kind in the Republic of Yemen.

  • 84  ‘Abduh Maktaf, “Multaqâ’ al-Fa/dîla yantakhib al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî ra’îsân lil-hay’a (...)
  • 85  Mohammed Al-Kibsi, “Vice and Virtue Committee elects its leadership,” Yemen Observer, August 12, 2 (...)

40In August, a second conference was held in which the members of the Virtue Authority elected Shaykh al-Zindânî as president and discussed ways to implement the resolutions they had presented at their previous gathering in July84. In this second reunion, after a month of constant social criticism that was mainly reflected in newspapers, al-Zindânî declared “the government should be utilized to combat moral malpractices by empowering the already-extant Virtue Police and by emboldening the general prosecution as well as the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance”85. A stress was put by this very authority on the state’s responsibility and legitimacy to prevent vice and promote virtue, as opposed to an external and non-governmental authority. By the end of August, while it was clear that this authority would not become a replica of the Saudi Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the debate around it had just begun.

  • 86  Document from the Virtue Authority, 2008, op. cit.
  • 87 Risâla ‘ulama al-Yaman bi-sha’n al-kûtâ al-nisâ’iyya, 2008.
  • 88  As one of the daughters of al-Zindânî noted “This is not the first fatwa against women’s political (...)
  • 89  Following a report from the Women National Committee, the Islah Party ranked first in women’s part (...)
  • 90  Interview with the author, November 5, 2008, Sanaa.

41The distribution of two documents during the inaugural conference provoked significant reactions. The first document contained the Virtue Authority’s goals, which defined the organization as an authority with the aim to revive, spread and deepen what Islam considers virtuous, and to confront and remove from society what it considers as vicious. This document also included statements from the ulamas denouncing the critiques the authority had received from journalists, as well as suggesting ways to implement virtue (amongst them, the segregation of women at work)86. The second document was a booklet called “Letter from the ulamas of Yemen Concerning Women’s Quota”87, which explained the legal opinion of the ulamas (fatwa) against the quota system aimed at allocating 15 percent of the electoral bodies’ seats to women88. This quota system has been supported on paper and never on real acts by the government since 2006. In light of this, the distribution of the fatwa at the establishment of the VVA opened again the debate about Islah leaders’ position towards women’s political participation. This undermined Islah’s position by means of association of al-Zindânî to the controversial fatwa, bringing back the debate of women’s participation as candidates and not only as members of the Islah Party. It also contributed to push forward the image of the government as supportive of women’s political participation, although their number in the ruling GPC is far from being close to their number in Islah, which amounts the largest female participation in all Yemen89. Although critiqued by female members of Islah such as Amat al-Salâm Rajâ’, head of Islah’s Women’s Committee, it must be noted that the only woman elected to the parliament in 2003 was from the GPC90.

42By the end of summer 2008, this authority was reduced to only holding meetings without having any legitimate power to patrol the streets in search of vice. But if this authority has done anything, it has opened several debates and provoked diverse actions reported throughout the newspapers. Since its very inception, its detractors saw in the VVA a political organization rather than a religious one, created with the aim to provoke a division inside the opposition parties before the parliamentary elections scheduled on April 2009.

  • 91  Several journalists, analysts and politicians have suggested this possibility, such as Farouk al-S (...)
  • 92  Even at the first conference held by the Virtue Authority on July 15, 2008, “no prominent politici (...)
  • 93  Nabîl al-/Sûfî is the current editor in chief of NewsYemen.net and the monthly magazine Abwâb. For (...)
  • 94  Interview with Asmâ’ al-Zindânî, August 15, 2008, Sanaa. Asmâ’al-Zindâni studied at al-Imân Univer (...)

43When Shaykh al-Zindânî appeared in front of the crowds of ulamas and shaykhs that first gathered in July, his actions led to talk about a possible “division inside the Islah Party”91 due to the rejection of the VVA manifested by party members92 and by JMP coalition members. Nonetheless, with the creation of this Authority, al-Zindânî and /Sâdiq al‑A/hmar presented a political program that talked about “people’s personal life and their understanding and practice of Islam, which differed from Islah’s program that focuses on the country, the political situation, corruption, society and culture,” as explained Nabîl al-/Sûfî93, former editor in chief of Islah’s mouthpiece al-/Sa/hwa and currently independent from the party. This interest in reforming people’s personal life was also stressed by one of al-Zindânî’s daughters who explained that her father “has fought for this all his life. As Muslims we must speak up when we see something wrong in our society, we must denounce it and my father sees the sins committed by our community and knows that Allâh will punish us if we remain silent. That is why he created the VVA”94.

  • 95  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, professor at the University of Sanaa and head of the Cultural Develo (...)

44As explained by an academic, researcher and social activist, Ra’ûfa /Hasan, “this coalition between the conservative group in Islah supported by the tribal stream brought about a political formula that was at the very inception of the Islah party in the 90s’”. The conservatives have always pushed for a more conservative program and reading the map of Yemen’s politics, now al-Zindânî seems to be making pressure, showing that if they exclude or put him aside, he is going to react”95.

  • 96  Interview with In/tilâq al-Mutawakkil, head of the Girls World Communication Center (Markaz al-lug (...)

45In the words of Nabîl al-/Sûfî “in the end, al-Zindânî is not against Islah. He is just trying to gain more support for his ideas and for his group within the party.” A matter of pressure, but towards which direction? Although the positions of al-A/hmar father and now his son /Sâdiq, and al-Zindânî vary on certain points, they share the maintenance of a strong alliance with President /Sâli/h. Putting forward an authority that first appeared as one with the political aim to divide the opposition appears coherent with their allegiance to the President. As Ra’ûfa /Hasan elucidated, this might be just “another wave of the same phenomenon,” that is, of the contentious dynamic put forward by al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar father and eldest son /Sâdiq. In this light, the events provoked by the establishment of the Virtue Authority are likely to be analyzed as another peak in an internal dynamic based on constant pressure and perhaps forced negotiation between the party’s streams. All the issues brought about by the Virtue Authority, the elements of debate in female political participation, division within the party, hidden political agendas, have spurred a discussion in which all interested parties have clarified their positions and alliances. Only the positions of the Virtue Authority and the government have remained ambiguous if not vague which, as In/tilâq al-Mutawakkil explained, could be an end unto itself so as to deviate attention from other and more urgent problems the country faces96.

  • 97  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, op. cit.

46As Ra’ûfa /Hasan stated, the idea of a division inside the opposition was just a rumor, so it was not possible to deal with it as facts, only when the parties present their candidates and when women will begin to face problems, then is when the real exam for these groups will start97.

  • 98  When dealing with the manner in which case study relate to the comparative method, Sartori refers (...)

47However, and rather than understanding this case as “just another wave,” the VVA offers a new hypothesis about an instance of an important change occurring inside this dynamic: the creation of new repertoires of contention among members of the Islah Party. In this sense the present case appears to be a “hypothesis-generating case study” in Lijphart terms98. An authority such as the VVA has never existed before and it appears as a new form of expression for al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar’s ideas, which demonstrates that new forms of actions are being used to put forward somehow old contentious rhetoric.

  • 99  Tilly, 1981, p. 10.
  • 100  McAdam, TarrowandTilly, 2001, p. 7-8.

48 As a new repertoire, this case-study provides what Tilly has called “a manufactured category of events: “contentious gatherings”. A contentious gathering, Tilly explains, is an occasion on which a number of people (in this case 6000 males) gather in a publicly accessible place (the Apollo Conference Hall in Sanaa) and make claims (they demanded to have the right to combat moral malpractices) which would, if realized, bear on the interests of some other person(s) (society at large, but also the government)99. This contentious gathering also introduces a new form of contention, a transgressive form. Tilly, Tarrow and McAdam divide contentious politics in subcategories among which transgressive contention100 is defined as “interactions in which actors make claims that bear on someone else’s interests, leading to coordinating efforts on behalf of shared interests or programs, in which governments are targets, the objects of claims, or third parties,” plus two other variables that make the contention “transgressive”: first, at least some parties to the conflict are newly self-identified political actors. In the case of the VVA, the authority itself was perceived as a new political entity that appeared in the summer of 2008. Second, at least some parties employ innovative collective action. In this sense, the VVA was an innovative and unprecedented collective-self representation of some of Islah’s leaders, which adopted unprecedented means of action to put forward their program, such as a “contentious gathering” in which documents and a fatwa were distributed defining the Authority’s positions. The use of these resources represents an innovative tool, performance, and form of mobilization inside this dynamic. This case provides an outcome, in other words, changes in the conditions of this site of contention, changes in the characteristics that shape the contention.  

Contention leading to an opposition: confronting the regime or the party?

49The second dynamic of contention is characterized by a mobilization that opposes the previous dynamic: this dynamic contests /Sâli/h and the ruling GPC party and its trajectory has evolved transforming, not without difficulties, reformist and modernists actors inside Islah into the founders of the JMP, a coalition of parties that today is the only challenger to /Sâli/h’s GPC. Among the most well known actors advocating for this movement are Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî, ‘Abd al-Wahhâb al-Anisî and Mu/hammad Qa/htân, known to be part of the “modernist wing” inside Islah.

  • 101  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16-17

50As it was explained in the overview of the Islah Party, since 1994 the ruling GPC started to marginalize Islah. Almost at the same time, in 1995, the Socialist Party allied with several smaller, mostly left-leaning parties in order to coordinate a platform of opposition, the Higher Coordination Council for the Opposition Parties (HCCO). In 1997 eight parties were members of this coalition: the Yemeni Socialist Party, the National Socialist Arab Ba‘ath Party, the Popular Nasserist Unity Organization, al-/Haqq Party (zaydi conservative party), the Yemeni Union Gathering (secular left-leaning), the League of Yemeni Brothers (liberal and left-leaning), the Union of Popular Forces (UPF, zaydi liberal party), and the Liberal Constitutional Party (liberals close to the YSP)101.

  • 102  Ibid, p. 18.
  • 103  Browers, op. cit., p. 569.

51In April 1997 a dialogue begins between Islah, the YSP and other parties of the HCCO approaching the reformative elites and encouraging the institutionalization of a cooperation platform102 to address irregularities and violations in the parliamentary elections held the same year. As Browers stresses, “although the precise date of JMP’s establishment is unclear, these series of meetings mark the first time the appellation was used, indicating coordination between HCCO members and Islah. Little reference to the JMP was found again until Islah allied with other opposition parties following the 2001 elections, after which the name entered into common use. In this sense, the appellation seems to refer specifically to an opposition alliance that includes Islah”103.

  • 104  For details see Carapico, Wedeen, andWuerth, 2002, Schwedler (2006) p. 212, and Browers, op. cit. (...)

52Thus, 1997 marks the first visible rupture vis à vis the coalition with the ruling party and the formation of an opposition that in 2001 appears to be developing and that in 2002 is strengthened by the approach of YSP number two Jâr Allâh ‘Umar and Islah. In 2002 ‘Umar was assassinated after delivering a speech at an Islah party conference that marked the commitment of the two parties to join forces for common concerns. The conditions under which ‘Umar was assassinated remained unclear and mutual accusations circulated about the responsibility of the crime: members of Islah accused the GPC of being behind the assassination, intended to deteriorate the relations among the opposition. Conversely, GPC members accused Islah of being behind the murder blaming ‘Umar’s killer of being an islâ/hî activist104.

53Following these events, in 2003 the JMP coalition participated for the first time in parliamentary elections and in the 2006 elections presented Fay/sal bin Shamlân as their candidate for presidency. Although the JMP did not win the election, it appeared to be gaining support, especially since the ruling party obtained 77.2% of the votes, which showed that the JMP’s voters successfully reduced /Sâli/h’s proportion of the votes as compared to the previous election.

  • 105  Yemen Times, “The roots of protest: prior elections impact future polls,” November 22, 2003. Read (...)

54Subsequent to the 2006 elections, GPC and JMP engaged in a dialogue based on the recommendations made by the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission about the way elections were to be held. EU recommendations included ensuring transparent vote counting, enforcement of elections law, media fairness, and improving voter register and electoral law. Specific reforms included prohibiting voters from registering an employment address as a domicile of record (an important limitation considering the size of Yemen’s military); and neutrality in terms of the use of state owned media and public budget. JMP members also insisted on having access to a soft copy of the voter registry, which in 2006 contained hundreds of thousands of underage and duplicate registrations105. As a result of this process, the JMP started to advocate for the adoption of a list or proportional representation system of election, in opposition to the “first past the post” or majority electoral system currently in use in Yemen.

  • 106  In order to read a description of these protests and demonstrations as they occurred throughout se (...)

55Given the refusal of the government to change a system that has long benefited it, the JMP boycotted parliamentary sessions during July 2008. Consequently, the GPC dominated parliament passed legislation without implementing any electoral reforms as requested by the JMP and blaming the opposition coalition for the failure of consensus. In August, /Sâli/h selected the members of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendums (SCER) without counting with the JMP. In turn, the JMP called for a boycott of the registration process. Registration started in November, triggering numerous protests and demonstrations, which ended in detentions, clashes with security forces, and killings106.

  • 107  Yemen Times, “Opposition confirms election boycott,” February 15, 2009.

56As JMP official statements denounced, “the government and its ruling party seized finances belonging to al-Ba‘ath party, imposed a complete prohibition on al-/Haqq party, fired members of the opposition from their jobs and aimed to conduct elections amid dangerous national splits in the country, including problems in the south and consequences of the Saada war”107.

  • 108  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.
  • 109  Yemen Times, “Elections postponed,” February 25, 2009.

57During the last months of what Poirier has called an “escalating rhetoric”108, the JMP maintained its boycott and declared elections would be illegal if held without any contesting political force to the GPC. The GPC on its side, threatened that elections would take place with or without the JMP. In late February 2009, less than two months prior to the scheduled date, both parties reached an agreement in which elections were postponed until 2011 and a tentative plan to reform the electoral system was set in action. The agreement also included conducting political reforms, the most important of which were constitutional amendments, the formation of a new SCER, amending the election law and reviewing voter registration. Further, the agreement included the two-chamber system, which meant that members of both parliament and the Majlis al-Shûrâ would be elected109.

  • 110  Recorded from Sultân Al-‘Atwânî, secretary general of the Nasserist party and JMP speaker, at the (...)
  • 111  Sultân al-Barkânî, the GPC parliamentary bloc's secretary general, speech pronounced at the confer (...)

58This agreement was seen by members of the JMP present at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party, held in March 2009, “as an opportunity to reform the constitution and laws, and to develop the political system as a whole; an opportunity for the nation and for reform, an opportunity to choose”110. The GPC has also insisted on this perception of the postponement of the elections as an opportunity “not for the GPC, JMP, parliament members, etc, but an opportunity for civil society”111. It is at the crossroads of this political moment that the country now is.

  • 112  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.

59The contentious dynamic led by what has been analyzed as the reformist and modernist group inside Islah, has overall led the party to join an opposition coalition that throughout the years has managed to propose a possibility for political change. This possibility has proven more plausible regarding recent events in which the boycott maintained by the JMP led to a postponement of the elections and an agreement with the government to begin reforms of the electoral system. As Poirier has pointed out, “after more than two years of contentious debate between the two parties concerning the reform of the electoral system”, the joint statement that the opposition and government reached “would appear to draw Yemen out of its interparty crisis for the time being, constituting an apparent victory for the opposition”112.

  • 113  Carapico, 2003, op. cit. It must be noted that the results of this boycott were unsuccessful.     

60The support to the boycott has contributed to differentiating this dynamic as a contentious one, although it has not provided a case of innovative repertoires or collective actions. In this sense, the use of the boycott as a resource of contention has been previously present in Yemeni politics: for instance and as stated by Carapico, the Socialists, marginalized by the temporary GPC-Islah alliance that dominated national politics in the mid-1990s, boycotted the 1997 parliamentary elections and urged voters to follow suit113. The dynamic here developed does not serve as a case of change in the characteristics that shape contention as it did the VVA case in the previous dynamic. Notwithstanding it does provide episodes, such as the boycott, that reinforce and consolidate the mechanisms taking place inside this dynamic, rendering it increasingly coherent.

  • 114  Interview quoted.

61In any case, the limits and possibilities that will confront or advance this dynamic led by Islah’s modernist wing and the coalition it is part of, the JMP, remain to be seen especially in light of the continuous contention led by al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî. As Ra’ûfa /Hasan stated, it is possible to think that “only if al-Zindânî and his group make their own political party and “leave Islah in peace,” will Islah have the opportunity to really grow into a good (opposition) candidate”114.

Two projects of reform, one possibility of division?

  • 115  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 205

62The Islah Party has long been a recurrent site for researchers in political science and area studies amongst other reasons because, as Schwedler has written, “Islah is a microcosm of the broader field of Islamist politics in Yemen”115. The usefulness of this pluralism as it coexists inside a single party has also served to illustrate internal democratic workings. In a world in which the media has long essentialized Islamist activism and mobilization, reducing it to inflexible and rather radical ways of performing sociopolitical claims, it appears crucial to disentangle and rework such orientalist productions of knowledge. In this light, this article aimed at fleshing out and at rendering these dynamics problematic, not with the intention of presenting the party as an irreconcilable site of contention, and neither as part of a pluralist dialogue coexisting inside Islah. Party members, as an example of democratic practices, often defend this pluralist dialogue. This article neither tried to defend such line of thought, for though it may be relatively true, it also obscures a reality that is far more complex than that. In this sense, “democratic pluralist practices” need to be approached with nuance, for it is also true that in this case dialogue is most of the time an imposition and not a choice which is apparent in the two dynamics discussed. Pluralist practices thus appeared as forced or imposed rather than chosen so as to extend democracy inside the party.

63The contentious politics approach as applied to this case, fleshes out an important fact: the existence of different projects of reform inside Islah, which despite the efforts made by party members to present them as examples of pluralistic practices, are notwithstanding contending projects that search for opposite ideas of change. Furthermore, this approach enables to demonstrate that changes are happening inside the repertoires of action, as illustrated by the VVA case.

  • 116  Ibid, 2006, p. 180.

64In the first dynamic, the contention performed by al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar father and son shared the idea of a reform project based on an Islamist worldview and, at the same time, the necessity to maintain an alliance with President /Sâli/h. However, they differ in the sense that al-Zindânî’s project is based on a radical Islamist worldview, perhaps the most rigid of the party’s main leaders. In the case of ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar his reform project is based on an Islamist worldview which locates sharia at the center of reform projects but that shares more with Muslim Brotherhood perspectives than those of al-Zindânî116. In the case of the second dynamic, the reform defined by the members of the modernist wing inside Islah together with the JMP, is a project based not on an Islamist worldview, although not in contradiction to it, but in search of a reform that would provoke a change in governmental power. They thus seek political change through reform, rather than revolution of the political system.

  • 117  Ibid, p. 179.
  • 118  Phillips, op. cit., p. 139, note 4.
  • 119  Ibid, p. 195.

65These two projects of reform, groups of actors, repertoires, individual and collective actions, performances, and trajectories, amount to two distinctive dynamics that contend the cohesiveness of the party although not its unity (at least so far). Until today, these contentious dynamics inside Islah have not provoked the division of the party. In the case of al-Zindânî, the rest of the party has been powerless to challenge him and has instead sought to keep him at arm’s length117. A similar case is that of ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar, head of the tribal confederation in Yemen from which /Sâli/h himself hailed and without which the political system cannot be understood nor maintained. As Phillips argued, the conservative group inside Islah as well as the tribal stream have seen their weight considerably diminished since 2007118. In this sense, their latest actions might be considered as a reaction to this loss of weight / influence and a way to prove that if put aside, they will react. In addition to this, the actors leading this dynamic cannot be expelled from the party due to the position they occupy in the power relations upon which the Yemeni republican system is based since the past thirty years. More importantly, in a country were elections seem to be a “performance of power” rather than a contest, Islah tries not to be completely outside of power119. Dividing the party through a separation of this dynamic could provoke such thing.

66As for the second dynamic, the idea of division is more complex: the actors that led the trend and pushed towards a coalition of opposition did demarcate themselves from groups like al-Zindânî’s and al-A/hmar’s. However, they did so without a break from the party but rather including it inside an opposition coalition. Consequently, this dynamic has somehow divided positions at the same time that it has pushed for a reform framed within the coalition Islah is part of. The Islah Party thus continued to be internally un-cohesive but externally united.

Islah’s dynamics through the lens of the contentious politics approach

67In order to sharpen the contrast between the two dynamics studied in this article, it is possible to summarize the two major repertoires of action specific to these dynamics: a parochial and patronized repertoire in the case of the first dynamic leading towards the support to /Sâli/h’s regime, and an autonomous repertoire in the instance of the second dynamic leading towards the opposition to /Sâli/h’s regime.

68Tilly, in reference to eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century European repertoires, defines these two repertoires of collective action as follows:

    • 120  Tilly, 1981, p. 6.

    Performances in a repertoire that is described as parochial and patronized involve120:

  • People’s frequent employment of the authorities’ normal means of actions;

  • Common appearance of participants as members or representatives of constituted corporate groups and communities rather than of special interests;

  • A tendency to appeal to powerful patrons for redress of wrongs and especially, for representation vis à vis outside authorities;

  • Extensive use of authorized public celebrations and assemblies for the presentation of grievances and demands;

  • Repeated adoption of rich, irreverent symbolism in the form of effigies, dumb show, and ritual objects to state grievances and demands;

  • Convergence on the residences of wrongdoers and the sites of wrongdoing, as opposed to seats and symbols of public power.

  • 121  I leave aside this case study because it represents a change in this repertoire of contention and (...)

69In the case of the first contentious dynamic led by al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar and leaving aside the case of the VVA121, their repertoire involved a frequent employment of the authorities’ (the government’s) normal means of action, that is public speeches and rhetoric of support to /Sâli/h, individual actions and more or less explicit performances of support. Also, both al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar’s appearances and individual actions to support /Sâli/h and contradictory to the party’s role as an opposition party, are depicted as individual acts although symbolically they attach the action to the leader of a tribal confederation for al‑A/hmar and to a religious figure for al-Zindânî. For them as well as for the government, wrongdoers and the sites of wrongdoing have always converged: for instance, the “impious southern socialists.” Finally, the patronized relation existent specifically between the President and the former Shaykh of the /Hâshid tribal confederation, but also his relation with al-Zindânî, has been largely explicated in the previous pages.

  • 122  Tilly, 1981, p. 7.

70As for what Tilly calls national and autonomous repertoire, it shows these tendencies122:

  • The employment of relatively autonomous means of action, of a kind rarely or never employed by authorities;

  • Frequent appearance of special interests and named associations or pseudo‑associations;

  • Direct challenges to rivals or authorities, especially national authorities and their representatives, rather than appeals to patrons;

  • Deliberate organization of assemblies for the articulation of claims;

  • Display of programs, slogans, signs of common membership;

  • Preference for action in visible public places.

71The second dynamic’s repertoire includes the employment of relatively autonomous means of action not utilized by authorities, such as an opposition platform or the use of the boycott as a means of action. The appearance of special interest associations can be here translated into the creation of a party, like the JMP, where the actors of this dynamic played an important role in its establishment. This dynamic’s repertoire, through the JMP platform, directly challenges the authorities, namely the government. Assemblies and party congresses are organized in public places in order to articulate the JMP’s claims, and of course there are party programs, slogans and signs of common membership for JMP’s members and I/slâ/hîs among them.  

  • 123  Cohen and Rai, 2000, p. 15.
  • 124  Ibid.

72Within these contentious repertoires and adapting Tilly’s notions to contemporary forms of mobilization, Cohen and Rai have added a third type of repertoire: the transnational and solidaristic repertoire. Following the parochial and patronized repertoire that developed between 1650 and 1850, and the national and autonomous repertoire between 1850 and 1980, Cohen and Rai argue “with the shifts of loyalties, identities and senses of place and the development of transnational communities has emerged a new transnational political repertoire”123. The forms of protest that are associated to this repertoire are marked by a transnational solidarity such as “Earth/Women’s summits or international consumer boycotts”124. The dynamics studied in this article do not appear to evolve or change into this third type of repertoire although further research in this direction could be conducted, specially in order to analyze the transnational and solidaristic dimension of the Islamist networks that connect Muslim Brotherhood members in the region.

  • 125  TillyandTarrow, 2006, appendix B, p. 214.
  • 126  Ibid, p. 214-215.
  • 127  Carapico, 2003.

73Finally, applying Tilly, Tarrow and McAdam’s approach helps to understand the mechanisms and processes present throughout the historical trajectory of this party and its dynamics. Mechanisms as understood by Tilly are “events that produce the same immediate effects over a wide range of circumstances. Processes assemble mechanisms into combinations and sequences that produce larger-scale effects than any particular mechanism causes by itself”125. Some of the mechanisms126 at work and scattered throughout this article are boundary formation (the creation of an us-them distinction, which is present between the GPC-Islah coalition in opposition to the Socialists until the marginalization of Islah from this coalition after 1994); boundary shift (change in the persons or identities on one side or the other of an existing boundary, as in the case of the aforementioned coalition and also for Islah’s rivalry with Socialists and its later alliance with them); brokerage (production of a new connection between previously unconnected sites as in the case of the Islah-YSP connection through the JMP); deflection (exit of a political actor from a previously effective coalition, which in a sense is what is happening to al-A/hmar and al-Zindânî in relation to the JMP platform that Islah is part of); and repression (action by authorities that increases the cost of an actor’s claim making, which it has been present since 1994 as the GPC has increasingly marginalized all parties establishing a one-party quasi-democracy127). Lastly, the mechanism that is more present throughout the entire article is co-optation (incorporation of a previously excluded political actor into some center of power), which appears in numerous instances: in 1990 during the unification, after the 1994 war as the GPC gave high positions to Islah, in the relationship that exists between /Sâli/h and al-A/hmar and the latter’s position as speaker of the parliament, and in the case exemplified by the VVA.

  • 128  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit. p. 215-217.

74The processes128 discussed in this article are also numerous: actor constitution (emergence of a new or transformed political actor, a recognizable set of people who carry on collective actions, making and/or receiving contentious claims as the VVA attempted to do); coalition formation (creation of new, visible, and direct coordination of claims between two or more previously distinct actors, as the JMP platform exemplifies); collective action (all coordinating efforts on behalf of shared interests or programs, as it explicitly happens in the two dynamics studied); competition (pursuit of outcomes in mutually exclusive ways as for the two dynamics); contention (making claims that bear on someone else’s interests, which is what each dynamic performs); coordinated claims (two or more actors, like in the VVA or in the JMP, parallel making of claims on the same object); dedemocratization (the government’s move away from relatively broad, equal, and protected binding consultation of the government’s subjects with respect to governmental resources, personnel and policies); and escalation (displacement of moderate goals and tactics by more extreme goals and tactics, as it happened between JMP and GPC in relation to the 2009 election). Finally, the last process that seems to be taking place is polarization or increasing ideological distance between political actors or coalitions, which appears to be happening between the two dynamics studied in this article.

75The varied mechanisms and processes demonstrated throughout this article amount to two contentious dynamics here studied and a change in one of the sites of contention (the VVA case). Taking all this into account, we seem to be in front of an outcome: the shaping in a new manner of the characteristics of contention inside Islah as an opposition party.

Conclusion: contentious dynamics for change or changes to maintain the status quo?

76Keeping in mind that political formations such as parties are characterized by being sites where ideas and projects tend to be ideally related by contentious practices, this article aimed at pointing out one of the parties that conform the Yemeni political landscape and that exemplify these contentious dynamics. Furthermore, the above pages tried to stress the contentious character of pluralistic practices, the limits of that very “pluralism”, and the elasticity of an un-cohesive unity in the case of the Islah Party.

77The dynamics here studied have pushed for opposite projects of reform generating a lack of coherence inside the party but without provoking its division. In this sense, the party has been forced to deal with its own internal un-cohesiveness so as to maintain an external unity. What is of great interest is that the unity of the party has not been only tested from the outside (for instance during elections), but also and particularly it has been questioned from inside. Given that division does not appear as a possible outcome of these tensions and dynamics, it is possible to imagine that each dynamic will continue to test the limits of the party’s unity. It remains to be seen if the party will be able to maintain a solid opposition inside the JMP platform despite the contentious dynamics that coexist inside it. It is likely that until Islah does not present both an internal and an external unity, it will not be able to propose and win a possible change in power. Contentious dynamics are definitely provoking changes inside the party, but they might also render more difficult for Islah to propose a viable alternative to the ruling party.  

Reformist, salafi and tribal members seating together at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party. Among them, a member of the ruling GPC. From right to left shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar, shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî, /Sâdiq Amîn Abû Ra's (GPC Assistant Secretary General for Regulatory Affairs  and Deputy Minister of Interior), and shaykh Hamîd al-A/hmar. March 2009, Sana’a.

Reformist, salafi and tribal members seating together at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party. Among them, a member of the ruling GPC. From right to left shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar, shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî, /Sâdiq Amîn Abû Ra's (GPC Assistant Secretary General for Regulatory Affairs  and Deputy Minister of Interior), and shaykh Hamîd al-A/hmar. March 2009, Sana’a.

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî and shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party.

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî and shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party.

President of Islah, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî speaking about the JMP coalition and Islah at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party held in March 2009, Sana’a.

President of Islah, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî speaking about the JMP coalition and Islah at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party held in March 2009, Sana’a.

Amat al-Salâm Rajâ’a, head of Islah’s Women’s Committee, speaking about women’s political participation in the party.

Amat al-Salâm Rajâ’a, head of Islah’s Women’s Committee, speaking about women’s political participation in the party.

Women’s section at the conference.

Women’s section at the conference.

 Poster in support of shaykh Mu/hammad al-Mû’aîd, who was kidnapped and delivered to the US under the accusation of support to terrorism. He returned to Yemen during the summer of 2009.

 Poster in support of shaykh Mu/hammad al-Mû’aîd, who was kidnapped and delivered to the US under the accusation of support to terrorism. He returned to Yemen during the summer of 2009.
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Notes

1  In this regard and as pointed out by Seiler, 2001, “from an etymological point of view, the word ‘party’ and its different translations such as ‘parti’, ‘partido’, ‘partito’, ‘partei’, ‘partia’ in Russian or Polish and ‘part’ in Hungarian, they all derive from a French verb that today no longer exists: ‘partir’, which meant to ‘make parts’. This meaning implied in a very clear manner the action of dividing any given totality. The concept of ‘party’always refers to division and thus to conflict, which explains the lack of popularity that was initially attached to parties” p. 6.  

2  TillyandCastañeda, 2007, p. 39.

3  Tilly defines repertoire (social movement repertoire) as the employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering. Tilly, 2004, p. 3. It must be also noted that as Tilly stresses “the notion of repertoire is a simplifying model. It incorporates a sense of regularity, order, and deliberate choice into conflict; the model may well appear to leave no room for anger, drunkenness, spontaneity, and the pleasure of a good whack at an enemy’s shins. In my sketch, it makes little allowance for variation by time, place, and social group, and implies neat, rapid, comprehensive transitions from one limited set of forms to the next. All that sounds hopelessly unrealistic.” He further adds: “In its weakest version, the notion of repertoire is simply a metaphor to remind us that routines become recognizable to participants as well as to observers, and have something of an independent story. In its strongest version, the notion of repertoire amounts to an hypothesis of deliberate choice by contenders among well-defined alternative modes of action, with both the available alternatives and the choices contenders make among them changing continuously as a consequence of the outcomes of previous actions. In its intermediate version, the notion of repertoire states a model in which the accumulated experience of contenders interacts with the strategies of authorities to make limited number of forms of action more feasible, attractive, and frequent than many others which could, in principle, serve the same interests.” Tilly, 1981, p. 9-10.  

4  Sites of contention are human settings that serve as originators, objects, and/or arenas of contentious politics. Sites may be human individuals, but they also include informal networks, organizations, neighborhoods, professions, trades, and other settings of social life. Each kind of site has its own peculiarities. TillyandTarrow, 2006, p. 202-203.

5  Brackets are mine.

6  TillyandCastañeda, op. cit.p. 39.

7 Lipset and Rokkan (Ed.), 1967. Lipset and Rokkan explain that there are four cleavages product of critical episodes in history (such as the French, the Industrial or the Russian revolution). These cleavages are (a) the central nation-building culture and the increasing resistance of populations in the peripheries; (b) the centralizing nation-state versus the corporate privileges of the church; c) landed interests and industrial entrepreneurs and d) employers and workers. Lipset and Rokkan suggest that the institutionalization of these conflicts resulted in parties, yet how these cleavages translated into parties is not entirely clear.

8 Tilly and Castañeda, op. cit. Episodes are explained as “bounded sequences of continuous interaction, usually produced by an investigator’s chopping up longer streams of contention into segments for purposes of systematic observation, comparison, and explanation. Example: We might compare successive petition drives of antislavery activists in Great Britain (each drive counting as a single episode) over the twenty years after 1785, thus not only seeing how participants in one drive learned from the previous drive but also documenting how the movement as a whole evolved”, p. 43.

9  Interview held with ‘Abd Allâh Sa’tar, president of the Social Welfare Committee and member of the Majlis al-Shûrâ in the Islah Party, November 4, 2008, Sanaa.

10  The parties that compose the JMP are: the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah), the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the Popular Nasserite Unity Organization (PNUO), the National Socialist Arab Ba‘ath Party, the Union of Popular Forces (UPF) and the al-/Haqq Party (both Zaydi-oriented parties).

11  Although other contentious dynamics might exist inside Islah, this paper will focus on the two dynamics selected. In light of this, this paper will leave aside personalities that also contend the party in different ways, for instance Hamîd al-A/hmar who could be situated at the center of a hybrid dynamic in terms of his tribal links and family allegiance to the President, and his role in the opposition JMP. Hamîd al-A/hmar is one of the sons of Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar. He is also a businessman and an Islah MP since 1993. Since 2006 he has been playing an important role inside the JMP coalition and the National Consultation Meeting, launched in 2008 by the JMP in order to have their own national dialogue platform. This possible third dynamic remains in this paper as a proposal for further research.

12  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit., p. 204.

13  Expression borrowed from Browers, 2007.

14  The YAR was established in 1962 through a military coup against a theocratic state ruled by a hereditary line of Zaydi Imams. Egypt played an important role in this coup as it intervened in Yemen against royalists that were backed by Saudi Arabia.  

15  The PDRY was established in 1967, when the British troops withdrew from the port of Aden giving place to the birth of the People’s Republic of South Yemen (PRSY), which in 1970 adopted a Marxist orientation and became the People Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

16  Political Action Program of the Yemeni Islah Party, Draft for the Yemeni Republic, p. 5. Undated.

17  Wiktorowicz, 2004, p. 210. For further reading refer to Burgat and Sbitli, 2003, p. 47-67.  

18  As argued by Burgat and Sbitli, the idea of reform among the Yemenis that were influenced by /Hasan al-Banna’s thought, (which was diffused in Yemen by his personal emissary al-Fudhayl al-Wartilânî, who arrived in 1947), dates back to the project of reform that nourished the Free Yemeni Movement at the time of the imamate. The reforms supported by the Egyptian Muslim Brothers were at the core of the constitutional revolution of 1948, which was the first organized attempt to end both the isolationism and the absolutism of the Zaydi imamate in order to establish a constitutional monarchy. The influence of Muslim Brothers in dynamics of political modernization continued despite the failure of this attempt. It is in this light that “an ideology close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood anchored the republican modernization to the destiny of contemporary Yemen.” Furthermore, the presence of Muslim Brothers among the numerous Egyptian teachers sent to Yemen after the Egyptian retreat in 1967 was a major element in the dynamic of political modernization that took place after the civil war between royalists and republicans. This presence determined the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Yemen, although the establishment of a proper party remains unclear. Burgat and Sbitli, op. cit., p. 58, 66-67.

19  Interview held with Nâsir Yahyâ, September 8, 2008, and with ‘Abd Allâh Sa‘tar, op. cit., November 2008.

20  In relation to how the party is externally described Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî, member of the parliament and a founding member of Islah, stressed “people outside Islah wants us to stay rigid, but we change and have changed following the needs of the country (…). That is why we gather different ideas inside one party.” Interview held on March 18, 2009, Sanaa.

21  Interview with Nâsir Yahyâ, Ibid.

22  Phillips, 2008, p. 51.

23  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 70.

24  Browers, op. cit., p. 566. Schwedler’s work referred by Browers is Schwedler, 2006.

25  Yemen’s tribal system is dominated by two main tribes, the /Hâshid and the Bakîl. For a more detailed analysis of tribes in Yemen refer to Dresch, 1989 and Dresch andHaykel, 1995, p. 406.

26  In 1982, when the GPC was created, Shaykh al-A/hmar was appointed to the permanent council of this party, Cf. BonnefoyandPoirier, 2010.

27  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 67.

28  Ibid, p. 64.

29  Burgat, 2003.

30  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.

31  “Unlike al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar, Islah leaders al-Yadûmî, Qa/htân, and al-Anisî are each referred to not as “shaykh” in Islah party documents, but as “professors” (asâtidha), signifying their status as party intellectuals rather than as religious authorities or spiritual guides. The shaykh-professor distinction may indicate a juxtaposition of “traditional” and “modern” as well.” Browers, op. cit., p. 575 and p. 585.

32  The Islah Party re-elected al-Yadûmî as successor to Shaykh al-A/hmar in the presidency of the party during the second part of the Fourth Conference of the Islah Party, held on March 12, 2009. Yemen Times, March 16, 2009.

33  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.

34  Browers, op. cit.

35  Salafism developed during the beginning of 1980s around the figure of Shaykh Muqbil bin Hâdî al-Wâdi‘î, whom established his institute Dâr al-hadîth in the region of Saada, a Zaydi historical cradle from where he was from. The adherence to Salafism is characterized by a rigid interpretation of Islamic texts, a succinct practice, a reject of political participation, a submission to the State and to the power holder, and a critique of other political or religious streams, such as Muslim Brothers, Sufis, Ismailis, and Zaydis. Bonnefoy, 2008 (a), p. 201‑215. Some Salafis are also called Wahhabis because of their ties to Saudi Arabia. They are considered to be more conservative than Brotherhood members, particularly concerning pluralism and the role of women. Schwedler, 2002, p. 48-55. Also see Bonnefoy, in (Ed.) Rougier, 2008 (b).

36  Phillips, op. cit., p. 138.

37 Ahmad Al-Yamanî, 2003, p. 51.

38  Phillips, 2008, quoting Schwedler, p. 54.

39  Ibid, Phillips is here quoting Saif.

40  Namely four: center-periphery, church-state, land-industry and capitalists-workers.

41  Church-State may be adapted as Islam-state, center-periphery by Arabism-decentralism, capitalists-workers does not pose any problems, and land-industry by totalitarian parties and liberal parties. Baduel, 1996, p. 28‑29.

42  Camau andGeisser, 2002, p. 242.

43  Catusse and Karam note this specifically when dealing with political parties from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen, in Catusse and Karam, 2010, p. 21.

44  This argument is developed in the following pages.

45  In this respect founding member of the party Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî explains “we called it ‘congregation’ because we meant by this to gather different parts of Yemeni society: the political, social, cultural and religious sectors of society. We created this congregation to fight for reform in a pacific way. This idea was also the one embraced by older reformists, the old reformist movement, who started a new movement so as to achieve freedom and peaceful change of power.”  Interview quoted.

46  This trap first described by Sartori, 1994 (in which “conceptual stretching” tends to be used to encompass realities that are far from being the same thus voiding them from their real meaning), engaged by Seiler, 2001, and questioned by Catusse, 2006, points out to the necessity to better approach the definition of political parties in Arab countries, which in the Yemeni case would need to be developed and would thus require another space than the one provided by this article.

47  Tilly, 1981, p. 4.

48  SchwedlerandClark, 2006.

49  President /Sâli/h’s GPC won 121, and the YSP obtained 56 seats. DreschandHaykel, op. cit., p. 406.

50  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16. Three members of the GPC and two socialists previously formed this council.

51 Ibid.

52 Burgat,op. cit .

53 Browers,op. cit. p. 559.

54  Phillips, op. cit. p. 142.

55  Wedeen, inAl-RasheedandVitalis, (eds.), 2004, p. 252.

56  National Democratic Institute (ndi), Report on the 2006 elections in Yemen, p. 8.

57  Browers, op. cit. p. 571.

58  Ibid, p. 570.

59  Phillips, op. cit., p. 143.

60  Browers, op. cit., p. 578.

61  Fay/sal bin Shamlân held the post of minister of public works and transports in South Yemen in 1967. Between 1971 and 1990 he was deputy for the Higher People’s Council (PDRY’s parliament). Elected in 1993 and 1997, has been an independent member of the parliament in unified Yemen, and he held the post of Oil and Mineral Resources minister between 1994 and 1995, when he resigned in order to protest against corruption in the parliament. As Bonnefoy and Poirier clarify in relation to the ideological imaginary attached to Shamlân, “Islah’s Islamists found in Shamlân a means to overcome leadership conflicts that divide the Islah party. Shamlân is also identified with the Muslim Brotherhood for in 1990 he participated to the establishment of the Free Yemeni Platform (al-Minbar al-Yamanî al-Hurr) considered as the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood in the South of the country. Later on Shamlân returned to the political arena as an independent candidate.”, op. cit. p. 19.

62  Opposition parties refused to accept the vote result, alleging that /Sâli/h won only 68.86% of votes, not 77.17%, Yasser Al-Mayasi, “Salih wins another term, Opposition criticizes results”, Yemen Times, September 25‑27, 2006.

63  The core of the dispute concerned the aborted reform of the electoral system and the electoral commission. See Poirier, 2009, in particular the reproduction of the escalating rhetoric between the ruling and the opposition parties.

64  Detalle, 1996, p. 333 and p. 335. It must be noted that the shaykh’s father and brother were decapitated by the Imam. The “debt” is that of the tribe’s allegiance to the republic, especially after the war and the corrective movement that aimed at repressing leftists and ensuring a more conservative orientation in the construction of the Republic.

65 Schewdler, 2006, op. cit. p. 70.

66 Ibid.

67  Browers, op. cit. p. 568.

68 Bonnefoy and Poirier, op. cit. p. 3.

69  The Scientific Institutes developed during the 1970s as a way to create a parallel school system financed by Saudi Arabia and initially conceived so as to fight the socialist ideological offensive in the border regions with the Marxist Southern Yemen. These institutes relayed on the stress of Sunni sources and the prophetic tradition, that is, an Islam out of a specific context and depending on certain popular traditions perceived as more authentically Yemeni and expressing a certain cultural and religious diversity. Bonnefoy, 2008 (a), p. 205.  

70  As Tilly notes, repertoires have several different levels: action, performance, campaign and array of performances. TILLY, 1995, p. 43.

71  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 176.

72  Ibid, see p. 180 and p. 185 in relation to these two positions towards democracy.

73  Ibid, p 61-62.

74  Ibid, p. 61. The work cited by Schwedler is Carapico, 1998.

75  Ibid, p. 104. Nine posts were given to Islah’s members. Al-Anisî was promoted to First Deputy Minister.

76  A Web site of the Yemeni Defence Ministry reported that the US request was part of a letter from US ex‑president, George W. Bush, addressed to President ‘Alî ‘Abd Allâh /Sâli/h, but did not note whether the US asked Yemen to hand in al-Zindânî or just hold him in Yemen. The US also expressed objection for including al-Zindânî in the Yemeni delegation accompanying President /Sâli/h to the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the end of 2005. The letter noted that al-Zindânî is among those accused by the United Nations of financing terror, noting that he is not allowed to travel and that including him in an official delegation is considered as a violation of UN resolutions. Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), 23 November, 2006.

77  Hassan Al-Zaidi, “al-Zindânî: My reservation is due to security and intelligence factors,” The Yemen Times, November 28, 2006, Issue 775, Volume 13.

78  This is also a strategically challenging position for /Sâli/h, who has to deal with US’s demands at the same time that he keeps al-Zindânî in Yemen and next to him in terms of power despite the fact that he represents a threat to the US.

79 Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 113.

80 Browers,op. cit. p. 582.

81  Poirier, 2008, p. 140.

82  Browers, Ibid.

83  Document from the Virtue Authority, Multaqâ al-fa/dîla al-awwal li ‘ulamâ wa mashâyikh wa wujahâ’ al-Yaman (First Virtue meeting for ulemas, shaykhs et notables of Yemen), June, 2008.

84  ‘Abduh Maktaf, “Multaqâ’ al-Fa/dîla yantakhib al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî ra’îsân lil-hay’a,” al-Shaqâ’iq magazine, number 153, 2008.

85  Mohammed Al-Kibsi, “Vice and Virtue Committee elects its leadership,” Yemen Observer, August 12, 2008.

86  Document from the Virtue Authority, 2008, op. cit.

87 Risâla ‘ulama al-Yaman bi-sha’n al-kûtâ al-nisâ’iyya, 2008.

88  As one of the daughters of al-Zindânî noted “This is not the first fatwa against women’s political participation. Additionally, my father wanted to create another “majlis” only for women and requested this to the government. It was a better system than what we have now and also we need to remember that in the West women are only minorities in the parliaments and political institutions.” Interview with Asmâ’ al-Zindânî, August 15, 2006, Sanaa. In relation to other fatwas issued on the same subject, Tawakkul Karmân, head of Women Journalists Without Chains (Munazzamat Sahafiyât bilâ quyûd) and member of Islah’s majlis al-shûrâ denounced that several other fatwas have been issued and no one has spoken about them, “people only listened to al-Zindânî but they should read what other ulamas have published and demand the ulamas authority to react in relation to this. The problem is not the fatwa but the lack of a political decision from the government that does not give a real opportunity to women.” Interview with Tawakkul Karmân, September 1, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in the Yemen Observer series “Women respond to the Vice and Virtue Committee,” Part III, September 13, 2008.  

89  Following a report from the Women National Committee, the Islah Party ranked first in women’s participation in the higher positions of the party, the ruling party, the GPC, ranked second and the Socialist Party third. 8 women out of 13 men in Islah are members of the General Secretariat; 13 women out of 150 men are members of the Consultative Council; and 140 women our out 273 men are members of the Supreme Authority in the Governorates. In comparison to these numbers, 5 women out of 37 men are members of the General Committee at the GPC; 89 women out of 886 men are members of the Permanent Committee; 66 women out of 198 men are members at the Supreme Authority in the Governorates and 1230 women out of 3280 men are members at the Supreme Authority in the Direction of the party. Women National Committee: Wad’ al-mar’â fî al-Yaman, 2007, p. 103.  

90  Interview with the author, November 5, 2008, Sanaa.

91  Several journalists, analysts and politicians have suggested this possibility, such as Farouk al-Salihi, “Al‑Zindânî’s new authority: a spoiler or split in the Islah party?”, Yemen Times, August 4-6, 2008 ; Hooria Mashoor and Tawakkul Karmân (interviewed in August and September 2008); and politicians from the Islah Party as quoted by Nasir Arrabyee, “Rescuing Yemen from drowning in vice,” Yemen Observer, July 16, 2008, and Ambassador Mustafa Ahmad al-Nu‘mân, “Between religion and politics”, Yemen Times, August 11‑13, 2008. Finally, this possibility was presented even before the Virtue Authority held its first conference, through the JMP’s statement rejecting the Virtue Authority and stating that “The formation of the Vice and Virtue Committee should not conceal the real political intentions behind its formation, which aims to confuse political life in a helpless and exposed attempt to divert the attention from the corruption of the government.” Marebpress.net, July 12, 2008.

92  Even at the first conference held by the Virtue Authority on July 15, 2008, “no prominent politicians from the Islah Party attended the meeting except Shaykh al-Zindânî” said Nasir Arrabyee, op. cit. “The absence of the highly respected scholar Yasîn ‘Abd al-Azîz al-Qubâti and all Islah Party leaders from the conference is a clear and strong indicator that the idea of both, al-Zindânî and al-Dharîhi (member of Islah) faced strong opposition. The idea was labeled as a hurried action, aimed at creating an atmosphere of animosity between members of Yemeni society,” wrote Mustafa Ahmad al-Nu‘mân, op. cit.

93  Nabîl al-/Sûfî is the current editor in chief of NewsYemen.net and the monthly magazine Abwâb. Former member at the office of Communication in the Islah Party, he was member of the party’s majlis al-shûrâ during three years and editor in chief of Islah’s newspaper al-/Sa/hwa from 2000 to 2005. Interview held on September 13, 2008, Sanaa.

94  Interview with Asmâ’ al-Zindânî, August 15, 2008, Sanaa. Asmâ’al-Zindâni studied at al-Imân University and obtained her PhD in religious studies. She is a professor at this university and works on a program about dialogue between religions. As it has been previously quoted ‘Abd Allâh Sa‘tar gave a similar explanation p. 3.

95  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, professor at the University of Sanaa and head of the Cultural Development Programs Foundation, September 15, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in the Yemen Observer, September 23, 2008.

96  Interview with In/tilâq al-Mutawakkil, head of the Girls World Communication Center (Markaz al-lughât a‑l‑‘âlamiyya lil-fatayât) and English literature lecturer at the University of Sanaa. September 13, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in The Yemen Observer, September 20, 2008.

97  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, op. cit.

98  When dealing with the manner in which case study relate to the comparative method, Sartori refers to Eckstein and Lijphart’s five types of case study: 1) configurative-idiographic (Eckstein), 2) interpretative (Lijphart), 3) hypothesis-generating (Lijphart), 4) crucial (Eckstein), that is, theory-confirming or disconfirming (Lijphart) and 5) deviant (Lijphart). Sartori, 1991, p. 251-252.

99  Tilly, 1981, p. 10.

100  McAdam, TarrowandTilly, 2001, p. 7-8.

101  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16-17

102  Ibid, p. 18.

103  Browers, op. cit., p. 569.

104  For details see Carapico, Wedeen, andWuerth, 2002, Schwedler (2006) p. 212, and Browers, op. cit. p. 573.  

105  Yemen Times, “The roots of protest: prior elections impact future polls,” November 22, 2003. Read also the Final Report for the Presidential and Local Council Elections 20 September 2006, published by the European Union Election Observation Mission.  

106  In order to read a description of these protests and demonstrations as they occurred throughout several governorates of the country, refer to Yemen Times, “Protests against voter registration process in many governorates,” November 19, 2008.  

107  Yemen Times, “Opposition confirms election boycott,” February 15, 2009.

108  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.

109  Yemen Times, “Elections postponed,” February 25, 2009.

110  Recorded from Sultân Al-‘Atwânî, secretary general of the Nasserist party and JMP speaker, at the Second Session of the 4th General Conference held by the Islah Party on March 11, 2009, Sanaa.

111  Sultân al-Barkânî, the GPC parliamentary bloc's secretary general, speech pronounced at the conference “Postponing the elections: justifications and objectives,” co-organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Political Development Forum, held on March 17, 2009, Sanaa.

112  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.

113  Carapico, 2003, op. cit. It must be noted that the results of this boycott were unsuccessful.     

114  Interview quoted.

115  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 205

116  Ibid, 2006, p. 180.

117  Ibid, p. 179.

118  Phillips, op. cit., p. 139, note 4.

119  Ibid, p. 195.

120  Tilly, 1981, p. 6.

121  I leave aside this case study because it represents a change in this repertoire of contention and as such it shows elements related to a patronized repertoire as well as elements of a more autonomous repertoire. It represents a change and thus a transition that is still not possible to define as one or another type of repertoire. Ultimately, the change seems to be happening towards an autonomous repertoire, for the VVA employed autonomous means of action (or so al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar wished to stress); they created a special interests association (the VVA); as the debate and actions described in this article showed they challenged the Islah Party and the JMP, and somehow the government as well; they assembled a great number of people in front of whom they articulated their claims, displayed programs and slogans, and they held the establishment of the authority in a public space, a conference hall in Sanaa.

122  Tilly, 1981, p. 7.

123  Cohen and Rai, 2000, p. 15.

124  Ibid.

125  TillyandTarrow, 2006, appendix B, p. 214.

126  Ibid, p. 214-215.

127  Carapico, 2003.

128  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit. p. 215-217.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Reformist, salafi and tribal members seating together at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party. Among them, a member of the ruling GPC. From right to left shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar, shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî, /Sâdiq Amîn Abû Ra's (GPC Assistant Secretary General for Regulatory Affairs  and Deputy Minister of Interior), and shaykh Hamîd al-A/hmar. March 2009, Sana’a.
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Titre Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî and shaykh /Sâdiq al-A/hmar at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/1768/img-2.png
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Titre President of Islah, professor Mu/hammad ‘Abd Allâh al-Yadûmî speaking about the JMP coalition and Islah at the Fourth General Conference of the Islah Party held in March 2009, Sana’a.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/1768/img-3.png
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Titre Amat al-Salâm Rajâ’a, head of Islah’s Women’s Committee, speaking about women’s political participation in the party.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/1768/img-4.png
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Titre Women’s section at the conference.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/1768/img-5.png
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Titre  Poster in support of shaykh Mu/hammad al-Mû’aîd, who was kidnapped and delivered to the US under the accusation of support to terrorism. He returned to Yemen during the summer of 2009.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/1768/img-6.png
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Anahi Alviso-Marino, « Contentious dynamics for sociopolitical change? », Chroniques yéménites, 16 | 2010, 57-90.

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Anahi Alviso-Marino, « Contentious dynamics for sociopolitical change? », Chroniques yéménites [En ligne], 16 | 2010, mis en ligne le 12 juillet 2010, consulté le 24 août 2017. URL : http://cy.revues.org/1768 ; DOI : 10.4000/cy.1768

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Anahi Alviso-Marino

PhD candidate at the University Paris 1 Sorbonne (France) and University of Lausanne (Switzerland), and research fellow at CEFAS (Yemen)

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