Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States: Elite Politics, Street Protests and Regional Diplomacy

Aug. 2, 2011, 5:21 p.m.

Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States: Elite Politics, Street Protests and Regional Diplomacy by Ginny Hill and Gerd Nonneman analyzes the current state of Yemen and what role the GCC states will play in stabilizing the situation there.  The GCC countries have strong ties to the region and abundant resources to help the struggling country.  Their influence is strongly shaped by elite politics and informal networks.  The current government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of its people and the country is working out how the transition will take place. However, Yemen is cautious about help offered as each country has their own incentives and motivations behind who they support, which are not always in tandem with the will of the majority of Yemenis.  The summary points provided by the paper are found below:

  • Yemen’s power structures are under great strain as the political elite struggles to adapt to nationwide grassroots demands for a more legitimate, responsive and inclusive government.

  • Dramatic political change in Yemen could lead to violent upheaval and a humanitarian crisis, against the backdrop of the country’s deteriorating economic and security conditions. It might also result in a new, more legitimate political configuration.

  • In 2010, Western governments initiated a partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to address the security risks posed by the situation in Yemen. This was based on the recognition that these states have significant financial resources, strong cultural ties to Yemen and important connections within its informal power networks.

  • Ambivalence and limited bureaucratic capacity initially constrained the Gulf states’ potential to respond strategically to instability in Yemen. However, growing domestic opposition to Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, coupled with his diminishing international support, triggered a collective GCC response in 2011 aimed at mediating a political transition.

  • Saudi Arabia maintains extensive transnational patronage networks in Yemen. Many Yemeni believe it is trying to influence the outcome of political change and that succession dynamics within the Saudi royal family are affecting the calculations of Yemeni political actors.

  • The ‘Arab Spring’ has generated reformist pressures and divergent regime responses within the Gulf monarchies themselves. This increases the complexity of the policy landscape regarding Yemen.

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