By Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
*This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” conference, January 23, 2015.
A Houthi, an Islahi and an independent Islamist walked into a bar. Okay, actually, it was a conference room. It was 2012, and these three youth leaders from rival movements stood together across from a group of similarly diverse secular youth, debating the possibility of a madani (civil) state in Yemen built on an Islamic foundation. In that moment, they were what I call Islamist republicans, more than they were Shafai or Zaydi Muslims (let alone Sunni or Shiite), or members of any particular political organization. By this I mean that they shared an ideological convergence made possible by the upheavals of 2011. That solidarity has been largely (but not entirely) eroded by events over the past two years. But in that moment, those commitments were real and sensible in the context of Yemeni politics. The erosion of the concept of Islamist republicanism in Yemen over the past two years of “transition” has troubling implications for the ability to sustain many Yemenis’ dream of a civil state.
Yemen’s current spiraling crises can be read in light of the proxies and flows of interests outside of Yemen as much as within it. This is not to say that domestic politics aren’t primary – they establish the basic terrain of conflict, without a doubt. But since 2011, Yemen’s politics have been continually negotiated by a complex (often opaque) web of actors stretching from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Tehran to Washington and London. This has entailed both qualitative and quantitative shifts in the nature of foreign interest and action in Yemen, much of it driven by anxieties over or misunderstandings of Islamic republicanism. In the face of the transitional government’s resignation on Jan. 22, it became less clear than ever who is actually in charge of what in Yemen. Continue reading on The Monkey Cage.