The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen

Are there political openings in Yemen’s neopatrimonial system? April Longley Alley addresses this question in “The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen.” In this Summer 2010 article in The Middle East Journal, Alley explains how the “rules of the game” that govern the patronage system in Yemen suggest a few opportunities for reform.

This article will be of interest to those who seek to promote reform in Yemen. It also makes a contribution to the growing literature that recognizes the importance of information institutions in the Middle East. The patronage practices that Alley describes have more influence on Yemen’s political dynamics than the formal democratic institutions in the country.

Power in Yemen is vested in President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih and the elite patronage networks that stem from him. Alley argues that the Yemeni system of patronage is inclusive: a significant number of elites are included in the system. And, almost all elites become co-opted through this process of patronage as they have significant incentives to accept the patronage that is offered them. President Salih, in turn, makes strategic decisions about what type and extent of patronage to extend to individuals based on several factors, including their loyalty to him; their popular appeal; and the need to balance tribal, regional, and family considerations.

Alley draws out some lessons for those who are interested in the possibilities of reform in Yemen. She argues that reform is difficult as elites are vested in the status quo. However, the system has become less inclusive over time: Islah, Yemen’s main opposition party, is excluded and patronage has recently been focused more tightly on the President’s family. There is also more grassroots mobilization in Yemen now, and Yemen has seen the development of economic actors who have deepened interest in the rule of law and protection of property. These factors, Alley argues, could lead to pressure on the Yemeni state for reform.

Download “The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen” from The Middle East Journal if your university has access here, or email for assistance.