Panel 5b. Elites and the Marginalised in Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Chair: Prof Madawi Al-Rasheed, LSE

Power struggles in action: What did Yemen’s elite fight for and what is left of it
Larissa Alles, University of St. Andrews

The politics of Yemen in the last two and a half decades has been characterised by highly dynamic actors but a fairly static structural system. Political structures such as parties, the parliament and bureaucratic elites awarded the political actors legitimacy in a Weberian sense when they needed it, but lacked any independent power to impact policy-making in the country’s highly personalised political system. Members of the regime dominated both the economy and the security apparatus, thus extending the context in which the elites operated. Interest of international actors was capitalised by the country’s regime members, as well as actors of the opposition, largely ignoring ‘the state’ and its population. With a high degree of interconnection, these four sectors served as the structure for elite competition and cooperation. Looking at the three cases of the southern Hirak, the wars in Sa‘da and the 2011 uprising, the paper examines how Yemen’s elites manipulated the aforementioned four fields to protect their own interests and build alliances. Yet, the fields of action also provided ground for competition for better bargaining positions inside the state’s structures, and ultimately presented constraints by the dynamics elite actors had put in place. Each of the three cases, although very different in nature, illustrates the exacerbation of power struggles among Yemen’s elite actors. Through its static nature, state structures were increasingly unable to contain these elite struggles. But did the demise of these structures leave the elites with anything to fight for?

Subaltern Rightful Struggles. The case of Yemeni marginalized.
Bogumila Hall, European University Institute, Florence

This paper, drawing on the extensive fieldwork conducted between 2010 and 2013 in shantytowns in Sana’a, Yemen aims to examine a little known case of the marginalized group in Yemen, commonly referred to as the akhdam (servants) in order to shed light on the complex reality of subaltern politics. Rooted in ‘contentious politics’ perspective, the paper has an interdisciplinary character and integrates insights and concepts from postcolonial studies, transnational feminist theory and critical anthropology. It explores subalterns’ silent ways of dealing with the daily hardship, but also examines how marginalized groups assert their voice, articulate demands and follow various institutional and non-institutional channels to challenge the dominant order.While guided by ethnographic sensitivity, the study attempts to go beyond fieldwork’s ‘here and now’, to reflect on how the local is embedded in the global, and hinting at the interplay between transnational politics of human rights, production of knowledge and subaltern local struggles.

Blocking Democracy? Saudi Arabia and the Arab Awakening
Oz Hassan, The University of Warwick

Saudi Arabia has often been declared a “democracy blocker” and “counter-revolutionary” force in the Middle East and North Africa. This article challenges this assumption and calls for a more nuanced understanding of Saudi foreign policy that goes beyond a “good democracy promoters” and “bad democracy blockers” narrative. It outlines that Saudi foreign policy is an elite led enterprise that is “interest driven” rather than ideologically tied to a Wahhabi ideology. Domestically, along with the cases of Bahrain and Egypt, the label of “democracy blocker” can be applied to Saudi policy. However, in Yemen and Tunisia, Saudi Arabia has been largely supportive of political transition and in Syria it has been an active revolutionary force. Within this context, it is argued that the Saudi approach to “democracy” per say, is less important than the Saudi foreign policy elites desire to secure 1) the maintenance of the House of Saud; 2) the preservation of security and order within Saudi Arabia; 3) the possibility of an alternative Islamic model of state emerging in the region; and 4) containing Iranian influence. With closer scrutiny, what emerges is a multifaceted picture of Saudi Arabia adopting country specific responses to the Arab awakening.

Law and Liberation in the U.A.E.
Mary Ann Fay, Morgan State University

Law and Liberation in the United Arab Emirates Submitted by Mary Ann Fay My paper analyzes a 2010 legal case in the United Arab Emirates involving a woman who took her husband to court for physically abusing her and her adult daughter. According to the National newspaper, the husband inflicted injuries on his 23-year-old daughter and wife that required medical treatment. Citing a verse from the Quran, Chief Justice Falah al-Hajeri of the Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the husband in the lower court while acknowledging the right of a husband to discipline his wife – but not his adult daughter – “provided he does not leave physical marks.” The ruling ignited a nationwide debate with conflicting opinions aired in the press in letters to the editor and in essays by legal and religious scholars and clerics. The ruling was criticized by Human Rights Watch on the grounds that violence against a wife by her husband is a crime and should not be condoned in any circumstances. My paper argues that the woman in this case chose to act as a citizen with rights rather than as a subject of her husband’s arbitrary authority within the family. Her action, perhaps more than the ruling itself, can be regarded as liberating because it challenged her husband’s unchecked authority over her and her daughter and identified her as a citizen with rights according to the UAE constitution. This case allows us to examine the various ways that contrasting legal frameworks define gender and women’s rights and the role that shari`a plays in the country’s legal system.

Can the Gulf escape the balance of power?
Alex Edwards, Independent scholar

This paper aims to assess the obstacles facing the construction of endogenous security architecture within the Persian Gulf. In other words, it seeks to answer the question: can the states of the Gulf construct a functioning security architecture, based either on a balance of power or a wide-ranging accord between existing rivals, without the involvement of external powers? This paper argues that the chances of the Gulf states liberating themselves from the involvement of external security actors are relatively low, given the number of obstacles facing both. In terms of the latter, it argues that Saudi-Iranian relations are likely to remain antagonistic, though scope for a lessening—but not resolution—of tensions exists, which will ensure that bilateral relations will continue to be viewed through a prism of strategic rivalry in Riyadh in the near future. In terms of the former, the fact that Iraq is no longer able to act as a counterweight to Iran limits Saudi Arabia’s ability to enlist regional and external allies, as does the traditional reluctance of other littoral Arab states to make an enemy of Iran and/or accept Saudi hegemony. This paper argues that Saudi Arabia is likely to continue its reliance on the US, and possible even seek to diversify its sources of external support, as evidenced by recent attempts to secure weapons systems from alternative suppliers like Germany. It also examines options for Saudi policymakers to do so, and concludes that these are slim.

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