BEIRUT, Nov 12—A volatile mix of competing factions within Yemen’s major Islamist party is preventing the group from developing a clear platform. Tribal, Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafi elements within the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) has led to a lack of unity and hampered the party’s performance, explains Amr Hamzawy in a new paper.

Originally an ally of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and a junior member in the government following the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, Islah joined the opposition in 1997 in protest over the government’s lack of progress on democratic reforms. It has continued to switch sides on key policy issues between the ruling party and the opposition ever since.

Key Conclusions:

  • Although Islah has emerged as the strongest opposition group in Yemen, it has failed to secure any major legislative accomplishments since leaving the ruling coalition in 1997.
  • Islah emphasizes peaceful political participation. It recognizes the rights of secular movements and supports democracy as compatible with Islam. Islah has also democratized its internal procedures and decision-making processes.
  • Since moving into the opposition, Islah, which started its political participation calling for the Islamization of state and society, has focused less on religious and moral legislation, instead prioritizing political, social, and economic reforms.
  • Like many Arab Islamist movements, Islah has created religious, charitable, and educational institutions to enlarge its base by delivering social services.
  • To counter Islah’s growing strength, the GPC has sought to deepen the rifts between Islah’s various factions, and to limit the group’s control over mosques.
  • Yemeni Salafis are skeptical of democratic participation, but continue to view Islah as their best available option, and have voted for its candidates in recent presidential and local elections.

“Although Islah’s long-standing internal divisions have hindered the party’s parliamentary prospects, more than anything, the concentration of power in the hands of President Saleh and the ruling GPC has stifled its legislative success,” Hamzawy cautions. “At this level, the experience of Islamists in Yemen corresponds to the wider regional pattern of Islamist parties and movements, which have proven ineffective in opposition to authoritarian regimes.”



  • Amr Hamzawy, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center and distinguished Egyptian political scientist, previously taught at Cairo University and the Free University of Berlin. Hamzawy has a deep knowledge of Middle East politics and specific expertise on reform in the region.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world to provide analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region.
  • Carnegie's Arab Reform Bulletin offers a monthly analysis of political and economic developments in Arab countries.