Yemen faces an escalating threat from rebellions in both the north and south of the country, as well as from al-Qaeda, calling into question whether a unified state has ever really taken root.
Southern unrest is a symptom of the weakening patronage system forced by declining oil production.
A government-opposition agreement to postpone parliamentary elections paves the way for a broader debate on political reform.
The principal opposition coalition is threatening to boycott April parliamentary elections.
The Republic of Yemen looks relatively democratic compared to its neighbors. While Saudi Arabia is now holding local elections and smaller Gulf states have taken modest steps towards increased political participation in recent years, until now only the Kuwaiti parliament (the only such assembly in the world elected by a small male electorate) has been a force to be reckoned with.
Islah, Yemen's Islamist party, had its poorest showing yet in elections for the lower house of parliament on April 27, 2003. Islah won just 46 of 301 seats, down from 56 in 1997 and 63 in 1993. Islah gained nine new seats in the capital, Sanaa, but lost in several traditional strongholds. The ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party gained a more-than-comfortable 75 percent majority.
In January, Yemen hosted a high-profile conference on democracy, human rights and the role of the international criminal court, attended by more than 800 officials from 52 countries. Conference participants signed the ambitious "Sanaa Declaration," committing their respective countries to uphold democratic processes, institutions and values.
There is a traditional saying that to rule Yemen is like riding a lion, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh is no stranger to the demands of political survival. His twenty-seven years in power have refined his skills as a master of compromise among the disparate interests of tribal groups, Islamists, socialists, Saudi Arabia, and the West.
A survey of women's political status in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states shows that in some countries women have recently made considerable progress toward formal equality of political rights, but in others they have not. The governing elite in the GCC countries generally supports women's political rights, but strong social sentiment against women's participation in politics persists.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh's bid for reelection is requiring more effort than anticipated for a man in his twenty-eighth year of power—but not because he faces real competition. He is unlikely to face a serious challenger in the September presidential election, as none of the eleven potential candidates seem capable of gaining the requisite approval vote from the two house of parliament.
The JMP effort was indispensable to create a balance between civil society institutions on the one hand and the military and tribal institutions on the other, which is critical to democracy. Five political parties formed the JMP: the Islah, Socialist, Nasserite, and al-Haqq parties, and the FPF
In November 2006, Yemen walked away from a two-day donor conference in London with $4.7 billion in pledges over the next four years. The conference was a necessity for Yemen, an extremely poor country with a dire economic outlook for the coming decade.
In an ironic turn of events, Yemen's September 20 presidential and local elections garnered extensive favorable coverage by the normally critical Al Jazeera, while they received only scant attention from the U.S. government, heretofore eager to highlight any sign of reform in Arab states.
Yemen's presidential and local elections are scheduled simultaneously for September 20, and many locals expect them to be the country's most contentious yet. Despite the practical certainty that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will keep his job, Yemen's precarious political and economic situation means that there is still plenty for the opposition to fight for.
In the Arab world, what UN literature calls national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have emerged in recent years. A few of them—for example in Morocco and Palestine—have attained a degree of autonomy in confronting governments.
It often takes a crisis to rivet our collective attention on problems such as those facing Yemen, a society that seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse.
As troubling as security issues are in Yemen, they are by no means the only threats to stability. Problems in the economy, institution building, and regional disputes might not grab headlines the way that terrorism and other security challenges do, but they are just as important.