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Rebuilding Security in Fragmented Societies: Yemen

After the departure of President Ali Abdallah Saleh in February 2012, Yemen seemed to be on the right track towards democratic transition; this processes, however, was interrupted as a result of the political stalemate tied to the divided military-security apparatus, major threats to stability issued from various armed extremist groups, as well as the increasingly militant political aspirations of the separatist movement in the country’s south. The take-over of the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 by the Iran-backed Houthi insurgency inaugurated a long cycle of violence, leading to the Saudi-led military intervention of nine Arab states and the marking the regional dimension of the Yemeni conflict.

The situation in Yemen is at an impasse, as evidenced by the failure of the negotiations in Geneva in June 2015. In this case, achievement of political and social stability is intimately linked to the reform of the Yemeni security sector. This process of rebuilding the country’s security forces - crucial for post-conflict Yemen - is directly linked to political arrangements and to broader questions regarding the nature of the state. Given this, the case study of Yemen undertaken in the broader project asks: what could a new “formula” for Yemeni security forces consist of? To answer this question, the project will address the following key issues:

  1. The state of the army and security forces under the erstwhile President Saleh. To preserve his regime, Saleh relied on close family and tribe members who were appointed to key positions. This shaped security institutions in a way whereby chains of command became dysfunctional. The research conducted here will investigate how many of the post-2011 challenges for Yemeni security and military institutions are inherited from the Saleh period.
  2. Security sector reforms implemented after 2011. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative of November 2011 was designed to organize the political transition while SSR was to be achieved through the creation of the Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability. The reforms undertaken led to the disbanding of the Republican Guard (headed by Saleh’s family and charged with protecting the regime) and the Firqa (deployed in the Saada fights against the Houthis and loyal to Saleh’s rival, Ali Mohsen). Though designed to break the military-political stalemate between Saleh and Mohsen, the reforms implemented did not lead to stability. The research thus seeks to understand what went wrong after 2011 specifically with regards to the security scene.
  3. The different layers of Yemeni affiliations and how they affect the military apparatus. Regionalism, tribalism and religious affiliations are part of the Yemeni national equation and have been used by actors in the political arena for strategic purposes. The project assesses how these dimensions of affiliation are reflected in the security force and how such issues should be addressed in the rebuilding process.
  4. The involvement of external actors and its consequences on the process of SSR. Yemen has long been considered Saudi Arabia’s “backyard”, and the conflict’s regional dimension was deepened with the Houthi take-over and their relation to Iran. The research conducted here explores to what extent regional actors be part of the solution for Yemen and how these interventions affect the rebuilding process of the security forces.