Thursday, February 3, 2011

Yemeni Protests Unlikely to Have Immediate Impact, Nevens Says

Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam

Rallies in Yemen are unlikely to have an immediate “tangible impact,” and bringing change to the country’s political system will be far more complicated than in Egypt and Tunisia, said Kate Nevens, manager of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a research organization in London. She spoke in a telephone interview.

On the differences between the Yemeni protests and those in Egypt and Tunisia:

“Until now and including today, which has been called a Day of Anger, all the protests have been peaceful in Yemen. So, there is already a marked difference from Tunisia and Egypt.

“In Yemen, people have some similar grievances to the other two countries, but up to a point. Grassroots opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime has been fragmented and has been taking place mostly in governorates outside of the center. There is a much smaller educated, urban bracket and the literacy level is very low, which may mean that it is harder to have mass-mobilized movements.

“In Yemen, you also have a weak formal opposition. The protests are helping to increase their negotiating power. Yemen’s opposition is much more fractured.

On obstacles to change in Yemen:

“Looking at it like a state doesn’t work because it doesn’t function as a state as we know it.” A new leader “would be inheriting a complicated system of patronage networks, not a state.”

“When we think about countries, we think of them in terms of having a president and government. In Yemen, there is a president, a government, and a shadow party elite; and the ministries don’t actually have much power. This shadow party sits around the president, and you’d have to have a dramatic change in how that all works for things to really change.

“Yemeni people see President Saleh as being illegitimate, but the solution is not that obvious.

“It’s great that the protests are happening, but you are looking at a much longer game. But they are very important because even if they don’t have a tangible impact, they do begin to voice concerns around political inclusion in Yemen.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Alexander in London

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at


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