Reclaiming Yemen: What Role for the Yemeni Diaspora?

By Noha Aboueldahab
Submitted to Session P5290 (Diaspora Politics and Middle East Homeland, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Yemen;
Conflict Resolution; Ethnography; Foreign Relations; Middle East/Near East Studies; Peace Studies; Public Policy; Transnationalism;
Little is known about the Yemeni diaspora’s involvement in political developments in Yemen. Studies analyze the role of external political actors in steering the multiple conflicts in Yemen through proxy wars and for broader geo-political control (Kendall 2017; Watson 2018). Research has increasingly drawn attention to the importance of Yemen’s tribal leaders as conflict resolution actors (Al Dawsari 2018; Salisbury 2017). However, the role of Yemenis who have re-settled in foreign countries has received minimal attention from scholars and practitioners.

Replete with judges, human rights activists, intellectuals, doctors, refugees, and former politicians, the Yemeni diaspora is diverse and has a lengthy history (Mackintosh-Smith 2008). The more recent wave of Yemenis who have fled did so primarily for reasons of security, socio-economic opportunities, and the ongoing war since September 2014.

As a result, there is a pool of Yemeni professionals who are actively engaged in the political debacle in Yemen from afar. They conduct awareness-raising activities by engaging civil society, media, and politicians in their host countries. Many continue to communicate with their personal and professional networks inside Yemen.

At the same time, non-Yemenis have established research institutes outside Yemen and increasingly interact with Yemeni experts in the diaspora. But has this increased interaction between Yemeni and non-Yemeni experts led to a more Yemeni-led effort to shape policies on Yemen?

The extent to which the Yemeni diaspora has formed organised networks is not well understood. What are their objectives? Are they polarised? How so? What dynamics shape their relations with international actors, such as host countries and international organizations? What steps, if any, are Yemenis taking to reclaim their country from both internal and external forces both now and after the cessation of violence?

This paper argues that the Yemeni diaspora is a powerful actor that could ensure a Yemeni-led resolution to an overwhelmingly internationalized conflict. First, it serves a powerful awareness-raising role in foregrounding Yemeni grievances within international policy circles with a view to shaping those policies. Secondly, it is a crucial actor in laying the groundwork for reconciliation both during ongoing conflict and in its immediate aftermath. The paper uses findings generated from interviews with Yemenis outside of Yemen who are engaged in Yemeni political activism.

The paper falls squarely within the MESA 2018 theme. It addresses the dynamics of mobilization, migration, human rights and intellectual networks that extend far beyond the borders of Yemen and the Middle East.