The Fiction of a Central Yemeni State

By Gregory D. Johnsen
Submitted to Session P5813 (Yemen's Futures: Lessons from the Past, 2020 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper argues that the idea of a central state – with the brief exception of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule from 1990-2012 – has never truly existed in Yemen. Instead the area known as “Yemen” has always been an accumulation of diverse and different parts. Using the history of these different regions within Yemen, this paper will examine how the ongoing war in Yemen has broken the country into seven different zones of political control. These competing statelets, this paper will argue, are unlikely to be reconstructed into a single political entity. Instead, the country is likely to remain fragmented for the foreseeable future.

This paper also untangles the messy threads of the current war in Yemen, and argues that the country is actually suffering from three separate but overlapping wars, only one of which is likely to end in the near future. It is the third of these wars – the local civil war – which is likely to follow the end of the Saudi-led war in Yemen that will solidify the existing divisions on the ground and ensure that no single Yemeni state will emerge from the chaos of conflict.