Patronage as Containment: The Cases of al-Islah and the STC

By Fernando R. Carvajal
Submitted to Session P6237 (Patronage, Resistance, and Representation in Yemen's War, 2020 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab Studies;
After nearly six years of war, Yemen has experienced significant shifts in the balance of power, largely as result of the role played by regional powers. While the Houthi (Ansar Allah) rebels and Iran surface as the most common subjects of analysis, this paper presents a unique approach with focus on the emerging rivalry between the Sunni Islamist party at-Tajammu’u al-Yamani lil-I?la? (Yemeni Congregation for Reform aka al-Islah) and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) within the new balance of power.

In the post-Arab Spring environment, much of the focus remains on analysis of State institutions and structures. The resilience of old or construction of new patronage networks extending from the State regime continue as a unit of analysis, but as in the case of Yemen, the State itself is nearly absent in the exercise of authority or as a monopoly on power. This presents a unique opportunity to examine the resilience of a political party, al-Islah, and the emergence of a non-State actor, the STC, through their relationship with new patrons, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, respectively. The relationship between the Yemeni parties and their Gulf patrons have directly affected both the conduct of the war and direction of the UN-led peace process.

By examining the structures of the relationship between each patron and client, within the context of ‘networks of dependency’ (de Elvira et al, 2018), their priorities and prospects for longevity, this paper aims to address two questions: how have the new ‘networks of dependency’ constructed a new balance of power since July 2015? And how has this new balance affected prospects for peace in Yemen? The answers lie in priorities held by competing regional powers, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; Islah’s ambitions for dominance; and secessionist aspirations espoused by a large segment of the southern population. This paper aims for the conclusion that these new patronage networks have acted more as instruments of containment against both Islah and the STC than as facilitators for their individual ambitions. Both regional powers aim to set the pace and structure of the final solution in Yemen.