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The High Water Mark of Islamist Politics? The Case of Yemen

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In Yemen, Islamists seem to have lost their edge in an area formerly considered their strength: grassroots politics. In the 2006 local council elections the Islamist party Islah suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party. The overwhelming victory of the GPC in the local councils can be accounted for with reference to four main factors: the GPC's use of the state to advance its electoral aims; the political skill of GPC politicians; the political blunders of the Joint Meeting Parties) JMP; and finally, several political liabilities particular to Islah, including internal fragmentation and party members' often harmful records in office. The elections show that President 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih and his supporters have developed a more nuanced semi-authoritarian framework for maintaining power. In contrast, the opposition demonstrated political immaturity, internal weakness, and an inability to use potential grassroots support to oppose the regime. The future of accountability and competitive politics in Yemen is intimately connected to the political survival and revitalization of Islah. In the aftermath of the elections, the opposition must conduct serious, critical self-evaluation if it intends to hold the regime accountable and to curb the ever-increasing centralization of power around the President and his family.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2007

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