POLITICAL ELITE AND CONFLICT ON OIL WEALTH IN YEMEN
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in International Development and Gender
By: EJLAL YAHYA ALI ABDULLAH SHOJA’A ADDIN
Dr. Adnan Yassin Al-Maktary
Head of Department of Political Science
Vice Dean for the Community Services Affairs
Faculty of Commerce & Economics, Sana’a University
This thesis is set out to address one of the most complicated economic and politically interconnected issue in Yemen. It studied the effect of Yemen political elite on the distribution of the oil wealth. It was crucial to study this since there were few Yemeni academic researchers who tackled one of the research components (either elites or distribution of oil wealth) and none has compounded the political and economic aspects of elites and the distribution of oil wealth in one study.
At the end of the 20th century, Yemen economy has switched from remittances and agriculturally based economy to a minor producer of oil resources. This oil boom has created lots of changes in the political economy domain and Yemen was transferred to be a rentier state. Yemen started as a small producer of oil in 1986. This production was increased in higher amounts until it reached a good portion of commercial oil in the beginning of the 20th century. Oil was extracted from blocks in various northern and southern geographical areas. Dreams were enormously built on this resource boom to shift the country into a perceived economic development and welfare and indeed this sector greatly supported the government budget and the economy. However, hopes of ordinary people were soon evaporated in the presence of authoritarian regime that tactfully used this wealth to secure its survival through distributing the oil rents on an intertwined network of elites and thus oil discovery in Yemen was applied to the discourse of resource curse rather than blessings.
Since then Yemen’s economy was highly interlinked to politics and it ran through a critical juncture. In the petro-business field, the elites were either holding direct political positions in the state or have powerful arms in politics through their relative officials who ensured and facilitated the gains from this business. For this reason, and although the elites’ group is from different backgrounds including; tribal, commercial, religious, military, Technocrats, they are referred to here as political elites.
The following are the research results:
- The core elites in Yemen’s political economy have been presented in this research. They are called the inner circle. Most of them are president Saleh’s relatives who are declined to his tribe, Sanhan and the prominent tribal, military and political figures. There are also the outer circle allies, but those are less influential than the inner circle and have little power.
- All elites were established, empowered and dominated at the time of Saleh on the bases of mutual interest between them and the ex-regime and the rule of the game in the patronage system. The elites’ group was empowered and given inclusion to various economic gains, while there was exclusion to the middle and lower classes in the society. Favored actors are allowed access to main sectors of the economy. The degree of access they are given has often been directly proportional to the importance president Saleh has placed on their political support.
- Within these networks, there was a running competition on both political positions and economic interests. That is because the rule of the game was based on paying a certain degree of loyalty and support to the regime and getting the prize of acquiring the larger share of benefits. Thus, elites have monopolized the wealth of Yemen and spread corrupt practices in the oil sector.
- The patronage system is characterized by the inclusion and exclusion as key relations. Elites were being circulated into the system and the power around the president. When elites were financially dependent on the regime, they make a deep thinking and fear of losing their privileged positions if the regime changes. When accepting to join the patronage game, elites will be called corrupt if they think of taking a different path than the whole system is adopting, so reform for the political economy has been abandoned. Saleh was playing the game of patronage in a genius manner attracting allies within the most powerful tribal families and distributing privileges on the different family members in political and military positions, private sector … etc. This way of distribution ensured that in the same family there are different points of dependency on the existing system. This enabled Saleh in times of crises or disobedience to use pressure on one of the family members and threatening other relatives. Applying the divide and rule tactics was generally used by Saleh on the different segments of elites.
- The oil boom has led to conflicts, between the elites themselves and between the elite and ordinary people, and between the south and the north as well, as a result of the unequal distribution of rents. The neo-patrimonial system of Saleh has witnessed a circulation process among elites and continuous bargaining for better patronage positions. There was a constant competition between elites on who gets more benefits which made it complicated for any development to happen. Tensions were commonly found among the elites’ group. The conflict happened from inequalities in relations, including power and economic relations.
- In the last era of Saleh, the oil sector has witnessed instability and deterioration in production and many attacks that didn’t allow the steady flow of oil revenues. This scarcity of oil resources has become very obvious. On the other hand, more circulation of elites was taking place. Where some elites were excluded or at least restricted from getting larger shares of wealth and some others were included in the neo-patrimonial system.
- Adopting this governing strategy of neo-patrimonialism in the distribution of oil wealth has led to a number of implications including political conflicts. Early in 2011, a group of youth have arranged for protests against the regime releasing number of reforming demands and soon some prominent elites have joined in making this political turmoil marking the start of the Yemen elites defection from Saleh regime. Moreover, the few benefits given to the southern people and the limited and symbolic inclusion for them in the elite network while a large portion of the oil is being produced from the southern lands have raised the southern movement. More conflicts were also evoked such as the violence in Sada governorate adding to that the prominence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.