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Société civile, associations et pouvoir local au Yémen

Sarah Ben Nefissa
Maggy Grabundzija
Jean Lambert

Chapter 5: Internal Difficulties and External Constraints

External Actors and Promotion of Democracy (abstract)

Laura Ruiz de Elvira

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1Based on the idea that the process of democratization initiated in 1990 has gradually regressed, the author analyses the nature and extent of interaction between, on one hand, Yemeni society (essentially local NGO’s and political parties) and, on the other hand, external players (big international NGO’s and other international bodies) that promote democracy in Yemen.

2Despite the increase of foreign NGO’s since Yemen’s reunification in 1990 and the explosion of foreign funding since the 11th of September, these favorable conditions have not allowed foreign players to claim a decisive role in the process of democratization of the country. The author calls to mind the international strategic challenges and the discrepancy between the expectations of internal and external players. Whereas the international community perceives the promotion of democracy as a mean for providing security and as an instrument in the fight against terrorism, the commitment of the Yemeni government to democratization is principally a pragmatic response to its economic and military dependence on western support. In this context the work of foreign NGO’s and organizations faces various difficulties and limits.

3A part of these difficulties is related to the fact that their programs remain geographically restrained (activities are essentially based in urban areas), bound to a fixed time frames and to financial and material restrictions.

4But political limits also play a role: in the domain of democracy it is the NDI and the IFES, two NGO’s financed by the American government, who are most active. Of course they are confronted to the question of their independence from the foreign policy of their government. The lack of credibility of external players is reinforced by the general distrust that Yemenis carry against the idea of importing a foreign model of democracy. Thus, an NDI project on “the resolution of tribal conflicts” has been hampered by a downright hostility from the government and a part of the population.

5The overall results of this kind of activities initiated by foreign players stay, a part from some exceptions, mitigated.

6Other difficulties are linked to internal protagonists: the civil society and the political parties. At present the interaction between external players and the network of Yemeni NGO’s and other parts of the civil society is intense. However one of the effects of this interaction is the sudden and anarchic proliferation of Yemeni organizations which do not necessarily contribute to political renewal. This process is not a reaction to an internal demand but seems to be triggered by the constant rise of foreign funding in recent years and follows opportunism linked to the availability of these funds.

7As for the political parties, the opposition seems to benefit most from the activities of foreign donors, since they provide not only financial but also moral and technical support. In contrast, the relation to the ruling party is characterized by an obvious ambivalence: on the one hand, the government tries to supervise and control the activities of external players; on the other hand, both sides are obliged to cooperate and to compromise.

8The results of foreign players’ activities are therefore mitigated, especially because the fledging success of their work is much affected by the collaboration of the Yemeni government with the United States in the “fight against terrorism”. Whereas the work of external players has contributed to a timid form of contestation against the political power and to the emergence of the “new civil society”, the fight against terrorism has the opposite effect: a strengthening of the authoritarian aspect of the State and growing militarization of society.

9In conclusion the author reminds us not to underestimate the limits of western power’s commitment in the democratization of Yemen. Even if certain countries have reduced foreign aid in response to the lack of progress in democratic reforms in Yemen, it is unlikely that they are ready to risk political instability in order to obtain true changes to the current political balance.

© Centre français d’archéologie et de sciences sociales, 2008

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