Cross-Ideological Coalitions in Yemen [Archives:2008/1141/Local News]

March 27 2008

By: Khaled Fattah
Cross-ideological inter-party coalitions are one of the most striking features of party pluralism in united Yemen. In addition to challenging the common assumption that opposition parties' ideology is a linear continuum between religious and secular, left and right, or liberal and conservative, these coalitions have acted as a catalyst for replacing the attitude of “my way or the highway” with an attitude of cooperation based on mutual interests and acceptance of differences.

In less than a decade, three of such coalitions blocs have surfaced on the political landscape of unified Yemen. The first was the Supreme Coordination Council for Opposition Parties (SCCOP), which was composed of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the Nasserite Unionist Popular, Al-Haq, the Socialist Arab Ba'ath, the Constitutional Freedom and the Popular Forces parties. The SCCOP was founded on the basis of the so-called Waseeqat al-A'had wa al-Itefaq ( Document of Promise and Agreement), which highlighted Yemen's commitment to peaceful and democratic means of political opposition, and bound the coalition parties together with their common objectives stipulated in the election programs.

The second coalition, the government-sponsored National Council for Opposition (NCO), emerged in 1997, was made up of eight small parties, seven of them having no representation in the parliament. With the government resorting to a tactic of cloning opposition parties in order to divide them and undermine their mobilization, the number of parties in the NCO would later grow to include many of those mostly one-person-parties that usually have names similar to those of actual opposition parties. In fact, the NCO itself was formed by the government as a reaction to the founding of SCCOP. While the number of parties within the NCO tends to fluctuate as some of its parties eventually merge with the ruling party, they all support president Saleh's initiatives and policies and act strictly as a loyal opposition.

The third, and, indeed, the most influential coalition, is the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). This cross-ideological bloc of Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites has altered the orthodox regime-opposition relations not only in Yemen but also in the entire region.

The performance of the JMP during the last few years, particularly during the presidential elections of 2006, has led observers of the region to identify it as a strong national bloc that is forging a formidable unified opposition. But what holds Islamists and Leftists together in a conservative tribal country like Yemen? How can such strange bedfellows maintain their bond, despite the Islamist-Socialist history of enmity and the concerted effort of the ruling party to break such a relation? Author Mohamed Qahtan, head of the Political Office of the Islah Party, insightfully answered this question in an earlier interview. “Under the banner of the JMP