RULING POLITICAL ELITE IN YEMEN (1978-1990) [Archives:2000/31/Culture]

July 31 2000

In all human societies, regardless of being civilized or primitive, there exists an elite playing a leading role and influencing the people and social life. It does so owing to its enjoying of capabilities, talents, experience or heritage.
Position and pattern of elites differ in importance and power from one society to another and even in the same society in accordance with eras.
Studying the elite has in recent years occupied a prominent place in political and social sciences. The aim behind the elite is to prove it is impossible to achieve indistinctive society or avoid the problem of the presence of a particular segment controlling all facets of social life. Thus, the elite is an organized ruling minority versus a governed unorganized majority.
The study focuses mainly on examining and analyzing the Yemeni ruling elites during the period 1978-1990. It is meant those who assumed important political posts in the society, definitely; head of state, the cabinet members (prime minister and ministers), members of the advisory council and governors. The total number of the elite reached 100, who held 108 posts. The elites could then be defined as that group that assumes power and takes part in making major in the capacity of their posts.
The study attempted to define elements and features of the social context in contemporary Yemen as a receptacle for the rise of the Yemeni elite elements. The study also defines the composition of the Yemeni elite, its origin and social characteristics during the period covered by the study, (educational background, age, profession, class descent. It also explains to what extent does the social background reflect features of change and continuation in Yemeni reality.
It could be said that the former Yemen Arab Republic, which is the subject of this study, before the 26th September 1962 revolution did not witness direct colonial exploitation. Policies of the colonialist countries, mainly Britain which used to occupying the southern part, had influenced the nature of the northern part society development and led to its ‘stagnancy’. On the other hand, the policy of isolation which the Imam adopted aimed at protecting the country against infiltration of colonialist powers. This led to the preservation of backward socio-economic relations as well as the inherited customs and traditions.
By the time the 1962 revolution, signs of the collapse of the existing social system based on traditions, began to appear. The success of the revolution was linked to the extent of the efficacy of a number of factors in north Yemeni society such as disputes, feuds, contradictions between pro-Imam elements and sectarian conflicts.
Since the 1962 revolution in the YAR the country was ruled successively by political elites which included military and civilian elements. These elites were formed in the light of unstable social, economic and political conditions throughout a quarter of a century. Most of these elites, mainly at presidential level, changed several times. President Abdulla Al-Sallal from 1962 to 1967 (5 years), Abdulrehman Al-Iryani from 1967 to 1974 ( 7 years), Ibrahim Al-Hamdi from 1974 to 1977(3 years), Ahmed Al-Ghishmi from 1977 to 1978 (one year) and finally Ali Abdulla Saleh since 1978. He adopted a balanced internal policy through winning the loyalty of tribes by appointing their sheikhs in higher State institutions. These appointments included some elements of political opponents in the Democratic National Front. Military politicians who played leading roles in the Republic before Al-Hamdi’s rule in the seventies were also granted senior positions.
But the ruling political elite worked to demonstrate State’s political and security power while its elements infiltrated and dominated different institutions of the Yemeni society. Since 1979 it resorted to imposing and generalizing one single political option, i.e. rejection of intellectual and political pluralism which resulted in the only party Ñ the People’s General Congress Ñ to dominate the political life in Yemen.
The study tries to answer the following queries:-
1. What role does the social descent of the elite play in defining the direction and rate of social change?
2. What are the sources of the recruitment of the political elite?
3. What is the rate of the political elite rotation in power and its relationship with its seclusion and openness?
4. What professional categories dominate the elite?
The study came to the following conclusions:-
a. Expansion in education is considered to be one of the gigantic social change which September 26 Revolution had effected. Several studies linked between the social and educational backgrounds on one hand and the behavior of the elite as these backgrounds affect this behavior and its direction. The importance of education increased as a criterion on which ‘political mobilization’ in Yemen is based. On analyzing the educational background of the elite, the importance of education emerges as a criterion for joining the elite. With the complication of problems in the cities and ramification of government administration tasks, as well complication of political conflicts, it became necessary that elements selected to sensitive posts should be educated and scholars in eco-political sciences. They have to be experienced in administration and politics. Elements who could not obtain education at official level but possess experience in life, were not ignored.
It was apparent that those with high educational qualifications were the group represented in the Council of Ministers while military men occupied Governors posts. At the Consultative Council the majority was for the able-to- read-write group. This particular group suffered from conditions which did not allow them obtain higher education; but they are in a position to give their opinions and expertise in the light of their experience in life. Dominance of Arab culture on the elite is attributed to the fact that most of them graduated from Arab countries.
b. The ruling elite does not like age homogeneity as we saw majority of its members belong to the age group, (140 persons) less than 50 years old and (130 persons) less than 40 years old . Young generation occupied ministerial and governor posts while elder figures could be found in the consultative council. As time passed we saw that the chance of young generation to get a chance among the elite has become dimmer due to the fact that the average age of elite members has gradually increased, so is the ratio of old members compared to new elements in the process of the ‘elite recruitment’.
c. The State apparatus represents the main and first source of ‘mobilizing’ the ruling political elite. Second is the military institution . If the State apparatus dominated over ‘mobilizing’ the ministers and members of the consultative council the military institution dominated over ‘mobilizing’ the elite of governors.
d. Sana’a Province comes in the first place regarding regional affiliation, holding 54% of the elite, followed by Taiz Province holding 17%, Ebb Province holding 10%, Dhamar Province holding 6%, then Hodeidah Province with 4%. The remaining provinces did not participate in forming the Yemeni elite owing to:-
Ñ geographical location. The northern areas are surrounded by geographical difficulties. The people here are totally attached to their lands. Owing to difficulties in transportation and lack of means of transport, outside influence could not creep into these areas,
– owing to this geographical situation the State is not much inclined to establish modern political and economic institutions in these areas.Thus the tribal influence continued and tribalism continued to absorb loyalty of individuals more than the State.
— educational and professional backgrounds have become important criteria observed in the selection of the ruling elite individuals. This means that their achievements are taken into account in the process of political mobilization but this does not lead to the vanishing of the meaning of ascription because traditional reverence topped by tribal and family origin and class descent sometimes plays its role as criteria for preponderance and comparison. Hashed tribe captured the military institution and its senior posts. The authority and influence which its sons enjoy constitute the core of the ruling elite in Yemen. The ascendancy of this tribe is owing to the fact that majority of its sheikhs are big landlords. They do not cultivate but rent their land to farmers. Their domination is not only based on the authority which they have in their hands but also their tribal system plus their wealth and cultivable lands.
— An eye-catching issue is the absence of women from Yemeni political elite. Despite the fact that Yemeni women constitute half the population, despite the interest which successive Yemeni governments after the revolution showed in women’s education and employment, and despite the provisions of the 1970 and 1978 constitutions which gave women the same rights and duties as men, women’s effective participation Ñduring the period of this study Ñ in State authority and decision-making was poor and absent. It never occurred that a woman became a minister or an MP. The absence of women in structure of the ruling elite comes due to social, economic and cultural reasons, including those which concern the conditions of the Yemen society as a whole and extent of its development. This comes also in view of women’s vision towards herself, the level of her education and the extent of her awareness towards her rights.
— The political elite is branded with relative seclusion. Change of certain elements of the elite was not a reflection of changes in the political and social forces. It was changes of persons who were part of the same force. The process of re-distribution of posts within the elite ensures continuation of the official political elite in Yemen at both executive and legislative levels.
It could be said that following the establishment of the Unified State in 1990, a new elite was formed on the basis of sharing of posts among leaders of the North and the South. The Yemeni political system which appeared on May 22, 1990, exceeded the previous systems. It did not only recognize freedoms but also public action of parties and political pluralism. It has permitted opposition political parties with press expressing their views. The draft constitution of the Unified State allocated a large scope for political freedom with political pluralism as a natural prelude. That included dialogue as the only means for reaching an understanding between the political forces inside and outside the rule. The one-party ruling system in both sectors was revoked.
If Unification has allowed a wide range of civil and political activities, the 1994 war revoked all these even temporarily. Despite the pledge to restore democracy, first-hand indicators suggest that what has been restored is but a faint shadow in the face of opposition’s demands.
So that to surmount all these crises in Yemen, the following should be done:-
a. The State should proceed with reforming the existing political system by introducing political and economic changes so that continuation of these democratic changes should depend on creating and finding out suitable conditions. Such conditions should open the way for a large number of citizens be able to politically participate in determining issues which vigorously affect their life. This is because the power and legitimacy of the ruling system is greatly linked with its capability to realize political participation and absorb the new force. This could not be done without the dissemination of ideas and opinions between the elite and normal Yemeni citizens within the political process in form of continued dialogue which eventually would impose on the government its acceptance.
b. To reduce the role of the tribal leadership. This cannot be achieved without the sovereignty of the law and by revoking tribal laws and withdrawing recognition from such laws, particularly those that contradict State laws and the Constitution.
Bilqees Ahmed Mansoor Abu Usbaa
¥Born in Jiblah, Ibb Province,
¥Married to a physician, mother of one child,
¥Asstt. Professor Political Science, Sana’a University,
¥Obtained Master’s Degree for (Ruling Political Elite in Yemen 1978-1990) from Faculty of Economy & Political Science, University of Cairo,
¥Preparing for Doctorate Degree in (Role of Yemeni Political Parties in the Democratic Transformation)
A number of her researches and studies have been published:
1. The Ruling Political Elite in Yemen (1978-1990),
2. Relations of Yemen with the IMF,
3. Researches published by the Arab Center for Strategic Studies,
4. A research of (The Yemeni Ministers’ Elite) published by the Political Studies Center, University of Cairo,
5. “Globalization: Its Impact on Yemen” is under publication.