Yemeni citizenship in a transnational state [Archives:2005/810/Reportage]

January 24 2005
Oil Revenues and per capita GNP
Oil Revenues and per capita GNP
Charles Schmitz
\r\nfor Yemen Update issue 46*

“International pressure is turning Arab and Muslim governments against their people,” lamented Abdalla bin Hussein al-Ahmar in October of 2001 (al-Sahwa 2001). Indeed, over the last decade the Yemeni state adopted the IMF's economic austerity program, allowed Israeli citizens to tour the country, cooperated with the American CIA assassination of al-Harithi in Marib, and allowed the Americans to open an office of the FBI in their embassy in Sana'a. Cooperation with the Americans has its benefits, of course, especially for the state leadership, but others, including Sheikh al-Ahmar, are less sure whether the Yemeni people are served by their state.

Al-Ahmar is alone in doubting the benefits of his nation-state. According to Jurgen Habermas, ” the growing interdependencies of a world society challenge the basic premise that national politics, circumscribed within a determinate national territory, is still adequate to address the actual fates of individual nation-states” (Habermas 2001, p. 70). For Habermas neither the neo-liberal celebration of the market's erosion of politics nor the closing of political borders against “foreign” influences, as al-Ahmar suggests, suffices as a solution to the nation state's decline. The way forward, he proposes, is in “self-steering” political structures that are de-territorialized, shifting the criteria of political inclusion away from the geographically assigned political rights of nation-states. The extension of the rights of citizenship to wider, non-territorial political groupings would extend the political community)those recognized with rights)to a wider circle of people whose fates are truly intertwined by political and economic relationships. But if new, deterritorialized democratic institutions are to be legitimate and provide the basic of real political solidarities, then ” he status of citizenship has to maintain a use-value” (Habermas 2001, p. 77). In countries such as Yemen, the combination of a paucity of tangible benefits from Habermas' emergent “world society” and its long list of harsh demands make the value of world citizenship questionable, at best. Sovereignty in Yemen never achieved the Westphalian ideal of political exclusiveness; indeed, this ideal was hardly realized even in the most powerful of states. The small amount of sovereignty achieved in the period following the establishment of the republics, however, diminished in the 1990's with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American superpower's attention shifted from threatening states to the threatening chaos of the absence of a state (Helman and Ratner 1993). As a result, authority over economic, political, and military functions of the nation-state in places like Yemen began to migrate upward in geographically wider political hierarchies composed of the international financial institutions, UN agencies, and the most powerful states of the world (Hardt and Negri 2000). Economists at the IMF and the World Bank, for Example, design economic policy in the Republic of Yemen. They have managed to gain significant influence on political and administrative policy as well by linking these to economic performance. Yemen is implementing IMF monitored reforms of the civil service, a World Bank program for local governance, and reforms of the judiciary. In this sense, then state leadership in Yemen has fewer policy options today, even though, ironically, state institutions in Yemen may have greater capacity. Most policies now come in templates of “good governance” and “economic adjustment,” and foreign experts oversee and evaluate policy implementation.

In Yemen, this “shared” governance is not questioned as long as it is perceived as serving Yemeni interest. When policies do not appear in the national interest, though, “shared” governance becomes a “violation of national sovereignty.” In Habermas' terms, citizenship in world society ceases to “pay.” American and Yemeni cooperation in security and law enforcement has produced highly charged clashes between the government and political opposition over the meaning of sovereignty and national interest. In the late 1990s, the American military and the Yemeni government cautiously cultivated a security alliance that gave the Yemeni state greater capacity to police its borders and maintain security. American military aid was welcome and sought out by the Yemeni state in order to guarantee its military advantage within the country. When it appeared that the Yemeni government was implementing American rather than Yemeni policy, though, this military alliance came under suspicion. In April 2000 when the president of Yemen visited the Clinton White House, Israeli tourists suddenly appeared in Sana'a, and the White House praised the extension of human rights clauses of the Yemeni constitution to Israelis (White House 2000). Admitting Israelis clearly contradicted Yemeni and Arab League policy of withholding diplomatic ties until a full and just peace was achieved and the Yemeni opposition let loose a barrage of criticism. Then, in the investigation by the American FBI of the bombing of the USS Cole, the Yemeni government was repeatedly asked to subordinate Yemeni law to American intelligence efforts. Things became tense when the FBI team wanted not only to conduct their own interrogations but to interrogate top Yemeni officials as well. American marines, stationed at the Adeni hotel where the team resided, symbolized American distrust of Yemeni security and Yemen's violated sovereignty. When the Americans assassinated al-Harithi in Marib, the government characterized the attack as strengthening Yemeni sovereignty against foreign terrorism, but the opposition charged that the government had surrendered Yemeni sovereignty. The killing of Yemeni protesters against the American war in Iraq, by Yemeni security guarding the American embassy, only reinforced the impression that American interests dominated the Yemeni government. Even military official began to complain about imperious American behavior: “I was very optimistic when the US first said they would help Yemen build its security forces and coast guard,” said Yemeni Brig. Gen. Yahya al-Mutawakel. But “the result is not satisfactory. We have not yet made the Americans understand that they are here to help us fight for ourselves” (Bowers and Smucker 2002).

Ordinary Yemenis may forgive the government for relinquishing sovereignty to the Americans are strong and the Yemeni state is weak)- a level headed realist recognition of stark differences in global power )- but people's daily experience is a powerful register of truth and reality. Eight years of IMF economic supervision has brought macroeconomic stability but precious little improvement in the lives of most Yemenis. In the words of economists at the World Bank, “GDP growth in Yemen was, however, driven mainly by factor accumulation (labor and capital) in the 1990s. Productivity growth was negative for most of the decade with only modest improvements after the implementation of economic reforms” (World Bank 2002, p. 1). This means that Yemeni income has grown very little and poverty has increased: Yemen's GDP per capita has yet recover to levels achieved in the 1980's and some 40% of Yemenis are living under the World Bank's poverty line (World Bank 2002, p. ii). The modest improvements that have been achieved under IMF supervision are clearly contingent upon oil revenues, not improvements in the capabilities of the economy. Oil provides half to three quarters of the state

S budget, enabling the state to reduce deficits, but oil production is expected to decline significantly over the next ten years. Unless current trends reverse, Yemen's macroeconomic stability will quickly unravel. Thus Yemen's fate is still tied to oil prices and to annual rainfall, which determines the fortune of the half of the labor force that still works in agriculture.

The solution, according to most economists, those at the IMF included, is to increase private investment in the non-oil sector where rising employment and hopefully increased productivity would have the greatest impact on average income. Investment in the non-oil sector in Yemen, however, has stagnated and the IMF charges that poor governance is the main obstacle to improved economic performance in the non-oil sector. This may be only pert of the problem. Certainly the lack of rule of law and weak institutional capacity in Yemen hinders private investment outside of oil, but the IMF's bias towards macrostability and external openness may share some of the blame as well.

The primary goal of IMF/World Bank reforms is to provide a stable investment environment for capital, both domestic and foreign. In the IMF's view, the primary tasks of the state are to improve physical infrastructure and “human” capital, liberalize trade, and let the global “invisible” hand – or the boardroom of multinational corporations )- determine the fate of nations (World Bank 2002, p. 83). But recent research argues that openness is not the key correlate to economic growth. In cases of sustained economic growth and development the state fosters and guides investment )- overcomes problems of “Coordination” in the terms of economists )- in order to give the national economy the capacity to take advantage of global opportunities (Rodrik 1999). It is not a matter of closing the national economy, but of improving the terms through a coherent national investment strategy, upon which the national economy is integrated into global markets. The IMF tends to prefer a passive role for the state and to allow dynamism to arise from the private sector, rather that fostering a state-business partnership of the sort that Rodrik argues is necessary for real economic improvement. If this is indeed IMF policy, it is short sighted and reduces the likelihood that citizenship in Habermas' “world society” pays for most Yemenis. The predictable result in Yemen will be suspicion of the global order, its American leaders, and their Yemeni counterparts.

\r\n*Charles Schmitz works for the Towson State University and is an active member of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS).
\r\nThe article was republished – with special permission – from the 2004 edition of Yemen Update (issue number 46).
Yemen Update is the Electronic Bulletin of Yemeni Studies issued by the AIYS (