This slim collection of papers — first published individually by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — provides a detailed and nuanced discussion of the recent problems that the Saleh regime has faced in Yemen. For the past few years, the most serious of these have been al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Huthi rebellion in the far north, and the movement to re-establish the independence of the South (which was a separate country from 1967 to 1990).
Unlike so many of the alarmist accounts appearing in the press and elsewhere, these papers present a more sober, complex analysis of the contexts that these opposition movements have arisen from and of their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Papers by Alistair Harris and Sarah Phillips each describe al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as being less a Yemeni opposition movement and more a grouping that has been able to operate from Yemen due to that country's weak government and tribal politics. The paper by Christopher Boucek on the Huthis notes that, while this is a Shia movement, these Yemeni (Zaidi) Shias are different from Iranian (Twelver) Shias, and that there is no evidence to support the claims of the Saleh regime and others that Tehran is backing them. Stephen Day explains that the Southern movement is rooted in dashed expectations for the 1990 unification of North and South and in the northern overlordship over the South ever since the latter lost the 1994 civil war.
What is missing from this volume is a discussion of the popular uprising against Saleh that began in early 2011. This omission, of course, is due to timing, the book having been published before these events occurred. What is noteworthy about this uprising, though, is that it involves many northerners, drawn from both the "youth" and the older opposition parties. The authors of this volume did not really anticipate that powerful opposition to Saleh would rise up from these groups or that this uprising would include, to some degree, both the Huthis and the Southern Movement.
What the volume does make clear, though, is that it is Saleh himself — and his nepotism, corruption, repression and endless maneuvering vis-à-vis both internal and external actors — that is the principal source of Yemen's current problems. Even without Saleh, of course, the country faces the daunting challenges of poverty, illiteracy and water shortage. Without him, though, there will at least be the potential (which may or may not be fulfilled) for Yemenis to work together as well as with external actors to combat these challenges.
The chapter that is somewhat disappointing is the final one, "Stabilizing a Failing State," by Marina Ottaway and Christopher Boucek. In it, they focus more on critiquing the ineffectiveness of what external powers have done to ameliorate the situation in Yemen and less on proposing what ought to be done. It is not clear, however, whether external actors can do much of anything for Yemen in its present crisis. For better or worse, this now appears to be primarily in the hands of the Yemenis themselves.
Although this book does not discuss the dramatic events occurring in Yemen in 2011, it provides an important basis for understanding them.