Yemen: The Problem Is the Regime, Not Yemeni Society

Although the rapid progression of events in Yemen give the impression that the country’s political system is collapsing, a slightly more rigorous evaluation suggests a significant degree of system resilience. Anti-social regime behavior should not be misinterpreted as indicative of system collapse; the other side of the coin is the behavior of society.
When society submits, either through hopelessness or naïve trust, the elite (not just the politicians but also the financial and corporate elite) are free to fill their own pockets. Understanding the nature of a country requires consideration of both the regime and the society. For example, an ominously powerful regime, e.g., that of the Soviet Union under Chernenko or Iran under the Shah, may be a house of cards. Yemen, perhaps surprisingly, shows admirable signs of socio-political resilience, all the tension and violence notwithstanding.
Evaluation of behavior harmful to the political system can provide an initial analysis of the situation in Yemen. Two criteria are used here, as illustrated in the ‘Behavior Harmful to the Yemeni Political System’ chart: whether the behavior is individual or social and the status of the actor. The higher the status of the actor engaged in harmful behavior and the greater degree to which the harmful behavior represents a social norm, the more diseased the political system.

Yemen’s political problems are caused by the regime.
Although the stream of events might give the impression that Yemen’s political system is about to collapse, harmful behavior in Yemen over the past two months is not centered in Quadrant D, which would suggest extreme system pathology. Rather, harmful behavior is generally the result of the president’s desires, e.g., goon squads sent by his security forces to attack peaceful protesters, attacks on protesters by soldiers (presumably, again, on presidential orders), or attacks by regime supporters in response to regime encouragement. The political system includes not just the regime but also society. Despite the general availability of weapons, violence is the near monopoly of the regime, suggesting that regime change rather than fundamental lack of political system functionality is the solution. Despite all the chaos and tension in Yemen, this, for those aspiring to achieve a more just society, is very good news.

This initial test of Yemen’s political system may be thought of as analogous to a quick check of your blood pressure. It is a snapshot of one view of the whole complex system. Additional tests will follow, looking at such aspects as protester behavior and changes over time, as subsequent posts continue the diagnosis of the health of Arab political systems in revolt.

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