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Citizen revolt for a modern state: Yemen's revolutionary moment, collective memory and conscientious politcs sur la longue duree

Thiel, Tobias (2015) Citizen revolt for a modern state: Yemen's revolutionary moment, collective memory and conscientious politcs sur la longue duree. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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2011 became a year of revolt for the Middle East and north Africa as a series of popular uprisings toppled veteran strongmen that had ruled the regions for decades. The contentious mobilisations not only repudiated orthodox explanations for the resilience of Arab autocracy, but radically asserted the 'political imaginary' of a sovereign and united citizenry, so vigorously encapsulated in the popular slogan al-shab yurid isqat al-nizam (the people want to overthrow the system). In the Republic of Yemen, revolting citizens precipitated the resignation of perennial President Ali Abd Allah Salih and demanded a fundamental reconfiguration of the prevailing social contract into a modern civil state (al-dawla al-madaniya al-haditha). It is tempting to situate the root causes of these historic citizen revolts in the political inertia and moral bankruptcy of (neo)patrimonial Arab autocracies, their neoliberal economic policies, unemployment and social inequality, a youth bulge or new media technologies - all of which doubtlessly constituted crucial enabling factors. For the historian, however, the story runs much deeper than such 'presentist' interpretations suggest. Adopting a dynamic, process-orientated approach, this doctoral dissertation examines why and how the revolutionary mobilisation in 2011 transpired in relation to Yemen's history of contentious politics. The narrative is built around the argument that the revolt was the result of three parallel, dynamic processes: the erratic and limited liberalisation process since Yemeni unification in 1990, the 'oligarchisation' of power sine the 1994 war, and the 'politics of calculated chaos' - a paradoxical propensity of the Salih regime to foster disorder and dissent in order to position itself as the defender of the republicanism and Yemeni unity. When regime changes in North Africa precipitated a shift in political opportunities, these processes culminated in the formation of a loose, temporary and heterogeneous opposition coalition that mounted a singular contentious challenge against the regime. Traditional powerbrokers, however, soon stifled the brief revolutionary moment as they politicised, co-opted and superseded the citizen movement. Loosely inspired by the histoire de la long duree, the thesis contextualises the emergence and trajectory of the Yemeni citizen revolt in the political economy imperatives, deep-seated regional divisions and collective memories of past regimes and revolutions, such as the pre-Islamic South Arabian kingdomes, the millennial Zaydi Imamates or the twin revolutions of the 1960s. It thereby revels some striking historical parallels to earlier episodes of contention in terms of longstanding demands, ideas and repertoires, which continue to constitute frameworks of reference for contemporary contentious politics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Tobias Thiel
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Schulze, Kirsten

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