Impact of Transnational Experiences: The Case of Yemeni Artists in the Soviet Union

researched and written by Anahi Alviso-Marino for Arabian Humanities
Note: this is a scholarly paper.

Summary: Between the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, when Yemen was still divided into two states, many Yemenis obtained scholarships to study fine arts in the Soviet Union. Future plastic artists were working on masters and doctorates in mural painting, poster design, monumental sculpture, philosophy of art and many other disciplines. After spending many years studying in the USSR, the majority of them returned to Yemen, a new unificated State after 1990. This paper focuses on the educational and cultural experiences that took place within the context of ‘socialist’ transnational solidarity, and on the variety of influences on the development of the Yemeni plastic arts movement.

Yemeni students in Armenia, 1978 (dancers and painters) with teacher during a field trip

Yemeni students in Armenia, 1978 (dancers and painters) with teacher during a field trip

                                                                                      Agrandir Original (jpeg, 28k)
In the study of modern and contemporary Yemeni plastic arts, the group of artists who studied in the Soviet Union has, to date, attracted little attention from observers of transnational practices: not only does it represent the largest group of Yemeni artists having studied abroad, but their experiences also significantly influenced the development of the Yemeni artistic movement. Given that transnational practices include not only the physical movement of people, but also the exchange of ideas, information and cultural values among others2, it is relevant to explore the events and exchanges that plastic artists still recall from their years in the Soviet Union. These memories and how they changed the artists’ practice are important factors in understanding the formation of the Yemeni plastic arts movement in the broadest sense.

The painters, sculptors, and poster artists discussed in this paper who went to the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, had many significant life experiences during their time there. The definition of “experience” employed in the analysis includes both experience as direct observation and participation in events as a basis of knowledge, as well as the know‑how gained through this direct observation or participation3. Similarly, this article concentrates on experiences understood as both the process and the result of the know‑how gained. With respect to the process, I examine how future artists came to study fine arts and produce artistic objects while living in the Soviet Union and thereafter. The first step in this process was an international experience made possible by educational agreements between states, simultaneously embedded in a flux of ideas, information, and cultural values crossing state borders, thus becoming individually autonomous transnational experiences. This transnational flux and exchange is a lasting phenomenon, materializing in the know‑how maintained over the years and still in use today.

In order to analyze the memory of these experiences, I first provide a general overview of the international context of Yemeni‑Soviet relations which include the educational programs that enabled artists to study abroad. Although it might appear to be a short diversion from our focus on the transnational, the international context provides a useful background to understanding the next section that describes the group of students educated in the Soviet Union. I then propose to change lenses and shift from an international perspective to a transnational one in order to describe some possible ramifications of these experiences. In this part of the paper, I analyze a number of cases which reveal the transnational character of experiences that happened both in the Soviet Union and in Yemen, and ultimately contributed to the shaping of a developing artistic movement. Lastly, the conclusion aims to flesh out possible limitations in the realm of transnational practices. In this case, how does distance become relative? How do imagination and subjectivity relate to spatial and temporal borders? And, more broadly, when and how does the transnational end?

A note on methodoloy
This paper is based on 18 interviews with painters, sculptors, ceramics artists, musicians and historians who studied in the former Soviet Union and came from both former North and South Yemen4. The interviews were held in Sana’a and Aden between 2008 and 2010. All the interviewees allowed me to use a recorder during in‑depth and semi‑structured interviews. This work also relies on group conversations, which were also recorded, and on participant observation, which is the central research method I use and the main reason for me to have been permanently based on the field between 2008 and March 2011.

I encountered two main methodological difficulties that I would like to briefly mention. To start with, the number of publications, articles, and academic research carried out in the field of modern and contemporary art in Yemen is meager in Arabic and virtually non existent in foreign languages. For this reason, the research conducted for this paper is almost exclusively based on oral sources and on a few written sources such as articles, catalogues of exhibitions, photographs, and material that artists themselves have kept from their years in the Soviet Union and that they kindly shared with me.

The second difficulty in addition to this lack of written sources is that many interviewees found it difficult to speak about their links to the former Socialist government, despite the fact that their memories and material occasionally led us back to the Socialist period in South Yemen. Discussing this period and works depicting socialist iconography was, at the time of my fieldwork, a highly sensitive topic which many interviewees stated “needs to be forgotten” or they said that it “was not the right time to talk about that”. Timing was indeed a crucial element in this study. To raise questions about Yemen’s unification is a complex task beyond the realm of this paper. However it is important to note that at the time I conducted fieldwork in Aden in 2009 and especially in 2010, the city was at the centre of violent clashes between the Southern Movement and representatives of the central government in Sana’a. Between the summer of 2010 and the end of the year, we witnessed an unprecedented escalation of violence in the south. The level of repression implemented by the government also translated into self‑censorship and psychological repression affecting artists. To speak about the artistic work they produced and their political affiliations during the Socialist period meant taking a risk, especially since “all‑things‑southern” were at that time associated — or put more bluntly, were said to be associated — with the Southern Movement, labeled as “terrorist”. Aspects of this situation will be noticeable throughout the paper although they will not be directly addressed.

Historical Context: International Background: Soviet-Yemeni relations 1920s – 1980s
A brief historical review of Soviet‑Yemeni state relations6 is helpful to understand the transnational practices and experiences discussed in this article as they provide the international framework of relevant state‑to‑state agreements.

With respect to the northern part of Yemen, these relations are about eighty years old as the Mutawakkil kingdom7 was one of the first Arab states to establish political relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This took a practical form in 1928, when the Mutawakkil Imamate and the Soviet Union signed a Friendship and Trade Treaty in Sana’a8. This treaty was renewed in 1939 and 1956; economic assistance and military cooperation between the two states continued throughout the period of the Imamate. In January 1962, a Soviet embassy opened in Sana’a and when the revolutionary forces overthrew the imamate on 26 September of that year, the Soviet Union was the first non‑Arab country to recognize the newly established Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). The Soviet government sent its first ambassador to the YAR within a year and in 1964 President ‘Abd Allāh al‑Sallāl visited Moscow and signed a Treaty of Friendship as well as an Economic and Military agreement between the two countries.

Also during the sixties and following the British withdrawal9 from Aden in 196710, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the People’s Republic of South Yemen (PRSY) on 2 December, a mere two days after independence. That very month a Soviet mission arrived to open an embassy and in 1968 a Technical and Military Assistance agreement was signed. It must be noted that although a strategic relationship was established with the Soviet Union from 1969 onwards, the USSR contributed no more than a quarter of all aid to South Yemen most of it in the form of projects rather than budgetary support11.

10In November 1970 the PRSY adopted a new constitution, with a Marxist‑Leninist orientation, and became the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). This was the decade when the Soviet Union began to build an informal alliance system with countries in the Third World. While the YAR also received aid and maintained agreements with the USSR, from the late 1960s onwards, the Soviet Union was South Yemen’s main supporter in the international arena. As has been stressed by Halliday, “the Soviet leaders were committed to the PDRY as the closest of their Arab allies and as one of the ‘states of socialist orientation’ that, together with Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola and Ethiopia, were potentially socialist states”12. However, and as the same author clarifies, “while this alliance with the USSR was more far‑reaching than that of any other Middle Eastern state with Moscow during this period, in a comparative Third World perspective South Yemen’s record was not so exceptional. The PDRY was one of over a dozen Third World non‑communist countries that developed close relations with the Soviet Union in the post‑war years”13.

11By the late 1970s, mounting economic problems in the USSR started to curtail its economic contributions to Third World countries. In the 1980s the third World received even less attention from the USSR14. In spite of this, the crucial support that the USSR gave to the emerging PDRY brought about significant internal changes. It meant “not only a close alliance with the USSR in foreign policy and military matters, but an even‑greater transformation of political, economic, and social character of the country along Soviet lines”15. In this sense, “accepting the Soviet diplomatic presence and seeking Soviet political and economic assistance carried as a corollary the acceptance of Soviet cultural programs”16. It is within the framework of these cultural programs that the role of Yemeni plastic artists needs to be examined.

Education and cultural relaitons with the Soviet Union

The scholarships given to plastic artists from North and South Yemen to study in the Soviet Union are part of the broader context of “Soviet cultural efforts”17 towards Arab countries. As of December 1965, Iraq led all Middle East states in the number of students studying in Communist countries with 1,205, followed by Yemen with 550, and Syria with 405. Of the total number of academic students from the Middle East as of December 1965, 2,125 were enrolled in the USSR and 995 in Eastern European countries18. In 1969 following the visit of PRSY President’s al‑Sha’bī to the USSR, a Scientific and Educational Agreement was signed and in subsequent years the number of Yemenis studying in the eastern bloc as a whole rose considerably19. In addition to this, from December 1972 onwards, with the opening of a College of Socialist Sciences and of a School for the Youth Union, Soviet instructors were teaching National Front members in South Yemen on a regular basis20. Reflecting the success of these educational agreements and exchanges, in 1975 the University of Aden which had opened in 197021 barely had more students enrolled (1,300) than were studying abroad (1,230)22. During the late seventies those who ambitioned to become plastic artists started their studies in the Soviet Union thanks to scholarships provided both to North and South Yemen, most of them graduating before the fall of the Soviet Union and some afterwards.

Becoming an artist: A portrait of the Yemeni group that studied in the Soviet Union
Among Yemeni artists who studied abroad, a majority went to the Soviet Union.23 Thanks to scholarships provided mainly through the Ministries of Culture and Education, between 50 and 7024 Yemenis left for the Soviet Union during the 1970s and the 1980s to pursue university studies in fine arts. Most of these future artists came from Aden, at a time when the Soviet Union played an important role in the formation of the PDRY, but there were also students from the YAR who thus had the opportunity to study in a country that had long assisted their own. When this group of students left for the Soviet Union, most of them had some background in fine arts and had been involved in some kind of formal or informal art studies during the seventies. As remembered ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī, a painter from Aden who was part of the first group that travelled to the USSR,
  “In Aden we all left together, painters, dancers, musicians, through the Cultural cooperation mechanism, which was a    cultural agreement with the Yemeni Republic in the south. This was in 1978 but before that, we had studied in the Free Workshop (al‑marsam al‑hurr) with Dr. ‘Abd al‑Azīz Darwīsh, an Egyptian professor who came to Yemen to help with the renaissance of a Yemeni artistic movement. The first step was when the Ministry of Culture opened this Workshop and studies began in 1976. We studied there in the evenings, from 1976 until 1978 and when we were in third year at the Workshop, we obtained the scholarships to study in the USSR. We began to travel there in 1978. In this period what is now called the Jamīl Ghānim Institute for Fine Arts (ma‛had Jamīl Ghānim li‑l‑funūn al‑jamīla) opened in Aden with the help of teachers and cadres who came from Egypt and Palestine. By the mid‑1980s as Yemenis who had studied abroad started to return to Yemen, we started to replace these foreign teachers” 25.

In the north of Yemen, a few artists who left for the Soviet Union had also acquired some knowledge prior to travelling, by studying under one of the pioneers, Hāshim ‘Alī26, who started painting in the late 1960s and opened his marsam in Taiz in 1975 to teach this discipline.

A smaller group mainly from North Yemen was self‑taught, some of them part of the pioneer group, such as ‘Abd al‑Jalīl al‑Surūrī in the north and ‘Alī Ghadāf, one of the leading artists of the movement in the early 1970s in Aden. When they left in the 1970s, most of them went to Moscow, and many of them studied at the prestigious Surikov Art Institute27 while others went to Leningrad. Other Soviet Socialist Republics such as Uzbekistan and Ukraine as well as other socialist countries, such as Hungary also hosted Yemeni art students.

Students had a variety of reasons to study in the Soviet Union but they had the same motivations. In the case of students coming from Aden, most of them had followed classes at the Free Workshop, which Soviet artists and professors would visit and choose candidates for the scholarships. Soviet art teachers were also present in Aden during the 1970s and the city was host to a Soviet cultural centre (Figure 1: Soviet Cultural Center in Aden). These circumstances made Russian art easily accessible; both the historical importance of classical Russian art and the prestigious art schools that flourished there, made the USSR one of the best places to study fine arts at that time. In the North of Yemen the important role of Russia in art history was also well known. As pointed out by one such painter,
  “I had the best marks in the YAR at the time scholarships were being offered, so I could have chosen Canada, Italy, Germany, or Russia. I chose the Soviet Union because I had read a lot of Russian literature, I knew Russian culture, art, philosophy… I also thought it was good to join a strong realist school, so that after I finished my studies I would be able to choose my own style. There was a lot of culture going on and for example, classical music, ballet, opera, theatre, and fine arts were all very strong, specially classical art and the realistic school was also very good there. This is how I made my choice” 28.

Figure 1: Program of the Soviet Cultural Center in Aden, 1972.

Figure 1: Program of the Soviet Cultural Center in Aden, 1972.

Courtesy of ‘Alī Muḥammad Yaḥyā

Agrandir Original (jpeg, 212k)Although, as has been already explained, South Yemen had closer relations with the Soviet Union, both North and South Yemeni artists shared a very positive perception of the Russian realist school. In addition to scholarships from the Soviet Union being offered to both countries, some students also had offers from other countries; thus students had a wide range of options, but most chose to go to the USSR, even if the number of Adeni students was larger by far29.

These students specialized in a wide variety of disciplines: most of them studied oil painting and graphic art, specializing in mural painting, graphic design and posters. Sculpture, ceramics, interior and exterior design, monumental sculpture, theatre and cinema stage set design, and art criticism were other disciplines chosen by Yemeni students. As a former student of interior and exterior design and painter at the Military museum in Aden remembers:
“No two people specialized in the same field. Almost all of us chose different fields because it was better in order to make a group, a complete group in which each one knows a different technique. In this way we could form a complete crew at the Fine Arts Institute in Aden and each one of us would teach a different thing. We were always together and we thought that it was better to specialize in different fields. Each one wanted to be the only one in his field. At the beginning we did it like this, but in the second group [that left for the USSR], many chose the same field, like oil painting. On our return we enriched the Institute [of Fine Arts in Aden] with these techniques. We were able to run the Institute by ourselves, without foreign teachers. This is how, after we graduated, the Institute went from being run by foreign teachers to being run by Yemeni teachers” 30.

With respect to the second and following groups that left from Aden to the Soviet Union, a mural painter added:
“Dr. Darwīsh advised us on our specializations and we followed his advice. I specialized in mural art, which was a seed that Dr. Darwīsh had planted in me. When I was in Aden he told me one day ‘your drawings are close to mural drawing’ and I loved that art. I went to the USSR and specialized in that, which was interesting work because it meant I had to learn to use hammers, climb walls, it was very physical work. I loved the material I needed to use and also studied ceramics, crystal, and many different things because Soviets liked to work on all types of art and we had to have knowledge of many things, including architecture and sculpture in the case of my studies. This was the advantage of studies in the USSR, it was applied art, complete studies, and academic.”31.

In order to pursue and complete their studies, this group of students stayed in the Soviet Union a minimum of seven years, the time needed to fulfill the requirements of the master’s program32. Some of them stayed longer to work towards a doctorate or to seek work there. Most of them finished their studies before the Soviet Union disintegrated and became the Russian Federation in 1991; all had started their studies during the Soviet period. On completion and, as agreed in the terms of their scholarships, most of them returned to the PDRY, the YAR and after 1990 to the Republic of Yemen (ROY). On their return, the great majority, if not the whole group, were employed by the government. In the PDRY, artists were employed at the Fine Arts Section of the Ministry of Culture in Aden, the National Museum, the Military Museum, and the Institute of Fine Arts as educators. Others joined the universities of Sana’a or, later, Ḥudayda, teaching art education, philosophy of art, and fine arts. Their return also marked the beginning of their careers as professional artists, joining the modern art movement that had started in the south in the 1930s and in the north mainly in the 1970s. By the time their careers took off, they were working in a unified Yemen. The 1990s was the decade when they started getting recognition locally and internationally. Thanks to this interest and recognition, they were very active in establishing and joining unions and associations. Such institutions had existed before unification in each part of Yemen and in the 1990s they were also in the process of unifying alongside other political and economic institutions whose unification process intensified after 1990. In the late 1990s and the 2000s new groups emerged as young artists graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Aden and from the newly opened department of fine arts of Ḥudayda University, the only public university in all of Yemen to offer these studies.

Between 2002 and 2007 the Ministry of Culture, headed by Khālid ‘Abd Allāh al‑Ruwayshān, gave considerable support to plastic artists: among other initiatives “Art Houses” were established throughout the Yemeni governorates in order to hold exhibitions and to serve as venues for workshops and other artistic activities33. This period remains the “golden era” in artists’ memories, and lasted until 2007. Since then, according to the perception of most artists, galleries have started closing, publications have stopped, activities have decreased, sales have shrunk, attendance to international exhibitions has gone down, institutions they created are seen as less useful, and the Ministry supports them less and less. As described by the artists, the situation of Yemeni plastic arts has become one of stagnation, due to a lack of interest from the government or society at large, and a lack of understanding and education in fine arts. However, despite this, new groups of young artists are joining the plastic arts movement and also new aesthetics, materials and artistic disciplines are enriching an artistic panorama dominated until now by modern art and in the process of opening itself to more contemporary creations34.

Implications of transnational experiences in the formation of the Yemeni plastic arts movement
Transnational activity, as depicted by some of the first scholars who focused on transnational politics (Keohane and Nye, from the realist school), encompasses “all forms of contacts, coalitions, and interaction across state boundaries that are not controlled by the central foreign policy organs of governments”35. In the case of this group of artists described above, their studies in the Soviet Union took place thanks to international agreements and scholarships made possible by the PDRY and YAR treaties and educational agreements with the Soviet government. However, experiences emanating from this international context span across national borders. Given the numerous implications of the transnational aspects stemming from these experiences, these can be analyzed within the framework of practices that Tilly and Castañeda36 interpret as transnational. They include: a) Physical movement of people; b) Transfer of goods and money (remittances); c) Exchanges of ideas, information and cultural values; d) What Peggy Levitt (2001) calls social remittances: a set of habits, values, created needs and expectations brought home from another country that are “part‑and‑parcel of an ongoing process of cultural diffusion”37.

In the case studied in this paper, not only did numerous Yemeni students physically move to another country during the 1970s and later, but they also transferred and exchanged ideas, information, cultural values, expectations and habits in manifold ways. In what follows, I point out a number of the transnational ramifications these experiences represented, with a special focus on those relating to art and politics.

Aesthetic exchanges
As can be seen in the images from exhibitions and as artists explained, their source of inspiration while living in the Soviet Union remained their Yemeni background. They used Arabic calligraphy and depicted Yemeni subjects and scenes of everyday life finding inspiration in their “Yemeni heritage”. As is demonstrated by these works, artists brought Yemeni culture to the Soviet Union through their paintings, including many indicators of their cultural belonging. For instance, in the Moscow exhibition held for her master’s thesis Ilhām al‑‘Arashī, who specialized in posters at the Surikov Academy, showed posters with Arabic calligraphy, typical Sana’ani architecture, women wearing traditional colored Yemeni coverings (like the sitāra from the old city of Sana’a) as well as black (which became the norm during the 1980s), musical instruments like the oud, and subjects related to her country’s history and politics like unity between north and south. As she and other artists explained, thanks to their studies they acquired new techniques and improved their education but did not depict Russian culture. Instead, they brought Yemeni culture to the Soviet Union through their works (Figure 2, brochure from the exhibition).

Figure 2: Brochure from Ilhām al‑‘Arashī’s Master thesis’ exhibition, Moscow, 1990.

Figure 2: Brochure from Ilhām al‑‘Arashī’s Master thesis’ exhibition, Moscow, 1990.

Courtesy by the artist

Exchanges also took place in the opposite direction: on their return to Yemen they brought back paintings that depicted, if not Russian culture strictly speaking, at least subjects that were allowed in the Soviet Union and elsewhere but which were sensitive or forbidden in Yemen such as practice sketches and exercises including nude models38, both male and female. Despite some difficulties (the obligation to get signed and stamped permissions for each work of art) some artists were able to bring back drafts of paintings and sketches including those of nude models. Among the records artists kept of their pieces and exercises in the Soviet Union, they also kept photographs of works which were studies and drawings of the body’s anatomy which they had been required to draw and which included male and female bodies of all ages (Figure 3, ‘Abd Allāh ‘Ubayd).

Figure 3: ‘Abd Allāh ‘Ubayd, Kiev, 1988.

Figure 3: ‘Abd Allāh ‘Ubayd, Kiev, 1988.

Courtesy by the artist

26When asked about the influence of their experience abroad on their artistic work, most of them explained the nature of the exchanges by saying that their source of inspiration had always remained their home country and the only visible influence of the Soviet experience was to be found in their technique. Bringing back samples of academic exercises they had done while studying was also a way to bring back a technique acquired, although the same type of anatomical studies was not possible in Yemen.

Political remittances through art
While most of the artists stressed that, culturally speaking, they remained very attached to Yemen, especially in terms of the subjects of their artistic work, living for so many years in a country where politics pervaded all aspects of life also had an impact on their vision. Schools like social realism39 and socialist realism40 left its mark on their work while they were studying abroad: as ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya one of the first graduates in oil painting remembers, upon his return to Aden he made “2.40 meter high street posters, with slogans such as peace, friendship, and other slogans of that time41”. ‘Alī al‑Ḍarḥānī, pointed out that these pictures “were those of Soviet socialist realists, depictions of workers and farmers, and the social side of everything42.” In the words of al‑Faqiya,

“At that time we used to make posters about peace because it was the period of the ‘star wars’, the Cold War, so we worked on slogans of peace to create reassurance between socialist countries. All this was part of the Russian experience but had also been part of our experience before going to the Soviet Union as we were living in a country [the PDRY] which had the same orientation; ideology influenced all types of art, not only plastic arts” 43.

As another artist stressed
“Politics were present everywhere, and it wasn’t something new to Yemen. Drawings and paintings served politics, supported politics, in the Soviet Union and in Yemen too. To give an example, the ideological section of the party [Yemeni Socialist Party] gave me the slogan, let’s say, ‘Yemeni unity shall be protected’ and from those slogans we did a painting or a poster. It was like this after I came back from Russia” 44.

It is possible to conclude from these statements that the production of a socialist iconography was not only linked to their Soviet educational experiences but, further, that this exchange of ideas had started before the students traveled to the Soviet Union and continued throughout their stay and after their return to Yemen. Some of the students from the Free Workshop in Aden worked on the production of a type of art aimed at redefining certain social values. Political education through plastic art ‑ that is through paintings, posters, murals or sculptures ‑ was a crucial element in socialist regimes, especially in countries such as South Yemen where the level of illiteracy was very high. This had also been the case for the Bolsheviks in 1917, for whom visual political education had been crucial in order to reach large numbers of mainly illiterate people. In this sense, painters in the South worked on similar issues and in similar ways to those of Soviet artists. For instance, they worked on the promotion of new cultural values as part of a general effort to change values and to change society through, for example, images illustrating the need for adult education or for joining the labor force, (Figure 4: ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī “Adult education” and “Work force”), women’s education, preserving the environment (Figure 5: Ilhām al‑’Arashī “Education is awareness” and “Nature is beautiful, preserve her”), and urban development (Figure 6: ‘Alī ‘Abduh Yaḥyā al‑Faqiya “Urban development”). Among other examples are works intended as political education: although educating society through the commemoration of certain dates was not specific to Socialist and Soviet iconography, it was an important part of the artistic production during the PDRY period. For instance, painters produced posters and canvases to commemorate the resistance against British colonialism (14 October 1963), independence from the British (30 November 1967), the “corrective move” that ousted president of the PRSY Qaḥṭān al‑Sha‛bī, or the 20th anniversary of South Yemen’s independence (Figure 7: “Memorial dates”). Other representations used for political education were posters about the Yemeni working class, or promoting Soviet‑Yemeni friendship, and depictions of unification in the PDRY (Figure 8: ‘Alī ‘Abduh Yaḥyā al‑Faqiya).

Figure 4: ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī, “Adult education” and “Work force”, 1970s.

Figure 4: ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī, “Adult education” and “Work force”, 1970s.

Courtesy by the artist

Figure 5: Ilhām al‑‘Arashī, “Education is awareness” and “Nature is beautiful, preserve her”.

Figure 5: Ilhām al‑‘Arashī, “Education is awareness” and “Nature is beautiful, preserve her”.

Courtesy by the artist

Exhibited in her master thesis’ show in Moscow, 1990.

Courtesy by the artist

Figure 6: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya, “Urban development”, 1970.

Figure 6: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya, “Urban development”, 1970.

Figure 7: “Memorial dates”, anonymous.

Figure 7: “Memorial dates”, anonymous.

Courtesy by the artist

Figure 8: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya.

Figure 8: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya.

Poster for the Yemeni Socialist Party published in the newspaper 14 October, “For the sake of strengthening and deepening Yemeni‑Soviet friendship”, 1985.

Portraits of the leader were another way of connecting art and politics. Although these are part of an iconography shared with other Arab states and which deserves discussion beyond the scope of this article, it needs to be addressed at least minimally, as it represents artistic techniques that were particularly present in Soviet art and socialist iconography (especially after the death of Lenin and during the Stalin years45). As mentioned by Nāṣir al‑Qawī46, most of the artists who studied in the Soviet Union worked on portraying political figures upon their return to Yemen. Ranging from figures from the Socialist government in the former South to the president of a unified Yemen, artists put their skills at the service of their governments which were as concerned with the leader’s image as the Soviets had been. For instance, most of al‑Junaydī’s work is in the form of portraits of Ṣāliḥ and his ‘achievements’ (Figure 9), as well as other political figures such as Shaykh al‑Aḥmar or the director of moral guidance in the armed forces, ‘Alī Shaṭr47.

Figure 9: ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī.

Figure 9: ‘Abbās al‑Junaydī.

Agrandir Original (jpeg, 180k) Image taken by the author in Aden, 2010.

The term propaganda, which can be interpreted in multiple and sometimes essentially derogatory ways48, is appropriate to the present study if understood as a means to publicize official positions and voices. The aforementioned artists’ works expressed and publicized political slogans and ideals, using their artistic skills to satisfy the demands of governments. Applying artistic skills in this manner is not specific to, but it was relevant in, Russian schools like socialist realism, which had a long experience of treating art as a vehicle to transmit political messages and educate society. While most of the artists explained that their studies in the Soviet Union did not include politics, on their return to Yemen their art and acquired knowledge were in some cases put to the service of political objectives49. Bearing in mind the fact that the majority of these artists came back to work for the government in one way or another, they had to adapt to the demands of the new unified government. In order to get more job opportunities, they had to be flexible and professional and willing to use their artistic training to work on commissions and not only on what was of interest to them. In this sense, their artistic skills were considered to be technical, professional and commercial skills. Artists have a “know‑how” that can be used in many ways, and the government oriented and paid artists to paint portraits of political figures, to illustrate the recent history of the country, and lastly to highlight new political identities. The artists explain the influence of ideology on their work as a result of their having lived through this particular historical period, and stated that they responded to the demands of the time and that their work was not an indicator of political commitment. None of the artists expressed a political commitment to these ideals, nor did they claim to have been supporters of any previously existing political party. How their artistic skills were used can be interpreted as a social remittance, as a set of habits brought back home from a country that had a long tradition of linking art and politics in this manner50. However, it needs to be remembered that this type of iconography had already started developing before the artists traveled to the Soviet Union as it had emerged during the earliest years of the PDRY period; so it can be interpreted as a type of transnational exchange which emerged alongside the socialist orientation of the PDRY.

Figure 10: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya.

Figure 10: ‘Alī ‘Abduh al‑Faqiya.

Poster for the Yemeni Socialist Party published in the newspaper 14 October, with the image of the tomb of the unknown soldier, 1985. Courtesy by the artist

“Imagined” identities
Another important exchange that was part of this transnational experience was the convergence of trajectories that, in other respects, took place independently of each other in north and south Yemen respectively. The Soviet educational experience played a central role in creating relations between artists from the YAR and the PDRY at a time in history when such contacts were not possible in their own states. Before travelling to the Soviet Union, northern and southern artists had followed independent trajectories, using different types of training and learning methods: in the South there was a free painting workshop and an Institute of Fine Arts that gave a diploma after three years of study; in the North there were no such institutions and students learned from pioneer painters. The exhibitions that took place North or South never included painters from the other state. The period many North and South Yemeni artists spent studying in the Soviet Union represents a moment when their trajectories, which had been independent and separate, converged. Therefore, the Soviet Union served as a common ground where Yemenis from the North and the South discovered that there was an artistic movement growing in the other state as they lived in the same student residences, studied art and Russian at the same institutions, participated in the same cultural activities organized by the university and traveled together on art‑related trips like art competitions or exhibitions.

Furthermore, and besides connecting members of what until then had been two separate artistic movements, being abroad confronted artists with their own national identities as citizens of separate states and possibly encouraged them to eventually put their work in the service of unification which had first been imagined and depicted in works of art, long before it was achieved in reality. To a certain extent it is possible to wonder whether this experience also helped to form and shape a feeling of belonging to one Yemen. As artist Kamāl al‑Maqrāmī explained,
“From the north or from the south, we were all together over there, and when people asked me where I came from I felt the question provoked things in me; I did not say I was from the north or from the south, I only said I was Yemeni” 52.

As examples such as this one show, being abroad made it possible to overcome political state‑based identities and to become simply “Yemeni”. In other words, these students were able to construct identities that transcended state barriers53. To what extent was the imagined identification with a unified state triggered by or a product of the demands made by the governments in north and south Yemen? During the 1980s and when students returned to Yemen for summer holidays, they were often required to produce works that depicted Yemen’s unity. As a matter of fact, there was already a considerable amount of work depicting the unification of the North and the South before 1990. In this vein, national identification with a unified country was imagined and fostered before being formally signed: it first materialized through posters and paintings outside Yemen, in school exhibitions, and in Yemen appeared in newspapers (Figures 2 and 8). In the light of this, it is possible to wonder if this transnational experience did not free artists from historical contingencies, thus enabling them to create a unified Yemen in their subconscious, in their everyday life outside Yemen, and in their art.

Intellectual goods and cultural values
Lastly, another value which they brought home relates to the fact that the artistic production of this group is usually described in interviews, books and articles as “academic art”, in an “academic style”, or with an “academic technique”. “Academic” here refers to a set of techniques, composition (a balanced distribution of the elements depicted on a canvas), and colors. On the one hand, and as both interviews and observation make clear, this is presented as a mark of prestige, evidence of having pursued formal studies, and as a label that guarantees the professional quality of the work. For instance, students of fine arts in Aden speak of the style of their teachers (most of whom belong to the group that studied in the Soviet Union or abroad) as academic, “from the Russian school”. In this sense, they praise their knowledge of techniques and composition; at the same time they also complain of a certain rigidity, and the absence of encouragement when they want to try different approaches54. This academic style of painting but also of teaching was noticeable during participant observation at a painting workshop in an art studio in Sana’a55: From the beginning of the classes, the students learned to draw portraits and objects, according to a realistic style as the teacher had been taught in Moscow, and as it is taught in many academic art institutions elsewhere. From the teacher’s perspective and in her experience, it was necessary to first learn realistic painting in order to later be able to try and choose a different style, and in this sense, it appeared as a required “base”56.

Moreover, it could be said that there is also a form of social remittance in the value attached to this: prestige attached to academic experience was brought to Yemen from the Soviet Union thus contributing to the creation of a type of artist who is professional and educated. The education they acquired, their knowledge of art history, their exposure to music, theatre, ballet, museums and travels, were all part of the cultural capital that this group of artists brought back and clearly form a social remittance. This capital is appreciated, highly respected, and in this sense, is a value recognized by the older and younger members of the artistic scene. Based on Levitt’s analysis, it can be described as a value and an idea transmitted within an artistic elite, whose members are carriers of ideas in their own right and were able to convince others to adopt the technical expertise and skills they introduced. This was possible because they occupied official positions at the Institute of Fine Arts, the university and in their private studios, which allowed them to act upon these ideas57.

On the other hand, this academic way of teaching and the ‘Soviet’ legacy in the style of their work is sometimes critiqued, not so much as a style associated with realism and impressionism, but as a way of working. Some artists consider that certain members of the Soviet group have not been able to “leave” the Russian academy, that they are unable to produce artistic works that differ from what they learnt, and that they are unable to develop their own style and all they do is reproduce what they learned abroad. Academic art is thus perceived as both prestigious and professional as well as being limited and showing a lack of capacity to leave the academy and find their own style.

Concluding remarks: Questions the elasticity of transnational experiences in time and in space
The transnational experiences Yemeni artists lived through while studying fine arts in the Soviet Union had a clear influence and left many imprints on their art, the ideas they expressed, their technique, their way of teaching, the friendship networks created, even on the perception they had of their own national subjectivities as Yemenis. Furthermore, this group has been very important in the establishment of a Yemeni artistic movement because most of them became teachers and a reference point for younger and upcoming artists. Nowadays, younger members of the artistic movement reproduce techniques and styles characteristic of the Soviet group. In practice, this is manifested in a strong presence of realism and impressionism among the styles found, with painting the dominant discipline, and subjects deeply anchored in modern aesthetics.

Lastly, in all the cases studied here, we observe the outcomes of experiences that took place in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. After the completion of their studies, most artists never returned to Russia. They neither maintained contacts with former professors, fellow artists and colleagues, nor did they follow developments in modern and contemporary Russian art. Therefore they are not currently influenced by it in the way they were during the years they spent studying there. In addition, the political context has changed, both the Soviet Union and the PDRY no longer exist; neither do the agreements and scholarships, they have become far fewer or even ceased completely. As a result, the question remains as to whether the transnational experience studied here can or should be studied as one that is now complete. Was the experience considered over when the artists returned to Yemen and ended their contact with Russia? Conversely, does the fact that their work, technique, and way of teaching continue to be influenced today by what they learnt and experienced in Russia, reflect the continuity of a never‑ending transnational impact? More generally, when does the transnational end? If the study of the transnational is clearly related to movement and exchange, it does not appear to be related to time span. Drawing a conclusion from the cases studied here, the process of becoming an artist in the art schools of the Soviet Union as well as the know‑how gained from such an experience is part of an overall experience that marks the individual and the professional’s development. This impact, related to a particular school that we can loosely call that of Soviet art, accompanied and accompanies the artists in manifold ways and for an unlimited time. One of them is the impact that the “Soviet Group” has on the younger group of artists emerging now. Far from concluding, what this case puts into question is that transnational practices might thus be never ending or unlimited in time.


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1  In this regard and as pointed out by Seiler, 2001, “from an etymological point of view, the word ‘party’ and its different translations such as ‘parti’, ‘partido’, ‘partito’, ‘partei’, ‘partia’ in Russian or Polish and ‘part’ in Hungarian, they all derive from a French verb that today no longer exists: ‘partir’, which meant to ‘make parts’. This meaning implied in a very clear manner the action of dividing any given totality. The concept of ‘party’always refers to division and thus to conflict, which explains the lack of popularity that was initially attached to parties” p. 6.

2  TillyandCastañeda, 2007, p. 39.

3  Tilly defines repertoire (social movement repertoire) as the employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering. Tilly, 2004, p. 3. It must be also noted that as Tilly stresses “the notion of repertoire is a simplifying model. It incorporates a sense of regularity, order, and deliberate choice into conflict; the model may well appear to leave no room for anger, drunkenness, spontaneity, and the pleasure of a good whack at an enemy’s shins. In my sketch, it makes little allowance for variation by time, place, and social group, and implies neat, rapid, comprehensive transitions from one limited set of forms to the next. All that sounds hopelessly unrealistic.” He further adds: “In its weakest version, the notion of repertoire is simply a metaphor to remind us that routines become recognizable to participants as well as to observers, and have something of an independent story. In its strongest version, the notion of repertoire amounts to an hypothesis of deliberate choice by contenders among well-defined alternative modes of action, with both the available alternatives and the choices contenders make among them changing continuously as a consequence of the outcomes of previous actions. In its intermediate version, the notion of repertoire states a model in which the accumulated experience of contenders interacts with the strategies of authorities to make limited number of forms of action more feasible, attractive, and frequent than many others which could, in principle, serve the same interests.” Tilly, 1981, p. 9-10.

4  Sites of contention are human settings that serve as originators, objects, and/or arenas of contentious politics. Sites may be human individuals, but they also include informal networks, organizations, neighborhoods, professions, trades, and other settings of social life. Each kind of site has its own peculiarities. TillyandTarrow, 2006, p. 202-203.

5  Brackets are mine.

6  TillyandCastañeda, op. cit.p. 39.

7 Lipset and Rokkan (Ed.), 1967. Lipset and Rokkan explain that there are four cleavages product of critical episodes in history (such as the French, the Industrial or the Russian revolution). These cleavages are (a) the central nation-building culture and the increasing resistance of populations in the peripheries; (b) the centralizing nation-state versus the corporate privileges of the church; c) landed interests and industrial entrepreneurs and d) employers and workers. Lipset and Rokkan suggest that the institutionalization of these conflicts resulted in parties, yet how these cleavages translated into parties is not entirely clear.

8 Tilly and Castañeda, op. cit. Episodes are explained as “bounded sequences of continuous interaction, usually produced by an investigator’s chopping up longer streams of contention into segments for purposes of systematic observation, comparison, and explanation. Example: We might compare successive petition drives of antislavery activists in Great Britain (each drive counting as a single episode) over the twenty years after 1785, thus not only seeing how participants in one drive learned from the previous drive but also documenting how the movement as a whole evolved”, p. 43.

9  Interview held with ‘Abd Allâh Sa’tar, president of the Social Welfare Committee and member of the Majlis al-Shûrâ in the Islah Party, November 4, 2008, Sanaa.

10  The parties that compose the JMP are: the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah), the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the Popular Nasserite Unity Organization (PNUO), the National Socialist Arab Ba‘ath Party, the Union of Popular Forces (UPF) and the al-/Haqq Party (both Zaydi-oriented parties).

11  Although other contentious dynamics might exist inside Islah, this paper will focus on the two dynamics selected. In light of this, this paper will leave aside personalities that also contend the party in different ways, for instance Hamîd al-A/hmar who could be situated at the center of a hybrid dynamic in terms of his tribal links and family allegiance to the President, and his role in the opposition JMP. Hamîd al-A/hmar is one of the sons of Shaykh ‘Abd Allâh al-A/hmar. He is also a businessman and an Islah MP since 1993. Since 2006 he has been playing an important role inside the JMP coalition and the National Consultation Meeting, launched in 2008 by the JMP in order to have their own national dialogue platform. This possible third dynamic remains in this paper as a proposal for further research.

12  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit., p. 204.

13  Expression borrowed from Browers, 2007.

14  The YAR was established in 1962 through a military coup against a theocratic state ruled by a hereditary line of Zaydi Imams. Egypt played an important role in this coup as it intervened in Yemen against royalists that were backed by Saudi Arabia.

15  The PDRY was established in 1967, when the British troops withdrew from the port of Aden giving place to the birth of the People’s Republic of South Yemen (PRSY), which in 1970 adopted a Marxist orientation and became the People Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

16  Political Action Program of the Yemeni Islah Party, Draft for the Yemeni Republic, p. 5. Undated.

17  Wiktorowicz, 2004, p. 210. For further reading refer to Burgat and Sbitli, 2003, p. 47-67.

18  As argued by Burgat and Sbitli, the idea of reform among the Yemenis that were influenced by /Hasan al-Banna’s thought, (which was diffused in Yemen by his personal emissary al-Fudhayl al-Wartilânî, who arrived in 1947), dates back to the project of reform that nourished the Free Yemeni Movement at the time of the imamate. The reforms supported by the Egyptian Muslim Brothers were at the core of the constitutional revolution of 1948, which was the first organized attempt to end both the isolationism and the absolutism of the Zaydi imamate in order to establish a constitutional monarchy. The influence of Muslim Brothers in dynamics of political modernization continued despite the failure of this attempt. It is in this light that “an ideology close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood anchored the republican modernization to the destiny of contemporary Yemen.” Furthermore, the presence of Muslim Brothers among the numerous Egyptian teachers sent to Yemen after the Egyptian retreat in 1967 was a major element in the dynamic of political modernization that took place after the civil war between royalists and republicans. This presence determined the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Yemen, although the establishment of a proper party remains unclear. Burgat and Sbitli, op. cit., p. 58, 66-67.

19  Interview held with Nâsir Yahyâ, September 8, 2008, and with ‘Abd Allâh Sa‘tar, op. cit., November 2008.

20  In relation to how the party is externally described Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî, member of the parliament and a founding member of Islah, stressed “people outside Islah wants us to stay rigid, but we change and have changed following the needs of the country (…). That is why we gather different ideas inside one party.” Interview held on March 18, 2009, Sanaa.

21  Interview with Nâsir Yahyâ, Ibid.

22  Phillips, 2008, p. 51.

23  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 70.

24  Browers, op. cit., p. 566. Schwedler’s work referred by Browers is Schwedler, 2006.

25  Yemen’s tribal system is dominated by two main tribes, the /Hâshid and the Bakîl. For a more detailed analysis of tribes in Yemen refer to Dresch, 1989 and Dresch andHaykel, 1995, p. 406.

26  In 1982, when the GPC was created, Shaykh al-A/hmar was appointed to the permanent council of this party, Cf. BonnefoyandPoirier, 2010.

27  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 67.

28  Ibid, p. 64.

29  Burgat, 2003.

30  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.

31  “Unlike al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar, Islah leaders al-Yadûmî, Qa/htân, and al-Anisî are each referred to not as “shaykh” in Islah party documents, but as “professors” (asâtidha), signifying their status as party intellectuals rather than as religious authorities or spiritual guides. The shaykh-professor distinction may indicate a juxtaposition of “traditional” and “modern” as well.” Browers, op. cit., p. 575 and p. 585.

32  The Islah Party re-elected al-Yadûmî as successor to Shaykh al-A/hmar in the presidency of the party during the second part of the Fourth Conference of the Islah Party, held on March 12, 2009. Yemen Times, March 16, 2009.

33  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 80.

34  Browers, op. cit.

35  Salafism developed during the beginning of 1980s around the figure of Shaykh Muqbil bin Hâdî al-Wâdi‘î, whom established his institute Dâr al-hadîth in the region of Saada, a Zaydi historical cradle from where he was from. The adherence to Salafism is characterized by a rigid interpretation of Islamic texts, a succinct practice, a reject of political participation, a submission to the State and to the power holder, and a critique of other political or religious streams, such as Muslim Brothers, Sufis, Ismailis, and Zaydis. Bonnefoy, 2008 (a), p. 201‑215. Some Salafis are also called Wahhabis because of their ties to Saudi Arabia. They are considered to be more conservative than Brotherhood members, particularly concerning pluralism and the role of women. Schwedler, 2002, p. 48-55. Also see Bonnefoy, in (Ed.) Rougier, 2008 (b).

36  Phillips, op. cit., p. 138.

37 Ahmad Al-Yamanî, 2003, p. 51.

38  Phillips, 2008, quoting Schwedler, p. 54.

39  Ibid, Phillips is here quoting Saif.

40  Namely four: center-periphery, church-state, land-industry and capitalists-workers.

41  Church-State may be adapted as Islam-state, center-periphery by Arabism-decentralism, capitalists-workers does not pose any problems, and land-industry by totalitarian parties and liberal parties. Baduel, 1996, p. 28‑29.

42  Camau andGeisser, 2002, p. 242.

43  Catusse and Karam note this specifically when dealing with political parties from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen, in Catusse and Karam, 2010, p. 21.

44  This argument is developed in the following pages.

45  In this respect founding member of the party Zayd ‘Alî al-Shâmî explains “we called it ‘congregation’ because we meant by this to gather different parts of Yemeni society: the political, social, cultural and religious sectors of society. We created this congregation to fight for reform in a pacific way. This idea was also the one embraced by older reformists, the old reformist movement, who started a new movement so as to achieve freedom and peaceful change of power.”  Interview quoted.

46  This trap first described by Sartori, 1994 (in which “conceptual stretching” tends to be used to encompass realities that are far from being the same thus voiding them from their real meaning), engaged by Seiler, 2001, and questioned by Catusse, 2006, points out to the necessity to better approach the definition of political parties in Arab countries, which in the Yemeni case would need to be developed and would thus require another space than the one provided by this article.

47  Tilly, 1981, p. 4.

48  SchwedlerandClark, 2006.

49  President /Sâli/h’s GPC won 121, and the YSP obtained 56 seats. DreschandHaykel, op. cit., p. 406.

50  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16. Three members of the GPC and two socialists previously formed this council.

51 Ibid.

52 Burgat,op. cit .

53 Browers,op. cit. p. 559.

54  Phillips, op. cit. p. 142.

55  Wedeen, inAl-RasheedandVitalis, (eds.), 2004, p. 252.

56  National Democratic Institute (ndi), Report on the 2006 elections in Yemen, p. 8.

57  Browers, op. cit. p. 571.

58  Ibid, p. 570.

59  Phillips, op. cit., p. 143.

60  Browers, op. cit., p. 578.

61  Fay/sal bin Shamlân held the post of minister of public works and transports in South Yemen in 1967. Between 1971 and 1990 he was deputy for the Higher People’s Council (PDRY’s parliament). Elected in 1993 and 1997, has been an independent member of the parliament in unified Yemen, and he held the post of Oil and Mineral Resources minister between 1994 and 1995, when he resigned in order to protest against corruption in the parliament. As Bonnefoy and Poirier clarify in relation to the ideological imaginary attached to Shamlân, “Islah’s Islamists found in Shamlân a means to overcome leadership conflicts that divide the Islah party. Shamlân is also identified with the Muslim Brotherhood for in 1990 he participated to the establishment of the Free Yemeni Platform (al-Minbar al-Yamanî al-Hurr) considered as the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood in the South of the country. Later on Shamlân returned to the political arena as an independent candidate.”, op. cit. p. 19.

62  Opposition parties refused to accept the vote result, alleging that /Sâli/h won only 68.86% of votes, not 77.17%, Yasser Al-Mayasi, “Salih wins another term, Opposition criticizes results”, Yemen Times, September 25‑27, 2006.

63  The core of the dispute concerned the aborted reform of the electoral system and the electoral commission. See Poirier, 2009, in particular the reproduction of the escalating rhetoric between the ruling and the opposition parties.

64  Detalle, 1996, p. 333 and p. 335. It must be noted that the shaykh’s father and brother were decapitated by the Imam. The “debt” is that of the tribe’s allegiance to the republic, especially after the war and the corrective movement that aimed at repressing leftists and ensuring a more conservative orientation in the construction of the Republic.

65 Schewdler, 2006, op. cit. p. 70.

66 Ibid.

67  Browers, op. cit. p. 568.

68 Bonnefoy and Poirier, op. cit. p. 3.

69  The Scientific Institutes developed during the 1970s as a way to create a parallel school system financed by Saudi Arabia and initially conceived so as to fight the socialist ideological offensive in the border regions with the Marxist Southern Yemen. These institutes relayed on the stress of Sunni sources and the prophetic tradition, that is, an Islam out of a specific context and depending on certain popular traditions perceived as more authentically Yemeni and expressing a certain cultural and religious diversity. Bonnefoy, 2008 (a), p. 205.

70  As Tilly notes, repertoires have several different levels: action, performance, campaign and array of performances. TILLY, 1995, p. 43.

71  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 176.

72  Ibid, see p. 180 and p. 185 in relation to these two positions towards democracy.

73  Ibid, p 61-62.

74  Ibid, p. 61. The work cited by Schwedler is Carapico, 1998.

75  Ibid, p. 104. Nine posts were given to Islah’s members. Al-Anisî was promoted to First Deputy Minister.

76  A Web site of the Yemeni Defence Ministry reported that the US request was part of a letter from US ex‑president, George W. Bush, addressed to President ‘Alî ‘Abd Allâh /Sâli/h, but did not note whether the US asked Yemen to hand in al-Zindânî or just hold him in Yemen. The US also expressed objection for including al-Zindânî in the Yemeni delegation accompanying President /Sâli/h to the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the end of 2005. The letter noted that al-Zindânî is among those accused by the United Nations of financing terror, noting that he is not allowed to travel and that including him in an official delegation is considered as a violation of UN resolutions. Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), 23 November, 2006.

77  Hassan Al-Zaidi, “al-Zindânî: My reservation is due to security and intelligence factors,” The Yemen Times, November 28, 2006, Issue 775, Volume 13.

78  This is also a strategically challenging position for /Sâli/h, who has to deal with US’s demands at the same time that he keeps al-Zindânî in Yemen and next to him in terms of power despite the fact that he represents a threat to the US.

79 Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 113.

80 Browers,op. cit. p. 582.

81  Poirier, 2008, p. 140.

82  Browers, Ibid.

83  Document from the Virtue Authority, Multaqâ al-fa/dîla al-awwal li ‘ulamâ wa mashâyikh wa wujahâ’ al-Yaman (First Virtue meeting for ulemas, shaykhs et notables of Yemen), June, 2008.

84  ‘Abduh Maktaf, “Multaqâ’ al-Fa/dîla yantakhib al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Majîd al-Zindânî ra’îsân lil-hay’a,” al-Shaqâ’iq magazine, number 153, 2008.

85  Mohammed Al-Kibsi, “Vice and Virtue Committee elects its leadership,” Yemen Observer, August 12, 2008.

86  Document from the Virtue Authority, 2008, op. cit.

87 Risâla ‘ulama al-Yaman bi-sha’n al-kûtâ al-nisâ’iyya, 2008.

88  As one of the daughters of al-Zindânî noted “This is not the first fatwa against women’s political participation. Additionally, my father wanted to create another “majlis” only for women and requested this to the government. It was a better system than what we have now and also we need to remember that in the West women are only minorities in the parliaments and political institutions.” Interview with Asmâ’ al-Zindânî, August 15, 2006, Sanaa. In relation to other fatwas issued on the same subject, Tawakkul Karmân, head of Women Journalists Without Chains (Munazzamat Sahafiyât bilâ quyûd) and member of Islah’s majlis al-shûrâ denounced that several other fatwas have been issued and no one has spoken about them, “people only listened to al-Zindânî but they should read what other ulamas have published and demand the ulamas authority to react in relation to this. The problem is not the fatwa but the lack of a political decision from the government that does not give a real opportunity to women.” Interview with Tawakkul Karmân, September 1, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in the Yemen Observer series “Women respond to the Vice and Virtue Committee,” Part III, September 13, 2008.

89  Following a report from the Women National Committee, the Islah Party ranked first in women’s participation in the higher positions of the party, the ruling party, the GPC, ranked second and the Socialist Party third. 8 women out of 13 men in Islah are members of the General Secretariat; 13 women out of 150 men are members of the Consultative Council; and 140 women our out 273 men are members of the Supreme Authority in the Governorates. In comparison to these numbers, 5 women out of 37 men are members of the General Committee at the GPC; 89 women out of 886 men are members of the Permanent Committee; 66 women out of 198 men are members at the Supreme Authority in the Governorates and 1230 women out of 3280 men are members at the Supreme Authority in the Direction of the party. Women National Committee: Wad’ al-mar’â fî al-Yaman, 2007, p. 103.

90  Interview with the author, November 5, 2008, Sanaa.

91  Several journalists, analysts and politicians have suggested this possibility, such as Farouk al-Salihi, “Al‑Zindânî’s new authority: a spoiler or split in the Islah party?”, Yemen Times, August 4-6, 2008 ; Hooria Mashoor and Tawakkul Karmân (interviewed in August and September 2008); and politicians from the Islah Party as quoted by Nasir Arrabyee, “Rescuing Yemen from drowning in vice,” Yemen Observer, July 16, 2008, and Ambassador Mustafa Ahmad al-Nu‘mân, “Between religion and politics”, Yemen Times, August 11‑13, 2008. Finally, this possibility was presented even before the Virtue Authority held its first conference, through the JMP’s statement rejecting the Virtue Authority and stating that “The formation of the Vice and Virtue Committee should not conceal the real political intentions behind its formation, which aims to confuse political life in a helpless and exposed attempt to divert the attention from the corruption of the government.”, July 12, 2008.

92  Even at the first conference held by the Virtue Authority on July 15, 2008, “no prominent politicians from the Islah Party attended the meeting except Shaykh al-Zindânî” said Nasir Arrabyee, op. cit. “The absence of the highly respected scholar Yasîn ‘Abd al-Azîz al-Qubâti and all Islah Party leaders from the conference is a clear and strong indicator that the idea of both, al-Zindânî and al-Dharîhi (member of Islah) faced strong opposition. The idea was labeled as a hurried action, aimed at creating an atmosphere of animosity between members of Yemeni society,” wrote Mustafa Ahmad al-Nu‘mân, op. cit.

93  Nabîl al-/Sûfî is the current editor in chief of and the monthly magazine Abwâb. Former member at the office of Communication in the Islah Party, he was member of the party’s majlis al-shûrâ during three years and editor in chief of Islah’s newspaper al-/Sa/hwa from 2000 to 2005. Interview held on September 13, 2008, Sanaa.

94  Interview with Asmâ’ al-Zindânî, August 15, 2008, Sanaa. Asmâ’al-Zindâni studied at al-Imân University and obtained her PhD in religious studies. She is a professor at this university and works on a program about dialogue between religions. As it has been previously quoted ‘Abd Allâh Sa‘tar gave a similar explanation p. 3.

95  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, professor at the University of Sanaa and head of the Cultural Development Programs Foundation, September 15, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in the Yemen Observer, September 23, 2008.

96  Interview with In/tilâq al-Mutawakkil, head of the Girls World Communication Center (Markaz al-lughât a‑l‑‘âlamiyya lil-fatayât) and English literature lecturer at the University of Sanaa. September 13, 2008, Sanaa. Part of this interview was published by the author in The Yemen Observer, September 20, 2008.

97  Interview with Ra’ûfa /Hasan, op. cit.

98  When dealing with the manner in which case study relate to the comparative method, Sartori refers to Eckstein and Lijphart’s five types of case study: 1) configurative-idiographic (Eckstein), 2) interpretative (Lijphart), 3) hypothesis-generating (Lijphart), 4) crucial (Eckstein), that is, theory-confirming or disconfirming (Lijphart) and 5) deviant (Lijphart). Sartori, 1991, p. 251-252.

99  Tilly, 1981, p. 10.

100  McAdam, TarrowandTilly, 2001, p. 7-8.

101  BonnefoyandPoirier, op. cit., p. 16-17

102  Ibid, p. 18.

103  Browers, op. cit., p. 569.

104  For details see Carapico, Wedeen, andWuerth, 2002, Schwedler (2006) p. 212, and Browers, op. cit. p. 573.

105  Yemen Times, “The roots of protest: prior elections impact future polls,” November 22, 2003. Read also the Final Report for the Presidential and Local Council Elections 20 September 2006, published by the European Union Election Observation Mission.

106  In order to read a description of these protests and demonstrations as they occurred throughout several governorates of the country, refer to Yemen Times, “Protests against voter registration process in many governorates,” November 19, 2008.

107  Yemen Times, “Opposition confirms election boycott,” February 15, 2009.

108  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.

109  Yemen Times, “Elections postponed,” February 25, 2009.

110  Recorded from Sultân Al-‘Atwânî, secretary general of the Nasserist party and JMP speaker, at the Second Session of the 4th General Conference held by the Islah Party on March 11, 2009, Sanaa.

111  Sultân al-Barkânî, the GPC parliamentary bloc’s secretary general, speech pronounced at the conference “Postponing the elections: justifications and objectives,” co-organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Political Development Forum, held on March 17, 2009, Sanaa.

112  Poirier, op. cit., 2009.

113  Carapico, 2003, op. cit. It must be noted that the results of this boycott were unsuccessful.

114  Interview quoted.

115  Schwedler, op. cit., 2006, p. 205

116  Ibid, 2006, p. 180.

117  Ibid, p. 179.

118  Phillips, op. cit., p. 139, note 4.

119  Ibid, p. 195.

120  Tilly, 1981, p. 6.

121  I leave aside this case study because it represents a change in this repertoire of contention and as such it shows elements related to a patronized repertoire as well as elements of a more autonomous repertoire. It represents a change and thus a transition that is still not possible to define as one or another type of repertoire. Ultimately, the change seems to be happening towards an autonomous repertoire, for the VVA employed autonomous means of action (or so al-Zindânî and al-A/hmar wished to stress); they created a special interests association (the VVA); as the debate and actions described in this article showed they challenged the Islah Party and the JMP, and somehow the government as well; they assembled a great number of people in front of whom they articulated their claims, displayed programs and slogans, and they held the establishment of the authority in a public space, a conference hall in Sanaa.

122  Tilly, 1981, p. 7.

123  Cohen and Rai, 2000, p. 15.

124  Ibid.

125  TillyandTarrow, 2006, appendix B, p. 214.

126  Ibid, p. 214-215.

127  Carapico, 2003.

128  Tilly and Tarrow, 2006, op. cit. p. 215-217.


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