First Academic Workshop in Yemen discusses the "Revolution" of 2011

Saturday, 15 June, 2013

In an academic workshop organized by the Yemen Polling Center (YPC) at its offices on June 15th 2013, eight researchers from various academic backgrounds discussed social science theories and methods applicable to studying the upheavals of 2011 and the subsequent transition process. This workshop, which is the first of this kind in Yemen, is part of a wider project entitled ‘Framing the Yemeni Revolution.’It is funded by the German Volkswagen Foundation and which is co-implemented by the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies at the University of Bonn (Germany) and the Yemen Polling Center. The project aims at documenting and analyzing a central moment in Yemen’s history at the moment it is taking place and thus to contribute to writing—as Timothy Garton Ash (e.g. 1999) did for the Europe of the 1990s—a ‘history of the present’.

At the workshop, one researcher from Germany and eight researchers from Yemen discussed various theories and methods they were applying to studying the events and processes since 2011. The meeting was opened by Hafez Albukari, President of YPC, who welcomed the participants and introduced the Center to them. Abdulsalam al-Rubaidi, the organizer of the workshop and editor-in-chief at YPC, then presented the joint project to the participants as well as the project website ‘Voices of the Revolution: A History of the Present’, which is intended to serve as both an information hub for researchers as well as a virtual museum of the revolution and the transition process. It will be launched before the end of June.

Starting the academic presentations, project head Marie-Christine Heinze from the University of Bonn gave an introduction to social movement theory and frame analysis, giving examples of how these approaches can help us understand the mobilizing strategies of the various political actors in Yemen. Following her, Kamal Haydara from the Department of Political Science at the University of Sanaa applied the concept of ‘political opportunity structures’ to discuss the strategies of the Houthi Movement in increasing their influence on the popular protests two years ago. His colleague from the same department, Saleem al-Jalal, applied the same approach to the Southern Movement’s strategies during 2011. Abdallah Bakhash from the College of Mass Communication at Sanaa University next investigated media reports on the performance of the reconciliation government and their impact on public opinion in the light of the ‘spiral of silence’ approach to investigating public opinion.

After a short break, the workshop resumed with the discussion of a paper presented by Abdalkareem Ghanim of the Sociology Department at Sanaa University on various sociological methods in studying the revolution in Yemen. His colleague from the same department, Abdallah al-Sana‘ani, also addressed sociological approaches to studying the revolution, focusing particularly on theories of conflict. Latifa al-Dhafiri of the Department of Political Science of Sanaa University looked at the Hizb al-Islah as a case study of contentious politics. Murad al-‘Izani from the English Department at Sanaa University then shed light on political speeches made by Ali Abdallah Salih during 2011 applying discourse analysis to his statements. The same methodology was applied by Abdulsalam al-Rubaidi, not only a member of YPC’s staff but also a doctoral student at the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Sanaa, who used it to analyze four religious statements of Islamic scholars of various backgrounds (Zaydi, Sufi, Salafi, and from the Muslim Brotherhood) made during 2011 and 2012.

All papers were discussed critically by the workshop participants in an atmosphere of trust as well as of mutual cooperation and support. Their refined and extended versions will be published in an edited volume in Arabic language by the beginning of next year.