Seizing the State

Ibb’s Security Arrangement after Ansarallah’s Takeover

Mareike Transfeld

Maysaa Shuja al-Deen

Raiman al-Hamdani

YPC Policy Report   •   June 30, 2020

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Main Findings

  • Ansarallah’s takeover of Ibb governorate in 2014 usurped power from the local elite. While state institutions became stronger through Ansarallah’s focus on controlling formal structures and personnel, the members of the elite who had previously held the reins of power in Ibb became increasingly marginalized, a process that has been repeated in other governorates that have fallen under Ansarallah’s control.
  • Ibb’s social structure differs markedly from the northern regions where Ansarallah originated and remains firmly rooted, but Ibb has also hosted political networks connecting it to power centers in the north. These connections helped facilitate Ansarallah’s seizure of the governorate and the group’s consolidation of control over it. Prior to Ansarallah’s arrival, the elite in Ibb derived its power from a socioeconomic structure best characterized as feudalistic, with so-called sheikhs operating as landowners and with the farmers working the fields being paid in kind.
  • While in a tacit alliance of convenience with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who continued to hold sway over most state institutions even after resigning in 2012, Ansarallah installed its members in key positions within state institutions and appointed allies as supervisors, who were ordered to learn state administration from incumbent officials. These supervisors would eventually come to wield control, but they did not immediately displace their predecessors.
  • State institutions in Yemen, with their hierarchical nature and informal social extension in the form of aqils, community liaisons, are easier to control than sheikhs. To decrease the risk of sheikhs uniting against Ansarallah in Ibb, the group marginalized them while focusing on capturing state institutions, a fundamental element in the group’s larger political goal of being taken seriously as a state actor.
  • By 2017 in Ansarallah-controlled Ibb, the police had emerged as the first security provider approached by residents to deal with problems, followed by Ansarallah itself. Residents viewed the police positively, with 60 percent considering them “well respected” in the city of Ibb.
  • Ansarallah’s ongoing control of Ibb has stretched the police force beyond its capacity, with crucial work being ignored so its energies can be redirected toward the suppression of Ansarallah’s opponents.
  • Policemen and activists interviewed believe that aqils in Ibb no longer act independently in representing the interest of their communities, but instead implement whatever orders Ansarallah issues or risk detention. Meanwhile, the aqils view their relationship with Ansarallah as one of merely coordinating with the state.