Yemenis still unsure about structure of new government

Published on 31 December 2012 in Report
Amal Al-Yarisi (author)

Amal Al-Yarisi


There are many questions and unknowns facing Yemen these days. In the wake of last year’s political uprising, the question many are asking themselves is if Yemen will be a civil state or an Islamic one, deriving its laws from religious doctrine.

Many have been calling for a civil state following the 2011 uprising.  It has also been the goal of the reconciliation government since the Gulf Initiative was signed last year, removing former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.   

As some see it, the youth movement, which played the leading role in the uprising, laid a solid foundation for building a new civil state.

Noor Al-Azazi, the head of the Yemeni Center for Civil Rights, said the civil state has become the demand of the majority of Yemenis who initiated the revolution.  

There is some agreement that Yemen will adopt a civil state as it has been encouraged by international conventions and agreements, according to Al-Azazi.  

She believes that a civil state will help Yemen solve many of its problems, including limiting the power of leaders outside the state.

“The civil state will limit tribal influence and other groups who consider themselves above the law,” she said.  

A researcher, Abdulmalik Al-Ajari agreed. He said there is a huge difference between an Islamic state and a civil state. Al-Ajari believes a civil state is the best solution for Yemen.

He said government and religion must be separated, insisting, however, that it does not necessarily preclude the separation of religion from society.

“Religion came to guide people, not to manage them,” he said. “The Islamic state is a danger to the country and religion. We have seen that through the disputes experienced in the South.”

Difficult Road

It will be at least a decade before Yemen can really become a civil state, Al-Azazi said, explaining the current circumstances are too overwhelming.

Diverse traditional cultures, adherence to religious authorities and pressure from gulf countries that don’t support the establishment of a civil state in Yemen are amongst the major obstacles, she said.

A major obstacle for a civil state that the government cannot ignore is the tribal nature of the country, said Abu Al-Nassr, a journalist who writes about the topic.  

But, he is confident it will not stand in the way.

“Yemen has varying sects, and  a civil state can accommodate this diversity,” he said.

He is convinced its better than the alternative, “The religious state is extreme and considers only religion, not citizenship.”  

The Islamic state as a viable option

However, some consider Islam to be the only solution for the numerous conflicts and disputes the country is facing.  

Sheikh Abdullah Sa’atar, a leading figure in the Islah party, believes religion is the answer, not the problem.

“An Islamic country is the only way to save Yemen,” he said.

He questions the definition of a “civil state” and what it implies.  He says an Islamic state is a civil state and argues that his preferred system calls for building institutions and adopting fair laws and legislation.  

“Islam is what helped the country evolve and move forward from its backward past,” said Sa’atar.  “When done properly, an Islamic state is the most successful state. But religion has to be properly expressed.”

The Sheikh believes Yemen’s deterioration is due to a decline in the adherence to Scxsacxharia law.

 Numan Al-Jarmouzi, a Yemeni citizen, agrees with Sa’atar.

“We have undergone injustices and have not progressed because we abandoned religious principles,” he claims.   

Abdulmajid Al-Zindani, a Yemeni scholar, is among those calling for an Islamic state, saying that Yemen’s radical challenges require a radical solution. In 2011, he tried to establish an Islamic Caliphate, but found much resistance.   

 However, for Abdullah Al-Qaisi, an Islamic researcher, the possibility of Yemen functioning as a religious state is not currently practical because of its ties to international conventions.

He concluded that the country needs dialogue that accommodates all political voices in order to agree on a civil state or possibly a moderate Islamic state. Whatever the case, the relationship between religion and the state should be clearly defined, he said.