CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1The revolutionary timescale does not match that of the media. Although this has been attested time and again, the sudden turmoil of the Arab uprisings of 2011 caused many observers to forget this historical truth. The dominant narrative used to explain the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian rulers – based on the notion of an emerging political generation of “unemployed graduates” [1] – signaled that many experts neglected the unpredictability of revolutionary processes and the inanity of the “domino effect”. Furthermore, such analyses led many to underestimate the resilience of political systems, as well as that of traditional members of the opposition whose vanguard was primarily composed of Islamists (who remain by all standards central actors in the Arab world). [2]

2Since the beginning of 2011, social scientists working on the Arab world have been put to the test, and sometimes accused of failing to render the “Arab Spring” intelligible. On the contrary, an important part of the literature published in the last decade or so has consistently pointed out the economic and social failures of authoritarian Arab regimes, as well as the development of various social movements. [3] Thus any attempt to unearth the pathological causes or conditions of emergence (repression, unemployment, demography, cultural processes, etc.) of the present revolutions in the region appears somewhat redundant. Dynamic analyses of the changes currently taking place seem more interesting, especially when examining in detail actors and their practices in an attempt to understand what motivates action, ruptures, innovations and changes in direction, but also what lies behind the continuities, recurrences, and patterns inherited from the ancien régime.

3The Yemeni case appears relevant in this perspective, not only because of its relatively marginal position in Middle Eastern studies. The sole republic of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s political system is the product of a national history characterised by its division into two entities : the North, where almost three quarters of the population live, and the South. The revolution in the North in 1962 gave birth to the republican regime that remains in place to this day, its form and central guiding principles clearly related to Arab nationalism. However, the republic was only able to impose itself after eight years of civil war, in which Egypt and Saudi Arabia both intervened. In the South, British colonisation paved the way for a socialist regime from 1967 onwards, itself deeply marred by conflict. In spite of this intensely conflictual history, Northern Yemen – and from 1990 onwards, unified Yemen – has witnessed more than three decades of remarkably stable leadership. The reign of Ali Abdallah Saleh – who took power in the North in July of 1978, was confirmed as the head of the unified country in May 1990, and was deposed via the ballot box in February of 2012 – provided the basis for establishing a political equilibrium ; one which, for some considerable time, was less repressive than elsewhere and which, in 1990, enabled the introduction of a multi-party system and free elections. This was a period characterised by power sharing, and – although tarnished by tension and violence – crystallised in actual coalition governments. By the end of the 1990s, however, it gradually became clear that the General People’s Congress (GPC, founded by Saleh) was increasingly monopolising the state’s institutional resources. [4] During the following decade, the repression perpetrated by the regime intensified, primarily under the auspices of the “war on terror” – a war that was fought on multiple “fronts” and led to the reconfiguration of political alliances.

4From 2004 onwards, the Sa’da region, in the extreme North of the country on the border with Saudi Arabia, intermittently became the theatre of a war between the national army and a movement led by those seeking to preserve the politico-religious identity of Zaydism, a form of Shi’ism. [5] The so-called “Huthi” rebellion – derived from the name of its successive leaders, Hussein (who died in 2004), Badr ad-Din (in 2010), and Abd al-Malik al-Huthi – seemingly reignited the tensions of the civil war of the 1960s. In addition to collusion with Iran, the “Huthis” were also accused by the Yemeni government of seeking to reinstate the former Zaydi imamate, which had reigned over all or portions of Yemen for over a millennium. From their stronghold in Sa’da, the Huthis asserted their right to defend their specific religious identity, to combat the historical marginalisation of the northern regions, and furthermore, to criticise the government’s alliance with the United States. Since 2004, in spite of infiltration by armoured divisions, the mobilisation of tribal militias, and even the direct military aid provided to the Yemeni army by Saudi Arabia in their fight against the armed Huthi rebels, the government has failed to bring down such groups.

5Parallel to these events, the year 2007 saw the crisis in the former South Yemen governorates – emblematic of the incomplete unification process, which had been distorted and thrown off course by a brief armed conflict in 1994 – escalate to an entirely new dimension. [6] The peaceful demonstrations organised by members of the Southern Movement (al-hirak al-janubi) assumed increasingly open secessionist overtones, contesting not only the terms of the 1990 unification, but its very relevance. The inhabitants of the South viewed domination by elites from Sana’a – i.e. the plundering by these elites of both the arable land previously nationalised under the socialist regime, and of the country’s oil resources – in conjunction with the two distinctive historical trajectories followed by the North and South, as grounds for jeopardising the country’s unified status. Such justifications in turn provided the impetus for daily demonstrations and confrontations.

6The question of armed Islamism, described by the state and its international partners – probably erroneously – as the principal threat to the country’s stability, cannot be disassociated from a broader continuum of violence, particularly in former South Yemen. It was only when state repression escalated in 2008 that the armed Islamist movements, often claiming affiliation with Al-Qaeda, undertook operations targeting the state, its security forces, “foreign interests”, and minorities (Zaydis in particular). Through its use of repression, the state put an end to the system of compromising with militants, which had contributed to regulating violence for many years. [7]

7At the end of January 2011, in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, and in a local context characterised by the conflicts described above, Yemen was the scene of a series of protest movements. The arrest on 23 January of human rights activist Tawakkul Karman – a member of the Islamist party al-Islah at the time, and soon to be the Nobel peace prizewinner of 2011 – triggered an unprecedented wave of protests, which progressively drew in a range of actors, movements and parties. At the time, it appeared as if the episodes of repressive violence would bring about the rapid downfall of the ruling powers. Yet with the spring of 2011, a long waiting game began, marked by tensions within the revolutionary encampment. [8] Ali Abdallah Saleh’s support networks, for their part, proved capable of organising and instrumentalising the security narrative in order to preserve the tacit goodwill of regional and international actors – first and foremost Saudi Arabia and the United States – and thus managed to regulate both the magnitude and the rhythm of change.

8The Yemeni case study makes possible an analysis of the processes of “structuration” (in Anthony Giddens’ sense) [9] at work within a protest movement, processes that emerge from the interplay between a specific context and the practices born of a revolutionary project, objectified as such by the actors who champion it. We posit here a duality within the revolutionary process, which, on the one hand, seems to be produced by these actors, but on the other appears constrained by historical, social and political structures. To make emergent practices intelligible we must focus on the many interactions between these practices and the “structural properties of social systems” [10] – i.e. history, institutions, power relations, and the mobilisations and experiences that precede them – which lend the revolutionary process its particular form. The structuration of the Yemeni revolution proceeds from these circular relationships, which are not based on relations of cause and effect (wherein, for example, the repression of the uprising produces radicalisation) but reinforce and renew one another. This duality means that the structure is thus at once the means and the outcome of the actions undertaken. It is these interactions between revolutionary practices and their environment which are at the heart of the present article.

9To what extent did the Yemeni revolutionary event result from and produce this intersection between pacifist practices, innovative vocabularies deployed by emergent actors, and the way in which established mobilisation networks and actors from opposing sides of the traditional cleavages took control of the process ? By examining these practices in the light of the “structural properties of social systems”, we seek to demonstrate that the revolutionary uprising in Yemen is part of a continuum of crises, conflicts and social relations. Consequently, the Yemeni uprising itself comes to constitute a new contextual variable, following a circular logic in which influences and constraints are intermeshed and superimposed.

10This article is the product of our cumulated fieldwork experience in Yemen, before and during the uprising of 2011. It is the outcome of direct observation of the protestors’ sit-in in Sana’a, of a collection of documentary sources on the ground and via the internet, and of interviews of both a formal and informal nature, with the opponents as well as the supporters of the Saleh regime. The deterioration of the security situation in Yemen from April 2011, as well as, for one of us, long-running difficulties in accessing the field, obviously constituted important constraints on such a study. Nevertheless, this never prevented us from mobilising a variety of sources, nor from using our intimate familiarity with a field that we had jointly frequented for a total of eight years as the basis for an analysis of both the changes put in motion by the revolutionary process, and of the motivations for, and forms of, mobilisation, both in opposition to the regime and in support of it. Despite the observation of similar dynamics in other Yemeni cities, and particularly in Taez, one of the main hotbeds of protest, we here limit out analysis to the capital, Sana’a.

The revolutionary rupture : changing states

11While the protest movement in Yemen developed in solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, it also drew on frustrations and unhappiness which were specific to the Yemeni situation. During the 2000s, the regime had engaged in increasingly authoritarian behaviour, leading to a reduction in individual and collective liberties. This took place alongside a deepening crisis in the economy, which had been weakened by declining oil revenues and become dependent upon international aid (which was mostly seized by the patronage networks of the ruling elite). Thirty-five percent of the 25 million citizens were living in poverty while the estimated unemployment rate varied somewhere between 20 and 40%. [11] With one of the highest population growth rates in the world, Yemen’s demography is often interpreted as a factor of instability : those younger than thirty, who represent two-thirds of the population, are hit hardest by the limitation of economic opportunities, the victims of generalised corruption and clientelism that intensifies their economic, political and social marginalisation. [12] These factors – which are favourable to, although not sufficient for, the rise of protest movements – went hand-in-hand with a common distrust of the “traditional” channels of political representation and, more broadly, a rejection of established politics, [13] embodied since 2006 by the antagonism between the ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and the partisan opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP, al-Liqa’ al-Mushtarak), a coalition formalised at the beginning of the 2000s and comprising the socialist party, the Islamist party al-Islah (representing the Muslim Brotherhood as well as tribal elites) [14] and four other more marginal political organisations. [15]

From reform to revolution

12During the 2000s, the perception that “top-down” attempts at conflict resolution had failed translated into a lack of interest in the official political scene and growing scepticism about the possibilities for internal reform of the regime. This disengagement was particularly evident on 3 February 2011, during a gathering in Sana’a organised by the Joint Meeting Parties. Opposition activists, re-using the slogans and symbols of the parties’ electoral boycott campaign, mixed with a smaller number of protestors who, following the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, had begun to rally around subversive slogans and virulent critiques of the partisan opposition during marches (masirat). While the first group dispersed following the midday prayer, the second group – composed of a few dozen young students – launched an unprecedented sit-in (i’tisam) in front of the entrance to the New University of Sana’a. Breaking with the customary calls for reform voiced that very morning, they chanted radical slogans against President Saleh and his regime (“Sit-in, sit-in, until the regime topples”) but also against the political parties, seen as part of the system and accused of corruption and elitism (“Starting today : “no” to political parties”). As night fell and in spite of harassment by the security forces, they reasserted their determination to remain in place for as long as it would take to bring the Saleh regime down. If this event announced the future direction of the popular revolt, it was not until 19 February, however, that this physical space became charged with new political meaning. From that point onwards, it was occupied continuously by diverse actors who had rallied around the same single motto : the departure of the president – “Out !” (irhal). Once this was achieved in February 2012, the sit-in continued, with calls for the fall of the regime itself, as well as an end to the immunity from prosecution of members of the ruling elite who had committed crimes. The initial slogan’s simplicity and radicalism alone constituted an innovation in itself, as did the diversity of the people protesting. Over the following weeks, the encampment (mukhayyam) that had developed at the gates of the university – renamed Change Square (Sahat at-Taghyir) [16] – became one of the symbols of the Yemeni uprising. [17]

13While the political debate had for some years crystallised around the question of state “reform” (islah), the protestors demanded “change” (taghyir) and the “overthrow” (isqat) of the regime. The break with the traditional channels of participation and political mobilisation (not only parties, but also local organisations, tribal structures and so on) was of course only partial, insofar as activists engaged in loose networks and maintained an ambivalent relationship to the established political system, [18] having been socialised within structures connected to parties. This break was nonetheless visible in a new idiom structured around the guiding principles of the “revolution”, “youth” and “pacifism”. These polysemic concepts progressively imposed themselves as the endogenous framework of the Yemeni uprising : its instigators defined it as “the pacifist and popular youth revolution” (ath-thawra ash-shababiyya figure im1 as-silmiyya). Such narratives were obviously plural, sometimes even contradictory, and drew inspiration from various historical heritages. This was most obviously the case in the reference to Yemeni revolutions (1948 and 1962 in the North, 1963 and 1967 in the South). Some protesters called upon the memory of the “founding fathers” of the 1962 revolution against the Zaydi imamate in the North, Ahmad Num’ an and Mahmud az-Zubayri, [19] brandishing their photos during marches. These two historic figures embodied the republican modernisation project and symbolised the progressive and liberal views championed by the uprising at that moment in time. [20] On the opposition channel, Suhail TV, the image of az-Zubayri appeared in a video-clip with the quote : “Republic belongs to the people”. [21] Members of the opposition pointed out the parallel between Imams Yahya and Ahmad [22] and the long reign of Ali Abdallah Saleh whom they nicknamed “Imam Ali”. [23]

14The concept of a civil state (dawla madaniyya) quickly emerged as a guiding principle for the protestors. It was defined as a project for a new society organised around the demand for the rule of law, strong principles of social justice, and the protection of fundamental freedoms, but also for the people to exercise control over the state and politics. The civil state discussed and debated by the self-proclaimed “revolutionary youth” (shabab ath-thawra) was diametrically opposed to military and hereditary power built on tribal or familial affiliations. It advocated conflict resolution, “civic responsibility” and the “technocratisation” (meaning professionalisation) of political personnel, who were still seen as dependent on inherited capital and not as people who had risen to their status through acquired and recognised skills. [24] The so-called “progressive” left-wing currents, in particular, reappropriated this reference to a civil state, which was inherited from early twentieth-century intellectuals of political Islam. For this reason, many protestors were quick to point out the links between the civil state concept and President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who ruled North Yemen from 1974 until his assassination in 1977. He thus came to be held up as the symbol of an aborted attempt to construct a modern state. Among Islamists, the reference to a civil state meant different things to different groups and was even contested by some : while many interpreted this issue in line with a conservative ideological standpoint, others, such as Abd al-Majid az-Zindani, who belonged to the radical al-Islah wing, preferred instead to refer to an Islamic state. The profoundly polysemic nature of this political expression eventually meant that it was all the more effective, as it allowed a range of actors to rally behind a shared slogan to which they ascribed different interpretations and uses. The term “civil state” was preferred to that of “civil society”, which, because of its inclusion in the international agenda, had been broadly instrumentalised during the 2000s by both the opposition and supporters of the regime. [25] More generally, the existence in Yemen of an “armed civil society” [26] – structured primarily around the large tribal confederations that were strong enough to provide a counterweight to the state’s attempted monopoly over the legitimate means of violence – rendered the concept of a civil state more effective, in particular because it allowed emphasis to be placed on the peaceful nature of the uprising. While the protest movement presented itself as non-violent, it sought to claim influence from Che Guevara as much as from Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. The goal of a civil state was not enough, however, to hold the various groups together ; a fact attested by the frequent resurgence of armed conflict between tribes throughout the revolutionary process.

15The development of a revolutionary vocabulary cannot be reduced to a simple lexical rupture. Civic and pacifist principles were placed at the heart of new practices and forms of social interaction, and helped transform the cognitive framework of a considerable number of protestors who, engaged in forms of innovative action, sensed that a profound social change was underway.

The space of mobilisation

16In the encampment that developed from 19 February 2011, opposition to the regime was organised around new and plural configurations of actors and practices. The spatial convergence of the protestors upon the site of the sit-in simultaneously accelerated the “conjunctural desectorisation of social space”. [27] As soon as a sustainable setting, identifiable to everyone, was established by the opposition, the revolt, which was initially based on groups of students, rapidly broadened to include a diverse population. The publicity surrounding this unprecedented sit-in, its location within the city, and the repressive policies of the authorities drove a varied assortment of actors to join the protestors. Thus, even in the early days of the Change Square encampment, there were students, the unemployed, tribesmen, women and children, human rights activists, even artisans, whose ideological and sectarian affiliations were as varied as their geographic and social origins. All claimed to be part of the “Revolutionary Youth”, which incorporated already-active groups that were often connected with intellectual or activist milieus. Despite their heterogeneity, the opposition managed to get organised and successfully promoted a novel form of collective action in Yemen : the uninterrupted occupation of public space. In the first marches they had been confronted by attacks from the security forces – initially with clubs and teargas – and with imprisonment and intimidation, so the opposition actors now focused on the organisation of an ad hoc space on the Egyptian model of Tahrir Square. State repression thus helped in part to determine the rise of new forms of mobilisation, by pushing the protestors to adjust their strategies of confrontation, [28] and to engage in an uninterrupted sit-in at the gates of the new University of Sana’a, in a place that was familiar to them.

17While the practice of (intermittent) sit-ins may have become the norm over the course of the 2000s, most notably in the southern governorates of the country where the Southern movement helped to spread their usage, [29] but also in Sana’a, where the sit-in – alongside the demonstration or the march – became a favoured form of collective action for human rights activists, the extent to which the 2011 protest spread across space and time was completely unprecedented. For many, this signified a transition from the (partially) closed and separate space of the qat sessions [30] – a daily meeting of people who chew the leaves of this mild narcotic together, an event that had for a long time enabled opponents to the regime to meet up – to the public and open space of the sit-in. Exporting qat consumption to the encampment made it possible to maintain the “numbers” out in the street, and highlighted the combination of the new encampment technique with traditional forms of social interaction. [31] By appropriating the public space from which they had previously considered themselves excluded, the protestors demonstrated the extent to which political obstacles had led them to a conjunctural preference for the street “politics” or “strategies” over those of the ballot box. [32] The new practices of protest thus contributed to a durable redefinition of the symbolic and material space of mobilisation.

18The “Revolutionary Youth” organised in order to ensure the survival of the sit-in, designated metonymically as “the Square” (as-Saha) : traffic was blocked, passers-by searched. Security committees, whose members worked on a voluntary basis, played an important role in the creation and continued existence of the protest space, making visible its borders and its diverse points of entry (where large banners proclaimed slogans such as “Welcome to the First Kilometre of Dignity”, and “Welcome to the Land of Freedom”). They also enforced certain rules, in particular that of pacifism, with the banning of weapons constituting a minimum condition. The geographical limits of the sit-in were extended following struggles with the security forces and pro-regime armed militias (balatija), and the subsequent moves to erect more tents, until they reached several of the capital’s main arteries. The tents, whose size and comfort varied according to the status of its occupants and their sponsors, were numbered and assigned a specific place, and labelled according to tribal or regional background, professional origin, ideological affiliation or even the nature of the activities taking place inside of them. The defence and conquest of new spaces for occupation enabled the gradual establishment of “safe spaces” [33] in which opposition actors carried out their activities autonomously and in security. The constitution of such spaces made it possible to speed up recruitment of sympathisers and the training of activists, whilst making it more likely that such recruits would maintain their commitment over the long-term.

19What was experienced by the sit-in occupants (mu’tasimin) as a reappropriation of public space [34] was made possible by the establishment of an organisational structure for the protest movement, whose role involved the rationalisation and coordination of collective actions. This structure was constituted on the principle of pluralist representation of all the different political currents present within the encampment, but the Islah opposition party naturally came to dominate it rather quickly. It was composed of different committees according to a relatively strict division of labour : first there was the “organising committee”, which managed the installation and consolidation of new tents, as well as the daily schedule, event organisation and public speaking on the central stage. Working alongside it was the “security committee”, which operated a continual series of “stop and search” operations, and the “media committee”, which was in charge of the circulation of information and the dissemination of press releases. [35] Simultaneously, outside of this structure, which, in Sana’a, was the official voice of “Revolutionary Youth”, other organisations were created in the square, reflecting both the diversity of political orientations and the desire of each supporting social group to take an active part in the changes underway.

20In answer to the question “how many organisations are there on Change Square ?”, asked by a researcher in the summer of 2011, one opposition activist replied “Before or after you asked me the question ?”. [36] Beyond the witticism, this anecdote serves as a reminder of the effervescence and hyperactivity that characterised the encampment. No precise figure concerning the organisations established after February 2011 is available, but according to a number of people questioned on this subject, there were several hundreds of them. [37] Some groups comprised a few friends, stimulated by an atmosphere which encouraged involvement, but whose activities were virtually non-existent and short-lived, just like Facebook groups, whose meteoric rise sometimes goes hand-in-hand with reduced activist activity. [38] On the other hand, some groups did become important as a result of their involvement in the daily life of the Square, organising conferences, debates, awareness-raising campaigns and training. This was the case of diverse coalitions whose ideological or political affiliation was obvious : the Youth of the Resistance (Shabab as-Sumud), representing the Zaydi revival movement ; the Nasir Organisation, representing the Naserists ; the Conglomerate of Young Revolutionaries (Takattul Shabab ath-Thawra) and Maddad, both linked to the Socialist Party ; and the Coordination (al-Munassaqiyya), which constitutes the largest coalition close to the Islamist party al-Islah. These organisations, linked to political parties, reflect the connections between parties and protest movements that result from activists’ multi-positionality. They also indicate the progressive involvement of political parties on Change Square. Other organisations brought together actors who expressly defined themselves as independents, such as the Diversity (Tanawwu)’, or the Civic Coalition of the Youth Revolution (at-Tahaluf al-Madani li-th-Thawra ash-Shababiyya). There were also numerous coalitions whose goal was to defend the different Southern positions (federalist, secessionist), such as the Coalition for the Southern Question (at-Tahaluf li-l-Qadiyya al-Janubiyya), and the tents representing the southern governorates, or, on another scale, the tribal confederations (such as the Forum of Yemeni Tribes – Muntada Qaba’il al-Yaman). [39]

Social interactions and social innovations

21The density of the organisations and activist networks which characterised the protest space enabled unprecedented encounters and partnerships between actors who were traditionally perceived as rivals. This was the case of the civil-society and cyber- activists, and the Northern highlands’ and central regions’ tribesmen (qabili) who had come to the encampment in Sana’a. Tribesmen were often stigmatised by civil-society activists as hostile to political modernization ; [40] and yet, by engaging peacefully in such great numbers alongside the young protestors, the tribesmen contributed to the long-term redefinition of their reputation. Their presence reaffirmed the tribe’s function as a peacemaker (through the mediation of conflicts), a cultural producer (through revolutionary poetry), and especially as a force of protest (tribes have historically functioned as a counterweight to the authoritarian ambitions of the central state). [41] The debates and exchanges enabled by the configuration of the encampment also contributed to processes of identity hybridisation, accelerating the dynamic of convergence among opposition actors. They also enabled people to move beyond their primary and sectarian loyalties, and formulate a common political project. The Youth of the Resistance (Shabab as-Sumud), who claimed affiliation with the Zaydi revival movement, were emblematic of this dynamic. From their tent on Change Square, they recruited sympathisers, broadening their representation to other Yemeni cities, including areas where the Zaydi religious identity is absent. They did so by adopting a more inclusive discourse through which the group became the interpreters not only of the (in principle, exclusive) Zaydi cause, but also more generally of all victims of the regime’s discriminatory policies. The Youth of the Resistance thus associated themselves with the autonomist demands of the Southerners, asserting their solidarity in their declarations and actions opposing governmental repression.

22New leaders of these diverse coalitions emerged over the course of the spring and summer of 2011, such as the activists close to the Zaydi revival movement Khalid al-Madani and Muhammad al-Bukhayti ; the young student and independent cyber-activist Alaa Jarban ; and, of course, Tawakkul Karman, the experienced thirty-something Islamist activist. [42] As a result of their visibility in the media, personal initiatives, and continued presence at the encampment, these individuals gradually became the de facto spokespeople for various currents at the heart of the uprising. The revolutionary episode, because of its fluidity, represented an unprecedented opportunity for action. And yet, despite the lengthy timescale of the revolt, no single charismatic personality emerged. On the contrary, the revolutionaries proclaimed their plurality and refused any sort of unified leadership, which was seen as running the risk of veering into authoritarianism. In this respect, Tawakkul Karman’s international notoriety, following her Nobel prize in October 2011, quickly became suspect, and many were the activists who denounced her individualism and personal ambition. [43]

23More broadly, the encampment completely overturned social routines. The sit-inners developed intense feelings of fraternity, and engaged in unprecedented collective and individual actions : “cleaning” operations (such as the one carried out in December 2011 at the Kentucky intersection, an area where intense battles with the regime’s militias had taken place), self-management, but also the promotion of a set of rules for co-existence based on mutual respect and cooperation. [44] Numerous empowerment campaigns were launched with the aim of raising awareness about civil rights and provide technical training in civil disobedience and striking. Protestors maintained their mutual difference whilst sharing their respective know-how through numerous initiatives. This was the case of the dozens of publications (with unambiguous titles such as Shabab ath-Thawra or Khalas [Enough]), which were set up in the sit-ins and whose editorial teams were often composed of youngsters starting out as journalists with the support of more experienced writers. [45] Functioning as spokespeople of the political and social upheaval, they participated in the emergence of a new independent voice that – although fragile – paved a third way between the official media and the press of the partisan opposition. [46] The significance of such exchanges underscores the social and pedagogical dimensions of the encampment. A young female member of the security committee who came to spend every day with her brothers on the Square enthusiastically explained how stimulating her experience there had been. [47] She spoke in particular of the cooperation between men and women, and of the unprecedented social diversity made possible by the encampment, which had become a privileged place for social interaction, and even seduction. Despite the worsening living conditions (skyrocketing inflation, gas shortages and blackouts, etc.) and the professional and family sacrifices which participation in the sit-in entailed, the intensity of the affective ties created there motivated people to get involved. Social integration and the feeling of taking part in a worthy cause constitute forms of symbolic recompense that function as motivations for involvement. [48] Repressive episodes (abduction or “forced disappearances”, imprisonment, physical aggression around the Square, even attacks on the encampment) were all followed by “sensitizing devices” [49] (particularly around the celebration of the martyrs), which stimulated the sacrificial dimension of the revolt. Camping every day in the square constituted a form of “total” engagement, entailing a “self-regenerating effect” : as the personal investment intensified, so too did the subsequent satisfaction for the protestor, making disengagement less probable. [50] In spite of the repression, which became increasingly violent over the course of the 2011 springtime, the revolution was also festive. It offered a large range of cultural activities : musical concerts, theatre, political satire, art workshops and exhibitions, and so forth. [51] These numerous events and recreational areas for children helped to create a festive family atmosphere. Curious passersby were drawn in. Especially in the evening, with friends or family, they would meander through the Square, listen to concerts, drink a “Freedom Tea” (so called by the street vendor), and then leave again with a little flag or a badge in support of the revolution. [52] At the height of the protests in March and April 2011, the Square brought together several hundred thousand protestors during Friday prayers, and thousands who – outside of these moments of intense congestion – camped there every day. As a result of the proliferation of armed confrontations in Sana’a from May 2011, and probably because of the lassitude of certain participants, this dynamism temporarily eased up, but did not die out : the Change Square encampment was the stage for all sorts of experiments throughout 2011, and survived after the formal departure of Saleh in February 2012. Many actors perceived that the negotiated transition that was unfolding was just a step forward in a long revolutionary process. The perpetuation of the sit-in was seen as a necessity in order to maintain pressure on the government. [53] Thus, while a campaign aiming to dismantle the tents was launched in the summer of 2012, it only concerned certain areas peripheral to the Square, which remained the epicentre of the protest movement. [54]

The duality of the revolutionary structure

24As the months went by, the dynamic which had been set in motion in February 2011 by the “Revolutionary Youth” found itself reframed. While they never entirely disappeared, the innovative social practices described above were in effect increasingly constrained and determined by a certain number of actors and structural elements. This “reassertion of control”, which occurred simultaneously with the development of the Sana’a encampment, nevertheless played an often-ambiguous role, and, subsequently, should not be understood simply through the lens of limitation or dichotomy. The confrontation of revolutionary practices with contextual variables gave birth to new practices. The dynamics of protest mobilisation and counter-revolutionary resistance are thus largely determined by the interaction and interdependence between all of these different elements, [55] encouraging us to look more closely at the points of contact, the frictions and the interactions between the space of protest and the established political system, as well as their impacts on the revolutionary process.

Reasserting control over the revolutionary process

25The triggering of the revolutionary process spelled the initial failure of the partisan opposition. During the first weeks of the uprising, the leadership of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties appeared to resist adopting an openly revolutionary logic. [56] Perceptions of the risks associated with an engagement of this sort seemingly explain this unwillingness of the leadership to act. [57] Their reasons for holding back appear to be as much connected to the fear of repression as to concern that some of their own gains and advantages would be threatened by the emergence of a new political generation. The equilibrium that had emerged following the unification of 1990 had effectively made possible the inclusion of a great number of actors – including the Islamists – and had provided many “opposition” members with access to positions, and the opportunity to be directly involved in the exercise of power. Over the course of the first decade of the 2000s, the opposition parties began to criticise those in power more robustly. The creation of the Joint Meeting Parties constituted an important step in this process of asserting their independence, as did the presidential election of 2006 in which the unified opposition candidate, Faysal Bin Shamlan, won 21.9% of the votes. Nevertheless, the break with the regime was incomplete, lending weight to the assumption that, rather than challenging the basis of the political system, the opposition in fact went along with it.

26Hence the JMP did not refuse the offer to dialogue with Saleh, nor his concessions announced on 2 February 2011, following the first demonstrations. Despite this, their prudence did not mean that they would be considered as irrelevant during the following weeks, and the institutional opposition was in fact able to reassert its own position and get back in the game of the unfolding revolution. Subsequently, these “traditional” political actors relied on their activist structures – a powerful network of charity and educational organisations, which at the same time provided a base for some of the “Revolutionary Youth” members. It was then easy for the elite of the JMP – especially those belonging to the Islah party – to (re)introduce themselves into Change Square. In the process, active solidarity networks with connections to the Islamists were mobilised, especially through the Islah Association (which is a formally independent off-shoot of the party of the same name) and the Science and Technology University (a private institution with branches in the country’s main cities and whose dean, Tariq Sinan Abu Luhum, is none other than the General Secretary of the Islah Association). These Islamist networks, also linked to the traditional tribal structures, further benefit from media and financial clout thanks to the support of the rich businessman Hamid al-Ahmar, an MP from the Islah party and member of the powerful tribal confederation Hashid. [58]

27This progressive reassertion of control which took place from the beginning of March 2011 gradually distorted the revolutionary process while at the same time enabling it to gain in strength and in organisation. Regaining control thus became at once constraining and “enabling”, constituting both a limit and an opportunity. The “Revolutionary Youth’ subsequently could not be viewed as a group that was in essence in opposition to the established political system ; there was too great an overlap between the actors who, ultimately, came to complement one another. Revolutionary practice was subsequently characterized by the professionalization of protest ; via the establishment of a security service, for example, or emergency services run from the hospital set up in the mosque of the Islah charity organisation at the heart of Change Square, in cooperation with the Science and Technology University hospital, situated two kilometres away.

28This dual dynamic is particularly striking when considering the religious Islamic arena, which very early on in the popular uprising emerged as a central issue in the struggle between the supporters and opponents of the regime. In effect, the revolutionary process which on the one hand made use of new instruments for mobilisation and an innovative protest vocabulary, also contributed to perpetuating a political system that granted a specific place to religious rhetoric.

29The importance of the religious issue arose firstly through Saleh’s attempts to relegitimise his power by instrumentalising the actors of the Muslim sphere. From the very first protest marches, certain ulamas, and the Grand Mufti of Yemen, Muhammad Ismail al-Amrani in particular, attempted mediation with the protestors. The failure of these discussions created an internal split within the group of mediators. [59] Some months later, a number of the participants in this operation, who belonged to very different political and religious backgrounds – some at odds with one another – published a text underlining the legitimacy of the “Revolutionary Youth” [60] and thus responded to a call sent out by the Youth to the ulamas. [61] The decision of some of the former Islamist allies of the ruling elite to align themselves with revolutionary slogans led the regime to seek out new partners, and thus contributed to polarising the religious arena between those who supported the regime and those who opposed it.

30Thenceforth, Saleh could only rely upon peripheral actors on whom he had bestowed a few pompous titles. The main offensive was deployed at the end of September 2011, when a conference of the Association of Yemeni Ulamas (Jam’iyya Úlama al-Yaman) was organised. Following this meeting, a text was published declaring that the protestors were aggressors who should repent. [62] Certain Salafists belonging to the so-called apolitical faction founded in Yemen by Muqbil al-Wadi’i and with connections to Saudi religious networks [63] also continued to assert the religious illegitimacy of the protest. This was a means for these actors to continue, perhaps even to extend, their collaboration with the ruling elite.

The Islamists : A structuring force in the uprising

31Faced with these attempts by the ruling elite to instrumentalise a section of the religious sphere, other Islamist groups became heavily involved in the protest space, and gradually structured it. In this respect, the location of the sit-in in Change Square was noteworthy, not just because of its proximity with the new Sana’a University – popular among young people and intellectuals – but also because this space is situated within a neighbourhood that is deeply marked by Islamist sociabilities. Religious bookstores, Islamic charitable associations, real estate belonging to the leading figures of al-Islah, religious schools and mosques all represented important resources for the revolutionaries, who were able to draw on such networks. While the protest helped to redefine the space in which it unfolded, this space also in part determined the definition of protest action. [64] One of the senior officials in the ruling GPC party thus explained that, by blocking the protestors’ access to the central neighbourhoods of Sana’a, the regime had “pushed the protestors into the arms of the Islamists.” [65] Such a statement, while relevant, nevertheless fits neatly into a classic discourse of stigmatising the revolutionary process, reduced in the official press to an action orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

32Attempts by the leadership of the Islah party to regain control of the process via the activities of the JMP – a process that it had not initiated – appears to have generated tensions, especially within certain factions of the “Revolutionary Youth”. The visible presence of Islamists on Change Square, and particularly that of the Muslim Brotherhood, contributed to the transformation of the movement and of its rallying slogans. Abd al-Majid az-Zindani, in conjunction with Abdallah Sa’tar and Muhammad al-Muayyad, preachers that were also members of al-Islah and known for their radicalism, regularly spoke on the Square’s stage, took part in meetings, and led the Friday prayer not far from the sit-in. Beyond these figures, a conservative discourse spread throughout the encampment, echoing the rhythm of the religious chants broadcast by the loud-speakers and the prayers to which – under increasingly strong pressure – the entirety of the protesting public was convoked. [66]

33It goes without saying that the participation of women in the revolutionary rallies and in the occupation of public space went against the public morality of the conservative Yemeni society. Mixed-gender sit-ins, the presence of women on the Square’s stage and in the organising committees, and the emergence of leading female figures or of liberally oriented political slogans subsequently became the object of debate within the opposition. Ali Abdallah Saleh, attempting to relegitimise his rule, looked towards Islam and accused the protestors of “moral corruption”, pointing to the participation of women in the protests. Although this found an echo with some, its main effect was to provoke strong counter-mobilisations. In response, from mid-April 2011 onwards, al-Islah began to increase the number of exclusively female processions, while liberal female activists who remained on the encampment, such as the poet Huda al-Áttas, were the subject of some harassment by al-Islah activists. Gender separation was gradually imposed. While in March 2011, a simple rope – entirely symbolic – marked the separation between the space reserved for women and the rest of the space in front of the central stage, the frontiers became more pronounced around the beginning of summer : a plastic tarpaulin was installed, followed by a wooden wall. Subsequently, the early enthusiasm which had given rise to revolutionary innovations not only came up against resistance from the supporters of the ruling elite, but also from strategic divisions within the opposition. The input of tribesmen and of the so-called “Huthi” militants, not to mention the presence of al-Islah activists within the protest spaces, encouraged the gradual transformation of practices. Nevertheless, the alignment between traditional political forces, political parties, and tribes lent the uprising critical mass, providing it with clear and extensive popular support.

34On 18 March, snipers positioned along the roofs of the southern entrance to the Change Square encampment shot at the crowd of protestors, killing 52 civilians. This event brutally illustrated the extreme lengths to which certain supporters of the ruling regime would go, but it also ushered in a new stage in the uprising. Interestingly, the military defections that followed this massacre – especially those of the general Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar (unrelated to the al-Ahmar clan at the head of the Hashid confederation), who led the first Armoured Division of the army – and their alignment with the radical slogan calling for immediate regime change produced unexpected effects. The support offered by Ali Muhsin did not meet with enthusiasm from the liberal fringe of protestors, nor from the “Huthi” partisans. The general, presented as the childhood friend of President Saleh, had for many years been his strongman, and since 2004 had waged war in Sa’da. His association with armed Islamist factions and his active participation in the arms- and oil-trafficking networks sealed his bad reputation. Only days before his U-turn, Ali Muhsin had been the target of anti-regime slogans chanted by those at the sit-in, where his portrait figured among the President’s clan on posters. The supporters of Ali Muhsin subsequently tried to remove his photo and his name in order to erase him from the black list held by the “Revolutionary Youth”. By arming the protest movement, however, military defections worked to produce some kind of “balance of terror”, which in turn made it possible for the movement to maintain its peaceful stance. In effect, those who participated in the sit-in delegated their protection to third-party groups : soldiers who had recently joined the protest or tribal militias – in other words, to the traditional actors of the Yemeni political system. From that moment onwards, they were able to pursue the path of peaceful innovation, albeit at the risk of having “their revolution” stolen away.

35The reactivation of institutionalised mobilisation dynamics structured around the JMP opposition parties, and around tribal and military actors, immediately boxed in the “Revolutionary Youth”, and appears to have relegated them to a secondary position from the summer of 2011. Brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (comprising the six Arab monarchies of the region), the ruling GPC and the opposition parties then negotiated a transition agreement and the departure of Saleh, on condition that he and his family were granted immunity from prosecution – which was unanimously agreed by parliamentary vote. After many twists and turns and episodes of violence (including the attack of 3 June against the presidential mosque in which Saleh was seriously wounded) the agreement was finally signed on 23 November. The JMP then supported the vice-president Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, one of the leaders of the GPC, during the presidential election of 21 February. The election, in which he was the only candidate, was carried out in relative calm and saw Ali Abdallah Saleh formally step down after 33 years in power.

Complex interactions between the established political system and the protest space

36In many ways emblematic of the circular character of the structuration of the Yemeni revolution, the reassertion of control by traditional political actors interacted with another dynamic of deepening engagement in the protest movement. The chain of events is thus not chronological and the early tide of enthusiasm which produced activist innovation did not ebb when control was taken back. From this point, the two dynamics were intertwined, and mutually created and fed one another. [67] The negotiation and the process of institutional transition engaged within the framework of the agreement signed between the ruling elite and the JMP, made possible by the mediation of the Gulf monarchies, themselves produced change since they led directly to the departure of Ali Abdallah Saleh.

37At the same time, this process of containment undertaken by the political parties, the Islamists, the army, the tribes and the international powers continues to be the object of criticism, without, however, being fundamentally rejected. Hence, during the “plebiscite” election of 21 February 2012, the representatives of the “Revolutionary Youth” called for people to vote and expressed their enthusiasm at the sight of Saleh relinquishing his position. The immunity granted to him and to his family members (sons and nephews at the head of different security forces) was nevertheless challenged head-on by a significant section of the “Revolutionary Youth”. Riding on the strength of her Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkul Karman proposed pursuing Saleh through the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and criticised the way in which the revolutionary process had been commandeered by the opposition parties, but at the same time hailed the election of Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, despite the fact that the latter was hardly meeting the demands expressed on Change Square.

38Now confronted with the dynamic of the established political system, the popular uprising continued to assume innovative forms. The December 2011 “March for Life” (Masirat al-Hayat), which started out in Taez and went some 250 kilometres to Sana’a, is an example of this. This long-distance demonstration made protest against the immunity granted to Saleh and his family its rallying cry. It thus remobilised the people, thousands of whom joined the marchers, gave them shelter and fed them, inspiring journalistic comparison with the “Salt March” by Gandhi in 1930. The point of departure for this march was no accident : Taez had emerged as the heart of the uprising over the course of the revolutionary process. The third largest city in the country, marginalised for many years within the structures of power, it became the symbol of the revolution. [68] At Change Square in Sana’a, people from Taez were manifestly over-represented amongst the protestors, and played important roles there (this was the case of Tawakkul Karman and Mayzar al-Junayd, not to mention Wassim al-Qirshi and Fakhr al-’Azab). Historically linked to the development of the education system and the modernisation of the state, Taez is distinguished by its identity as a “third party” space, between the high plateaus of the North, with its connections to tribalism and the regime, and the South, which remained associated with the socialist experiment in power until the unification of 1990.

39The resistance provided by the established power networks gradually produced a seeming “resectorisation” of protest. “Parallel revolutions” [69] subsequently appeared in different professional sectors, mobilisations which sought to be more corporatist in nature than the protests launched at the beginning of 2011, and thus potentially more efficient because they were able to avoid the institutional logics negotiated between elites. However, the organisation of strikes and blockades, as well as the stigmatisation of employees linked to the ruling elite within government administrations and publicly owned companies – such as the airline Yemenia, for example – largely drew upon practices developed at Change Square. Seeking first and foremost to get rid of corrupt leaders, these parallel mobilisations in fact contributed to the deepening of the process of desectorisation that characterised the revolutionary episode. The most symbolic is undoubtedly the protest undertaken by the air force officers in January of 2012, who called for their general, Muhammad Saleh, Ali Abdallah Saleh’s half-brother, to step down.

40It is not only the partisans of the revolutionary process who are inventive in terms of their activism. The strategies employed by public authorities, particularly those networks mobilising for the regime, have adapted to these new forms of protest and responded to them. The new sit-in practices have thus been copied. The symbolic weight of Tahrir Square at the heart of Sana’a, because of the Egyptian precedent, was such that the ruling elite pre-empted its occupation by having its own supporters camp out there (often just in return for free meals and a few bank notes). [70] With the obvious asymmetry of the means at their disposal, and drawing on the regime’s patronage networks, the leaders of the ruling party also organised rallies every Friday in Sana’a, until the autumn of 2011, which brought together hundreds of thousands of people. Without being in any way comparable to the spontaneous, massive and daily mobilisations of the opposition all across Yemen, these demonstrations played a part in staging the unswerving loyalty of the “people” to President Saleh, signifying the leadership’s ability to integrate the frames of collective action of the protesters. Moreover, the GPC organised intermittent events (meetings, the congress of national dialogue, marches) which were combined with a security sweep of the city and with various strategies for intimidating opposition members, such as the creation of popular committees set up by the local neighbourhood authorities. [71] These initiatives were part of the continuation of patronage practices of mobilisation, strategies to legitimise the regime and to criminalise the opposition, which constitute “traditional” tactics within the GPC. However, they were also relatively unprecedented, insofar as they were based on a new territorialisation of space and on the progressive arming of the pro-Saleh factions in the neighbourhoods that weren’t controlled by the opposition. This “counter-movement” defined itself in its interaction with opposition mobilisations. [72] The reciprocal influences and the mimetic effects between the repertoires employed by the partisans of the ruling elite and those of its sworn opposition were thus particularly striking. Using slogans, anthems, names given to Friday protests, writing on faces, nude torsos, sit-ins or Facebook groups, the GPC sympathisers drew inspiration from the tactics of their detractors. These reappropriations and adaptations of opposition practices by the supporters of the Saleh regime underline the dynamic nature of collective action and the continual reconfigurations to which it is subject, especially in situations of political fluidity.

41* * *

42The Yemeni case study underlines the extent to which the approach developed by Anthony Giddens has an obvious heuristic value for analysing the revolutionary processes at work in the Arab world. Reasoning in terms of structuration makes it possible to go beyond the opposition between the novelty and the permanence of practices – between revolutionary practice and its context – in order to better focus upon the interactions between social and political phenomena. The long timeframe of the Yemeni uprising, compared to the apparently rapid twists and turns of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, makes it possible to observe the adjustments and changes in direction made by engaged actors and practices. Accordingly, the Sana’a case study encourages us to adopt a dynamic, non-linear approach to political mobilisations, whilst keeping in mind the complexity and the richness of the phenomena at hand. By casting light on the circular logic of the process, we have gone beyond the idea of unequivocal chronological phases, which would mean the inevitable imposition of the context, stifling all innovative practices. Established political actors regaining control is not a unidirectional process, entailing complementarity rather than dichotomy.

43Regardless of what happens in the coming months and years, the revolutionary uprising launched in 2011 cannot therefore be conceived of as a zero-sum game in which the (revolutionary) agent competes with the (counter-revolutionary or containing) structure, cancelling one other out. The interactions produced in the context of mobilisations are in and of themselves generative of new practices and opportunities that profoundly transform the expectations, strategies and perceptions of each individual. For this reason at least, recourse to the term “revolutionary” to designate the processes in motion would appear legitimate, although our proximity to the foundational event of early 2011 hinders us from measuring its true depth.


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    Diplômés chômeurs. Regarding this category, see in particular : Montserrat Emperador Badimon, “Les mobilisations des diplômés chômeurs au Maroc : usages et avatars d’une protestation pragmatique”, doctoral thesis in political science, Aix-en-Provence, Institut d’études politiques, September 2011.
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    The concept of “Islamism” has constituted an important point of contention between researchers. Understood in its broadest sense – that is as qualifying a movement whose protagonists seek to create, at varying scales, the conditions necessary to bring the social and political world into line with a given interpretation of the precepts of the Muslim religion – this term can be deployed simply as a functional tool of analysis. Used in this manner, it enables one to encompass the different branches of Islamism in all of their diversity and complexity, while bearing in mind the fact that their “sometimes ostentatious and disproportionate recourse to a lexicon or vocabulary borrowed from the Muslim culture” does not by any means predetermine the concrete forms and repertoires that their political mobilisation will adopt : François Burgat, L’islamisme à l’heure d’al-Qaïda (Paris : La Découverte, 2005), 15 ; Stéphane Lacroix, Les islamistes saoudiens. Une insurrection manquée (Paris : PUF, 2010) ; Salwa Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics. Culture, the State and Islamism (London : IB Tauris, 2003).
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    Joel Beinin, Frédéric Vairel (eds), Social Movements, Mobilization and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2011) ; Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi, Olivier Fillieule (eds), Résistances et protestations dans les sociétés musulmanes (Paris : Presses de Sciences Po, 2003). Online
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    Marine Poirier, “Performing political domination in Yemen. Narratives and practices of power in the General People’s Congress”, The Muslim World, 101(2), 2011, 202-27. See also : Sarah Phillips, Yemen’s Democracy Experiment in Regional Perspective. Patronage and Pluralized Authoritarianism (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) ; Lisa Wedeen, Peripheral Visions. Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (Chicago : Chicago University Press, 2008).Online
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    Laurent Bonnefoy, “La guerre de Sa’da : des singularités yéménites à l’agenda international”, Critique internationale, 48, 2010, 137-59 ; Samy Dorlian, “The Sa’da War in Yemen : between politics and sectarianism”, The Muslim World, 101(2), 2011, 182-201. The Zaydi imamate, established in 897 in Sa’da, and overthrown by the revolution of 26 September 1962, was a regime dominated by a social and religious elite, who were generally isolationist and conservative. Zaydism is a branch of Shia Islam that is distinct from Twelver Shi’ism which is predominant in Iran. Around a third of the Yemeni population is nominally Zaydi, as opposed to the Shafi’i (Sunni) majority, but the political and social significance of the Zaydi identity has tended to fade away over the course of the preceding decades. Only a minority, those who believe in a Zaydi renaissance, claim this identity by making a point of the discrimination they endure.Online
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    Stephen Day, “Updating Yemeni national unity. Could lingering regional divisions bring down the regime ?”, Middle East Journal, 62(3), 2008, 417-36 ; Franck Mermier, “Le mouvement sudiste”, in Laurent Bonnefoy, Franck Mermier, Marine Poirier (eds), Yémen. Le tournant révolutionnaire (Paris : Karthala/CEFAS, 2012), 41-66.
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    François Burgat, “Le Yémen après le 11 septembre 2001 : entre construction de l’État et rétrécissement du champ politique”, Critique internationale, 32, 2006, 11-21 ; Laurent Bonnefoy, “Violence in contemporary Yemen : state, society and Salafis”, The Muslim World, 101(2), 2011, 324-46.Online
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    Our use of the word “revolution” or “revolutionary” as a way of describing the popular uprising that began in January of 2011 does not in any way presage the outcome of the political and social process that it set in motion. These terms are deployed as a response to the perceived need to use the same categories as the actors in Yemen themselves, and as a recognition of the extent to which this process created the perception of a change and a profound break with what went before.
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    Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society : Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Cambridge : Polity Press, 1984).
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    A. Giddens, The Constitution of Society, 24.
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    According to the statistics published by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (2009, 2011).
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    Yemen’s “youth bulge” and unemployment : an explosive mix”, IRIN, 2010.
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    By ‘established politics’ we mean the collection of actors, institutions and practices that composes the “legitimate” political sphere. This category, while undoubtedly reductive and homogenising, enables us to understand different actors’ ways of understanding the political scene. For a discussion of the relationship to politics, see Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi, “Jeux de miroir de la ‘politisation’ : les acteurs associatifs de quartier à Casablanca”, Critique internationale, 50, 2011, 55-71.
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    Laurent Bonnefoy, Marine Poirier, “The Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Islâh) : the difficult process of building a project for change”, in Myriam Catusse, Karam Karam (eds), Returning to Political Parties ? Partisan Logic and Political Transformations in the Arab World (Beirut : Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, 2010), 61-100.
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    Michelle Browers, “Origins and architects of Yemen’s Joint Meeting Parties”, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 39(4), 2007, 565-86.
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    In opposition to Sana’a’s Tahrir Square, which was occupied by the supporters of President Saleh.
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    The sit-in in Change Square was variously referred to as “as-Saha” (the Square), “al-Mukhayyam” (the camp), and “al-I’tisam” (the sit-in). We herein adopt these same designations.
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    Stacey Philbrick-Yadav, “Antecedents of the Revolution : intersectoral networks and post-partisanship in Yemen”, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11(3), 2011, 550-63.Online
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    François Burgat, Marie Camberlin, “Révolution mode d’emploi : Zubayri et les erreurs des Libres”, Chroniques yéménites, 9, 2002, 107-16.
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    Interviews with activists in Change Place, Sana’a 19 March 2011.
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    Suhail TV, 23 February 2011.
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    The Imam Yahya Hamid ad-Din ruled North Yemen between 1904 and 1948, as did his son Ahmad from 1948 until 1962. This lead to his political isolation, and to the creation of a repressive regime. Breaking with the Zaydite millenarian tradition, they created a hereditary monarchy that was overthrown by the revolution.
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    This was the case with caricatures and photomontages exhibited or sold at the sit-in by street vendors.
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    Muhammad Ghalib al-Bukari, Munir Abd ar-Raqib Muhammad, Murad al-Ghariti (eds), A Citizen’s Guide to the Civic State [Dalil al-muwatin ila ad-dawla al-madaniyya] (Sana’a : Tamkeen Development Foundation, 2011) (in Arabic).
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    Sarah Ben Néfissa, Maggy Grabundzija, Jean Lambert (eds), Société civile, associations et pouvoir local au Yémen (Sana’a : CEFAS/FES, 2008).
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    F. Burgat, “Le Yémen après le 11 septembre 2001 : entre construction de l’État et rétrécissement du champ politique”, 10.
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    Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques (Paris : Presses de Sciences Po, 3rd edn, 2009), 126-37. Online
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    On the effects of repression on protest movement dynamics, see in particular : Hélène Combes, Olivier Fillieule, “De la répression considérée dans ses rapports à l’activité protestataire. Modèles structuraux et interactions stratégiques”, Revue française de science politique, 61(6), 2011, 1047-72 ; Vincent Geisser, Karam Karam, Frédéric Vairel, “Espaces du politique. Mobilisations et protestations”, in Elizabeth Picard (ed.), La politique dans le monde arabe (Paris : Armand Colin, 2006), 193-13.
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    Interview with a member of the socialist party, who participated in the sit-in in defence of the al-Ayyam newspaper, in Aden, 6 March 2008. Both intermittent and uninterrupted sit-ins were referred to in kind as i’tisam.
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    The qat sessions are socialising factors that intensify political interactions and debates, and might even be said to create substitute public spaces. L. Wedeen, Peripheral Visions…, 120-47.
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    Such was already the case during the sit-ins organised opposite the headquarters of the al-Ayyam newspaper in Aden.
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    Asef Bayat, Street Politics. Poor People’s Movements in Iran (New York : Columbia University Press, 1997) ; Olivier Fillieule, Stratégies de la rue. Les manifestations en France (Paris : Presses de Science Po, 1997).
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    According to Sara Evans and Harry Boyte, safe spaces are “particular sorts of public places in the community [which] are the environments in which people are able to learn a new self-respect, a deeper and more assertive group identity, public skills, and values of cooperation and civic virtue”. Sara M. Evans and Harry C. Boyte, Free Spaces : The Sources of Democratic Change in America (Chicago : University of Chicago Press 1992), 17, cited by Choukri Hmed, “Des mouvements sociaux ‘sur une tête d’épingle’ ? Le rôle de l’espace physique dans le processus contestataire à partir de l’exemple des mobilisations dans les foyers de travailleurs migrants”, Politix, 84, 2008, 162.
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    Interview with an opposition activist, Sana’a 25 March 2011.
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    Interview with two members of the organising committee and the security committee, Sana’a, 10 March 2011.
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    Ethnographic notes shared by Maggy Grabundzija, researcher and consultant in Yemen, summer of 2011.
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    Telephone interviews with activists of the “Revolutionary Youth”, autumn of 2011.
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    Cf. the Union of Young Leftists (Ittihad Shabab al-Yasar), Free Youth Group (at-Tayyar Ash-Shababi al-Hurr) or the Shamam Association of Young Civic Independents (Munaddama Shabab Mustaqillun Madaniyyun).
  • [39]
    According to the ethnographic observations of Maggy Grabundzija.
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    For an academic debate on the role of tribal structures, see S. Ben Néfissa, M. Grabundzija, J. Lambert (eds), Société civile, associations et pouvoir local au Yémen.
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    Interview with a sheik from the Bakil confederation, Sana’a, 21 February 2011.
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    Stacey Philbrick Yadav, “Tawakkul as cause and effect”, Middle East Report Online, 2011.
  • [43]
    Interview with an independent journalist, Cairo, 20 December 2011.
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    Photographic news report : “Sit-inners’ daily life on the Square of Change encampment in Sanaa”, Mareb Press, 22 February 2011.
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    Interviews with activists during the creation of their weekly newspaper on the Square, Sana’a, 23 March 2011.
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    Benjamin Wiacek, “L’émergence de nouveaux médias pour l’expression d’une troisième voix”, in L. Bonnefoy, F. Mermier, M. Poirier (eds), Yemen. Le tournant révolutionnaire, 345-50.
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    Interview with a member of the security committee, Sana’a, 10 March 2011.
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    Hélène Combes, “Camper au cœur du pouvoir. Le plánton post-électoral de 2006 à Mexico”, Revue internationale de politique comparée, 17, 2010, 53-70.
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    Christophe Traïni (ed.), Émotions… mobilisation ! (Paris : Presses de Sciences Po, 2009).
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    Daniel Gaxie, “Économie des partis et rétributions du militantisme”, Revue française de science politique, 27(1), February 1977, 123-54.Online
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    Atiaf Alwazir, “L’art pour le changement”, La Voix du Yémen, 7 May 2011.
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    Marine Poirier, “De la place de la Libération (al-Tahrir) à la place du Changement (al-Taghyir) : Recompositions des espaces et expressions du politique au Yémen”, in Amin Allal, Thomas Pierret (eds), Devenir révolutionnaires. Au cœur des révoltes arabes (Paris : Armand Colin, 2013).
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This article studies the mobilisations that have developed since the beginning of the Yemeni revolutionary process in January 2011. Built on shared and extensive fieldwork, it examines the interactions between emerging practices and the “structural properties of social systems”. It posits the duality of the revolutionary process that appears both produced its actors and constrained by a historical, social and political structure. This article thereby interrogates the capacity of the revolutionary event not only to generate innovations but also to emerge at the intersection between emerging practices and the reassertion of control over the process by existing mobilisation networks and institutionalised political actors.

Laurent Bonnefoy
Doctor in Political Science, with a major in international relations from the Paris Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po, 2007), Laurent Bonnefoy was based in Sana’a as a researcher for a period of four years and is now a CNRS researcher at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI/ Sciences Po). His publications in English, French and Arabic deal with political Yemen and with issues of contemporary religious identity and violence. His publications include Salafism in Yemen. Transnationalism and Religious Identity (London/New York : Hurst & Co./Columbia University Press, 2011). His research is focused on transnational religious relations, and, more specifically, deals with the development of the Salafist movement in Yemen and with its entry onto the political scene.
Marine Poirier
Marine Poirier is a PhD candidate and research fellow (ATER) at the Institute of Political Science in Aix-en-Provence. An associate of the Centre français d’archéologie et de sciences sociales de Sana’a, she has carried out several fieldwork studies in Yemen over a period of four years, up until the spring of 2011. She is the author of articles on political parties, mobilisations and elections in Yemen, as well as the revolutionary process set in motion in 2011, published in The Muslim World, Les Chroniques yéménites and Le Monde diplomatique. With Laurent Bonnefoy and Franck Mermier, she co-edited Yémen. Le tournant révolutionnaire (Paris : Karthala/CEFAS, 2012). Her PhD thesis focuses on the dynamics of mobilisation and the logics of action within the General People’s Congress, the former ruling party founded by Ali Abdallah Saleh.
Translated from French by 
Jasper Cooper
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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