Three Options for Salafists in Yemen

Article Summary
According to Abd al-Lateef al-Amiri, Yemen’s Salafists are faced with three choices if they seek to participate in the new political order. Either they must commit to the democratic system; focus on skills development instead of religion; or remain outside government and act as neutral observers.

The Salafists in Yemen understand the need to deal with the new state of affairs that has emerged from the Arab Spring and Yemeni revolutions in a way compatible with the nature of the major changes that have taken place across the political scene. Here we are referring to those who took part in the revolutionary events - whether by issuing statements condemning the injustice and tyranny [of the regime], or by participating directly in the squares and joining revolutionary coalitions in the Yemeni arena. However, several major challenges will stand in the way of their political participation as it is understood by the other [Yemeni] parties and blocs. [These blocs] view political participation as [democratic] engagement within a parliamentary [framework]. Given the new political reality they face, it seems that the Salafists have been left with several options:

The first option is to engage in politics according to traditional democratic methods - by first declaring the establishment of a political party comprising their revolutionary coalitions and subsequently competing in prospective elections. [The Salafists] are counting on the popular base they gained through previous [outreach initiatives]. The fact that [the Salafists] have never engaged in the type of political wrangling characteristic of electoral parties will likely increase their chances of gaining the trust of the people. The Salafists have also engaged in charity work through the various organizations they oversee, and this work has directly affected many members of society. Their standing will likely be reinforced by the political atmosphere [in the region], which is favorable to Islamist movements in general.

A second option they face is to refrain from engaging in the usual political game based on [the traditional factors of] research, money, the media and organized popular polarization. [However], emotional [appeal] alone is insufficient for organizing competitive [campaigns]. To participate [in the political process] in an impulsive and careless way will have negative effects. What’s more, [political] participation that does not take into account the need [to present] competent [Salafist figures] in various disciplines such as medicine, engineering, economics, politics, trade and others will also reflect negatively [on their campaigns]. The [Yemeni] community does not need [religious] advocates. What it needs is comprehensive management in all sectors. [It also needs diplomatic leadership] in regional and international relations, which will, in one way or another, affect the [Yemeni] political scene.

A third strategy is for [the Salafists] to strive to maintain distance from their competitors, and [instead] to act as observers and monitors [of the political process]. [They should] support - through legal channels - all parties that have the interests of the people in mind. If possible, they should participate in independent and individual efforts to coordinate with wings of other parties [which bear similarities] to the Salafist ideology. This will have no affect on their advocacy efforts. The more their calls are independent of political and partisan motivations, the more effective and acceptable [they become to the people]. [However], there remain disagreements within the Salafist house over participation in legislative councils, the [party’s] position on the law of parties and on how to approach the concept of democracy in general.

Found in: salafists, islamist, elections

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