General People’s Congress (GPC)
Formal Yemeni politics were dominated by the General People’s Congress (GPC) until 2011. It won all of the elections and each time formed the government. A large number of factions are represented in the GPC, urban as well as tribal.
The GPC lacks an ideology and a clear-cut political program, almost resembling, in that respect, a shura. After the last three elections, many independents joined the GPC upon being elected.
Members of the opposition also sometimes join the GPC, as it is almost the only way to exert influence in Yemeni politics.
The foundation of the main opposition party, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Tajammu al-Yamani li-al-Islah), commonly known as Islah (Reform), is tribal, but the doctrine is conservative Islam.
Islah can be described as a Muslim brotherhood in Yemen, as it advocates Islamic principles and opposes, as do many others, the widespread corruption in government.
The immediate reason for its formation was a fear of secular influence on the government after the union with Marxist South Yemen. Salafis (Orthodox Muslims) belong to its constituency as well.
Islah holds a special position in the political landscape, thanks to its leader Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who died in 2007. Al-Ahmar was the long-time sheikh of the Hashid, the most powerful tribal federation.
Under al-Ahmar’s leadership, Islah first allied itself with Saleh’s GPC. Islah and al-Ahmar also supported Saleh in all but the most recent presidential elections. In 2005, Islah allied itself with a group of opposition parties, called the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
Since al-Ahmars death his eldest son, Sadiq, heads the tribal federation of Hashid, while his brother Hamid heads Islah. Hamid is one of the strongest candidates in the race to become Yemen’s next president. The al-Ahmars are reputed to have a kind of domestic ’embassy’ in Sanaa.
Puritan and Moderate Wings of Islah
There is another face to Islah, that of Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. Al-Zindani represents puritan Wahhabi (or Salafi) Islam, which originated in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis have financed the establishment of so-called ‘scientific centres’ throughout Yemen, where young people are educated according to Wahhabi beliefs. It has been reported that students who attend classes at these institutions are offered financial rewards, which helps to make Wahhabism a more popular form of Islam than traditional Zaidi Shiism.
Al-Zindani is a controversial figure, who has been tied to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Western media reports. It is unclear which of the two factions – the tribal al-Ahmar faction or the puritan Salafi faction – has dominated the party since al-Ahmar’s death.
A third important figure in Islah is Mohammed Qahtan, the official leader of Islah and spokesman of the JMP. Qahtan represents the more moderate wing of the Muslim Brothers within Islah but is not expected to play an important role in the future.
Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP)
The Yemen Socialist Party (al-Hizb al-Ishtirakiya al-Yamaniya, YSP), a remnant of the former socialist state of South Yemen (PDRY), enjoyed strong southern support just after unification but lost popularity because of internal strife and the war of secession of 1994.
The party has remained popular in Aden but does not enjoy much support elsewhere. Its current secretary, Yasin Said Numan, however, enjoys widespread respect and is likely to play a role in the post-Saleh era.
Numan is also the official leader of the Joint Meeting Parties.
Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)
The Joint Meeting Parties (Ahzab al-Liqa al-Mushtarak, JMP) is an umbrella organization formed in 2005 uniting the two main opposition parties in Yemen, the Islah and YSP, plus three minor parties: al-Haq, the Unionist Party, and the Popular Forces Union Party.
In the 2006 presidential election the JMP backed a common candidate opposing long-time President Saleh, rallying a surprising 22 percent of all votes for Faisal bin Shamlan.