Written By: Elena White
Article Date: Sep 3, 2012 - 6:47:49 PM
Founded in 1982 by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the General People’s Congress had been a constant in Yemen’s political history with over three decades of political success under its belt. Although the party suffered much criticism in 2011 when Yemenis rose to demand social and political reforms, largely influenced by the Arab Spring Movement, the faction aka the ruling party suffered through a tumultuous time. Victim of its own success –three decades in power would do that to a party – the GPC was blamed for most of Yemen’s ailments.
President Saleh precided over the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the GPC on Monday September 3, 2012 at the 22nd of May Hall in Sana'a.
However, quite contrary to other political parties in the Middle East which saw their leader/President being forced out of power by an angry mob, Yemen’s General People’s Congress proved to be, probably much to the surprise of its opponents, a driving force behind the country’s transition to a more model civic and democratic state, having been able it seems so far to adapt to Yemen’s new political environment.
Yemen’s most prominent political entity with al-Islah – the country’s Islamic faction – the GPG counts millions of supporters throughout the nation.
But before taking a look at this party extraordinary longevity in a nation where instability is King and where alliances are as fragile as glass, let us look back at his history and ideology as they hold many answers.
History and Ideology
Founded in August 24, 1982 in Sana’a, the then-capital of North Yemen by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the faction saw a meteoric success, as citizens nationwide suddenly could identify with the message this new political party was standing for and promoting. Dominated by a nationalist line, which resonated loud and clear at a time when North Yemen was trying to define its identity away from foreign influences by looking inwards. Its core ideology lies in Arab nationalism.
Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology celebrating the glories of Arab civilization, the language and literature of the Arabs, calling for rejuvenation and political union in the Arab world. Its central premise is that the peoples of the Arab World, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, constitute one nation bound together by common linguistic, cultural, religious, and historical heritage.
Such an ideology was born from a deep-seated need for Arabs to reclaim their birthrights and cultural heritage as well as assert themselves as a fore to be reckoned in terms of regional powers. Arab nationalism gained momentum after the fall of the Ottoman power – early 20th century – and the arrival onto the geo-political scene of the Jewish State of Israel.
For the most part, leaders sharing similar ideological references and beliefs rose to power in the Middle East – Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad – whose personalities, for better or for worse, deeply imprinted the region.
According to writer Youssef Choueiri, Arab nationalism represents the "Arabs' consciousness of their specific characteristics as well as their endeavor to build a modern state capable of representing the common will of the nation and all its constituent parts."
After the 70s turmoil and instability, the General People’s Congress appeared a pillar of stability for a Yemen which democratic aspirations were slowly taking shape.
Since its establishment the GPC has witnessed a great many changes to keep the party current with political trends, which in itself is quite an achievement, especially given the circumstances. It declared its present manifestation after the announcement of the multiparty system after Yemen’s unification – 1990 –during which some parties stepped out from under its umbrella.
This actually forces GPC leaders to think outside the box and review the faction’s inner structure. “It is the GPC’s ability to morph and adapt to its time and translate its members’ new ideas into actions which guaranteed and will guarantee its longevity,” said a party member.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Chief Observer of the EU mission to the 2006 election and Member of the European Parliament actually recognized in 2006 the important role which the GPC played in the activation of political pluralism in Yemen.
The political doctrine of the party notably improved over the past decade, at least in theory. It adopted an initiative to amend the Elections Law and had some success in allowing its government to represent public opinion by prompting its chairman to take a modern stance in terms of political and partisan labor, encouraging him to accept negotiation with other parties.
Moreover, for decades the GPC acted as a political counterweight to al-Islah party – Yemen’s Islamic faction.
Political analyst Ahmed al-Sofi based in Dubai told the Yemen Observer that if indeed the “ruling party” had managed throughout 2011 uprising and power-transfer to remain relevant in the country had a lot to do with the fact that it still represented republican democratic values. “It is important to remember that the GPC is not Ali Abdullah Saleh….if many agreed a year ago that it was time for Yemen to have a new leadership, it is not the party’s ideology they rejected. They merely felt that after three decades at the presidency, Yemenis needed a fresher, more contemporary touch.”
Yemen’s post revolution era
Many GPC members believe that since the party survived an uprising of the like Yemen never experienced in decades it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt of the resonance of its political message. “When we saw how Tunisian attacked their previous ruling party and how Egyptians burned down all references to President Husne Mubarak, we can safely say that Yemen’s movement was of a different nature. Unlike their fellow Arabs, Yemenis rose against poverty, corruption and a ruling system which they felt needed updating; not against a political ideology,” said Nasser al-Goddari a Yemeni expatriate to the Yemen Observer.
And although news political factions were born on the aftermath of the uprising, the GPC remains relevant and popular in Yemen. Of course leaders recognize that they will have to work hard at proving themselves worthy of their partisans’ trust, but they all admit that in hindsight e uprising could be the best that happens to the party in a long time. “The uprising forced us to look at issues which so far we had ignored to deal with terrorism. Counter-terrorism cannot be our only focus. The GPC needed this wake-up call. I believe we will stronger for it,” said a party member in Ibb, Hesham al- Beidha.
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