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“Their Fate is Tied to Ours”: Assessing AQAP Governance and Implications for Security in Yemen

“Their Fate is Tied to Ours”: Assessing AQAP Governance and Implications for Security in Yemen
28th October 2019 ICSR Team
In Publications, Reports

The full report can be accessed here. An overview of its findings can be found here.

Please read on for the Executive Summary.

Global attention has for many years now been fixated on Islamic State and their governance project in Syria and Iraq – the most successful case globally which lasted from 2014 until early 2019. Yet, this was not the first instance of terrorist governance, nor is it likely to be the last. In fact, a growing number of jihadist groups appear to be engaging in various levels and aspects of governance in order to gain and maintain local support, particularly in areas with limited or troubled government presence. Governance has also proven to be a useful source of revenue and material gain for many of these groups, including for al‑Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

Starting in Yemen in 2011, AQAP conducted the first successful instances of prolonged al‑Qaeda governance in the cities of Jaar and Zinjibar – cities they held for over a year. Returning in 2015, the re‑seized these two cites. Most significantly, they held and administered the port city of Mukalla for over a year. Beyond this, numerous cases of small scale governance were recorded in Yemen up to 2017.

This report describes the evolution of AQAP governance, outlining how an initially severely repressive approach which engaged hudud punishments was reigned in, in favour of a more ‘hearts and minds’‑based approach. It also highlights unique aspects of this governance that were identified as lending to its success in cases such as Mukalla, such as the use of local actors to implement government administration, as well as effective and timely provision of social welfare and public works. Finally, it examines how and why these governance campaigns came to an end. This report holistically collates and analyses the most successful cases of AQAP governance in Yemen. It also highlights the many additional and often overlooked instances of small-scale governance that were less spectacular in nature.

This report is comprised of three sections. The first describes what jihadist governance is through a review of both jihadist governance and rebel governance in the literature. The second looks in depth at three key case studies between 2011 and 2016 to see what this governance looked like in practice: Jaar and Zinjibar; Rada; and Mukalla. Finally, it considers the implications of terrorist governance for actors seeking to counter and suppress the influence of these groups. It ultimately determines that the provision of key human security and social goods such as effective justice institutions; security; employment; and above all effective and accountable governance, are crucial to subverting local appeal for these groups.

Finally, it will highlight lessons drawn from the case of Yemen and consider other jihadist actors who have engaged in governance in other locations and suggests we have to examine this growing trend through a nuanced, full‑spectrum and long‑term approach.

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