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  Book review

A Legislature in Transition: The Yemeni Parliament

by Ahmed A. Saif

Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, 2001. Pp. xii + 273. Figures. Tables. Glossary. Bibliog. Index. Hb. £45. ISBN 0-7546-1702-5.

This book, based on the Yemeni author’s doctoral thesis at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, examines the development of Yemen’s parliament since unification in 1990. It draws on field surveys and interviews conducted during 1998-99, on primary documentary sources, and on Yemeni/Arab media reporting. The core of the book is contained in six chapters discussing the formal and informal political structures of unified Yemen; the institutions of parliament; the theory and practice of Yemeni-style multi-party democracy; the composition and performance of the 1990, 1993 and 1997 legislatures and their mixed success in influencing the executive. A final chapter summarises the author’s conclusions: parliament plays an important role in legitimising both government and opposition; in limiting the state’s capacity for repression; in bringing together disparate interest groups within a forum where bargaining and compromise are possible; it has thus been a force for national stability in critical economic times and is vital to the survival of Yemen’s democratic experiment.

The author’s historical introduction draws on wide reading, judging from the end-notes and bibliography, but it leans unduly and uncritically on sources with timeworn ideological axes to grind, particularly in its treatment of South Yemen. And there are inconsistencies: for example, on p. 31 the 1962 revolution in the north is said to have involved ‘nationwide participation in eradicating the existing regime’, while on p. 40 we are told that the Egyptian-backed coup by Abdullah al-Sallal was ‘a revolution only in the limited sense of replacing the institutions of the Imamate with largely ill-conceived and hastily executed institutions’, against the background of 'a long and costly civil war’. The index is based on key-words such as ‘attendance’, ‘dispute’ and ‘power’, from which all reference to named personalities or specific events is excluded: an arrangement likely to tax any reader’s spirit of enquiry. Nevertheless, in its detailed exposition of Yemen’s relatively short history of political pluralism, Ahmed Saif’s study breaks new ground, and those seeking to understand the complexities of the country’s domestic political scene will find much to enlighten them.