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Mareike Transfeld (Year 2015)


Working Title: The New Yemen(s): (Re-)Imagining National Identity, Geography and State on Facebook (2011-2016)

Working Title: The New Yemen(s): (Re-)Imagining National Identity, Geography and State on Facebook (2011-2016)

In the context of the so-called „Arab Spring“, Yemen witnessed a ten-months popular uprising against the regime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. In a scale never seen before, hundreds of thousands Yemenis took to the streets to voice their discontent with the way the country was ruled by Saleh and his family; rampant corruption, poverty, high unemployment and widespread patronage practices, limiting the access to the job market. After ten months of ongoing protests in all major cities across the country, then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned in exchange for political immunity on November 23, 2011. His signature on the Gulf Cooperation Council agreement initiated a formal transition period. And after nearly a year of deliberation in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), conflicts were not resolved through a national consensus, but violent conflict in the periphery continued between parts of the security forces, tribal militias and other armed groups. With the takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in September 2014, the formal transition process failed. The Houthi coup of late 2014 resulted in a military intervention by Saudi Arabia, mounting violent conflict on the ground and increasing fragmentation of society at large. Four years after Yemenis had taken to the streets to demand a “new Yemen”, contrasting conceptions of the Yemeni state, national identity and geography are at the heart of the country’s conflicts. In the ensuing years since the 2011 protests, Yemen’s state, national identity and geography were being renegotiated in formal and informal frameworks by politicians, tribal sheikhs, political parties and movements, intellectuals, businessmen, various social groups and activists.

It was particularly Facebook, as in integral part of Yemen’s media landscape, that served as a platform for discussion and deliberation for members of the Yemeni society. Although youth activists, journalists, women’s rights activists and others played only a marginal role in the formal transition process, they continued to discuss politics and shared their visions of what the „New Yemen,“ they were aspiring to should look like. During the course of the transition process, the Yemeni state, national identity and geography was challenged, as social and political norms underpropping the Yemeni nation-state were increasingly questioned. This is reflected in the language used in Facebook posts, with many terms, such as „army“, „popular committee“ „militia“ or „government“ being strongly contested, just as the state its self is being contested. At the same time, certain stereotypes, such as southerners describing northerners as “uncivilized” or as “dahabsha” (a derogatory term describing northerners), in addition to sectarian terms, contribute to how Yemen is (re-)imagined in terms of (national) identity and geography. Looking at Facebook discourses between 2011 and 2015, this project will trace the country’s fragmentation. The goal of this project is therefore to understand how Yemen is being re-imagined on Facebook by individuals based in Sana’a, Taiz and Aden. By looking at certain terms and their intended meaning in the given context, the goal is to understand how Yemen is imagined in terms of state, national identity and geography.


First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Cilja Harders

Second Supervisor: Dr. Gabriele vom Bruck

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Freitag

Selected Publications: