Countering Violent Extremism and Addressing Local Conflict in Yemen

In 2014, the government of Yemen collapsed under the strain of intense internal conflict, which provoked a regional military response, a massive humanitarian crisis, and widespread community instability. In the midst of this challenging environment, ICRD has been working with various local partners, including Partners Yemen and the Dar Al-Salaam Organization, as well as the U.S. Institute of Peace, to strengthen the capacity of religious and civil society actors to resolve local conflicts and counter violent extremism. ICRD’s approach includes the training of local trainers, facilitation of local dialogues, and locally-driven community projects. By enhancing the capacity of conflict resolution practitioners, this project aims to reduce the operating space and influence of extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, who purport to establish law and order. Building on the lessons learned from these trainings, participants have gone on to develop and implement a number of initiatives that address the drivers of violence and extremism at the community level.

ICRD’s 2017 publication, Empowering Yemeni Peacebuilders: The Intersection of Conflict Resolution and CVE, offers a systematic overview of that methodology with personal reflections from those impacted by the work on the ground. ICRD is currently working to expand this program to engage additional religious leaders and civil society partners throughout the country.

Yemen’s Marginalized South

Following the overthrow of a long-standing dictatorship in 2011, the Yemeni government began a delicate political transition. The process failed to overcome challenges with certain political interest groups, leading to a spiral of violence that has left the country in chaos. In an effort to understand how this transition could have been conducted more effectively and inclusively in order to inform future efforts, ICRD began a study of Yemen’s southern governorates, which have been the site of multiple political and religious insurgencies. In 2014, in partnership with local researchers, ICRD conducted surveys with over 400 southerners to assess their attitudes toward Yemen’s 2013 National Dialogue Conference, in addition to various aspects of the political transition and prospects for future stability.

The findings of this study – along with recommendations for ensuring a more inclusive transition process in the future – were published in a 2016 report, titled A Fractured South: Addressing Separatism and Other Challenges Amidst Yemen’s Political Tumult. Drawing on these recommendations, ICRD has developed a program to strengthen the political inclusion of Yemeni communities and to facilitate reconciliation between divided factions.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Yemen, ICRD engaged more than 200 religious and civil actors from Sana’a, Aden, Abyan, Taiz, Lahj, and Hadramaut. This study highlights the important role of community actors in CVE, even in the midst of violent conflict. The findings can be found in ICRD’s report, Addressing Jihadi-Salafism in Yemen.