The concept of co-optation within social movement theory tracks the ways in which elites manage to influence and alter social movements in a non-violent manner. As a concept, it analyses how institutional actors, and the institutions themselves, can adopt the language and tactics used by spontaneous movements to their own ends. During the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in 2011, many social movements went through a process of co-optation as revolutionary impulses were slowed or reversed. In the case of Yemen, traditional political actors co-opted protest movements on the street and through the institutional framework of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). This paper utilises Coy and Hedeen’s four- stage model of co-optation to analyse the development of the 2011 protest movement and the transitional period. First-hand interviews with Yemen experts and activists present during the events in question, combined with research of the scholarly literature, provide the foundation for this study. It will argue that Yemen’s failed transition period can in part be understood with reference to the co-optation of the revolutionary movement.
Aylin Junga has been researching the Middle East, and Yemen in particular, for over six years. Studying Islamic Studies and Political Science (BA) at Heidelberg University, she also worked at the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK), the German Federal Foreign Office, and the United Nations Department for Peace Operations (DPO). She recently concluded her MSc in Middle East Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).