On April 4, MESF will host a seminar by the University of Sydney’s Dr Sarah Phillips on ‘States, Violence and the West: What al-Qa’ida means for Yemen.’  The event will take place from 11:30am – 1:00pm in Building BC at Deakin University’s Burwood campus. As it is a lunchtime seminar, please RSVP to mesf@deakin.edu.au for catering purposes by March 30, 2017.


While Western analysts agree that understanding local context is crucial to successfully fighting terrorist groups in places like Yemen, some of that context is so at odds with Western counter-terrorism discourse that it is either overlooked as irrelevant or actively dismissed as irrational conspiricism. This is often too hasty. While analysing rumours and other unverifiable contextual information poses methodological, epistemological, and ontological challenges, they are corollaries of studying the clandestine.

To most Western observers, AQAP is a non-state terrorist network that targets Western interests and the ability of the Yemeni state to contain it. Its resilience derives, in part, from the outlet that it provides for disaffected Yemenis, therefore benefiting from a ‘natural base’ of Yemeni popular support. AQAP is framed as an outcrop of the violence, insecurity, sectarianism, and poverty that is (supposedly) endemic to Yemeni society, which can best be countered with the standard counter-insurgency toolkit of military force combined with efforts to increase the writ of the state. The problem with this is that this is not at all how most Yemenis understand AQAP – and this matters not only for how we understand violent extremism, but also how we understand contemporary statehood.


Sarah Phillips is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for International Security Studies at The University of Sydney. Her main research interests include the securitisation of development, post-colonial perspectives on international relations, and the politics of contemporary state-building and donor aid. Sarah has conducted extensive fieldwork in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa – particularly in Yemen (where she spent nearly four years), Somaliland, Kenya, Jordan, Pakistan, and Oman. She is the author of Yemen’s Democracy Experiment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis (London: Routledge Adelphi Series, 2011).

Download the flyer here.

Image attribution: Flickr user Richard Messenger

For those who can’t make it to Deakin on the day, the event will be live streamed via this video link using conference ID 54633. Please open the link, input the conference ID, then follow the Deakin Web Guest prompts and install the Cisco Jabber plug-in.