Yemeni intellectuals voiced human rights concerns throughout the twentieth century. Of course, as elsewhere, the early incarnations of a human rights movement in this most populous corner of Arabia did not use the term huquq al-insan (human rights), popularized only in the 1990s. Moreover, the emphasis was consistently on limiting arbitrary governance and justice. Still, Yemenis tackled issues such as social equality, popular participation, judicial autonomy, due process, prison conditions, and intellectual freedom, among others. This chapter explores how a fragmented yet tenacious intellectual movement grounded in indigenous political culture produced writings intended to breach authoritarianism for over half a century. Contemporary Yemeni human rights activism draws on Arab and/ or Islamic precedents and texts to articulate many of the principles expressed in international covenants. Concepts of human rights surfaced as intellectuals, jurists, and other political elites challenged tyranny and oppression, often in ways affected by Yemen's geographic position at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and the Arab world, but always with reference to indigenous religious and societal values. Far from being some sort of alien Western construct superimposed on a Muslim Arab context, values now referred to collectively as human rights are deeplv woven into Yemeni political culture and scholarship.

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Copyright © 2005 University of Pennsylvania Press. This chapter first appeared Human Rights in the Arab World: Independent Voices.

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