Political Dimensions of Tribal Revenge [Archives:2000/35/Reportage]

August 28 2000

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Yemen Times
More than 200 people were killed and hundreds were badly injured during tribal clashes in Al-Baidha governorate, recent statistics have disclosed. Tribes of Al-Baidha governorate: Riam, Aal Ayash, Al-Shwahirah, Aal Sanad, Bani Ziad, Aal Hotam, Aal Al-Noseiri, Aal Sallam, have not only witnessed internal conflicts but have been involved in revenge act with neighboring tribes, as well.
Fight among different tribes has been more common with tribes belonging to Mareb, Al-Jawf, Shabwah, Al-Dhale, Abyan, Sadah and those surrounding Sanaa: Khawlan, Hamdan, Arhab, Nehm, Hashed, etc. Thousands of people had been killed or wounded along years of bloodshed. More than 39 people were killed and more then 200 injured in the last two months during clashes between Wailah and Dahm tribes near the Saudi-Yemeni borders.

Tribes in The 1980s
To find a cogent background to causes of such conflicts and clashes, one should go a bit back in history, particularly to the 1970s and 1980s. An intelligent strategy was adopted during this period to make tribes clash with one another either for border disputes or many other pretexts.
The most apparent motivation for such a strategy was the threat those tribes posed to the government during those periods. That threat was enhanced by many kinds of weapons the tribes possessed during the internal conflict between the Republicans and Royalists during the 1960s. At that time, both the Republicans and Royalists depended on tribes for support. When that conflict was over early in the 1970s, tribes kept all weapons they had then been supplied with. In addition, they acquired a good experience in tackling with weapons in fightings. Since the government at the time was incapable of confronting the heavily-armed tribes, it found salvation in turning tribes against each other in an attempt to weaken their power. Tribes were driven to internal conflicts sometimes within the one tribe and sometimes with other tribes. Such conflicts are still alive nowadays.

Tribal Conflicts in The Central Areas
As far as the so called tribes of the central areas (a name given to those border areas between former Yemen Arab Republic and People Democratic Republic of Yemen) are concerned, they possessed weapons during the operations of the so- called National Liberation Front (NLF) which was supported by the former South against the North, and the Front for Liberation Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) which was supported by the then Northern Yemen against Southern Yemen.
During the civil wars of the two former Yemens in 1972 and 1978, each side tried to involve their allies either to take part in the war or to be in charge of other tribes affiliated to the other part. Neutral tribes were also dragged into conflicts with one another over borders. Consequences of tribal conflicts are still felt up to now.
The governments strategy to weaken tribal powers was a success. Tribal conflicts continued even in the post-war period. This was also desirable, for, at least, it did not give tribes a chance to think of their internal affairs, restore their abilities and dominate over the political scenario.

Political and Tribal Conflicts After Unification
The 22nd of May 1990 marked the integration of many conflicting parties in one identity. The adoption of pluralism and the emergence of political parties coincided with a new conflict involving the biggest parties in the race for power: Peoples General Congress (PGC), Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) and Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah). Political affiliation of tribes opened a new horizon for a seemingly endless conflict among them.
The 1994 civil war drove the YSP out of the political scenario of Yemen, and put an end to the PGCs confrontation with its old rival the YSP. However, tribal conflicts havent abated. They have rather escalated and developed. Major cities, including the Capital City, have been a stage for tribes to settle their old disputes and accounts, latest of which was the murder of Brigadier Saleh Al-Izzani, Deputy Governor of Sanaa, in front of his house on July 7 2000 in Sanaa.

Political, Tribal Vengeance and The State
Many officials have been boasting of the governments ability to control political conflicts in Yemen, ignoring the mounting tension among tribes that has reached major cities as we have already mentioned. Many tribal clashes and conflicts stem from political backgrounds even if they seem to be of a tribal nature. Although the government is well aware of this fact, no action has so far been taken against bodies involved.
With many eyebrows raised about such a stand of the government, some believe that tribal conflicts serve the government which is afraid of any future tribal alliance that might pose a real threat on the present state.

What Can Sheikhs Do?
Thinking about Sheikhs attitude towards tribal conflicts, they seem to have no worthwhile roles to soften the abiding conflicts among their tribes. Personal gains and interests are all that matter in case of most of them.
I believe that Sheikhs can, if they join hands and are supported by the state, put an end to such incidents of bloodshed. However, lack of any initiative by Sheikhs in this regard portends an uncertain future.

It is a shame for a nation in the 21st century to solve trivial disputes by cannons and machine-guns. Below are some suggestions that may help limit this undesirable phenomenon:
– Sheikhs should be forced to carry out their duties to control and manage their tribes affairs.
– Initiatives to stop conflicts should be supported by the state through a fund that should be established to support similar initiatives.
– Impose penalties on all instigators of conflicts and acts of vengeance anywhere in Yemen.