The return of Sheikh Abdullah [Archives:2004/791/Opinion]

November 18 2004

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar has been one of the leading players in the Yemeni political theater and his influence has always been a determining factor in setting the political environment almost since the September 26, 1962 that toppled the monarchy. Undoubtedly his return to Yemen after the fateful car accident that caused some injuries to him kept him away for some time will bring comfort to many people. He was missed by his political constituency in Hashid and by all the Yemeni people, who saw Sheikh Abdullah as a channel to air their grievances and to seek justice. Sheikh Abdullah has always been known for his skillful political maneuvering and his moderate views have always made him a great arbitrator in times of political differences or tribal and regional conflict. His leadership of the Islah Party has always been viewed as an important element in keeping the religious party from any inclination towards extremism and the radicalism that has characterized many modern Islamic movements.
Sheikh Abdullah is the Speaker of Yemen's Parliament and his experience as Speaker of the first parliament of Yemen during the early days of the Republic was instrumental in keeping checks and balances in government considerably effective, especially during the Presidency of Qadhi Abdurrahman Al-Iriani from 1968 to 1973. Sheikh Abdullah's presence back in the Parliament will help reestablish the oversight function of the Parliament.
The tribal leadership position that Sheikh Abdullah holds has been a strong influence in keeping tribal conflicts contained and his continued presence will undoubtedly work to cool down the heat that arose as a result of the Houthi insurrection, especially as a good part of the area involved falls under Sheikh Abdullah's tribal jurisdiction. On the other hand, Sheikh Abdullah is expected to help secure the release of several people who may have been arrested due to suspected links with Houthi.
Yemen's Tribal Structure:
Yemen's tribal set up plays an important part in determining the political and social frameworks governing Yemen. The tribal structure of Yemen is fairly complex and has often been a determining factor in the political situation in Yemen.
Most Yemeni tribes fall under three tribal confederations occupying certain regions of the country. While most Yemeni tribes are quite similar in structure, the structure of the tribal organizations they fall under varies considerably from one confederation to another. The three tribal confederations are Hashid, Bakil and Math-haj. The biggest of the three is probably the last, but is the least loosely tied together. Most of the constituents of the latter reside in the South of the country and their tribal affiliation is fairly diluted. The south tends to fall for greater political control from a central authority (such as the Sultans of Lahj, etc. and are usually more prone to obedience to a central government.
The Bakil Tribal Confederation is found mostly in the Northern and Western Central Highlands of the Republic and is fairly extensive in numbers and territorial domain. There are several loosely tied tribes within the Bakil Confederation and the Sheikhs of some of these tribes are in their own right also powerful and influential dignitaries, such as Sheikh Sinan Abu Luhoum of the Nihm Tribe, Shiekh Ali Naji Al-Ghadir of Khoulan Tribe and the late Sheikh Abdulwahhab Sinan of Arhab. Shiekh Naji Abdul-Aziz Al-Shaif is the paramount Chief of Bakil and he hails from the Barat Tribe in the Northeastern part of Yemen near Al-Jouf Province. Bakil also includes some nomadic and semi nomadic tribes like Daham and Wailah, which could be found in the farthest northern and northeastern areas of the country.
The Hashid Tribal Confederation is much smaller than Bakil, but is highly more tightly net and highly more regimented. The Hashid occupy a stretch of territory roughly extending from Amran (40 km to the North of Sana'a) to the Saudi border to the West of the Tihama Strip. The Sanhan Tribe, which inhabits the area just South of Sana'a, is also a member of the Hashid Tribal Confederation. There are some Bakil tribes that can also be found in areas that are surrounded by the Hashid Tribes such as Iyal Sureih, just to the East of Amran, and vice versa, such as Sanhan. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar is the Sheikh of the Hashid Tribe and the paramount Sheikh of the Hashid Tribal Federation. Sub-tribes that fall under Hashid include the powerful Usaymat Tribe, which has been a staunch backer of the Republic since the early days of the Revolution and many of its sons gave their lives as martyrs defending the Revolution. An important dignitary of this sub-tribe is General Mujahid Abu Shawarib, who also wields considerable tribal, political and social influence. Because of Hashid's tighter nit structure, and because of the tribes strong support for the Revolution, Sheikh Abdullah was able to quickly gain prominence as a notable political and social dignitary. In addition, his cleverness and astute reasoning have made him an effective arbitrator, not only in tribal conflicts within his own tribal confederation, but with the other tribes that fall under the other confederations. Most of the tribal chiefs in Yemen have their own paramilitary set up and can summon up significant military support, even in defense of tribal interests or whenever the Government needs militia type military assistance. It is not surprising to find considerable military hardware and ammunition with the tribes and they consider such military hardware as essential to protecting the interests of the tribe, even if against oppressive government rule, if the need arises.
Notwithstanding the complex tribal structure however, Yemeni tribesmen on the whole are fairly decent law abiding citizens, unless stirred by tribal conflict or a feeling of deprivation from equitable government treatment.
With the Sheikh back in Sana'a, many people feel they have someone to look to and bring their grievances to. In addition Shiekh Abdullah is known for his generous philanthropic deeds. Welcome Sheikh Abdullah!