Tribal rule [Archives:2005/880/Opinion]

September 26 2005

By Mazin Al-Saqaf
Governance in Yemen used to be autocratic and dominated by Imams. It was then followed by the unstable time of anarchism and influence directly after the revolution, until the leader Ibrahim Al-Hamdi reorganized the system and reinstated Republican rule.

Then came president Saleh, whose rule is not given a name by historians up to now. Writers and researchers are still at a loss on what name is to be given to his term of rule, but most of them have the tendency to call it a period of tribal governance.

It is true that Yemen has been ruled by a tribal regime all through the last 27 years, which helped president Saleh to stabilize his government, in addition to other factors of course. The prevailing motto along all this period was not the rule of the law, but the law of origin.

The tribal law was not governed by any constitution or law. Those who used to plunder the states wealth were often protected by their tribes.

It could be that this matter has been tackled several times later and in a better way than this article but what made me retackle it at this stage, are the suggestions that were published in Al-Ayam news paper by some of our intellectuals, in a symopium, who demanded that the tribe should be given more say in political life, because it is more efficient than parties and the other modern institutions in defending their membership.

One feels that the tribe is a matter of fact in our life, and that one couldn't be against their norms, but one feels sure to be against ruling through it, in place of constitution and law.

It is true that the tribe used to be ruling all through the previous years but this is not good excuse that it should continue to be an alternative for the modern institutions. The logical matter is to empower the existing institutions to return the State's prestige that was undermined by tribal loyalty. Tribal loyalty has become an alternative to state's loyalty. We should not be surprised however, as the cultural geography of our land implies that power will fall along tribal cleavages.

Citizens used to repeat the slogan 'God, State, Revolution', and now after more than 40 years of revolution will we return to 'tribe, tribe, tribe?' I hope not.