Tribal Rule in Yemen:A good thing? [Archives:2003/674/Opinion]

October 6 2003

By Sam Ashuraey
It has been argued in many cases and by many people from many different groups that the tribal rule and law and how it is practiced in Yemen is bad for the “democracy” which the country is trying to spread all throughout the country (even those parts of it which are quite obviously strictly under tribal rule). However, there is one argument that is especially strong against those who hold this opinion: the tribal leader is essentially supposed to give his tribesmen and protect for them the certain amount of rights that are accustomed to within that tribe. Whether this certain duty is followed by many of the sheikhs is questionable; but in theory it is his duty to follow. If it were followed (which is still in many cases) there would be effectively, a democracy within that tribe, and a very viciously guarded one at that.
If the country were to -hypothetically- come under an attempted dictatorship these closely knit tribes would be a nightmare for those that attempt it. The rights and sovereignty of that tribe will be guarded to the fullest. The tribes would sooner be slaughtered than succumb to imposed rule.
There are two notable examples of this tribal protection of rights by the sheikh (I should note here that the following stories are probably not 100% accurate, but I do trust their sources enough to write about them. Even if they were not completely accurate, I am certain that situations such as these have happened which are in defense of my thesis). The first was in Al-Jawf when the GPC attempted to take the constituency for one of its own candidates, who were running against Sheikh Al-Ukaimi of the Islah party. The seat was given to the GPC's candidate initially. However, it is widely believed (especially by the sheikh and his tribe) that the sheikh was actually the winner and there was a “miscount”. The sheikh first approached the president about the matter but was refused. Therefore, he resorted to house imprisoning Al-Jawf's governor and threatened to “take him out” if he was not awarded the parliamentary seat…. He was given the seat.
The second example was in Kawkaban during the last internal GPC elections. This particular election was for the leader of the GPC branch. The person who actually won the elections was not the one the Mahweet governor wanted to win and so he ordered the closing of the branch. On his way to Kawkaban to award the keys of the branch to the candidate he actually wanted to win, he was stopped by Sheikh Hussein Hussein Khamis and forced to give up the keys. The sheikh then gave the keys to the rightful winner of the elections
For better or worse, tribal rule is very powerful in Yemen. When a sheikh uses this power to protect his tribe and its rights, it is (or should be) a highly revered action. He is performing the essential duty of any good leader.