Tribal Society in Yemen: A Continuing Conflict [Archives:2001/50/Reportage]

December 10 2001


Hasan Al-Zaidi
Yemen Times
A careful reading for the structure of tribes in Yemen would show that Hashed and Bakil are the largest in Yemen. Sub-clans also constitute tribal groupings that merely unite when facing a common danger. Thus, relations of opposing tribes are merely governed by the concept of the political equilibrium of each tribe.
Nearly every tribe in Yemen has undergone several conflicts, particularly as these tribes have taken part in many conflicts, such as the war between the Royalist and the Republican forces. Interestingly, the government itself had taken advantage of this situation, since these wars diverted the attention of tribes from thinking of power. Similarly, the government has not paid attention to the tribal fanaticism that has bred conflicts and divisions among the different tribes, as it is tribal and not national affiliation that shapes the political orientation in the end.
For the most part, the concept of tribal fanaticism has been encouraged by the government itself through allotting senior government posts, service projects and political participation on the basis of tribal affiliation. Furthermore, the government has so far failed to deal properly with tribes from the viewpoint that these tribes are actually state institutions and they should be tackled from this perspective. The concept of national and not tribal affiliation should be reinforced as well. Accordingly, the unacceptable polices and practices of tribes should be studied and solved efficiently by the government.
Tribal groupings have become a new vogue, especially in the post-unification period. Several tribal groupings have actually been formed, such as the Yemeni Tribe Conference, the Mareb-Jawf Coalition, etc. Interestingly, these groupings and coalitions have not survived for a considerable period of time, since they have failed to exercise pressure on the government to achieve political gains. In fact, part of the failure of the these coalitions is ascribable to sheiks who used these coalitions as a means to personal gain instead of serving the common interests of tribes. The government has also succeeded in attracting those sheikhs to its line. Consequently, these coalitions simply have not achieved any political, economic or social gains for their tribes. This has also desperately forced some tribes to rebel against the state and the tribal system as well. The continued confrontations between some tribes and security forces is just a case in point.
Concerning the source of military hardware possessed by tribes, one has to consider the different wars in which these tribes have taken part. The war between the Royalist and Republican forces, the uprising which took place in the middle-lands, and eventually the 1994 civil war all provided tribes with a good arsenal.
The continued conflicts between tribes have undoubtedly incurred heavy losses on these warring tribes. Tribal blood feuds, a direct consequence of these conflicts, have become a nightmare for each tribesman regardless of his age or rank. Similarly, the state of insecurity prevalent in the tribal areas has drastically destabilized the country as a whole. Major cities have openly become places to settle scores among these tribes. Yemen adopted the system of pluralism following the unification of the country in 1990; therefore, the different political parties have tried hard to win the loyalty of tribes. Tribes have remained so far a merely military power and have no political orientation.