Tribe & Civil Society in Yemen [Archives:2001/29/Reportage]

July 16 2001

Farouk Al-kamali
Yemen Times
It is believed that the civil society in Yemen, specifically in the north emerged through Al-Hikma Al-Yamanya Magazine in 1939 and in the south through Fatat Al-Jszera. Undoubtedly, Aden has witnessed the first establishment of the organizations of the civil society and it was the spot of modernization and progress in Yemen. The Yemeni Writers Union and the Yemen Students Union are the central core in forming the civil society in Yemen.
The civil organizations emerged in the 90s and began to practice its activities ,but such activities remained restricted due to the dominance of the tribalism and the authority of Shiekhs. Despite the spread of education and the increase of awareness among people, the traditions and norms of tribalism are still dominant and are more powerful than the law. Problems and discords are tackled by tribal traditions away from the dominance of the law. The long history of the tribe is still dominant over the law, despite the difficulties to end tribalism or at least to minimize its role in everyday life. This can be attributed to a number of reasons. In the absence of the peoples’ active role in helping to change the society of the tribe, the Shiekh represents the tribe who is to be obeyed willingly or unwillingly.
In this regard, Ahmad Al-Kaseer said” Firstly, I’d like to point out here in relation to the questions which I had received including ideological orientation and indications portraying the position of the tribe. Such portraits somewhat describe the tribe as if it was an alternative to the society. Such an opinion is in complete contradiction with the reality. In my point of view, the problem here lies not only in the fact of the presence of the tribe or tribal affiliation in some of the places in Yemen, but in the exploitation of that presence to hinder the civil social development. Sometimes this exploitation can only be achieved through situations in which people don’t submit to the law and sometimes tribes are encouraged not to comply with the tribal norms.
Secondly, it is strange to see an increasing number of tribesmen practicing several forms of modern activity simultaneously, which are closely related to the civil society itself. Some of the activities began to become much larger. In addition to such activity, it is being closely related to the modern sector. The activity should make use of this trait of the tribesmen in the modern economic sphere without the adherence to rules of that sector. Some people use the tribal affiliation to get rid of the rules. The main aim of the tribal affiliation is to enjoy certain exemptions and privileges not guaranteed by the law. It should be mentioned here that exploiting the tribal affiliation to gain privileges is considered to be one the forms of the social conflict.
Thirdly, in addition to what has been said earlier, the tribesmen constitute a main hindrance to the development of the civil society. To tackle such problems we have to 1) discard all the tribal affiliation. In the tribal society we find distinctions between classes, feeling of pride about their ancestors and of disdain about the black (Al-Akhdam). The women are deprived of the right to learning as well as to her heritage. Some Shiekhs still possess special jails, guards, weapons, to silence the disobedient. Some of the phenomena, like revenge, carrying weapons and kidnappings are closely related to tribalism and Shiekhs. How can we reach the prestigious and the modern society? 2) Taking great care in improving the tribal belts and supplying it with essential services such as drinking water, schools, and health centers.
Fourthly: The notion of citizenship is acknowledged by the society and the tribesmen have a chance to practice their rights as citizens. The hindrance to the progress of the civil society lies in the fact that the different social communities are living in the form of dualism which makes the civil society a fragile entity. Consequently we have seen that tribesmen want to enjoy their rights as guaranteed by the law and the constitution. They also want the people to acknowledge their existence as tribesmen, enjoying all their rights freely. Regrettably, we see a number of educated people add fuel to the flames. They in most cases discard the norms of the civil society and adopt the culture of the traditional culture. That class lives a life of dualism in thought and behavior, unable to disseminate its culture which is considered one of the dangerous hindrances for development of the civil society.
In contrast, some regard Shiekhs as the leaders of retardation and regression. The well-known journalist Abduh Al-Bari Taher thinks that the tribal structure is the major source of trials and tribulations. ” The British colony didn’t take care of the southern part of Yemen, but it restored Sultans and the clan leaders in the south depending on the tribal structural division of the southern and eastern provinces. But in the north, Imam didn’t last for a long time and as all of us know about the 1948 movement when the tribes rushed madly upon Sana’a to suppress the pioneers of modernism and the war of the ten years in the aftermath of the 26th September, all of which constitute a major source of the primitive life of the Yemeni people. The government itself is powerless to control tribalism. Kidnapping, highway robbery, revenge and assassination attempts are related to the tribal acts.” Taher continues, ” The tribal structure in Yemen is the main obstacle to become a civilized society and development.”
Although Yemen complains a lot about that class, it is undeniable that they didn’t receive the basic amenities of life. It is certain that the tribe is a primitive structure which is not tractable. But the government has its own way in dealing with such kind of people through an effective integration in which the Shiekhs together with his men becomes good citizens showing loyalty to the sovereignty of the State. With deep regret, we observe that this class is encouraged to violate the law, challenging its authorities, showing indifference to the laws made by the government. The secret lies in the government’s stopping oppression of the tribes and making them good and loyal citizens.