Tribalism


The first part of my interview about the current situation in Yemen on The Real News…

All eyes at the moment are glued to the news about the aerial attacks by a coalition of Saudi, GCC and Jordanian planes (with more to come it seems) on Huthi and military targets in Yemen. This is not a scenario I want to see; this is not a commentary I want to write. Yemen is imploding, the victim of long standing foreign involvement, local rivalries fueled by the insecurity with the removal of Ali Abdullah Salih and, in large part, the insatiable drive of Salih and his supporters to regain power. The Arab Spring removal of Salih was relatively peaceful, at least in terms of a military standoff and an explosion that could easily have ended Salih’s life but for the grace of the Saudis to put him back together. Guns abound in Yemen, as everyone knows, but the kind of hate-fueled warfare that has engulfed Iraq and Syria had not erupted. There was a national dialogue that most, but not all, groups participated in. There was a glimmer of hope.

This morning that glimmer seemed much dimmer, following on the rapid turn of events since the Huthi takeover of Sanaa and the recent escape of President Hadi to Aden. Yemen’s fragmented military is no match for the Saudi coalition arsenal directed by American intelligence. A bunch of gabilis in pick-up trucks may look tough on first glance, but they might as well be riding chariots. Reports suggest Saudi Arabia has assembled a force of some 150,000 at their border, with fears that a local RISK game will break out after the bombing has nullified the capacity of the Huthis to resist any advance. (more…)

Are the Houthis a symptom of regional mistrust?

by Abdullah Hammidaddin, alarabiya.net, Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ten years ago this month Ali Saleh had ordered the field execution of Husayn al-Houthi. This was after a three-month war between government forces and Husayn’s supporters in a remote village in northern Yemen. At the time, Husayn’s supporters were few and I believe the matter could have ended there. But Saleh decided to push on and confront the rest of Husayn’s family who then reacted by picking up arms again. They ended up surviving five wars waged by the government. Today Abdulmalik al-Houthi – Husayn’s younger brother – has forces in Sanaa and this time he is threating the Yemeni government, forcing it to make concessions.

In the past year alone, the Houthis have altered the political landscape of Yemen. They pushed the Ahmar family out of their homes and overthrew their three hundred year sheikhdom and authority in the tribal federation of Hashid. They took the al-Jawf area as a strategic last stronghold for their adversaries. They’ve forged alliances with most tribes in the northern region and also in the south. And now in Sanaa they are fighting against both the militias of the Islah party (Muslim Brotherhood branch in Yemen) and military factions loyal to General Ali Muhsin Al-Ahmar in what could escalate into a major war in the fragile capital city. (more…)

Southern Yemeni Activists Prepare for Nationwide Rally
by Susanne Dahlgren, MERIP, April 24, 2014

For the first time, a Million-Person Rally or milyuniyya will be held in Yemen’s oil-rich eastern province of Hadramawt. It is being called milyuniyyat al-huwiya al-junubiyya or the Million-Strong Rally for Southern Identity.

The mass demonstration aims to unify all of the southern Yemeni protests against the Sanaa regime. For two years now, milyuniyya rallies have been held in Aden, the hub of southern Yemeni revolution, gathering large crowds of men from all over the southern provinces and women from less far-flung areas to give voice to the concerns of southerners before the world. The object of the April 27 rally is to commemorate the 1994 “war against the south” that led to the downfall of the southern army and the solidification of ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih’s rule, understood by many southerners as a northern occupation. The choice of Mukalla, Hadramawt’s main port, as the site for the demonstration is significant; only months earlier tribes gathered to form the Hadramawt Tribes Confederacy, in order to resist what is considered a systematic looting of the fruits of the land by the regime, which is distributing business deals to its cronies while marginalizing locals. The tipping point was the murder of a notable tribal sheikh at an army post, which sparked a full-blown popular uprising. (more…)

رجال قبائل والحوثيون يوقعون اتفاقاً لوقف الاقتتال في عمران وإخراج المسلحين الوافدين إلى المنطقة

المصدر أونلاين – خاص
الثلاثاء 4 فبراير 2014 05:38:47 مساءً

قالت مصادر محلية إن اتفاقاً جرى توقيعه اليوم الثلاثاء بين قبائل حاشد وجماعة الحوثيين المسلحة لوقف الاقتتال في محافظة عمران وإخراج المسلحين الوافدين إلى المنطقة وتأمين الطرقات.

وذكرت المصادر لـ”المصدر أونلاين” إن القبائل والحوثيين اتفقوا على إخراج المسلحين الوافدين الى المنطقة، وفتح وتأمين الطريق العام وعدم التجوال بالأسلحة الثقيلة، ونشر قوات الجيش في عدد من المواقع في منطقتي خيوان وحوث.

وجاء الاتفاق برعاية اللجنة الرئاسية المكلفة بإيقاف إطلاق النار برئاسة قائد قوات الأمن الخاصة اللواء فضل بن يحيى القوسي وأمين العاصمة عبدالقادر هلال.

ونص الاتفاق على انسحاب الطرفين من مواقع الاقتتال، وعدم العودة إليها لاحقاً أو استحداث مواقع أخرى، وكذا منع الطرفين من “أي أعمال تثير الفتنة”.

كما نص الاتفاق على إعادة المهجرين من مديرية حوث إلى قراهم وبيوتهم وأموالهم.

لكن مصدراً قبلياً قال لـ”المصدر أونلاين” إن الشيخ حسين الأحمر غادر عمران بعدما حصلت ما وصفتها بـ”الخيانات”، من قبل عدد من مشائخ ريده وخيوان وحوث، الذين أعلنوا عدم محاربة الحوثيين والسماح لهم بالدخول إلى مناطقهم.

ونفى المصدر قيام الحوثيين بتطبيق الاتفاق، قائلاً إنهم يتجولون بأسلحتهم الخفيفة والثقيلة، ويتوسعون بشكل كبير، فيما لم تنتشر القوات العسكرية الا في مناطق محدودة.

وفي دنان، قالت مصادر محلية لـ”المصدر أونلاين” إن الحوثيين عرضوا على أهاليها توقيع صلح معهم، مقابل عدم الدخول في حرب معهم.

وأضافت المصادر أن الأهالي وافقوا على عقد الصلح مع الحوثيين، خشية من الدخول في معارك جديدة معهم.

وسيطر الحوثيون خلال اليومين الماضيين على مناطق في مديريتي (حوث، والخمري) بعمران بعد معارك عنيفة خاضوها مع رجال قبائل حاشد المسلحين أسفرت عن سقوط عشرات القتلى والجرحى من الجانبين.


Embattled residence of Husayn al-Ahmar

I wish this was a commentary about rival football clubs in Yemen, but it is not. The news this morning is that Huthi forces have battled the tribal guard of the al-Ahmar clan, specifically the home of Husayn of al-Ahmar. Husayn is the son of the late Abdullah al-Ahmar, who passed away in 2007 but had been paramount shaykh of Hashid since the execution of his father by Imam Ahmad. Before the revolution that toppled the Zaydi imamate, the two tribal confederations of Hashid and Bakil were said to be the wings of the imamate, cautiously manipulated by the last dynasty of Zaydi imams in the north. While tribal identity, and more importantly tribal values embedded in an honor code of qabyala, is still of major importance in Yemen today, the importance of Hashid and Bakil as major political blocks has weakened. This is due in part to the efforts of Ali Abdullah Salih, Yemen’s last president, to create loyalty to his regime. But it is also a result of imported views of Islam, including the Saudi-funded Salafis.

Yemen is beset with internal strife, fueled in large part by outside interests. The recent National Dialogue Conference has recommended a resolution to the current political stalemate along the lines of a federalist state. The expansion of Huthi influence closer to the capital may be part of the jousting for position in determining the boundaries of new federal states. Whatever the reason, this escalation of violence only exacerbates the tension that exists between Yemenis in various regions. Assassinations now seem to be almost a daily occurrence and Yemen’s economy has ground to a standstill. It is reported that the agricultural lands near Sa’da have been destroyed due to the fighting there between the Huthis and their foes, both the military excursions that Salih sent and the Salafis based in Dammaj. In this unrest, the feeble AQAP is able to operate with virtual impunity, despite the continued use of drones to target suspected terrorists.


Tribesmen from Yemen´s Bakil tribal confederation waiting for a decision at a tribal law-based conflict resolution session (Mikael Strandberg)

by Khaled Fattah, opencanada.org, October 18, 2012

With the recent stepping up of controversial U.S. drone attacks in tribal areas of Yemen, and post-Arab Spring confrontations with militant jihadist groups in tribal areas of Egypt, Libya, and North Africa, a number of misconceptions surrounding the links between tribes and terrorism in the Arab Middle East continue to plague press coverage and policy reports. The first of these misconceptions is that tribal areas are lawless, ungoverned spaces – a modern-day Wild West. Another misconception is that the ultra-conservative culture of Arab tribes is fertile ground in which to root the violent ideology of transnational terror cells. The truth is that much of the current commentary about tribes and tribalism in the Arab Middle East reflects the Pentagon’s experiences so far in the American-led “War on Terror.” This war has now shifted from boot-heavy invasions to ghost wars in which drones hover over countries with significant tribal populations: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Mali. The War on Terror is now primarily carried out via “open secret” predator drone missions that increasingly target exclusively tribal areas.

Tribal Areas Today Are Not the Wild West

Over the last 10 years, many comparisons have been drawn between the fabled “Wild West” of America toward the end of the 19th century, and present-day tribal areas of the Middle East. The “Wild West” conjures up images of adventurous cowboys facing off in a dusty street in front of a gambling den or brothel, pistols drawn. The image suggests a lawless era in U.S. history, where violence prevailed in American frontier towns, might made right, and the weak were punished for crimes they did not commit. The Wild West was an anarchic social world shaped by outlawed individuals and their henchmen. This period in American history bares little resemblance to life in the tribal areas of the Arab world today, which are highly socialized, with clear normative controls. The association of tribal areas in the Middle East with the Wild West is simply an attractive analogy to intermittent foreign observers and army generals. (more…)


Nadwa Al-Dawsari (with her tribal shiekh colleague)

by Nadwa Al-Dawsari, Carnegie Paper, April 2012

The power-sharing deal signed by Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in November 2011 mentioned presidential elections, the formation of a national unity government, and a military commission to reform the armed forces. It was at best the first step in Yemen’s recovery from the protracted turmoil and instability that wracked the country for months.

In this uncertain period of transition, as the new government struggles to establish legitimacy and address its most pressing issues, tribal law and traditions will play an important role in restoring a degree of stability because government capacity is extremely limited. This is particularly true given increasing conflicts and emerging sectarian and political divisions in the country. State and rule of law institutions are not only weak and ineffective outside of the main cities but also widely untrusted.

Yemenis have relied on indigenous tribal traditions to regulate conflict and establish justice for centuries, if not millennia. Tribal law has effectively handled conflicts between various tribes, between tribes and extractive companies, and between tribes and the government. It has successfully prevented and resolved conflicts over resources, development services, and land, and has sometimes managed to contain complex revenge-killing cases. Nationally, tribal mediators have played an important role in promoting political dialogue and building consensus among political groups. During the past year, where government forces withdrew, tribes took responsibility and managed to provide a reasonable level of security within their territories and along the main roads that connect tribal governorates. (more…)

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