The late Tariq al-Dhahab

Yet another tale of two brothers, this time in Yemen and it is not about brotherly love. What drives a man to kill his brother? For Cain in the Garden of Eden it was jealousy that God preferred his brother Abel’s sacrifice to his own; in effect the God of Genesis wanted blood. Several Abbasid caliphs were adept at taking their brother’s lives, a royal custom that knew no geographic or cultural boundaries. The American Civil War is remembered as a family conflict in which brother at times fought brother. When fratricide does occur, it is always a sad affair, whether the passions are aroused by politics, religion or a more mundane jealousy.

The two Yemeni brothers are Tariq and Hizam al-Dhahab. Tariq gained international attention on January 16 when he seized control of the Yemeni town of Rida’ and declared himself Amir of a new Islamic regime. A self-important proponent of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (as useful a banner as any these days in this region), Tariq was related to Anwar al-Awlaqi by marriage and this made the event all the more newsworthy outside of Yemen. But the purpose of the raid, which was symbolic more than bloody, was to negotiate release of prisoners and not jumpstart a new caliphate. After nine days they pulled out when Hizam’s brother Nabil was released, but the main impetus was opposition within his own tribe against such actions.

So why did Hizam kill his younger brother, who was in a mosque in al-Baydha province at the time? This was hardly the first time a Muslim is slain in a mosque, as any member of the Shi’a persuasion can remind you about the fate of ‘Ali. News reports suggest Hizam was upset at his brother’s involvement with Al-Qa’ida. One theory is that Hizam, as a tribal shaykh, took upon himself the responsibility of killing his brother so that there would not be a larger feud for the tribe when his brother was eventually killed. Quite a Greek tragedy is at play here, if this is the case. Clearly there were strong differences of opinion within the family about political involvement. But one lesson that should be obvious is that there is no unified mass “Al-Qaida” movement supported by Yemeni tribes. The breakdown of security over the past year has encouraged a variety of elements within Yemeni society with grievances, but the concerns are almost all local. Let me put it this way: Any Yemeni these days who claims to be part of Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula cares about local issues before thinking about the West.

Whatever the rationale, the end was not golden for either brother. In a matter of hours Hizam himself was killed along with several of his guards in retaliation by his dead brother’s supporters. Is there a lesson to be learned from this family tragedy? Yemen is soon to vote on a new President, more specifically an official end to the Salah regime since there is only one candidate. The past year has seen the country torn apart by protests, many peaceful, against the backdrop of dueling power brokers. The thirst for change is there, but the poison that first needs to be dealt with is closure of Salih’s rule. His loyal followers will not be able to regain mastery of the country, but neither are any of the regional power blocks likely to have an upper hand. Yemen seems headed for some kind of a federated form of government, and that may be the best solution to the crisis in the long run.

Daniel Martin Varisco