GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Yemeni Tribes and their Role in the Current Conflict in Yemen
Paper Proposal Text :
The current conflict in Yemen imposes many questions about future scenarios. Although this conflict is controlled by the internal, regional, and international factors, the formation of the Yemeni equation will be the decisive factor of such a conflict. It can be noticed that although Yemeni citizens are convinced of the concept of the state, it is natural to see normal individuals resorting to their tribal affiliation as the state is becoming more and more unable to play its natural role. Hence, the decisive factor in the conflict will be how strong the parties are on the ground, and strength is not only represented in armament, but also in how influential are these tribes. Tribes provide protection to their members, and they provide their living needs as well. Since tribes have an important role in this conflict, here are some questions that need to be discussed. What are the most important major and minor tribes in Yemen? What are the political roles played by these tribes over the different times? What is the role that these tribes play now and might play in the future? And how will this affect the future of Yemen, whether ending up united or going to other options?
These questions can be discussed through the following factors:
First: What are the major tribes and what is their role in the political life in Yemen up until the falling of the past regime in 2011?
Although there are a lot of distributions for the Yemeni tribes, there are five major tribal groups “Hashid, Bekeel, Muthhej, Hemyer, and Kinda”. Each of these tribe has its own traditions, which might be reflected on the political development in Yemen, as there are some governmental positions that are held by specific figures depending on their tribal weight. These major distributions include other minor ones, and the statistics indicate that there are about 200 tribes, 168 of them are in the north and the rest are in the south.
Tribes had an important role during the era of the former president Ali Abdullah Salih. This role can be identified by three essential indicators:
First: Forming what is called “The Authority of Tribal Affairs”, and this body was equal to the official authorities of the state but it was concerned with the affairs of the tribes.
Second: The tribal hegemony over the state authorities, especially the legislative one. During the period of the former Yemeni president, there was a sort of an unwritten agreement on dividing power between the state and the traditional tribal elites. This enables the tribes to include some of the tribal values in the legislative institution. As the tribal influence increased, this led to imbalance in the relation between the executive and legislative powers.
Third: The participation of the tribes in the 2011 protests that toppled the former Yemeni president.
So the essential purpose of this part was to recognize how the tribal influence was interwoven with the Yemeni political system and how this affected the political development in Yemen.
Second: How can the tribes influence the current Yemeni crisis?
The tribes have five influential cards:
1. Controlling the oil-rich regions in Ma’rib governorate in the middle of Yemen. This governorate is an important resource for a great ratio of oil and gaz in Yemen, and big provider of electricity supplies. Consequently, the threats of the tribes to destroy the infrastructure of oil, gaz, and electricity should be taken into consideration. It is worth mentioning that Yemen produces at least half of its needs of oil from these fields. Nevertheless, Ma’rib governorate is one of the poorest regions in Yemen.
2. The possibility of coordination between the tribes and Al-Qaeda because of the common interests between the two sides currently. This can change the conflict equation on the ground.
3. Although there are some differences between the tribes, especially with regards to their traditions, the crisis that Yemen is witnessing currently led to unifying these tribes. This was represented in the meeting of local leaders who belonged to tribes from Ma’rib, Al-Jouf, and Al-Baydha, (these three governorates represent one of the six federations that were identified in 2014) as they agreed on declaring an independent territory on February 11, 2014, as well as forming joint checking points to defend the tribal territories.
4. The close relations of the tribes with the neighboring countries, especially KSA, and its effect on fostering the influence of these tribes.
5. The spread of arms on a large scale in Yemen in general and between the tribes’ members in specific.
This means that Yemeni tribes represent a complicated factor in the current conflict equation. So excluding them from any future arrangements means undermining the national security of Yemen.
Third: The future role of tribes in the political life in Yemen:
Under the current conflict in Yemen, the role of the tribes in the future might pursue one of the two following scenarios:
Scenario no. 1: The tribes can be included in the current political process, but under the current developments and the influence of these tribes, their demands might increase to include not only keeping their traditional power but to have more power and a bigger role. In other words, Yemen is in the middle of a changing political movement, so the tribes might seize the opportunity to strengthen its position and improve their living conditions, as they still feel marginalized although they are located in one of the richest Yemeni regions with resources.
Scenario no. 2: The tribes are still marginalized in all future agreements and understandings between the different Yemeni parties, which might lead them to violence. What is more dangerous is the possibility of forming an alliance between the tribes and Al-Qaeda, the thing that might undermine the unity of Yemeni territories. In the context of this scenario, the tribes stands from internal conflicts and the possible foreign interventions that are considered as invasion in recent and contemporary history can be reviewed.
The developments of the current crisis in Yemen will determine which scenario is likely to happen.