GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Paper Proposal Text :
The primary question in the minds of many scholars and policy makers, as they discuss the future of Yemen, involves the potential roles of tribalism. Their concern is understandable given that an estimated 80% of Yemen's population of 27 million is rural, with a large majority self-identifying as tribal. Further, many recent urban migrants, as well as some influential political leaders and wealthy business magnates also self-identify as tribal. Yet, there is considerable confusion in the literature as to what tribalism and tribal identity imply within Yemen.

“Tribe” in Yemen refers to rural indigenous territorial groups that are held together by reciprocal obligations of cooperation among their members. Tribal organization is flexible: the units and subunits responsible to help in any particular occasion depend on the specific needs of the project. It is also inclusive, permitting the fluid incorporation of members as needed. Customary law regulates such obligations within and between units. Dispute resolution is based on mediation and consensus rather than coercion. Principles of Yemeni tribalism, such as community participation, elected leadership, and an egalitarian ethic, conform to popular conceptions of democratic governance, if not to existing models of homogeneous, centralized states.

Based on long-term field research and development consulting experience in Yemen, this paper will discuss similarities and differences in tribal political and economic organization in Yemen and provide case studies of customary law as it is currently practiced. The paper will argue that foundational principles of tribalism were behind the extraordinary restraint and bonhomie observed during the demonstrations against the former regime that began in 2011. Further, that tribal models of organization which enable groups of varying size to mobilize quickly and effectively to accomplish given tasks, combined with an egalitarian ideology and elected leadership, provide an ideal format for civil society. The flexibility built into the system allows for fluid responses to a variety of needs. Policies legitimizing these practices will facilitate the rebuilding of Yemen’s infrastructure as well as the disbursal of humanitarian aid. Decentralization is necessary for national reconciliation, given Yemen’s diverse population with its disparate needs. Utilizing local knowledge and personnel will empower local communities and help allay the concerns of those who have felt marginalized.