Yemen's Tribal System Contributes to Deepening Conflict

Yemeni tribesmen gather for traditional arbitration after men from one tribe broke into the yard of members of a competing tribe and beat up some of the residents, Sana'a, September 2015. (VOA/A. Mojalli)
Yemeni tribesmen gather for traditional arbitration after men from one tribe broke into the yard of members of a competing tribe and beat up some of the residents, Sana'a, September 2015. (VOA/A. Mojalli

Almigdad MojalliHeather Murdock
October 27, 2015 11:38 AM


Despite rampant corruption, tribesmen are generally fiercely loyal to their leaders, making it worthwhile for governments to pay tribal leaders to ensure popular support. But this loyalty also makes people vulnerable to manipulation, al-Marwani said. “Some of the tribal leaders try to keep their communities ignorant to rule them and use them as they like,” al-Marwani explained.
As a result, tribal leaders have recruited fighters for whichever side they support in the current civil war, thereby deepening the conflict. The security crisis is also becoming more complicated because the recruits are ultimately loyal to the tribal leaders, not the side they join.
And the current war is not that different from the war of 1962, according to Hussein Nasser, 78, a tribesman and soldier who fought in that earlier civil conflict.
“Many of the tribal leaders fought with their tribes, not because they favored one side or the other,” he said, "but because they received money or gold.”
Humanitarian crisis
Decades of support for tribal leaders has also left Yemen unprepared to handle the humanitarian crisis, with a few aid organizations struggling to provide basic services.
According to U.N. Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, most Yemenis are in need of emergency aid, and at least half a million children are suffering from malnutrition. Yemen is “bleeding and its cities [are] collapsing,” he said.
Untangling the tribal system before stabilizing the country would not necessarily improve the humanitarian situation in the short run, because it would cause further disarray, according to Hamoud al-Awodi, a sociology professor at Sana’a University. “The tribesmen do not realize the benefits from the state.”
Religious manipulation
Besides having the ear of the people, tribal leaders often also have access to strategic areas, like ports or oil fields, and are the Yemenis best able to raise a group of armed men, said the Dar Al-Salam's al-Marwani.
And armed groups in Yemen are increasingly affiliated with religious parties rather than political parties, he said. Warring religious groups, al-Marwani added, also contribute to the expansion of extremist groups by polarizing all sides.
At his home in Sana’a last week, Khalid Hassan, a 41-year-old tribesman, chewed qat leaves with his friends, a traditional afternoon pastime in Yemen. One of the reasons the Arab Spring went wrong in Yemen, he said, is because tribal leaders raised militias, turning protests into battles.
They “recruited people from the tribes surrounding Sana’a,” he said. “And they started attacking army brigades, security buildings and governmental institutions.”

http://www.voanews.com/content/reliance-on-yemen-tribal-system-deepening-civil-conflict/3024816.html

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