Category Archives: Politics

Trust in Yemen

society

The recent report issued by ESCWA in 2019, entitled Arab Society: A Compendium of Demographic and Social Statistics, No. 13 is well worth reading and contains useful information on Yemen. One of the most interesting facts about Yemen is that although it is the poorest state on the Arabian Peninsula and is currently being bullied and devastated by its wealthy neighbors, the Yemeni people have the highest regard of trust for their fellow citizens of any country in the region.

trust

Zāmil lives in War-torn Yemen

zamil2
Photographic Source: اليمن الجمهوري

by Emily Sumner
Graduate Student in Arabic Literature, Culture & Media
Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
College of Liberal Arts
University of Minnesota

In the celebrated Yemeni novel الرهينة (The Hostage) by Zayd Mutee‘ Dammaj, the protagonist, a hostage of the imam, is greeted by the soldiers living in the governor’s palace with verses of a zāmil:

يا دويدار قد أمك فاقدة لك.

دمعها كالمطر

Oh Duwaydar, your mother misses you

Her tears are like rain[1]

The inclusion of zawāmil in a Yemeni novel is indicative of their place in Yemeni life. Zawāmil accompany Yemen’s poignant historical moments, such as the fall of the imamate and establishment of the Republic. They are a lively component of Yemen’s cultural heritage, shedding light on its people’s social, political and literary history.

The footnote to the above zāmil in The Hostage defines it as a “traditional communal chant,”  نشيد جماعي تقليدي. A reductionist definition, yet it does get at the heart of what scholars have consistently said about this poetic genre: it expresses communal feeling and is performed by a group in response to a social occasion. In the case of The Hostage, the arrival of the Duwaydar prompts the zāmil; other moments that may inspire Yemenis to perform zawāmil are as divergent as the joy of weddings and the trials of war.

In his book Folk Literature Arts in Yemen (1988), ‘Abd Allāh al-Baraddūnī suggests that the zawāmil were dwindling at that time for a variety of reasons, chief among them the advent of modern weapons, which he claims stifle the zāmil’s pervasive sounds and rhythm. He contrasts the days when lines of men marched to battle while chanting a zāmil, their voices echoing in the air and overtaking their surroundings, with soldiers’ voices contained within moving cars. He concludes by asserting the zāmil is being reduced to “merely moral incitement, or the extension of a declining practice.”[2]

Yet the proliferation of zawāmil during the current war indicates their continued salience in Yemeni life and the ways in which Yemenis adapt cultural forms to suit novel circumstances. Al-Baradduni is not wrong—the zāmil is “moral incitement,” but perhaps the term “merely” is misplaced. The various sides of the current armed conflict, whether Houthis, pro-government forces, or supporters of the Coalition, compose zawāmil that are available not only to Yemenis but to a much wider audience on social media. The zāmil reverberates within Yemen and beyond its borders.

zamil

By way of example, below is one popular Houthi zāmil retrieved from YouTube, along with my translation:

أداء: عيسى الليث

كلمات: محمد الجرف

وقت النقا حان ويل المعتدي ويله 1.     إستنفري ياجيوش الله في مأرب
والجن والإنس والأملاك تصغي له 2.     جنود ربي حماة الدار تتأهب
وبندقي في الخصم يدي مواويله 3.     الله أكبر صداها في الحشا يلهب
يابندقي لاهنت سامرني الليله 4.     صنعاء بعيده قولوا له الرياض أقرب
كلاً حزم عدته واسرج على خيله 5.     القوم شبت نكفها للقاء ترغب
حتى ولو في بطون الأرض نأتي له 6.     قولوا لسلمان ماله مننا مهرب
المعتدي يالغبي يبشر بتنكيله[3] 7.     هذا اليمن من تجاهلنا فقد جرب

 

Vocals: ‘Isa al-Laith

Words: Mohamad al-Jaraf

  1. Get ready for war, armies of Allah in Ma’rib!

The time for honesty has come. Woe to the aggressor, woe to him!

  1. My Lord’s soldiers, the protectors of the land, are getting ready.

The jinn, humans and angels all heed Him.

  1. “Allah is great!” Its echo blazes inside [of them].

My rifle in the conflict performs its songs.

  1. Sanʿaʾ is far away, tell him Riyadh is closer!

Oh my rifle  – may God protect you from humiliation – keep me     company tonight.

  1. The people’s disdain blazes and they crave an encounter.

Everyone has fastened their weapon and saddled their horse.

  1. Tell Salman he will never escape us!

Even in the bowels of the Earth we will get to him.

  1. This is Yemen! Whoever ignored us has learned his lesson!

The aggressor – that idiot – heralds his own destruction!

————————————————————————————-

[1] p. 18, translation my own.

[2] p. 147.

[3] Al-Laith, ʿĪsā, “Zāmil Ṣanʿāʾ baīdah qūlū lahu ar-Riyāḍ aqrab.” YouTube video, 5:36, posted by

Shamūkh Yamānī, December 31, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tRFJdzQwZw. Accessed February 23, 2020.

Peacebuilding in Yemen

peacebuilding

A new article on peacebuilding efforts in Yemen.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21647259.2019.1686797

“This bleak assessment of the role of CS [civil societies] during war seems to confirm the growing critique of international CS peacebuilding policies and indeed of aid more generally. However, these issues do not apply in similar weight to all CSOs in Yemen. As discussed by Dibley (2014), various circumstances shape the ability of CSOs to exercise independent agency. Our categorisation of organisations into three types sheds some further light on this. Donor-driven organisations, operating at the national level, best fit the picture painted by the critics. But this is less true of the other types of CSOs active in Yemen: local-level grassroots self-help organisations, often with a tribal or religious background, and new activist organisations originating from the Yemeni Spring.
Whilst these actors, too, are severely affected by the violence and prone to political capture, grassroots CSOs, which are less of a target for political actors due to their lowkey activities, continue to offer vital support to the victims of the war. Meanwhile, new activist CSOs attempt to avoid political co-optation and to continue to speak out politically, even though this presents severe risks. This group also includes e-activists who operate from abroad; these are able to raise awareness on the Yemeni conflict, rights violations, and strategies for peacebuilding, without risking life and limb.”

 

Tribal Dynamics and Nation Building in Yemen

najwaisa

On February 5, 2020 Najwa Adra, a Visitor at the School for Social Sciences of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, will give a talk in the  Near Eastern Studies Seminar on “Tribal Dynamics and Nation Building in Yemen.”

The meeting will be from 4:00-6:00 pm in the West Seminar room at IAS. All are welcome.

For details, click here: https://www.hs.ias.edu/islamic-world/events

New Articles in Arabian Humanities

There are two new articles on Yemen in the latest Arabian Humanities.

“El-Ḫelfe, la fenêtre
ou al-Miḥḍār, grand poète du Ḥaḍramawt”
by Claude Audebert et Fatima Al-Zawya

Des imams et sultans au Yémen réunifié : un tour d’horizon vexillologique
À paraitre en novembre 2019
By Hervé Calvarin

There is also a review:

François Siino

 

 

Yemen: Inside a Crisis

 

crisis

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) in England is having an exhibition on the crisis in Yemen until January 26, 2020. Details are at https://www.iwm.org.uk/seasons/yemen-inside-a-crisis.

Described by the UN as the “world’s worst” humanitarian crisis, the on-going conflict in Yemen has left an estimated 80% of the country’s men, women and children in desperate need of assistance; but how has this man-made crisis affected the people of Yemen?

At the forefront of a major season of programming at IWM North, Yemen: Inside a Crisis is the UK’s first exhibition to address Yemen’s on-going conflict and humanitarian crisis. Showcasing around 50 objects and photographs, many of which have been exclusively sourced from Yemen for this exhibition.

Yemen Films at MESA

10days

There will be four Yemeni films shown at the annual MESA conference in New Orleans on Nov. 15 and 16.

10 DAYS BEFORE THE WEDDING (10 AYAM QABL AL-ZAFA)
(Yemen) 2018 120 min. In Arabic w/English subtitles. Director:
Amr Gamal. Producers: Mohsen Al-Khalifi and Amr Gamal.
Print Source: Adenium Productions.
Rasha and Ma’moon, a young Yemeni couple, were set to marry. The war of 2015 prevented their wedding. They try to make it happen in 2018. Again, obstacles appear but it’s not the war, it’s the aftermath.
From having to evacuate their homes and coping with war
dealers controlling their fates to conflicts with militias and the
economic crisis, the couple race with time to make sure the
wedding scheduled in 10 days happens on time.
Plus a Cineforum with Amr Gamal
Sponsored by the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS)
Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3:30 pm

JUST ANOTHER MEMORY (MUJRAD DHIKRA) (Yemen/Qatar)
2018 14 min. Director: Mariam Al-Dhubhani. Producer:
Yassmine Hammoudi. Print Source: Mariam Al-Dhubhani.
Amidst the ongoing war in Yemen, how does one move forward
and heal? How can a person deal with so much suppressed
pain? In this affecting documentary, the filmmakers
investigate these questions and explore what it feels like to be
suddenly uprooted and displaced by war.
Friday, Nov. 15 at 3:40 PM

IN THE MIDDLE (FI AL-MUNTAṢAF) (Yemen) 2019 14 min.
In Arabic w/English subtitles. Director: Mariam Al-Dhubhani.
Producers: Nour Abunabaa and Mohammed Al-Jaberi. Print
Source: Mariam Al-Dhubhani. Even though the fighting in
Aden is over, Yemen’s state of uncertainty persists and lives
remain on hold.
Friday, Nov. 15 at 3:40 PM

YEMEN: THE SILENT WAR (AL-YAMAN: AL-ḤARB
AL-Ṣ MATA) (Yemen/Djibouti) 2018 11 min. In Arabic w/English
subtitles. Director/Producer: Sufian Abolohom. Print
Source: Sufian Abolohom. This short film presents the
small group of Yemeni refugees who have chosen to remain
in the Markazi Refugee camp in Djibouti.
Friday, Nov. 15 at 3:40 PM

AIYS at MESA 2019

AIYS will have two main panels at the annual MESA meeting in New Orleans this November. These are a Special Session: Politics and Prospects for Peace and Reconstruction in Yemen and a panel called From al-Hadi ila al-Haqq to Husayn al-Huthi: The Zaydi Phenomenon in Yemen
There will be an open-to-all AIYS Information Meeting on Friday, Nov. 15, 3:30-4:30pm, in 8-Endymion/Mid-City. Please plan to attend all these AIYS events.

Special Session: Politics and Prospects for Peace and Reconstruction in Yemen. Organized by Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Friday, 11/15/19 5:00pm

Participants: Jillian Schwedler, Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Salwa Dammaj, Danny Postel, Waleed Mahdi, Adam Hanieh
Abstract: After nearly five years, the effects of the war in Yemen – driven by local, regional, and global dynamics alike – have been fragmentary and highly localized.  The erosion of governance has invited partnerships of necessity (and sometimes of choice) with foreign powers, donor agencies, and private or semi-private firms and patrons.   One effect of these partnerships has been a “privatization of peace,” where the sources of insecurity vary widely in different parts of the country. This has broad implications for the experience of national belonging, the process of reconstruction, and the prospects for post–war peace.
This roundtable brings together scholars who approach this privatization at different scales. At the local level, participants will offer first-hand accounts of  dynamics of community self-organizating in Sana’a and discussion of a recent field study of women’s activism  in areas under Houthi and Coalition control,as well as the way the war’s fragmentation is reflected in and reproduced by humanitarian initiatives originating in the Yemeni diaspora. Participants will also address the regional politics of the GCC and its development of patronage ties to members of the Yemeni private sector engaged in reconstruction, and  recent political efforts in the United States and Europe to reorient policy toward the war in Yemen and build innovative forms of political solidarity.   Together, the roundtable contributors will show how the protracted nature of crisis in Yemen has created new opportunities for specific stakeholders, while rendering the prospect of a sustainable, negotiated peace at the national level more challenging.

From al-Hadi ila al-Haqq to Husayn al-Huthi: The Zaydi Phenomenon in Yemen
Panel P5406, Saturday, November 16, 2019 8:30am

Panel Abstract: The Zaydi sect has received attention lately due to the ongoing war in Yemen in which a Saudi coalition is fighting a local alliance of northern tribes, former military and a family known as the Huthis, a group that is reviving Zaydi Islam with influence from Iran. As a branch of the Shi‘a, the Zaydis take their inspiration from Zayd ibn ‘Ali, the fifth imam, who was killed while attempting to overthrow the Ummayad caliph in 122/740. Zaydism spread to several parts of the Islamic world, but its most lasting imprint was in Yemen. In 897 a descendant of ‘Ali named Yahya b. al-Husayn, and known as al-Hadi ila al-Haqq, established a local dynasty in northern Yemen that lasted, without ever having full control of what constitutes Yemen today, until 1962. This panel brings together scholars who work on the diverse span of Zaydi history in Yemen. One paper examines the views of four Zaydi scholars writing during the time of the Hadawi dominance in Yemen on an earlier Zaydi imam who had accepted a stipend from the Abbasid caliph, thus renouncing the call for armed rebellion. Another paper examines the challenge to Zaydi dominance in the north during the 12th through the 15th centuries by the invasion of the Ayyubids and succeeding dynasty of the Rasulid sultans. The first Rasulid sultan received the blessing of the caliph in Baghdad in order to fight the Zaydis. The Rasulid chronicles and Zaydi sources describe the battles and peace agreements between the two polities, including their rivalry for influence in Mecca. A third provides a focus on the present context with an analysis of the speeches of Husayn al-Huthi, who provides the basis for legitimizing religious rule in Yemen, especially for the Ahl al-Bayt. These speeches are the discursive backbone of Huthi rhetoric, which is spread widely in the media.  The final paper addresses the loss and destruction of manuscripts, largely from private and public Zaydi libraries, in Yemen’s north and efforts by NGOs to document the losses and assist in preservation. In all, the range of papers provides an introduction to a field of study which has received relatively little attention by Western scholars.

Making an Imam: The Rebellion of Yahya b. ‘Abd Allah in Zaydi Historiography
Najam Haider, Barnard College
The biography of the ‘Alid rebel Yahya b. ‘Abd Allah b. Hasan b. Hasan b. Abi Salib (d. 187/803) raises a number of important theological problems for Zaydi scholars. Yahya first appears as an ardent supporter of the failed rebellion of al-Sahib Fakhkh Husayn b. ‘Ali in 169/786.  His enthusiasm is contrasted with Musa al-Kasim’s (d. 184/800) (the 7th Twelver Shi‘i Imam) refusal to support the revolt and establishes his rightful claim to the Imamate from the perspective of later Zaydis.  This claim is furthered by Yahya’s actions after the collapse of the rebellion as he first sends his brother Idris (d. 175/791) to organize an uprising in North Africa and then leads his own revolt in Daylam around 176/791-2.  It is at this point that Yahya becomes more problematic for Zaydi scholars.  The complications arise with his decision to sign an agreement of safe-conduct (aman) with the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Rashid (r. 170-03/786-809).  According to most reports, Yahya remained free under the agreement for the eleven years and received a large caliphal stipend.  This development forced Zaydi scholars to account for an Imam who (apparently) renounced armed rebellion and came to terms with a tyrant in direct opposition to the Zaydi doctrine of the Imamate.  This paper explores how Zaydi scholars (operating at a time of Hadawi dominance in Yemen) remembered and/or justified Yahya’s Imamate.  The analysis specifically focuses on four Zaydi scholars:  Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi (d. late 3rd/9th century), al-Isbahani (d. 356/967), al-Natiq Yahya b. al-Husayn (d. 424/1033) and ‘Ali b. Bilal (fl. 5th/11th century).

Rasulid Sultans and Zaydi Imams: War (Mostly) and Peace (a Little) in Yemen during the 13th-15th centuries
Daniel Martin Varisco, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
This paper will address the relations between the two main polities in Yemen during the 13th-15th centuries: the Rasulid Sultans and the Zaydi Imams. After the last local Ayyubid sultan al-Malik al-Mas‘ud Yusuf left Yemen, an emir named Nur al-Din ‘Umar was left in charge, assuming a new dynasty known as the Rasulids in 626/1229. Calling himself al-Malik al-Mansur, the emir established his own power with the blessing of the caliph al-Mustansir, who accepted the new regime with a charge to battle the Zaydi imams entrenched in Yemen’s north. During the more than two centuries of Rasulid control in Yemen there were constant battles between the Shi‘a Zaydis and the Rasulids, who became predominantly Shafi‘i, but patronized all the Sunni schools. The bulk of Yemen’s population at the time was tribal, with shifting alliances and constant rebellions against the authority of both polities. Based in the southern highland capital of Ta‘izz and the coastal city of Zabid, the first three Rasulid sultans were largely successful in gaining a foothold in the northern highland homeland of the Zaydi imams and became rivals with the last Egyptian Ayyubids and early Bahri Mamluks for control of Mecca. The Rasulids were never able to gain complete control of Yemen’s diverse geographical zones; there are records of peace agreements with the imams and local tribal leaders. The primary Rasulid historical chronicles and biographical texts, such as the works of Ibn Hatim, al-Janadi and al-Khazraji reflect a Rasulid bias, so it is important to examine relevant Zaydi sources to have a more balanced view of the conflict between them. The Zaydi sources include biographies of the relevant imams of the period.

The Ahl al-Bayt’s Return to Power: The Legitimation of Religious Rule in the Speeches of Husayn al-Huthi in the Context of the Current Crisis in Yemen
Alexander Weissenburger, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Since its inception in the early 2000s, the ideological outlook of the phenomenon that became known as the Huthi movement,has been shaped by the speeches of its founder Husayn al-Huthi. Until today, as the Huthis effectively control large parts of western Yemen, including the capital, these speeches constitute the discursive backbone of the movement’s rhetoric. While most of al-Huthi’s speeches revolve around his third-worldist interpretation of the impact of Western influence on Yemen and the wider Islamic world, he invested considerable effort into outlining the religious justification for the right of the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, the ahl al-bayt, to rule. The right for an Imam from among the ahl al-bayt to rule the umma is one of the core tenets of the Zaydi denomination of Shi’ite Islam to which the movement adheres. Since the al-Huthi family belongs to the ahl al-bayt, this would give them the opportunity to claim the Zaydi Imamate legitimately. While they never actually attempted that, Husayn al-Huthi repeatedly highlights not only the right, but in fact the responsibility of the ahl al-bayt to lead the umma.
The paper will explore Husayn al-Huthi’s ideas on the role of the ahl al-bayt in society and by extension his views on the Zaydi Imamate. The statements will be analysed in the light of the loss of status experienced by the ahl al-bayt after the fall of the Yemeni Imamate in 1962, as well as in the context of the movement’s takeover of core state institutions in 2015 and the consequent appointment of ahl al-bayt to key positions. The paper will thus contribute to a better understanding of the attraction the Huthi movement holds for certain parts of the Yemeni population and show how religio-political ideas attain a concrete political relevance by being employed to advance individual as well as collective political ambitions.

Discussant: Brinkley Messick, Columbia University