[P3658] Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within
MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Sunday, 11/23/14 11:00am
• Chair: Dr. Najwa Adra
• Poetry and Tribalism in Yemen by Dr. Mohammed Sharafuddin
• The Future Political Role of Yemeni Tribal Sheikhs in Light of the Expected Outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Adil Mujahid Al Sharjabi
• The True Role of the Tribe in the Arab Political Scene: The Case of Yemen by Dr. Fuad Al-Salahi
• Tribalism in the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Abdul Karim S. Al-Aug
• Discussant: Dr. Charles Schmitz
An estimated 80% of Yemen’s population is rural, and a large majority of this population self-identifies as tribal. Further, many recent urban migrants, as well as some influential political leaders and wealthy business magnates also self-identify as tribal. Tribal participation in peace building efforts and entrepreneurial economic activity indicate that tribes in Yemen are not peripheral to political, social and economic processes, nor are they homogeneous. In this panel Yemeni scholars present their research on the place of tribes and tribalism in Yemeni society today.
The wealth of literature in Arabic on Yemeni tribes, dating back at least to al-Hamdani’s work in the 9th Century, has not been easily available outside of Yemen. This panel introduces the nuanced and varied views of four Yemeni social scientists on tribalism in Yemen today. The first paper situates Yemeni tribes through their poetry, the preferred tribal medium of self-representation. It argues that a lack of communication between Yemen’s tribes and the outside world has led to misunderstanding and misrepresentation of tribalism. The second paper analyses the political roles of tribal leaders during the previous regime of past-President Ali Abdallah Salih and during the current transition period. It examines the potential impacts of political change on the power of tribal leaders. The third paper begins with the observation that tribalism in Yemen is neither homogeneous nor stagnant. It analyzes tribal participation in Yemen’s Spring Revolutionary process and explores recent changes within tribal society that both encourage and abet political participation. The fourth paper brings together the issues discussed so far and explores the potential significance of recent tribal participation in politics to the shape of Yemeni political processes: do they indicate a democratization of Yemeni politics or a “tribalization” of democratic process?