Yemen has been customarily described as one of the most “tribal” countries in the Middle East, if not the world. This statement reflects the fact that the vast majority of the Yemeni population, at least nominally, identifies as belonging to a tribal group. For a lot of Yemenis tribal identity is inextricably linked with Yemeni national identity. However, there are different ways in which tribal identity manifests itself in practice. Being Yemeni does not automatically mean you will follow the same tribal conventions across the country, or to apply the same importance to that identity above all else.
The aim of this report is to provide an introduction to Yemeni tribes and their place within Yemeni society. It explains what it means for an individual to belong to a tribe and the tribal structures that determine certain aspects of their life and behaviour. Understanding how tribes are organised in Yemen is fundamental to avoid improper comparisons with other Middle Eastern contexts.
Tribes matter to humanitarian operators in Yemen because they exercise some direct or indirect control over geographical territory and because they have become increasingly relevant and influential in parts of the country where state institutions are weakened or absent. Furthermore, tribespeople make up the majority of beneficiaries of local projects and are likely to be part of locally employed staff.
The report gives an overview of the ways Yemeni tribes have engaged with the current conflict and how they have been affected by it. This includes potential intersections between tribal actors and humanitarian and other NGOs that operate in areas under tribal influence or control. It is a tool for humanitarian actors who need a comprehensive backgrounder on the social, political, and cultural norms that characterise Yemeni tribes and their adherents.
Other resources you may be interested in:
Short assessment of the impact of the war on tribal structures and the role of tribal leaders in recruitment, mediation, and deescalation There is a growing interest among donors and western diplomats to explore the role tribal leaders can play to end the war in Yemen. This is a major shift in attitude as, until […]
Analysis of tribal dynamics in the northern highlands. Focus on the implications of the alienation of tribal leaders from ‘their’ tribes for local statebuilding and tribal support for the Houthis. Yemen’s current crisis can, and should, be explained from different angles.Therefore, we cannot but note with regret that the war in Yemen is nearly always […]
“We did not know if we would die from bullets of hunger”: Civilian Harm and Local Protection Measures in Yemen
Investigation of patterns of violence against civilians and local coping strategies, based on interviews and information gathering in Al Bayda, Taiz, Shabwah and Al Hudaydah governorates Civilians in Yemen have borne the brunt of armed conflict for over five years. As civilians struggle to survive, they face death, injury, homes that have been destroyed or […]