Global Insider: Yemen’s Hadi in No Position to Confront Tribal Politics

Global Insider: Yemen’s Hadi in No Position to Confront Tribal Politics

A year after an uprising toppled Yemen’s then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, interim President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is struggling to consolidate state authority over a country in which 70 percent of the population resides in tribal or rural areas. In an email interview, Khaled Fattah, a guest lecturer at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and an expert on Yemen’s state-tribe relations, explained the enduring dynamics of Yemen’s tribal politics and how they are likely to influence the course of the country’s transition.

WPR: What role did Yemen’s tribes play in the process leading to Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure from the presidency in 2012?

Khaled Fattah: For his survival, Saleh relied on an extensive tribal-military network. The support of influential families within the tribal confederations of the northern highlands, in particular, has been vital for compensating the Yemeni state’s severe institutional weakness, which hinders Sanaa’s ability to project power and control in the vast tribal and rural areas, where more than 70 percent of the population resides. Tribal leaders are thus the essential bridges between the Yemeni state and the armed-to-the-teeth tribal population in the northern and eastern provinces of the country. The defection of tribal leaders, headed by Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar of the Hashid confederation, therefore contributed significantly to undermining the political legitimacy of Saleh’s regime. The defection encouraged not only tribes and clans to support the anti-government uprisings, but also military officers to abandon Saleh. Yemen’s military is heavily tribalized. Therefore, any tension in the relationships between holders of political offices and sheikhs of tribes is immediately reflected inside the military.

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