Volume 5, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2045-5895
  • E-ISSN: 2045-5909



When demonstrations against Yemen’s former regime first began in 2011, observers expressed surprise at two developments: first, that women led the demonstrations, and second, that Yemen’s heavily armed tribes did not lead the country into civil war. Instead, a significant number of tribesmen went into cities to protect demonstrators from harm, and others protected their own communities from the incursions of outsiders. This article suggests that both developments are rooted in a deeply engrained tribal heritage that provides social capital, contributes to Yemeni society’s resilience and counteracts stereotypes of primitivism by prioritizing mediation, dialogue and consensus above the facile use of force or terrorism. Ways in which this heritage can be harnessed to support national reconciliation and development are proposed. Yemen’s tribal heritage is threatened by recurrent political and economic crises, various forms of modernism, and imported conservative interpretations of Islam that perceive tribalism as divisive and women’s mobility unacceptable. By far the most serious threat to Yemen’s population and heritage, however, is the current war unleashed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, which threatens to destroy the very foundations of Yemeni society.


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