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[2013/09] Shifting loyalties

shifting_brandt_thumbThe tribes of Khawlan b. ‘Amir in the Huthi conflict in north-west Yemen

Projektleitung: Dr. Marieke Brandt
Projektlaufzeit: 01.10.2011-31.09.2013
EU Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (IEF)

The tribal confederation of Khawlan b. ‘Amir (or Khawlan b. Quda’ah) in south-western Arabia consists of eight sub-tribes. The main settlement areas of five sub-tribes are located on Yemeni and three on Saudi Arabian territory. In past centuries the tribes of Khawlan b. ‘Amir were involved to different degrees in south-western Arabia’s political power structures, which were substantially affected by the Zaydi-Shiite imamate and, since 1962, by the establishment of the Sunni-dominated Republic of Yemen.

Since 2004, the Yemeni Khawlan b. ‘Amir tribes were gradually drawn into the so-called ‘Huthi’ conflict between revanchist Zaydi rebels and the central government of Yemen. The Huthi conflict can be seen as a newly contextualized continuation of a political process which began in the 9th century AD with the establishment of the Zaydi imamate in northern Yemen and led with the revolution in 1962 and the ensuing civil war to the founding of the Republic of Yemen.

The aim of this work is to explore the emergence of new tribal loyalties and alliances within the Khawlan b. ‘Amir tribes that arose from their involvement in the Huthi conflict. Most Khawlan b. ‘Amir tribes had strongly supported royalist forces in the revolution of 1962 and the ensuing civil war due to historically evolved loyalties. By contrast, the Huthi conflict made obvious that the state policy of co-optation in the past few decades already led to a solid integration of most tribal leaders into the political system of the Republic. Therefore, in the Huthi conflict the majority of high-ranking Khawlan b. ‘Amir leaders positioned themselves on the side of the Republic, but many of them once again changed allegiances towards the Huthi side when the rebels gained power in Sa‘dah governorate in spring 2011. Since some of the tribal leaders did not represent the position of their own tribes, but were rather in confrontation with them, new alliances and divisions within the tribal society of Khawlan b. ‘Amir emerged.

The project addresses the complex reasons for the profound changes of tribal alignments, allegiances and alliances in the investigation area during the Huthi conflict and beyond. The source material for this investigation of Khawlan b. ‘Amir tribal politics is based on the author’s experience inside Yemen, as well as on thoroughly scrutinizing original Arabic and some Western written sources.