A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited

By Marieke Brandt
Submitted to Session P5057 (The Birth of Modern Yemen: Internal Views of the 1960s Civil War, 2018 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Across the Middle East, tribes and states have entered into different relationships. Whereas in many countries tribes were confronted with massive attempts at interference by their states, after the 1962 revolution and the ensuing civil war, the northern Yemeni Republic for many years remained a comparatively weak state with little coercive means at its disposal. Its rule was rather based on indirect means: the politics of co-optation and patronage, the politicization of development efforts, and the encouragement and exploitation of tribal conflict for its own benefit. This lecture aims to exemplify tribe-state relation in republican Yemen by reviewing the recent history of the Khawlan al-Tiyal tribe. In the 1960s, parts of Khawlan took advantage of the power vacuum resulting from the civil war and seized the opportunity to form a kind of competitive polity beyond the state’s control. In 1972, with the so-called Bayhan massacre, a part of Khawlan’s tribal leadership fell victim to machinations within the republic’s new political and tribal establishment, and within a regional context with its competing sources of North Yemeni, Saudi and South Yemeni state power. In the mid-1970s, Khawlan ultimately entered into a relation with the state in which the Bayhan massacre took on a political life of its own as the state sought to manipulate and exploit the tribe’s grievances for political purposes. The exploration of the local minutiae of the Khawlan case exemplifies the darkest and brightest sides of tribe-state relation in Yemen, and, by doing so, the continuing importance of tribalism in post-revolutionary Yemen.