Huthis and Tribes: Prospects for Tribalism in Huthi-Controlled Areas

By Marieke Brandt
Submitted to Session P4124 (Turmoil and Tolerance: Unpacking the Current Crisis in Yemen, 2015 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector without Audio;
Huthis and Tribes: Prospects for Tribalism in Huthi-Controlled Areas

2014 was a fateful year in Yemen. It saw both the completion of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and an enormous expansion of a Zaydi Shia movement called Huthis or Ansar Allah (i.e. “Partisans of God”, as the Huthis have called themselves since 2011 in official contexts). Since their inception in the northernmost governorate of Sa‘dah during the first years of the new millennium (their various local predecessor organizations date back to the 1980s), the Huthis have managed to evolve into a mass movement whose agenda today addresses a significant part of the population of Yemen’s former North. Their enormous increase in importance and their expansionist impetus culminated in the seizure of the capital in September 2014. The Huthis’ vast dominion is today neither homogenous nor uncontested. It reaches from the Saudi border to the capital, thus including a major part of Upper Yemen.
The attention of the media and most researchers has since focused on the complex domestic and international political coalitions and alliances through which the Huthis were able to assert their claim to power in the capital and the surrounding peri-urban areas. Yet the strategy of domination which the Huthis are pursuing in the rural tribal areas of their vast dominion remains largely unexplored. Based on the author’s field research and social anthropological bottom-up approach, this paper will investigate the complex relations between the Huthis, the local tribes, and the state. It will explain why the Huthi rule has the potential to lead to an entire re-definition of tribal leadership as it had evolved during Yemen’s Republican era.