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Accepted Paper:

Shield or sword? The renegotiation of tribal agency in Yemen’s 2011 Change Revolution  
Marieke Brandt (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This lecture inquires into the role of the tribes in Yemen’s 2011 uprisings. Many tribes saw the uprisings as an opportunity to rectify their image as a conservative and militaristic force. Yet the trajectory of conflict ultimately betrayed their hopes and further reinforced prevalent stereotypes.

Paper long abstract:

This lecture looks into the contentious role of Yemen’s tribes in times of social and political upheaval, with special consideration of the 2011 "Change Revolution". In 1971, shortly after Yemen’s civil war, Yemeni intellectual Zayd al-Wazir referred to the tribes as “the strongest power [in Yemen] since ancient times”, also pointing out their ambivalent agency in the political history of Yemen by referring to them as “the armor which has protected Yemen against every aggressor and the sword which has sometimes pierced the body of the community.” Despite the role of the tribes in defending the 1960s revolution and moderating the effects of the civil war, they remained the object of suspicion in many quarters.

In 2011, Yemen’s Change Revolution seemed to offer a new opportunity to the tribes to improve their public perception. Masses of tribesmen peacefully demonstrated alongside other groups demanding for greater political rights, justice, and equality. The upheavals were an opportunity for them to rectify their image as a backward, conservative and militaristic force, and to actively participate in building a democratic and civil Yemen. Yet as the revolution became increasingly brutalized, the tribes were pushed back into old patterns and roles, thereby even further reinforcing the tenacious perception that tribalism is a threat to peace and civility and an obstacle to the country’s development.

Panel P088a
Resisting Marginalization in Times of Crisis: The Politics of Gender, Race, Religion and Age in the MENA region and beyond I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -