Abyani tribes and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen

Article Highlights

  • #Yemen's tribes are essential to an effective campaign against Ansar al Sharia, but they are not a silver bullet.

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  • Tribal support is vital in preventing #AQAP from reclaiming its foothold in south #Yemen. But it may not be enough.

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  • It is problematic to rely on #Yemen's tribes because they are not ideologically consistent in their loyalties

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Introduction

Ansar al Sharia, the insurgent wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), surrendered the city of Azzan to the Yemeni military on June 23, 2012. Its fall was the last blow in the Yemen army’s campaign to retake the cities of Ansar al Sharia’s “emirate” in south Yemen. These cities had fallen over the course of the month to militias composed of local tribesmen partnered with the military. The prospect of relying entirely on tribes to police south Yemen for AQAP and Ansar al Sharia is tempting given this success. Yemen’s tribes are well armed and numerous, and their support has been courted by many governing powers over the centuries. In fact, working with and through the Yemeni tribes will be the key to any long-term solution to the Ansar al Sharia and AQAP problem. But it would be unwise to rely entirely on the tribes to keep AQAP out of south Yemen, where tribal culture has been damaged by government policy and there are signs of tribal fracturing and weaknesses. The progress that tribes have made against AQAP has also required the deployment of a significant portion of the Yemeni army. A sustainable “tribal solution” to AQAP and Ansar al Sharia is unlikely to be effective by itself for these reasons.

Tribes and Tribal Identity

Tribalism is not the only lens through which to examine Yemeni social networks. Tribes are composed of individuals, each with his or her own set of loyalties. Family, religion, geography, and a host of other factors can make claim on a Yemeni’s allegiance, and tribal membership is just one of those factors. Tribal allegiance is also not uniform: it varies according to region, social class, and personality. Moreover, tribalism in Yemen has been weakened over time by the forces of modernization, urbanization, and the Arab youth bulge. Decades of corruption under the recently ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh also damaged the tribal system. However, tribes remain important in Yemen and can provide a useful, structured way to work with the society, as long as one has a thorough understanding of their weaknesses and dynamics.

Pleae read the full text at the Critical Threats Project.

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