By Mordechai Kedar
Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
Thesis: tribally oriented Middle Eastern societies benefit from being partitioned into homogeneous tribal units
I will begin on a personal note: I sometimes wonder if the things that I publish on this honorable stage reach decision makers in Israel, the Arab world or the world at large. I am usually fairly skeptical, because the conduct of Western politicians indicates a rather poor understanding of Middle Eastern matters, and the rulers in this region prefer their personal interests over the general good.
For years I have been claiming that the only thing that can save the population of the Middle East from sinking into a morass of violence, blood, tears and fire is to partition the dysfunctional states into emirates with a homogeneous population and traditional leadership emerging from within the people, not appointed by colonialists, whether from historical times or modern times. Only this type of framework can offer its citizens a reasonable quality of life.
Lately a glimmer of hope has begun to shine, with the government of Yemen deciding to divide the state into six regions, each of which with its own capital city: the region of Hadramawt and its capital Al Mukalla, the region of Saba (the modern name for the historical kingdom of Sheba) with its capital of Ma’rib; the region of Aden with its capital the port city of Aden; the region of Janad with its capital Taez; the region of Azal with its capital of Sana’a; the region of Tehama with its capital the port city of Hudaydah. The idea of partition has won the overwhelming support of the decision making bodies in Yemen.
In a federation of tribal regions, the general good must take precedence over any specific tribe and resources must be shared
The Basic principles behind the proposal:
- Equality of citizenship for all citizens of the state, meaning that no tribe – even that of the president of the country – will have preferred status over any other tribe.
- The regions will be autonomous and no region will attempt to interfere in the matters of any other region.
- Regions with natural resources will cooperate in the exploitation of these resources with regions that have fewer such resources, especially regarding oil.
- Regions will seek to achieve social and economic harmony in order to satisfy the needs of the population and grant it a life of dignity.
- The authorities to be vested in the branches of government in each region and on every level will be determined in a federal constitution.
For our purposes, the important point in this plan is the fact that it is the fruit of the people of Yemen’s own public thought process and is based on familiarity with the social characteristics specific to each individual region. Each region has a solid social basis with familiar and legitimate leadership that is capable of establishing a way of life based on law and order that will be acceptable to the great majority of the population. Each region is capable of maintaining itself economically.
The capital of the federation will be Sana’a. Its municipal management will not be under the control of any of the regions, and the constitution will assure its neutrality and its independence. The city of Aden will have special status in the federal constitution, in order to assure that the port located in this city will serve all of the regions equally.
Each region will be able to partition itself into administrative districts according to its own considerations, that is, according to the internal distribution of its population. The purpose of this is to allow the tribes and their leaders to express themselves on the public stage.
The federal state will have a parliament in which each region will be represented. The natural resources of the well-endowed regions (in oil and minerals) will be managed transparently and fairly so that the state will be able to enjoy these resources, and the regions which do not have natural resources will not feel that they are economically marginalized members of the federation.
Free movement of goods, capital and services will encourage entrepreneurship and economic development
Each region will have economic freedom. Citizens, goods, capital and services will be able to move about freely, without customs-related barriers or prohibitions on imports or exports between regions, in order to encourage commercial activity and entrepreneurship.
The federal government will be responsible for conducting inter-regional activity, and it will watch for the development of pockets of economic neglect, because these pockets could become a source of public anger that may eventually cause violence to be directed against the general public.
The borders of the regions were determined by a committee of experts, who partitioned north Yemen into four regions and south Yemen into two. The committee is headed by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has been the president of Yemen for the two last years. At the meeting of the committee held in late January of this year (2014) he called on the members of the committee to act impartially, giving priority to the general good of the citizens of Yemen over the local interests of any sector of the population.
The fact that the president of the country was personally involved in the work of the committee is very important, because it clearly illustrates that he operates in a totally differently way from the failed policy of his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Salah, who insisted that the country remain one unit under his and his tribe’s sole control. Hadi, in contrast, tries to find a way to transfer authorities from the central government to the local leadership, thus responding to the sensitivities of a population that has never undergone a process of obscuring tribal identities.
Who will be responsible for privately owned weapons and recent jihadi immigrants?
This is the plan, and it has a broad and solid basis in social logic in a land as divided as Yemen, but the devil – as always – is in the small details, for example: who will deal with the weapons that are freely traded in the Yemenite markets, will it be the federal government or perhaps this will be assigned to the local government, which is, in many cases, managed by cousins of the weapons dealers. This matter is especially important, since in Yemen every man has at least one automatic, long barrel weapon, and whenever he feels that something of his was taken from him he uses his weapon freely.
The second question that casts a shadow on the plan is who will deal with the aliens who have entered Yemen from all over the Islamic world under al-Qaeda leadership; will it be the federal government or perhaps the local friends of these foreign jihadists. This matter will be especially problematic if responsibility for security is transferred to local governments, because then local militias will be able to impose their agenda on the population while claiming to be the “regional police”.
One one hand, local militias are supposed to be a legitimate force to impose the local interests on all of the people of the region and on their behalf, however – on the other hand – they may become crime organizations under the leadership of “war barons” dealing in drugs, weapons, goods and currency, sowing fear and terror among the population while being camouflaged as “local police”, who are acting within their authority and responsibility.
Conflicting ideals: the cohesive tribal unit vs. the greater Arab nation
Arab intellectuals who see the plan view it with significant doubt and great suspicion, because – in their opinion and according to their approach – the Arab nation must go in the direction of erasing the differences between the groups and unifying the people under the concept of one great Arab nation.
However, the deteriorating situation in Syria, Iraq and Libya, countries where there is a great deal of tribalism, prompts Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen, to go forward in the direction of partitioning the country. He and his associates do not want Yemen, which is similarly socially divided, to deteriorate as well into the situation that exists in Syria, Iraq and Libya, so they decided to take preemptive steps by increasing regional autonomy of the various sectors of the population, despite the implicit recognition that with this plan, traditional frameworks are given priority over the modern ideas of unity and social blending. Hadi and his associates understand well that they must tailor the country according to the “social dimensions” of the population, and not continue imposing upon the population a state that does not reflect the traditional social characteristics of most of its citizens.
Hadi takes a strategic decision not to fight the natural tendencies of the citizens
President Hadi has made a strategic decision: instead of shaping the people to fit the criteria of the state he has decided to shape the state according to the principles of the people. He is cooperating with the people and with its established inclinations, and does not forcibly try to impose upon the people a political template that most of the people of Yemen are not interested in.
In my opinion Hadi will enter the pantheon of leaders who have understood – sometimes after difficult and bloody struggles – that there is room to challenge the artificial political frameworks that had been determined by colonialist superpowers according to Europe’s interests, and to begin to establish frameworks according to the desires of the peoples of the Middle East.
And if, in a given place, the public is loyal to the tribal framework, then the most correct thing is to allow the the tribal framework to manage the life of its population according to its own principles and by means of its own traditional leadership. Is this scheme impervious to danger? No, however the modern political scheme has been proven to be a failed plan with no chance of success, and the hundreds of thousands of fatalities in Syria, Iraq and Libya are the irrefutable proof of this.
Hadi is willing to try the tribal paradigm, which we have been claiming for years is the only one capable of granting the people of the Middle East a reasonable way of life, and from this honorable stage, we wish him great success.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by SallyZahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.