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Tribal Mediation and Empowered Women: Potential Contributions of Heritage to National Development in Yemen

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When demonstrations against Yemen’s former regime first began in 2011, observers expressed surprise at two developments: first, that women led the demonstrations, and second, that Yemen’s heavily armed tribes did not lead the country into civil war. Instead, a significant number of tribesmen went into cities to protect demonstrators from harm, and others protected their own communities from the incursions of outsiders. This article suggests that both developments are rooted in a deeply engrained tribal heritage that provides social capital, contributes to Yemeni society’s resilience and counteracts stereotypes of primitivism by prioritizing mediation, dialogue and consensus above the facile use of force or terrorism. Ways in which this heritage can be harnessed to support national reconciliation and development are proposed. Yemen’s tribal heritage is threatened by recurrent political and economic crises, various forms of modernism, and imported conservative interpretations of Islam that perceive tribalism as divisive and women’s mobility unacceptable. By far the most serious threat to Yemen’s population and heritage, however, is the current war unleashed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, which threatens to destroy the very foundations of Yemeni society.
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Keywords: Yemen; customary law; development; sustainable heritage; tribal institutions; women in Yemen

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: American Institute for Yemeni Studies

Publication date: July 1, 2016

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  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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