Threatened Unity: Understanding the Tihaman Hirak
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Prior to 1941, the region of Tihama was occupied by the Ottomans (twice), their ports were completely destroyed by the Italians during the Italian-Ottoman War and then controlled by the British. Parts of Tihama were ruled by the Idrissi Emirate, and then the Zaydi Imamate (under Imam Yehaya). The Tihamans track their first revolution to 1918 (against the corrupt Ottoman rule). Their most famous tribal confederation is the Zaraniq - from Bait Al Faqih - who fought against the Zaydi Imamate. Tihama has several other tribes (like Al-Monasirah, Al-Ma'azibah, Al-Wa'eriyah, Al-Mazahirah, Al-Masa'eed, and Al-'Aqiriah to name a few), but they are all weak today.
Tihama has the majority of Yemen's valleys - including Wadi Moor which is the biggest in Yemen - and fisheries, as well as several farmlands. Between the area of Bora' and Al Sokhnah is a forest (3-5km long) protected by UNESCO. Also, the region of Tihama is wealthy in historical artifacts, many of which are traced back to the Himyarite Kingdom.
The tribes of Tihama weakened significantly since 1920. Many of the people in Tihama practiced trade and embraced civilian life long ago. Unlike other parts of Northern Yemen, the people there are rarely armed. Many of the Tihaman lands do not belong to them. Security forces are absent from the area - they are present in the mountains but not on the coast - and poverty levels continue to soar.
Due to Tihama's location near the Red Sea, the region is rarely at peace. For instance, there are many passing refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. Moreover, Tihaman fishermen are constantly targeted by pirates who steal their boats and imprison their workers. The area is also used for all kinds of smuggling (weapons, drugs, human trafficking, child trafficking, diesel & petrol, and illegal pesticides).
Since the early 1970s, the standards of living have not improved and the centralized government oppressed the people. Historically, Tihama had fertile farmlands, fisheries and valleys, yet they remain poverty-stricken. Some of the lands have parched due to the lack of management/maintenance. Other Fertile farmlands are managed and owned by powerful individuals outside of Tihama. Fisheries are monopolized by people in the former government and some who are still in the current government.
When it comes to governance, the area has been mostly managed by the General's People Congress (GPC) from 1982-2011. Many of the politicians and traders in Tihama are publicly allied with GPC; however, some have financial ties to Islah. Tihamans have been completely absent from the political arena. President Hadi visited the area about three months ago (after his trip to Moscow). The locals complained about the absence of a local economy. As a result of this visit, a deal between the government and the wealthy traders (allied with international corporations) was nullified. To date, nothing on the ground was implemented.
In February 2011 (Yemeni Revolution), the people of Tihama finally had the courage to speak up about their oppression. The Tihaman Hirak is a massive movement that is not limited to a specific group and is open to all its directorates (see map below). They have thousands of members. A few individuals belonging to this movement call for armed resistance.
The Tihaman Hirak has influential members from different political parties and some independents. The independents in the Tihaman Hirak lack a unified ideology or leadership; however, they put the interests of Tihama first. From this group, there is Mr. Mohammed Mo'men and Mr. Muhammed Al Dohni (who runs a cultural forum). Other members are from the Islah party, like Mr. Ismael Abdul Bari. From the GPC there is Qadi Ishaq Salah, from Yemen's Socialist Party there is Dr. Tibah Barakat, and Amal Maknoon (member in NDC), and from the Nasserite party there is Mr. Hassan Harad and his brother Taha Harad. Other members representing the Tihaman Hirak are 'Izzi Shuwaim and Khaled Abdullah Khalil, who are in the NDC.
The people of Tihama, like other Yemenis, demand improvements in services. The lack of medical services caused the return of "old diseases" like malaria, smallpox and other similar epidemics. Even though Tihama constitutes a large portion of Yemen, they are not involved in the decision making process and demand political participation. So far, in the National dialogue, their needs are not heard because they are considered a weak minority, even though there are several individuals representing their demands.
Tihamans want relative autonomy in a Federal Yemen. When it comes to financial matters, they demand that more revenues be allocated to their region. They demand that some of their own resources be dedicated solely to the people of Tihama. Also, they demand the government's assistance in purchasing agricultural equipments in order to revive what once used to be fertile farmlands.
The biggest challenge facing the Tihaman Hirak is maintaining its peaceful operations. According to several Tihaman activists, they feel that powerful Sheikhs - who have interests in keeping the people weak- try to instigate trouble in order to drag the Tihaman people into armed conflict. They struggle to reject radicalism especially since they are very angry.
Another challenge is the politicization of the Hirak members, which can result in deep divisions within the movement. Moreover, Tihama, like other parts of Yemen, is witnessing an increase in sectarian divides between the people. New labels are being paraded around to divide the diverse Tihaman population. Finally, their voices remain faint in Yemen and outside of Yemen, especially in comparison to other oppressed groups.
*Map from Dr. AbdulWadoud Moqashr PhD Thesis: (Tihaman Resistance and Opposition Movements from 1918 to 1962).
- Special Thanks to Mr. Abdul Bary Taher, Secretary General of the 'Afif Cultural Institution and Mr. Khaled Abdullah Khalil member of the Transitional Justice Committee in the NDC.