February 1, 2015
Tribesmen in the predominantly Sunni area of Ma’rib, east of Sanaa, prepare for war with the Houthis and threaten to create their own autonomous state within Yemen. The tribal fighters have installed checkpoints, known as “matarih”, in the middle and around the perimeter of Ma’rib. In local tradition this act is considered as the highest possible security precaution, putting local tribal disagreements to one side. The “matarih” is enforced by fighters patrolling the area in heavily armed convoys and setting up fixed bases in tents. This precaution may last days, months or even years.
The tribal elders believe that the drums of war have been beating ever since Houthi militants took over the capital Sanaa and forced the president to resign. Abdullah bin Jaradan, a prominent tribal leader, says that they will not recognize the Houthis as legitimate rulers of Yemen and they will not put down their guns unless president Hadi is restored to office.
In order to prevent a Houthi takeover in the oil-rich province of Ma’rib, the elders have assembled a fighting force to defend their lands and resources.
Ma’rib is considered an area of great strategic importance due to its oil fields. It produces around 25,000 barrels per day.
SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Hamad Bin Waheet
(01:08 – 02:27)
“We were mobilized on the first day [of the events] in order to protect the province of Marib, so that it would not be invaded by the Houthis like they invaded the province of Omran and Sanaa. We are still ready and prepared for anything. We are on alert on the road of Farda –Sanaa- Marib; the road from Sirwah to Marib; and the road from [Beit] Mrad to Marib. All the tribes have taken positions along these three lines. “
“We have had weapons for a long time, not today. We have had weapons before the Houthis entered Omran or other provinces, such as al-Jawf. Tribes have all sorts of weapons. Each tribe represents [is as strong as] a state. Each of Yemen’s tribes has weapons and men, as well as God on their side. “
“We have a number of 23 mm and 14 mm machine guns; mortars; 50 mm machine guns; rifles; and we have 22 mm and 83 mm mortars. All tribes have this kind of weapons. Most tribes have had these weapons before and acquired them during wars among tribes. However, thanks be to God, there are no more wars among tribes, except for the fight against the Houthis.“
SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man), Abdullah bin Jardan
“If God willed it and the state collapsed, we will protect the oil and form a confederate region of Sabaa. We will act like an independent region.”
“This depends on the consultations in Sanaa. There is a lot pressure on the president to rescind his resignation; however, we have to take everything into account. The regions of Sabaa and Marib have all the wealth, whether he [the president] returns or not. “
“We were not satisfied with administration in the previous era, but it was a transitory period. But the Houthis carried out a coup d’état. We were not completely satisfied with the performance of the president and the government.”
“Now there are regional and sectarian divisions and there might be a regional and sectarian war if the country collapsed, God forbid.”
“We demand the establishment of a fair state, which would rule Yemen with equality and allows for a partnership. Afterwards, the Yemeni people in general could surrender its weapons.”
SOUNDBITE (Arabic, man) Awad bin Ma’ili
“This is the result of our own efforts, thanks be to God. We are gathering whatever we can, like the squads you can see now. This is the effort of each person as well as ours. We are buying heavy and light weapons, depending on what we can acquire.”
“We are tribes, and tribes are known in Yemen. Each tribe has several [weapons], bought with private money. They are used to stand against whoever wants to invade our country.”