Touch Yemen, Get Burned
By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, Dec. 31, 2009
We are the Awaleq
Born of bitterness
We are the nails that go into the rock
We are the sparks of hell
He who defies us will be burned
This is the tribal chant of the powerful Awaleq tribe of Yemen in which they bid defiance to the world. Its angry tone conveys flavor of Yemeni life and it should give pause to those in the US who blithely suggest greater American involvement in Yemen in the wake of the attempt to destroy a US plane by a Nigerian student who says he received training there.
Yemen has always been a dangerous place. Wonderfully beautiful, the mountainous north of the country is guerrilla paradise with well-defended villages and towns clinging to every peak. The Yemenis are exceptionally hospitable, though this has its limits. For instance, the Kazam tribe east of Aden are generous to passing strangers, but deem the laws of hospitality to lapse when the stranger leaves their tribal territory at which time, he becomes “a good back to shoot at.”
The Awaleq and Kazam tribes are not exotic survivals on the margins of Yemeni society but are both politically important and influential. The strength of the central government in the capital Sanaa is limited and it generally avoids direct confrontations with tribes, clans and powerful families. Almost everybody has a gun, usually at least an AK-47 assault rifle, but tribesmen often have own heavier armament.