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Ali Abdullah Saleh's assassination and Yemen's tribes

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German sociologist Max Weber's highly cited definition of the modern state as a "community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" does not fit well with the case of Yemen.

In North Yemen, some tribes have enjoyed autonomous political and military power since the start of the civil war in 1962. In South Yemen, Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) partially succeeded in controlling the tribes, but military conflicts within the party, including the 1986 civil war in the south, were still fought along tribal lines. The unification of North and South Yemen in 1990 also failed to establish modern state institutions in the country, allowing some tribal leaders to maintain their political influence to this day.

When Ali Abdullah Saleh came to power in North Yemen in 1978, and became the first president of unified Yemen in 1990, he was well aware of the importance of tribes. Thus, he expended an enormous amount of political capital and financial resources to establish alliances with key tribal leaders.

The most significant tribal alliance he established was with the late Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who headed the powerful Hashid tribal federation for more than four decades, until his death in 2007. The Sheikh, who also served as the speaker of the House of Representatives between 1993 and 2007, once described his complicated relationship with Saleh by stating that "Saleh is my president, but I'm his sheikh."

During his time in power, Saleh showered tribal leaders and key figures from Hashid, Sanaa - Saleh's own tribe and also part of the Hashid federation - and other tribes with the highest military positions, government contracts, and generous financial support. Saleh also allowed Saudi Arabia to continue its patronage of key Yemeni tribal leaders, including Sheikh al-Ahmar.

Yet, in the final days before his assassination, none of Yemen's tribal leaders answered Saleh's calls for........

© Al Jazeera