Tribes and Politics in Yemen

A History of the Houthi Conflict

February 2024 9781911723424 480pp
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
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Tribes and Politics in Yemen tells the story of the Houthi conflict in Sa’dah Province, Yemen, as seen through the eyes of the local tribes. In the West the Houthi conflict, which erupted in 2004, is often defined through the lenses of either the Iranian-Saudi proxy war or the Sunni–Shia divide. Yet, as experienced by locals, the Houthi conflict is much more deeply rooted in the recent history of Sa’dah Province. Its origins must be sought in the political, economic, social and sectarian transformations since the 1960s civil war and their repercussions on the local society, which is dominated by tribal norms. From the civil war to the Houthi conflict these transformations involve the same individuals, families and groups, and are driven by the same struggles over resources, prerogatives, and power.

This book is based on years of anthropological fieldwork expertise both on the ground and through digital anthropological approaches. It offers a detailed account of the local complexities of the Houthi conflict and its historical background and underscores the absolute imperative of understanding the highly local, personal, and non-ideological nature of internal conflict in Yemen.


‘Remarkable.’ — The Times Literary Supplement

‘An excellent book . . . an indispensable read to anyone with an interest in Yemeni politics, both past and present.’ — The Middle East Journal

‘This excellent study explains just why the Houthi movement has won so much popular support. It also situates the movement in its geographic context and makes clear its complex relations with the other states in the region.’ — Morning Star

‘Brandt . . . has delved deeply into the emergence and evolution of the Houthi phenomenon and explains in extensive detail the entangled and incredibly complex roots of the conflict . . . she has done so thoroughly, convincingly and admirably . . . an invaluable glimpse into the complexity of Yemeni society and politics.’ — Journal of the British Yemeni Society

‘The most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date of the Houthi conflict in Yemen, providing critical insights into the rise of the Houthis as a national movement and how a local conflict metastasized into a regional one. Published as the Saudi-led “Operation Decisive Storm” is still in full swing, this long overdue and well-researched book will help readers understand how Yemen became a laboratory for new wars in the Middle East.’ — Gabriele vom Bruck, Senior Lecturer at School of Oriental and African Studies; author of Islam, Memory and Morality in Yemen: Ruling Families in Transition

‘As a writer and researcher on Yemen, this is the book I’ve been waiting for. A thorough, painstakingly assembled account of the rise of one of the world’s least understood rebel groups – it makes for a riveting read. This is an indispensable addition to the pool of knowledge on Yemen and a must read for everyone who wants to understand why we are here today.’ — Peter Salisbury, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

Marieke Brandt’s book is a fascinating piece of ethnography and history. Through exceptional fieldwork in the northern highlands of Yemen, it explores the minute details and roots of a political and religious phenomenon that remains fundamental to our understanding of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula.’ — Laurent Bonnefoy, researcher at the CERI/Sciences Po, author of Salafism in Yemen: Transnationalism and Religious Identity

‘This book provides a deep and comprehensive insight into the complex “Houthi conflict” by studying its political, tribal and personal dynamics. Brandt pays great attention to the wide spectrum of local causes that explain the conflict’s onset, persistence, and expansion on the basis of a “bottom-up” social anthropological approach.’ — Horst Kopp, former professor at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg; researcher on the urban and rural geography of Yemen

‘Brandt’s detailed, even intimate, analysis of the Houthi movement’s history, internal social dynamics and relations with local and regional actors is essential reading for understanding its current and prospective role in Yemen’s politics. Beyond Yemen, the book demonstrates the importance of anthropological analysis in explaining local and national politics.’ — Helen Lackner, Research Associate at London Middle East Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies; author of Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State


Marieke Brandt is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. She is the author of The Tale of a Feud: Domination, Resistance, and Agency in Highland Yemen.

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