A city like MaribRising above the Yemen conflict
In April 2019, I went back to Yemen, my homeland, to witness first-hand how the ongoing war is affecting local communities. Upon reaching my first destination, the city of Marib, I was taken aback by the scale of change. The marginalised tribal area I once knew has become an epicentre in North Yemen.
Unlike its neighbours in the north, Marib has been able to fend off constant Houthi rebel attacks, making it a refuge for thousands of internally displaced Yemenis. In just four years, its population has increased fifty-fold, transforming Marib into a large, bustling city run by a Saudi-backed government, tribal leaders, political elites and the military. It hangs on as a stable exception in Yemen. But from what I saw and heard, the relative peace is fragile.
Protected from the worst ravages of war
Marib was brought into the spotlight of the conflict in January 2015, after the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, about 170 kilometres away. By this point, almost all other cities in the country’s northern region were under Houthi control. Many people consequently fled to Marib, where local tribes were standing strong against the rebels’ expansion.
Despite being outnumbered and less equipped, the tribal fighters were able to resist the Houthis for several weeks and prevented their advancement on multiple fronts. This was largely due to the tribal leaders’ defence strategy that contained the fight in the mountains instead of turning the populated areas into battlefields.
In March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition began providing military and security support to Marib, solidifying the area as a resistance hub and helping to take back many nearby districts from the Houthis’ grip. Given ongoing skirmishes, the Saudis continue to provide the governorate’s authorities with weapons, training, funding and assistance for the security sector.
Meanwhile, people who oppose the Houthis or have been harmed by Houthi policies continue to flock to the area. They speak of arbitrary arrests against supporters of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi or the Islah Party and extra taxes on merchants. For them, Marib offers a stable environment, thanks to its relatively unified local governance.