Of course, there are points of friction and governing challenges that could easily change the dynamics. Some tribal leaders are dissatisfied with the performance of local authorities, and their opposition sometimes results in confrontations with security forces. Since my visit to Marib, skirmishes have taken place between tribesmen and soldiers at security checkpoints. Several incidents have transformed into massive armed clashes in Alashraf, an area in the western part of Marib Governorate.
The tribesmen usually accuse the local authorities of belonging to the Islah Party, considered a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. The authorities deny such accusations and point out that most of their leaders, including the governor of Marib, are members of the General People’s Congress, the political party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ancient archaeological ruins neglected
There are also disagreements among Marib’s tribes. For example, outside the city, there are dozens of neglected historical sites, including the throne of the Queen of Sheba, the Awam temple and the old Marib Dam, which are the most famous monuments to ancient Yemeni civilizations. Abandoned because of weak governance and tribal disputes over ownership, the sites are in bad condition. I could not even get close to the Awam temple because the road was buried by desert sand.
Despite its challenges, Marib is a relative success story
The lack of capacity to deal with the effects of the conflict is also evident by the thousands of vehicles without registration plates that move people and transport goods. Security authorities in Marib have found it difficult to track the unregistered cars, which, besides depriving the state of income, are often used in illegal activities such as smuggling and looting. During the last few months, bandit gangs have spread to the road linking Marib and Hadramout. Consequently, the number of crime victims continues to increase.
In the face of these and other immense challenges, how is Marib managing to move forward? Perhaps it is the common resilience of the people that sets the city apart. Even so, no one can anticipate whether Marib will remain a stable exception or turn into another example of failed governance. It is certainly a place to watch, with potential lessons for other parts of Yemen.
Ahmed Nagi is a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focusses on Yemen.