Yemenis - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Yemeni society is hierarchically organized on the basis of birth status and occupation. Until relative political stability was achieved in the late 1970s, birth and occupational statuses were legitimized as ascribed social categories. The elimination of practical barriers that restrict power and privilege—especially through marriage and education—to certain members of the society has only just begun. Under the system of ranked social categories, members of respectable groupings recognized their own noble descent and considered themselves the protectors of servants, former slaves, artisans, and certain farmers, all of whom were thought of as "deficient," either because they provided a service or craft—such as bloodletting, butchery, or barbering—that involved contact with polluting substances, or because their origins were discredited as ignoble. The tribal code of protection was also extended to elites at the top of the social scale, especially to sayyids, the reputed descendants of the Prophet, who originally came to Yemen to serve as mediators between tribes and who are respected for their religious expertise. Another social category, that of legal scholars, also inherits high status in the ranking order. Scholars, along with shuyukh (sing. shaykh ), who are tribal leaders, typically serve as village administrators. The majority of Yemenis use various equivalent or substitute terms to identify themselves within the social hierarchy, including qaba'il in the northern highlands to connote tribal membership, ra'iyah in the south to mean "cultivators," and ' arab along the coast to signify respectable ancestry. Former slaves continue to act as agents and domestics in the households of former masters, but the most menial jobs (e.g., removing human waste from the street) are reserved for Yemenis who are alleged descendants of Ethiopians of the pre-Islamic era. In addition, Yemen relies on a range of foreigners from the East and West for professional, technical, and custodial services.

Political Organization. It is a continuing challenge of governmental strategies to achieve a stable balance between relatively autonomous tribes and the state. Alliance with dominant tribal confederation therefore may still be influential in the distribution of development projects by central authorities.

Social Control. A strict and complex code of honor based on tribal values governs behavior among groups and proper decorum between the sexes, including veiling of women in urban or northern areas.

Conflict. The cultural concept of honor also regulates the handling of disputes, which depends on confirming significant kinship ties.

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