Gun Culture Challenges Yemeni State

The Yemeni government has recently been attempting to prevent weapons and arms trading, especially in cities, by interdicting the flow of arms into urban centers, banning arms traders from importing them into the country, and ordering the investigation of incidents which took place as a result of carrying illegal weapons.

Yemen is facing significant international pressure in this regard, because of the volume of smuggled arms entering Yemen from neigboring Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and by the U.S. criticism of the widespread availability of weapons on the other hand.  Also, armed groups, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the southern movement, and tribal elements typically exploit Yemen’s gun culture in their repeated clashes with state authorities.

The National Yemen had the following conversations with arms traders in Yemen.

An arms merchant in Sana’a said, “the arms trade is like any other trade – you buy it from merchants and suppliers of the weapons, who then bring them to the shop.”

“According to the sale, we sell them secretly for people who are well known, and purchases of this kinds range from heavy weapons to light Kalashnikovs, pistols, and ammunition.

An guns trader in the Jihana arms suq in Khawlan, North of

Sana’a, said, “I’ve practiced the arms trade for a long time, since I inherited the job from my parents, and we sell various arms, from smaller pieces up to anti-aircraft weapons –  but I have not seen heavy weapons recently.

“Authorities tried to keep us away from the sale of such weapons, so we transferred the heavy weapons in our supplies to our homes.

Q: Who supplies you with arms?

A: Of course, we buy them from the traders and those traders are senior to us. They supplied us with arms and we bought them, as well as by some people who sell their weapons then we buy them.  For most of the munitions, we buy them from soldiers who sell them when they need funds.

Q: Are there any other sources for the availability of weapons in Yemeni markets?

A: You know that Yemen went through several wars since the Revolution started, from the Revolutionary  War, which lasted for more than ten years, and then a war of secession in 1994, which is the biggest reason for the presence of weapons in the Yemeni market.

Q: The government prohibited dealers from importing arms.  Where do you buy it now? What is forbidden is desirable, is it not?

A: If known merchants refrained from dealing in such goods, there are other dealers who are not known to the government authorities, and these people have their own ways of importing their products.

National Yemen also met with Sheikh Mulataf Abdul Wali al-Qiri and had a dialogue with him:

Q: Since you are one of the Khawlan region’s Sheikhs and you have a large quantity of arms, do you have an idea where the arms in the market are coming from?

A: There are senior traders importing from abroad, and the State is well aware of this — they sell them to the retailers.  Also, the wars that took place in Yemen since the revolution of September 26 continued the flow of weapons.

The geographical location of Yemen, and its several ports connecting it to neighboring countries makes it a market for importing and exporting weapons.

In addition, there was the1994 civil war, which left behind a huge amount of weapons, considered the largest supply of its kind in the Middle East, as the South was a major base of  the former Soviet Union before its disintegration.

This was adding to what British colonialism had left behind from the arsenal in the South of the country, and do not forget the recent events which took place in Saada province –

more than six wars left behind an enormous amount of weapons that had been sent to Yemen, whether  to support the government or to support the Houthis, and all this was through land and marine ports.

Q: Does the presence of weapons lead to deaths?

A: As a result of illiteracy and lack of knowledge among some citizens in the use of weapons, the presence of so many guns can lead to the death of even the best user of weapons, as a result of accidents.

Q: But does the presence of weapons encourage cases of tribal revenge killings?

A: From the beginning of the time, revenge has always existed, but it has disappeared in some Arab countries as a result of the law and the judiciary.

But in Yemen, because of the lack of independence in judiciary, revenge killing is rampant, and any person takes his revenge into his own hands, even inside the capital.

As everyone knows, weapons are available to every citizen, and every citizen of Yemen at least has a Kalashnikov.

Q: What do you think of the new rules on carrying firearms these days?

A: The ban on carrying weapons enforced by the security authorities have reduced crime, murder, and revenge in the capital Sana’a significantly.

Before, any person who had a grievance followed his enemies into the capital and shot him in the market, and he may not even hit his target, but some local innocent civilians. The State has a hand in whatever revenge killing persist among the people, since it has an interest in making the citizen seek revenge rather than demanding of the State their legitimate rights and basic services, such as health, education, electricity.

Q: Are you a proponent of banning weapons?

Yes, I am one of the leading people who hopes to live in a society of security, prosperity, and stability.  I aspire to a fair system that respects the rights and freedoms of every citizen and respects the social customs, not to the providing arms and licensing them to illiterate people and children, which will disrupt peace.

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