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Lecture | Leiden Yemeni Studies Lecture Series

Memory Politics and Contentious Heritage in Anṣār Allāh/Ḥūthī Yemen

Monday 24 June 2024
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Leiden Yemeni Studies Lecture Series
Online via Zoom

Cultural memory is constantly mediated by the fields of political power in which it circulates and through which it eventually obtains its shape. This holds particularly true for heritage politics, as the curation of heritage is controlled and financed by elites, making it highly dependent on power dynamics and susceptible to political and ideological influences. This is especially relevant in northern Yemen's current transitional phase, where the new rulers, Ansar Allah or Huthis, need to deal with questions surrounding the country's rich cultural heritage. In the process of elaborating their ideological foundations, a collective memory inversion and re-evaluation of heritage is underway, whose outcome will determine which aspects of heritage are deemed worthy of contributing to the new national framework and thus promotion, and what is permitted to recede into the background, or even fall into oblivion. 

As Huthis / Ansar Allah and their adversaries fundamentally disagree on national identity and the future societal configuration, the competitive and ideologically charged tension between ancient South Arabian and Islamic (Zaydi) heritage takes on new meanings and significance. Not for the first time in the history of Yemen, pre-Islamic and Islamic history, along with heritage, are "reconstructed" rom the present, aligning with prevailing needs for meaning, relevance criteria, and evolving socio-political conditions. Both the Huthis and their contenders share the characteristic of invoking pre-schismatic eras, despite their mobilization of divisive doctrinal and ethnic languages, advancing either visions of an Islamic or an ethnic-genealogically unified realm. Driven by their yearning for clarity, unity, and unambiguousness, their visions serve as vital elements of social solidarity and cohesion-bridges that link putative "golden eras" of national unity to the current conflict-laden times.

Marieke Brandt

Marieke Brandt is a senior researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, with a primary focus on socio-cultural processes and social history in Yemen and Southwest Arabia. She has spent five years in Yemen, conducting extensive research. She is the author of “Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict” (Oxford University Press/Hurst 2017) and “The Tale of a Feud: Domination, Resistance, and Agency in Highland Yemen” (Brill, 2023), and numerous peer-reviewed articles. She has received several prestigious fellowships and awards, such as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation dissertation fellowship, the DAAD fellowship in Yemen, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) fellowship, the New Frontiers Groups Programme research prize, and the Best Publication Award of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 

Noha Sadek

Noha Sadek is an independent Islamic art historian based in Paris and a research associate at the French Research Centre of the Arabian Peninsula (CEFREPA) in Kuwait. She earned her Ph.D. degree in Middle East and Islamic Studies from the University of Toronto in 1990 with a thesis on the architectural patronage of the Rasulid period (13th-15th century) in Yemen. Her research focuses on the material culture and history of Yemen where she has extensive field experience. She has been investigating the impact of the war on Yemen’s Islamic period cultural heritage, and is a team member of the World Monuments Fund project “The restoration of the National Museum in the historic city of Ta'izz.” 

Recent publications:

“Engraved Property: The Titles and Names of Rasulid Women on Ayyubid and Mamluk Metalwork,” in Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World, volume 4 (2023), Special Issue: From Visual Power to Private Stories: Inscribed Objects from the Medieval Arab World, edited by François Déroche and Carine Juvin, pp. 97-117. (Open access) https://doi.org/10.1163/26666286-12340041

“The Monuments of Rasulid Taʿizz; The Physical Construction of Power and Piety,” in Practicing Community in Urban and Rural Eurasia (1000–1600): Comparative Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Approaches, Fabian Kümmeler, Judit Majorossy, and Eirik Hovden (eds.). Leiden: Brill, 2021, pp. 283-305.

The Leiden Yemeni Studies Lecture Series is supported by the Horizon-2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions project EMStaD YEMEN.

An overview of all events in this series can be found on the series page.

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