Guns and roses: Weddings and warfare in Yemen

Guns and roses: Weddings and warfare in Yemen
5 min read
In battle of celebration, Yemenis' delight in firing weapons has grown more chaotic over the past three years, write Khalid al-Karimi and Weam Abdulmalik.
Yemen has 60 guns per 100 people - second only to the United States [Getty]

Warfare and matrimony share one characteristic in Yemen: The need for weapons.

Yemenis need weapons either to fight or celebrate. This has long been a tradition here - but it has grown worse and more chaotic over the past three years of strife.

Muhammad Rashad celebrated his wedding in Yemen's Taiz a few months back. When he was preparing for the wedding day, he thought about the live ammunition and fireworks he would set off.

"My family opened fire in the air, celebrating my wedding day. My friends came and shot in the air, expressing their words of congratulations with the sounds of rifles," said Rashad.

Yemen's security situation after three years of civil war means concerned authorities can no longer curb irresponsible civilian use of weapons.

Hearing the unmistakable sound of gunfire has become common almost every day, but, at least by listening, it is difficult to distinguish between wedding celebrations and armed clashes.

'Uncivilised practice'

Tawfeek Qasim, a resident of Taiz, said the use of weapons during wedding ceremonies was "an uncivilised practice".

"One night at 10pm, I was sleeping in my house. I woke up when I heard heavy gunshots and explosions nearby," he told The New Arab.

"I thought the armed confrontations had reached my neighbourhood. My children panicked and cried. Then I discovered it was a wedding procession."

Living in a conflict-stricken city, Qasim is used to hearing shelling and airstrikes. The city has been torn apart by the bloody conflict between Houthi and pro-government fighters for three years.

"Wedding ceremonies are supposed to be joyful and peaceful. Unfortunately, they are nowadays similar to the fighting on the battlefield," he added.

"Some young people open fire heavily at weddings, taking pride in this act. They feel that it is their right to display their joy in weddings. This may please them, but it hurts others."

They think the more the ammunition, the higher the social status. Other relatives of the groom consider it a chance to show their respect and support

Abduljabar Noman, a Yemeni activist, said the continuing war had entrenched the dangerous security situation in the country, and this had encouraged civilians to use weapons inappropriately.

"Lots of Yemenis possess weapons. This fact, coupled with the lack of regulatory measures, have exasperated this issue.

"The security authorities [in Taiz] should adopt deterrent measures to stop the wrong use of weapons during wedding occasions," said Noman.

According to Noman, the security services had once banned gunfire at weddings, imposing fines on violators, but, as the war raged, they had failed to enforce the prohibition.


Social status

Rabab Alqadasi, a sociologist in Taiz, said gunfire at wedding parties used to be seen only in remote, isolated villages. Today, it has become an urban phenomenon.

Alqadasi attributes it to a deep-rooted social perspective.

"The families of the bride and groom take pride in the amount of ammunition they are firing," he said.

"They think the more the ammunition, the higher the social status. Other relatives of the groom consider it a chance to show their respect and support," she explained.

Shooting in the air during weddings has caused several civilian deaths and injuries. "The moments of joy turn into moments of mourning. Men, women and children have fallen victim to the unnecessary use of rifles in wedding parties," said Alqadasi.

Though eradicating nuptial gunfire may be a tough mission in a country awash with weapons, Alqadasi suggested that civil society organisations could launch media campaigns targeting the use of live munitions in wedding ceremonies.

"We have to raise awareness about the dangers of this and its harmful impact on public security and safety. We need to persuade people that wedding joy can be expressed in different ways, not only through shooting in the sky," said Alqadasi.

Abundance of weapons

Laws related to gun control are in place. The problem lies in enforcement. In 1992, the Yemeni government passed regulations to prohibit carrying firearms in major cities.

This abundance of guns has only beocme more widespread by the ongoing war - as the country has become a destination for weapons-smuggling amid a raging conflict with no end in sight

Additionally, local authorities have banned gunfire during wedding ceremonies. But all efforts have been roundly ignored.

The gun culture in Yemen is chronic. The UN in 2015 estimated that there were between 40 to 60 million weapons of all sorts (and 28 million people) in Yemen.

In 2007, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey said Yemen had 60 gun (small arms) per 100 people - a rate of gun ownership second only to the United States.

This abundance of guns has only beocme more widespread by the ongoing war - as the country has become a destination for weapons-smuggling amid a raging conflict with no end in sight.

Due to the political and ideological differences among Yemenis, the country has become a fertile ground for weapons proliferation.

Regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, keep providing their Yemeni allies with new weapons, and this helps make guns ever-more accessible, creating deadly means within an already violent environment.

"Accessing weapons has become easier in Yemen thanks to the civil war and the political deadlock," said Noman.

"Today, people can use heavy weapons and shoot in the air in wedding celebrations, and they do not have to worry about any punitive measures."

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205

Weam Abdulmalik is a Taiz-based Yemeni reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @weamabdulmalik