Over the past three years, Marib has developed to an extent that would have never been achieved had the town enjoyed peace and stability. Once too dangerous for a commuter to pass through, the governorate is now where 1.5 million dwell after flocks fled disturbed areas across the war-hit Yemen.
"In Marib we're advocates of peace and love," Yemeni activist Saddam Al-Adwar told Raseef22. "Our culture encompasses the great history and the simple spirit of the Bedouins that is based on authentic principles and good traditions."
"We believe that accepting the other is a rule that has to prevail among the Yemenis, and we know that wars destroy only the human and leave no winners."
Despite "the injustice and marginalization that plagued it for many years and affected all aspects of life", Marib today is setting an example, securing an environment in which citizens from all walks of life are the main beneficiaries of prosperity, Al-Adwar believes.
Heir to the Kingdom of Sheba
"There was, for Saba, aforetime, a Sign in their home-land - two Gardens to the right and to the left. "Eat of the Sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving" (Saba: 15). By these words the Quran describes the Kingdom of Sheba whose monuments are still standing in Marib and nearby areas. Marib was the capital of the most potent Yemeni state in history; not only did it rule Yemen but also parts of Africa in the 10th century BC.
For hundreds of years, many imposing Kings ruled Sheba Kingdom, the foremost of whom was the queen that the Quran referred to in Surah An-Naml (The Ants). The Quranic verse reads, "I found (there) a woman ruling over them and provided with every requisite; and she has a magnificent throne", as the Surah tells the story of Solomon. Most inscriptions indicate that her name was Balqis and used to worship the sun before converting to Islam.
People of Sheba erected the first dam in the history of mankind, which turned Marib into the Land of Two Gardens as described by the Quran. However, the dam fully collapsed in 570 BC; historians have differed over the reason of the collapse, which left the people of Sheba stranded in the Arabian Peninsula and other areas in the region.
Marib for a long period of time was safeguarded amidst disputes between the smaller kingdoms that mushroomed following the demise of Sheba and made other cities their respective capitals.
After the Ottomans departed Yemen in the early 20th century, Marib became part of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom that was declared in 1914. The governorate, which witnessed protests against Imamah, is also the hometown of Nasser Al-Qardaei who killed Imam Yahya in the 1948 revolution. Marib's men played a major role in defeating the royal forces and liberating Sanaa after it was besieged in 1967, which marked the victory of the republic.
Marib Before the Final War
Marib is situated northeast of Yemen and is 170 km away from Sanaa. Its population was estimated at 238,000 in 2004 and is one of the wealthiest Yemeni governorates, producing half of the country's crude oil exports and is the source of all its natural gas production. Moreover, Marib is the second most agriculturally productive Yemeni city.
The governorate is crammed with well-known touristic sites, most prominent of which is the Sheba Dam -- the remnants of the old dam and the new one which UAE financed. There are also the Balqis throne and the sun temple, among other landmarks that have for years made Marib a favorable destination for tourists and exploring expeditions, which have stopped since the eruption of the ongoing war.
In February 2014, Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi approved turning the country into a federal state that consists of six regions, including Saba where the governorates of Marib, Al-Bayda and Al-Jawf are located.
For years, Yemenis had a misconception about Marib, which was often linked to kidnapping tourists, blocking roads and persecuting women. The war made it a heaven and a refuge
Marib which suffered decades of marginalization and neglect has become a vital factor in the Yemeni military and political equation
Before and After the War
For many years, Yemenis had a misconception about Marib, which was often linked to kidnapping tourists, blocking roads and persecuting women. It was often labeled ignorant and backward, but the war has caused it to achieve unprecedented development.
Al-Adwar thinks highly of Marib governor Sultan Al-Irada, saying "providing electricity, health [services], education and professional training" has been one of his main priorities along with "increasing income and achieving security and stability".
"During the war the state institutions have been preserved and kept operating normally. The salaries of the employees were not withheld and the state institutions' expenses were not affected, including that of the electricity."
Al-Adwar points out that today Marib hosts more than 100 civil society organizations that work on providing different services for residents. He said many of the local organizations had relocated to Marib to flee dangerous areas.
In a relatively short period of time, he opined, Marib has become the most stable and secure Yemeni governorate. "The security apparatus fulfills its duties properly," Al-Adwar said.
Activist Intesar Alqadi echoed similar sentiments. "Marib has given the people the opportunity to show who they really are," she said.
"Previously, no one knew anything about Marib except for what they get from the media, which created a public misperception and made many afraid of visiting. But amid the latest events...a lot of people saw the real Marib."
Alqadi lauded the fact that the governor of Marib is a local individual. "This is why it now acquires its rightful 20 percent share of gas and oil... which the governorate did not get beforehand."
She also highlighted the social changes Marib has witnessed, such as the presence of women in public spaces. "It used to be rare to see a woman in Marib teaching at a university or working in any field."
"Many job opportunities were made available for housewives whether in the public or private sector," Alqadi said. "The future will see housewives more engaged in the public domain as many of the restrictions will disappear."
A Residential Area
TV presenter Ahmad Al-Wasie told Raseef22 that Marib has turned from some rural governorate located in the far north of Yemen to a significant residential, commercial and social hub. It was basically a road in the middle of the desert with one governmental complex, he said. Today, it is an urban area that is expanding and developing on a daily basis.
"Marib which suffered decades of marginalization and neglect has become a vital factor in the Yemeni military and political equation in Yemen. It sets an example in terms of security as well as political and economic stability. It is a case study that is worth looking into and comparing to other liberated cities that are ruled by President Hadi."
Marib has been witnessing prominent development projects. In 2016 through presidential decree, Saba University -- at which 5000 students are enrolled this year -- is expanding and developing its premises after acquiring a 1 km2 parcel of land with local funds. The university provides 12 buses to transport female students and managers in order to encourage girls to complete their higher education. Meanwhile, a budget to establish Marib International Airport has been approved; construction work is underway and it will be inaugurated in the near future.
On the other hand, the governorate is still facing a lot of problems. Nagi Ashal, head of the Marib Dam Foundation for Social Development (MDF) says swathes of displaced population are still pouring into the governorate that has never been prepared to accommodate such large numbers, citing a lack of infrastructure.
Ashal points out that there is no proper sewage system in Marib despite all the ongoing projects. In general, he said, some areas in the governorate are still struggling with poor services amid corruption of local authorities.