Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Myths about the Yemen conflict

"The first myth is that this war represents yet a new front on a massive regional Sunni-Shiite struggle. The reality is that a great deal of this struggle is heavily among Yemeni Shiites themselves. Yes, the Houthis, who are now well on the way to seizing leadership of the entire country, are indeed Shiite. They are Zaydi Shiites to be specific (also known as Fivers, believing in five imams) -- who differ significantly from Iranian Shiites (mostly Twelvers). Indeed, among the various schools of Shiism, Zaydism is theologically closest to Sunni Islam. Sunni and Shia have co-existed quite well in Yemen over long centuries.

Zaydi imams ruled most of Yemen for hundreds of years as an Imamate, until some 60 years ago when an Arab nationalist revolution displaced them.

But the Zaydi Shia remain a major force in the country (some 40 percent) and are dominant in the north. Furthermore, the two most important tribal confederations in the country are also both Zaydi. So was the former president of Yemen for 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh (overthrown in the Arab Spring and who now may be secretly supporting the Houthis). The Houthis are simply one regional Zaydi clan who happen to be rebelling for an end to what they saw as discrimination and the corruption of Saleh and his successor -- both Saudi-supported Shiites. Typically the Houthi movement takes the form of a revivalist movement seeking cleaner government and a "purer Zaydism.""