First Published: 2005-04-14

Zaidi extremists pose problem for Yemen

Zaidi community, dominant Sunnis have lived in harmony in Yemen for many centuries.


Middle East Online

By Hammoud Mounassar - SANAA

Hundreds killed in armed clashes

The deaths of hundreds of rebels from Yemen's minority Zaidi sect have plunged the group into disarray but not lifted the threat of more bloodshed based on their anti-US stand and opposition to what they term the "illegitimate" Sanaa regime.

More than 400 people were killed on both sides during a three-month revolt which began in June 2004 led by Hussein Badr Eddin al-Huthi, and whose death in clashes last year led the Yemeni government to declare the uprising over.

A fresh rebellion since late March, this time led by Huthi's father Badr Eddin, and ground commanders including the former leader's brother Abdul Malak, resulted in a death toll of some 280.

Earlier this week, the authorities declared the "sedition" crushed, despite the fact that all the leaders of the latest uprising were still at large and that the group was estimated to have 3,000 supporters before the June revolt.

Badr Eddin, is considered now to be the spiritual leader of the rebels who emerged from his son's extremist Faithful Youth movement, formed in 1997.

"Hussein al-Huthi does not represent me. He doesn't represent the Zaidi sect," said Mortadha Zaid al-Mahturi, who heads the Badr Centre in Sanaa, referring to the new leader's son.

The centre is responsible for the teachings of Zaidism.

The Shiite Muslim Zaidi sect is dominant in northwestern Yemen but in the minority in the mainly Sunni country.

Zaidis, who take their name from the imam Zaid, recognised as the fifth and last imam, are generally considered as moderate and tolerant. They represent nearly 30 percent of Yemen's population of more than 21 million.

Many Zaidi scholars also do not recognise the Faithful Youth movement which they denounced after the first round of fighting, during which nearly 800 rebels were captured and who are still detained.

The rebels are also denounced by the moderate current within the Zaidi community, whose members include Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, speaker of parliament and head of the main opposition Islamist Al-Islah party.

The Zaidi dynasty, which came to Yemen in 879, originated from Jebel Al-Rass in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Medina.

The sect does not recognise the legitimacy of the regime, which took power after overthrowing the Zaidi leadership in a military coup known as the Revolution of September 26, 1962.

The president recently branded Zaidi rebels as "subversive, reactionary and backward." Their slain leader was accused by the authorities of seeking to foment sectarian strife, "harm national unity and social peace."

In July last year, Saleh claimed "foreign parties" were supporting the rebellion, but did not name them.

Huthi had served as a member of parliament's Islamist opposition movement Al-Haq before breaking away to form the Faithful Youth organisation.

In 2003, he started to organise anti-American demonstrations across the country, which alarmed the authorities.

He then took up position in his stronghold of Maran, in the province of Saada near the border with Saudi Arabia, along with an estimated 3,000 supporters, and from there launched his revolt.

Huthi said in an interview before the June revolt that the conflict was a result of his anti-US stance.

"I am working for the propagation of the Koran and the fight against the United States and Israel," he said, branding the Yemeni president a "tyrant who does not have any legitimacy ... and who wants to please America and Israel, by sacrificing the blood of his own people."

Yemen is viewed by Washington as an important partner in the war on terror as it continues to crack down on suspected Islamic extremists since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.


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