Friday, February 16, 2007

Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces - Yemeni Jews threatened

Date: Friday 16 February 2007
Subj: Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces - Yemeni Jews threatened
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


As noted in the recent WEA RLC News & Analysis posting Religious Liberty Trends 2006-2007, "Part 3 - RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy" (link 1) any Shiite vs Sunni conflict will impact Jews and Christians. This is because in a Shiite vs Sunni conflict, Sunni extremism intensifies and is advanced resulting in increased persecution of Shiites, Jews and Christians, while Shiites (usually the minority sect) attempt to deflect Sunni hate and unite the sects in battle against their common "enemies": Jews, Israel, Christians and US-allied Arab governments.

The Sunni vs Shiite struggle for supremacy is escalating in Yemen and followers of Shiite rebel Al Houthi have renewed their insurgency against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Before the Shiite rebels re-launched their insurgency they issued a public threat against the local
Jewish community.


On 10 January the 45 Jews of al Haid, Sa'ada (north Yemen), received letters from a Shiite rebel militia. The letters accused them of promoting vice and demanded that they leave the province. According to the Yemen Observer, the 45 Jews have been forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives. While they have since been given refuge in a hotel at the expense of a compassionate local sheik, they are reportedly living in appalling conditions. Shiite militants have since threatened to bomb the hotel.

The Yemen Observer reports: "Most of Yemen's Jews were brought over to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50, following the 1948 Muslim riots that destroyed the Jewish community in Aden and killed 82 people. There were about 63,000 Jews in Yemen in 1948. Now, only about 400 Jews remain in the country, most of who are living in Raida, in the Amran province." (Link 2)

A copy of the threatening letter was faxed to the Yemen Observer. It reads: "After an accurate surveillance of the Jews who are residing in Al Haid, it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals, and their religion, and spread all kinds of vice in the society. Our religion ordered us to fight the corrupt people and expel them."

The newspaper reports that the hand written letter concluded with the words: "Allah is Greater, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse to Jews, and Victory to Islam," and explains that the words form the slogan of the slain Shiite cleric, Hussein Badr Al Deen Al Houthi. The letter was then signed by Yahya Sad Al Khudhair, who described himself as the leader of Al Houthi supporters in Al Salem.

Dawoud Yousef Mousa, one of the displaced Jews, told the Yemen Observer: "We are a total of 45 Jews, from Al Salem, we left our houses in Al Haid area in Sa'ada to a hotel here in the city of Sa'ada, after we received warnings to leave our country, Yemen, within 10 days from the date of the threat letter,"

According to Mousa, on Wednesday 17 January, he was with a group of Jews when they were approached by four masked men who threatened to slaughter them if they did not leave on Al Salem by Friday 19 January. "They told us, 'No one will protect you, Jews, from us, not even [President] Ali Abdullah Saleh." And they were warned that if they did not leave their homes in two days "they will only have themselves to blame" for the consequences, which will include abductions and looting.

The Yemen Observer reports that the local authorities and tribal sheikhs in Sa'ada held meetings to discuss the complaints from the Yemeni Jews. However the meetings only resulted in oral reassurances for the Jews, who were told to ignore the threats and go back to their villages, something the Jews were not prepared to do.

The Jews have appealed to the governor of Sa'ada for protection. In their submission they wrote: "It is not a secret that we are "Themmies" [dhimmis] (free non-Muslims, enjoying the Muslims' protection [definition by Yemen Observer]), we are in the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, and in the protection of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. We [are in] your protection. We would rather die than leave our homes."


Yemen did not exist as a unified state until May 1990. Before then there was North Yemen which was 60 percent Shiite, and South Yemen which was 99 percent Sunni. Historically Zaydi (Shia) Imams had ruled over North Yemen as absolute monarchs. Then in 1962 the Imamate of Muhammad al-Badr was overthrown in a military coup led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Civil war erupted between republicans backed by Egypt, and royalists backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain. After years of conflict and political see-sawing, North Yemen emerged as the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). Ali Abdullah Saleh became the President of the YAR in 1978 after another military coup.

In December 1989 the parliament of South Yemen voted unanimously in favour of unifying the two states. Meanwhile, in North Yemen 25 of the more religiously fundamentalist Shiite members of the of North Yemen parliament boycotted the vote, recognising that upon unification, the Shiites of North Yemen would go from being a majority to a 30 percent minority. Unification went ahead and Ali Abdullah Saleh was elected president of the unified Republic of Yemen on the votes of both houses of parliament. The president of South Yemen became the Vice President.

In June 2004 a Shiite insurgency erupted against the government of Ali Abdullah Salih. The Shiite rebels were "protecting Islam" and protesting the government's alliance with the US in its War on Terror. The government claimed the rebels were fighting for the restoration of the Zaydi imamate, though the rebels denied this. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a Zaydi Shiite, but like many other Zaydis he is a republican.

On 13 July 2004 the Christian Science Monitor reported on the Shiite insurgency: "The revolt is led by Hussein al-Houthi, an anti-US Shiite cleric who runs a religious school and heads a group called Al Shabab al-Moumin, the Youthful Believers.

"Houthi's rebels have been flying the flag of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah organization and the militant cleric has been paying his followers $100." (Link 3)

The government unleashed the full force of its military against the Shiite rebels and the insurgency only lasted ten weeks. Rebel leader Zaydi cleric Hussein al-Huthi was killed in the fighting.

The July 2004 CSM article actually raised the issue of al Qaeda infiltration into Yemen and questioned whether Iran was sponsoring a Shiite revival amongst the Yemeni Zaydis to counter a Wahhabi revival amongst the Sunnis. It concluded with a quote from Professor Hamzeh: "'It seems that Al Qaeda has been successful in radicalizing the Shafi Sunnis,' he says. 'I can definitely see a future clash between the Zaidi Shiites and the newly mobilized Shafi Sunnis.'"

After Al-Houthi's father, Badr al-Din al-Huthi, assumed leadership of the rebel group, fighting resumed in March 2005. Once again, the government unleashed the military against the rebels. Shiite leaders in both Iran and Iraq protested the "persecution" of Yemeni Shiites. By May 2005 the rebels had retreated into the mountains and the fighting had ceased.

On 27 January 2007 Shiite rebels in the northern province of Sa'ada (where the Jews are being persecuted) launched a mortar attack on a security building, killing six soldiers. In early February Yemen's parliament authorised its military to launch a full-scale assault against the rebels. Stratfor estimates that around 80 Shiite al-Houthi rebels and around 40 Yemeni government soldiers have died in fighting over the past two weeks. The Yemen Times puts the figure at 32 rebels and 15 soldiers.

Some Yemeni MPs and political commentators suspect that Iran and Libya are interfering in Yemen; Iran to bolster the Shiites to counter al Qaeda and the revival of Wahhabi ideology; and Libya to bolster the Wahhabis for the purpose of destabilising Saudi Arabia.

Clearly Yemen is a fertile field for a Sunni vs Shiite contest. If the radicalisation of both Shiites and Sunnis is not effectively countered then the future is bleak, not only for Yemeni Jews and Christians, but for a united Republic of Yemen.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy

2) Threatened Yemeni Jews appeal for protection
By Nasser Arrabyee Jan 22, 2007, 19:38 Yemen Observer

3) Are Iran and Al Qaeda vying for influence in Yemen?
At least 200 dead in Yemeni battle against radicals.
By Nicholas Blanford. The Christian Science Monitor 13 July 2004

BBC profile: YEMEN

Profile: Ali Abdullah Saleh