Yemen: Shitte Rebellion Resurfaces - Yemeni Jews Threatened

General February 19, 2007
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.

JEWS THREATENED AND EXPELLED

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."

SHI'ITE INSURGENCY

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
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Part 3. RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy
http://worldevangelicalalliance.com/news/view.htm?id=892

2) Threatened Yemeni Jews appeal for protection
By Nasser Arrabyee Jan 22, 2007, 19:38 Yemen Observer
http://www.yobserver.com/cgi-bin/2007/exec/view.cgi/23/11554

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
http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0713/p11s01-wome.html

BBC profile: YEMEN
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/784383.stm

Profile: Ali Abdullah Saleh http://lexicorient.com/e.o/saleh_a.htm

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