2008 June 23 Monday
Religious And Tribal Factions Battle In Yemen

Rebel forces of Hashemite Shiites (and I thought Hashemites were Sunni royals like in Jordan) are fighting government forces of Zaidi Shiites and Sunnis in Yemen. Who knew?

SANAA, Yemen -- The boom of explosions swept across the high-walled compounds and minarets of this ancient Arab capital before dawn one day last week, as Shiite rebels battled for control of a mountain overlooking the city and its airport.

Government warplanes backed by artillery rebuffed the rebels, the latest skirmish in a largely hidden sectarian conflict that has drawn increasing attention from Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran and Sunni extremists eager for a fight.

Keep in mind that the people who belong to a particular sect are far more likely to marry other members of their sect than to marry other sects. The cousin marriage practice in the Middle East makes sects into extended families with complex tight tribal loyalties.

"I believe this war is a proxy war," Yemeni lawmaker Ahmed Saif Hashed said in Sanaa, where civilians of the same Shiite sect as the rebels say they are facing increasing detentions, beatings and surveillance.

The rebellion is being mounted by Yemen's Hashemite Shiites, who ruled the country for more than a 1,000 years until an alliance of Shiite and Sunni military officers deposed them in 1962. Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, belongs to the country's larger Shiite community, known as the Zaidis.

But a different analysis of the war (see further down) argues the rebellion in Yemen is by Zaidis.

Lebanon is considered a pretty cool place and it is nearer Europe and Israel. So Lebanon gets lots of coverage. But Yemen is the pits. The major international rights groups do not find it either groovy enough or accessible enough to bother.

Major international rights groups largely bypass Yemen, leaving unexamined and unamplified allegations that government tanks, warplanes and artillery routinely bombard northern Shiite villages. Smuggled videos show that some villages around Saada have been gutted and largely emptied of all but Shiite fighters.

"If a cat dies in Lebanon, the world knows about it," said Muhatwari, who said his school and mosque in the capital have been shuttered by the government. "Here in Yemen, we are forgotten."

Yemen shows.

The fighting in Yemen can go on because the women are busy making lots of replacements for any men lost in fighting.

At any given moment, nearly 16 percent of women in Yemen are pregnant, according to the latest survey of health matters by the Ministry of Health. This is a very high number of pregnant women, particularly as the government has been trying to encourage people to carefully plan their families and space out births, so as not to risk the health of mothers and children. The strain of continuous pregnancy and birth can have a ruinous effect on women’s health, particularly if they begin having children at a young age. According to Yemen’s most recent Demographic, Maternal and Child Health Survey, 48 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18. Fourteen percent, meanwhile, were married before the age of 15.

Marrying this early is very dangerous to the health of a woman, because she risks early pregnancy, which can siphon away the nutrients her own body needs to develop properly. These very early marriages raise the number of pregnant women in Yemen at any given time, and expand the number of births they will go through during their life span, which could have a dramatic impact on their health. In a study conducted by Marie Stopes International in cooperation with the World Health Organization, fertility in Yemen, at 6.5 children per woman, is amongst the highest in the world.

I found an analysis of the Yemen conflict that makes it sound like Zaidi Shiites are driving the rebellion in Yemen.

Zaidi Shi'ism is one of three main branches of the Shi'a movement, together with "Twelver Shi'ism" and the Isma'ili branch. Unlike the other branches, the Zaidis are restricted almost solely to the Yemen area. Their form of Shari'a law follows the Sunni Hanafi school, which has aided in their integration with the Yemeni Sunnis. The Zaidi Imams ruled Yemen from the ninth century until 1962, with interruptions. The Shi'a represents roughly 40% of Yemen's 20 million people.

The Zaidi rebellion first erupted in 2004 after rebels began attacking army positions across the north of the state. The rebels—who called for the restoration the Zaidi imamate, which ruled the capital, Sana'a, until a 1962 coup by republican force regard the Saleh regime as illegitimate. The group took up positions in the mountains and has been able to inflict significant damage on the Yemeni army and undermine its control in the north. The conflict also assumed a regional dynamic as Saleh accused Iran of sponsoring the rebellion as part of its expanding effort to project its power across the region.

Since fighting began in 2004, the totality of Zaidism has been under attack. The Yemeni regime has prohibited some mainstream Zaidi religious literature, replaced Zaidi preachers with Salafis at gunpoint and even banned some Zaidi religious festivals. This caused considerable outrage among the believers.

My advice: Keep the tribal Middle Eastern Muslims out of the United States and then we can just read about these people in newspaper articles.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 June 23 10:39 PM  Ethnic Conflict

Kenelm Digby said at June 24, 2008 3:53 AM:

Actually, Randall, the very last colonial war fought in the great noble tradition by the British Army was in Aden (which is now part of Yemen) this was as recent as 1968 and under the socialist (it was socialist in those days) labour government.
It makes for fascinating reading, not least the activities of a certain major Colin Mitchell or'mad Mitch' as he was known.
Also the modern kit uniforms used by the British Army at that time (eg Ferret armoured cars, helicopters, Land Rovers etc) have a strange fascination to a child of the 1960s.

Audacious Epigone said at June 24, 2008 10:01 AM:

From the WaPo article:

The rebellion is being mounted by Yemen's Hashemite Shiites, who ruled the country for more than a 1,000 years until an alliance of Shiite and Sunni military officers deposed them in 1962.

From the Defense Update article:

The Zaidi Imams ruled Yemen from the ninth century until 1962, with interruptions.

Who was in charge up to 1962? I think WaPo has it backwards. Does someone know for certain?

Dragon Horse said at June 24, 2008 10:18 AM:

I agree with you on this Randall...for the most part, but I can't get behind "all Muslims or all Arabs".

I believe strongly we should allow in all "fit" Lebanese women, like these. Women only. No males of any age. Preferably Christians, but Muslims are fine as long as they are single. No head scarfs either.


Stephen said at June 24, 2008 5:45 PM:

I've read that Idi Amin was so impressed by Mad Mitch that he decided to call himself King of Scotland. Though maybe Idi's inspiration came from the Argyles as a whole rather than Mitch inparticular.

Randall Parker said at June 24, 2008 6:10 PM:

Dragon Horse,

I hope you are sitting down...

You are right. I was wrong. Let in the single Lebanese women who are hotties.

I'll go even further: Let in any Arab woman that a major New York modelling agency wants to recruit. If only such a policy was possible. It would make so much sense to have an immigration policy based on hotties and brains.

Here's a better URL for images of Lebanese protest babes. Your URL might be truncated.

Kenelm Digby,

I knew that the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula was a Cold War battleground. But I'd forgotten the details. Didn't Yemen exist as 2 separate countries that got united? Or am I confusing it with another country down there? I thought the Soviets were on one side and the US and Britain on the other in some fight.

Kenelm Digby said at June 25, 2008 3:58 AM:

You are right.The southern half of the state was a former long standing British colony called Aden, Whilst the north half of Yemen was never colonized and had a communist revolution (supported by the USSR), and had serious plans (it actually won in the end) to take over the south with the help of a local insurgency.
As such it was a classic cold-war battle-field.
Fascinating as it took place in the same era as the Bond films, popular British boys' war comics such as 'Battle1' and 'Action' and a time when young Britain was war obsessed due to the backwash of WW2.
Also great pieces of kit such as armed Land-Rovers and lightly armed soldiers in the distinctive uniforms of the day were used.

MREater said at June 25, 2008 6:55 AM:

Kenelm Digby,
Mad Mitch sounds like my kind of commanding officer. Any guy who has bagpipes playing as his troops go into battle is OK in my book. Our military music in the US sucks and the guys in my unit listen to crap. I would have paid top dollar to have bagpipers with us when we invaded Iraq back in 2003 and I still would today. It gets the blood stirring, it does and I'm not even Scottish. Might freak out the enemy a bit as well. Maybe when I get some free time or go on leave, I'll try and get some lessons.

Stephen said at June 25, 2008 8:24 PM:

Here's the Mad Mitch wiki entry.

Great photo at top right - he's the driver.

A facinating character - went from Private to Lt Colonel during his military career.

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