The history of the Zaid Revival in Sa'ada:
A Zaidi revival was sparked in Sa’ada during the 1990’s in response to an aggressive campaign by the Wahhabis to stamp out Zaidism. In 1995, a journalist travelled to Sa’da and wrote about the revival, and the scholars who inspired it. He also named some of their important writings, some of which are being translated to English at present.
The Zaidi revival continues today, and many Zaidis have sacrificed their lives in order to preserve the Zaidi heritage from extinction, since Haykel’s article was written. Many civilians, including women and children, have been killed or maimed, due to the Wahhabi policy that all non-Wahhabis are unbelievers so it’s halal to murder them, even women and children. (Or will the Wahhabi supporters tell us that their pilots don’t know the difference between a chicken farm or home and a military target?) The Yemeni government has been encouraging the Wahhabi onslaught for political reasons, (i.e. to weaken opposition to their corrupt leadership), and the day will surely come when they will regret that decision.
The Wahhabi campaign against Zaidism is nothing new. Wahhabis have overrun Yemen twice before the 1990’s. On one of these occasions they were driven out by the Ottomans, and on another occasion by the Zaidis themselves.
The Al Houthi leadership:
When Zaidis outside Yemen start looking around for a living Zaidi Imam, the most obvious choice would seem to be Abdul Malik al Houthi, the (self proclaimed?) leader of the recent rebellion against the corrupt Yemeni regime of Abdullah Saleh.
Here are some reasons for and against supporting, or allying ourselves with al Houthi:
1. Al Houthi fits the criteria for a Zaidi Imam because he has risen up against the corrupt leader of his region. His father and brother did the same and were killed (martyred?) by the Yemeni Regime for that reason. There is no other Zaidi leader openly challenging the corrupt Yemeni government.
2. Al Houthi’s father wrote a book confirming the Zaidi theology as we know it, and criticizing the 12 Imamer Shi-ite “Hidden Imam” which he described as a “fantasy.” Therefore rumours that the Al Houthis are 12 Imamers hiding behind a Zaidi mask seem to be fabricated. The mere fact that al Houthi travelled to Iran does not make him a 12 Imamer, even if he was drumming up support for his cause.
3. The Al Houthi movement is not aggressive or expansionist. It began as a peaceful protest against the pro- U.S./Israel policies of the Yemeni regime and the enforced spread of Wahhabism in Zaidi regions. An official sanction was introduced to replace Zaidi teachers in Sadah with those who understood the so-called ‘correct’ form of Sunni Islam, i.e. Wahhabism…. And then:
“On June 18, 2004, the police arrested and temporarily detained 640 Huthi demonstrators in front of the capital’s Great Mosque. On June 20, 2004, the governor of Sada traveled to Marran District but tribesmen, possibly affiliated to Husain al-Huthi, denied him access. The same day security forces in some 18 military vehicles attempted to arrest al-Huthi, escalating the fighting into full-blown war” (Professor Megalommatis, Buzzle.com)
4. Zaidis living in Yemen are unable to voice their support for the Al Houthi leadership bid, as they will be jailed or even killed if they do. There is no such restriction on Zaidis living outside Yemen.
1. Most of Yemen’s Zaidis do not appear to support the al Houthis. However, it is difficult to know whether this is because of the dangers of doing so, or because they see flaws in the AlHouthi leadership bid, or both.
2. In recent history (1940’s to 1962), the performance of the Sayyid monarchical rulers was below expectations. It was quite autocratic. Older Yemenis would still remember the days of the Zaidi Royals and they do not seem to remember it fondly. Perhaps they doubt that the al Houthis will do a better job than the previous ruling family.
3. On the other hand, if there is to be a re-establishment of the Zaidi Imamate in Yemen, perhaps Yemen’s Zaidis would prefer the return of the former Royal Family (the Hamidaddins) who were ousted by the revolution in 1962, rather than the introduction of a lesser known family with no track record at all, and that might explain the unenthusiastic response.
4. It is conceivable that Yemen’s Zaidis prefer to work within a democratic/secular framework rather than returning to the rule of the Sayyids, which was accompanied by a slightly arrogant Sayyidi elite/ aristocracy. For a history of the Sayyids’ role in Yemeni society pre 1962 click on the following link: http://ambassadors.net/archives/issue18/features3.htm
and for an Iranian scholar’s arguments in favor of secular democracy rather than theocracy for shi-ite societies, see this link:
5. Since unification of North and South Yemen in the 1990’s, the majority of Yemenis are not Zaidi, therefore most Yemenis would deem it inappropriate to impose a Zaidi Imamate on the entire population of Yemen. Given this context, perhaps the Zaidi Imam’s role should be no more than a Mufti advising on religious matters, within a parliamentary democratic system.