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Did Saudi push Yemen’s Zaydi community into Iran’s hands? 

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It has been argued that the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam is closer to mainstream Sunni Islam than it is to the Twelver Shias who form the majority in Iran. This is particularly so in regards to jurisprudence and general practises. However some socio religious developments among Yemen’s Zaydi community appear to indicate a gradual shift towards Twelverism in recent years.

This has been attributed to Iran’s growing influence in the country, specifically with the Ansar Allah movement, popularly known as the Houthis. Such developments have the propensity to consolidate Houthi control of the north and capital by means of legitimacy partially obtained through the provision of much needed social services where the fragile, barely existent Yemeni government is unwilling or unable to.

The Houthi movement, after all, as with Lebanon’s Hezbollah (and Palestine’s Hamas) primarily began as a social movement before the emergence of an armed wing. One of the most indicative developments towards legitimacy was the appointment of a Houthi ambassador to Iran.

Zaydi Islam is an offshoot of the Shia sect emerging in the 8th century, named after Zayd ibn Ali, the great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Imam Zayd is believed to have had a following, because he chose to continue an armed struggle against the powerful Umayyad dynasty which ultimately failed, whereas the majority of Shia at the time instead opted to follow the quietest approach of Zayd’s elder brother, Imam Muhammad Al Baqir – the fifth Imam for the mainstream Twelver Shias.

READ: Yemen’s Houthis deny affiliation with Iran

An important and distinguishing feature for the Zaydi imamate is that the leader must assert his claim of leadership by khuruj (rebellion or uprising) especially against an unjust or oppressive ruler.

The Zaydis form approximately 30-40 per cent of the overall population and mainly concentrated in the north of the country. There are also Zaydis in a few towns bordering northern Yemen in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

There are stern accusations in both the West and neighbouring Saudi Arabia that the Houthis are another “Iranian proxy”, likening them to Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, seeking to destabilise the Middle East and to the benefit of Iranian regional hegemony. Exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi vowed in 2016 that he will never allow a “Persian” state to exist in........

© Middle East Monitor