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20 January 2015


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The guy he is quoting (Eryani) is accurate.
Widespread qat use became popular under former president Saleh's tenure. The basis of the economy, particular in the areas around Saleh's hometown, is qat. Huge huge business.



There are small numbers of 12er Shia in Sa'ada. There are small numbers of 12er Shia in Aden too, mostly a legacy from British times.
The influence of Iran in Sa'ada has become very strong and this can be seen in mimicry for a start. The Huthi security people dress just as the Iranians do. The Huthi close protection officers have the same MOs as Hezbullah and they are very well trained and very professional. That alone is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice in Yemen.

The 12er Shia that I have met in the South come from Saada backgrounds (Hashemi) i.e. related to the Prophet. A phenomenon as you know that is across Yemen and part of the culture of all sects. The Huthis have been emphasising the right of the Saada to rule and that the Saada have a special place in the society. This has crossed to Sunni families in Taiz, Ibb and the South who in the last few years have been suddenly rediscovering their blood lines back to the Prophet.

And some - like the guy I met - converted. And so did the rest of his family. I don't really believe its an ideological conversion as much as it is one to place him in the centre of the new polity, which in Yemen means first in the queue for handouts of money.

Saudi payment of Zeidi tribes has ended up with many of them - such as the family of Shaykh Abdallah al-Ahmar - converting to Sunnism. Now they are the heads of the Islah Party, technically a kind of Brotherhood party. Many of the Zeidi underclass (butchers, traders, akhdam etc) also converted while they were in Saudi and brought it back with them in 1990 when the Saudis kicked out 800,000 Yemenis.

The upshot is a society that has been flux for decades. Now the country is in flux. I believe the South will secede and it has Saudi backing to do so. The Saudis have gone as far to say if the Huthis attack Mareb then that is an attack on Saudi soil. Perhaps Mareb will join the South?

Iran is involved but in a low-key way. Its official statements gloating about Sanaa being the 4th Arab capital to go under the control of Tehran? The fact that the Iranian navy has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden (even opening fire on a Somali pirate ship off Mukalla) since 14th November? The many statements of Southerners who have been given media courses in Iran, military training courses, those who have taken cash, those who have taken political direction. This is all in the media.

What is not in the media is that Iran handles Yemen from Beirut, not from Sanaa. Plausible deniability I guess.


Martin J

Baloney! The use of Qat was pervasive and nearly universal when I first lived there 40 years ago. they all chewed Qat. The hunger for this drug squeezed out coffee. it is much easier to grow than coffee and the demand was so great that the quite indolent Yemeni farmers preferred to grow it. At that time in the early 70s Qat was sold for 20 dollars a bundle and chewed by both sexes in afternoon segregated parties in a room of the house reserved for that purpose. An hours chewing, sipping water and smoking the narghile produced a great buzz in which the affairs of the world could be discussed on an inspired basis. People sacrificed their childrens' welfare to buy Qat. It was a "junkie nation." The drug is a stimulant and its effect is cumulative over many sessions. It is a curse. As a result of the Qat chewing, the Scotch drinking that followed and the monumental hagover the next day, the work day ended by being 2 or 3 hours long. pl


Martin J

Have we met? "... the family of Shaykh Abdallah al-Ahmar - converting to Sunnism?" The paramount sheikh of the Hashid confederation? My. My. What you say of the pervasive presence of the Saadah, not just in Yemen but across the Islamic World is quite true. pl

Abu Sinan


I am not sure what you mean when you state that many Zaidi have converted to being Sunnis. My wife's family is from a well known family in Yemen, Bayt al Wazir. They are Zaidi and have been involved in Yemeni politics for decades and decades, back to 1948 when one of the family made a failed attempt at a coup against the current Imam, and before.

They are Sada and have members of their family that have been in Saudi since the middle part of last century. So I am confused when you say that they have converted to Sunnis, what you mean exactly? Sunni Islam and Zaidi Islam are not too far apart. Many 12ers dont even consider them Shi'a.

I do know that many Zaidis in Saudi will adopt certain ways that Sunnis do. It makes sense, they live in the same cities, go to the same schools and mosques. So yeah, they often pray with their hands up over their abdomen, ect. The differences in the Zaidi sect and Sunnis are mostly theological and thought driven, not any real functionary items.

Do not mistake conforming to Saudi ways to get by the massive discrimination against Shi'a to "converting". By the way, there is no separate process done when one decides to be Shi'a or Sunni. When these Zaidis, who on the outside might look like Sunnis, are with the friends and families at home, they are Zaidi and that is obvious in the ways they pray, ect.

As to Qat, like the Colonel has said, it has been there for a very long time and nothing in recent history impacted that greatly. You can even find it in the Yemeni community here in the US.

As for Shaykh Abd'allah al Ahmar, his father, Husayn Bin Nasser al Ahmar, was executed for his role in the failed al Waziri coup of 1948. If you read the Sacred National Charter you'll find that Husayn bin Nasser al Ahmar signed onto a movement that fused modern liberation politics with a revival of Zaidi Islam and Zaidi principles.

Sectarianism is a relatively new thing, with previous movements being more about ideology than sect. To this day there are Sunni supporters and fighters for the Houthi movement.

The Saudis have always tended to back multiple sides in the fighting there. They took refugees from the 1948 coup attempt, then later took the refugees from the revolution in the 1960s, thus basically taking refugees and funding both sides of the 1948 and 1960s conflict.

No matter which side we are talking about, they have links and ties with the Saudis at one level or another.

Babak Makkinejad

Charles 1:

"A junkie nation..." - are you paying attention?

Here is Freedonia in the Middle East...

All US and Canadian junkies can relocate there, one would hope...


Abu Sinan,

thank you for your stimulating comments.

Yemen is confusing and you will forgive me if Im failing to explain myself properly. I discern that the whole issue of religion and sect in Yemen is fluid. There are Zaydi tribes within Hashid that have become basically Sunni (because they are with the Sunni Islah Party) and there are Sunnis who convert to Shia (very few in number, almost negligible).

My reading is that for the most part Saudi influence and money means previously marginal tribes within the Hashid look for an angle to get patronage and go with Islah. The same with people in the South or indeed with the Huthis when it comes to turning their attentions to Iran. Its more complicated with the Huthis because Zaydis are - as you said - far from Twelver Shia in Iran. For the Huthis its more about a political patron that IS NOT Saudi Arabia. Usually that model in Yemen is about getting more patronage out of the Saudis, or rentierism. Make the Saudis concerned you are with Iran therefore they will pay you more money to come back to the Saudi fold.

Basically its a political conversion. But that still has social effects.

Traditional Zaydi society is hierarchical and riven with class discrimination. Saada at the top, mashayikh slightly further down, tribesmen after, then the trade classes (landless) then finally the akhdam, who are similar to the untouchables. Since the oil boom this has been shaken up. By Yemenis going to work in the Gulf and also by the Gulf coming to Yemen (madrases etc). This has introduced Salafi ideals into the society. Ideals of equality in the eyes of God. And that has great appeal to marginalised people at the bottom of the pile who have less stake in the old Zaydi hierarchy. The Huthi movement is in many ways a response to the crumbling of their old social order and their old assurances of domination.


No, I have not had the honour of meeting you, Col.

Interestingly the sons of Shaykh Abdallah all take up different symbolic roles.

Eldest son Sadeq has the tribal role, head of his tribe and of the Hashid. Taking up the traditional Zaydi role.

Hamid is wealthy businessman and senior leader/funder of the Islah Party. He takes up the role of the good Sunni for the Saudis.

It is all window dressing for their desire to remain in power as they're drinkers, thieves and fornicators, just like Ali Abdallah Saleh. Most in Hashid know that very well which is why the supposedly tight knit Hashid tribal alliance crumbled to pieces in 2014.

The sons are lesser versions of their father.


Martin J

Because of the NDF war south of Sanaa I spent a lot of time from Sanaa to Taiz to the border with the PDRY and all the mountains in between. There are still a lot of Zeidis in that area but more and more Sunnis the farther south one goes. I went to Hodeidah often to keep track of military equipment coming in through the port and north to Sada occasionally to see what vestigial government presence there was. I never got to the Wadi Najran until I was later DATT in SA. pl

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