How Sunni-Shia sectarianism is poisoning Yemen

Farea al-Muslimi writes: In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Hamoud al-Mikhlafi, leader of a Taiz-based group fighting against Houthi militias and forces loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, described his opponents as “Persians” in reference to their Shia religious affiliation and support from Iran. In fact, both Saleh and the leaders of the Houthi militia belong to the Zaydi school of Islam, an indigenous Yemeni branch of Shia Islam that is distinct from the Twelver Shiism practiced in Iran. But Mikhlafi’s assertion fits with a growing sectarian polarization in Yemen that relies on language borrowed from the Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Iran, rather than drawing on Yemeni religious culture.

This is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Even Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has on occasion described the Houthis, who expelled him from Yemen in March 2015, as “Twelver Shia.” “And two years prior, the anti-Houthi tribal leader Hussein al-Ahmar called himself “the powerful lion of the Sunnis,” thus portraying himself as a defender of Yemen’s Sunni majorityagainst the other sect. [Continue reading…]

Saeed Al-Batati writes: Three years after they were kicked out of several cities in south Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has come back and overrun two cities in the province of Abyan, local government officials and residents told Middle East Eye. But people who lived through al-Qaeda’s reign of Abyan in 2011 now talk about new “tolerant and friendly” militants.

In Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said that early this month al-Qaeda militants quietly stormed military camps and police stations in the city without even drawing the attention of students in schools or public servants in their offices.

“Zinjibar is quiet. People are busy with their daily life,” the government officials said.

Many provinces in southern Yemen have been in a state of anarchy since the Saudi-backed forces supporting President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and local tribesmen drove out rebel Houthis. Then separatists and Islamists aligned with the Saudi-backed forces failed to fill the vacuum left by Yemeni soldiers who headed north to fight the Houthis. So al-Qaeda came in and took the place of the former government-run security agencies. [Continue reading…]

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