June 7, 2008


In Yemen, a Mostly Concealed Sectarian Fight Endures: Unrest Drawing Notice Of Saudi Arabia, Iran (Ellen Knickmeyer, 6/07/08, Washington Post)

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.

Giving the conflict a sectarian cast, his forces have been joined by Sunni tribesmen and extremists in battling the Hashemite rebels, whom the government says are supported by Iran. The rebels say they want only their share of development, resources and power.

"I think there is kind of a settling of accounts here against Iran," Hashed said.

This week, 22 clerics in Saudi Arabia published a statement equating the Hashemite rebels with the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon. "If they have a country, they humiliate and exert control in their rule over Sunnis," the clerics said, citing Iran and Iraq. "They sow strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims and destabilize security in Muslim countries . . . such as Yemen."

Last year, Yemen's defense minister published what was widely interpreted as a fatwa, or binding religious decree, sanctioning Sunnis to use force against the northern Shiite rebels. The largely impoverished nation of 23 million is majority Sunni.

"At first, yes, maybe the people looked to us as their natural leaders," said al-Mourtada al-Muhatwari, a Hashemite scholar in the capital who demonstrated how followers used to kneel before his father. "Now, we are trying only to survive."

It remains unclear how many have died in fighting since Shiite rebels rose up in the jagged massifs of northern Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia, in 2004.

In 2005, believing it had ended the rebellion, Yemen's government announced that fighting had killed 2,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians. Despite several eruptions of violence since then, the government has released no new casualty totals.

The government has made it difficult for independent observers to make their own assessment of the strife or aid its victims. Authorities have cut off most cellphone networks that reach the north. Government checkpoints and rebel ambushes have blocked the road to the north for most of the past month. Aid shipments to the estimated 100,000 people displaced -- at least one in every seven people in the thinly populated mountains -- have been interrupted since fighting resumed in early May.

The government has denied foreign journalists access to the north since the war began and last month also barred local journalists. Authorities called in Yemeni correspondents for foreign news organizations, telling them there was no need for the world to know of Yemen's problems in the northern city of Saada, local journalists said.

Prosecutors brought sedition charges, with execution as possible punishment, against an editor who had published photographs of devastated northern villages.

"To even speak of going to Saada is to get a death sentence," said the editor, Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani. He awaits sentencing on Monday.

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."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 7, 2008 8:42 AM

"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."

Of course you are - if the blame cannot be given to a Jew or an American then nothing happened, you silly-billy.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 7, 2008 9:56 AM

You're right, but aren't Americans and Jews/Israelis actually one and the same?

Posted by: erp at June 8, 2008 9:55 AM

No, they're secular statists.

Posted by: oj at June 8, 2008 1:04 PM