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The Houthi Revolt: The Revival of Traditional Zaydism in Republican Yemen (1962-2015)
This paper will focus on the strategies employed by traditional Zaydī communities in northern Yemen during the Republican period (1962-2015). It builds on Bernard Haykel’s foundational work on Muhammad al-Shawkānī (d. 1250/1834) which documented the political and religious shifts within Zaydism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically, he tracked the marginalization and vilification of traditional Zaydī theological doctrines and legal principles in the period preceding the establishment of the Yemeni Republic (1962). This paper expands the scope and temporal range of Haykel’s argument, drawing on (a) primary sources acquired in the course of fieldwork in Northern Yemen and (b) important recent studies from Gabriele vom Bruck, Ayman Hamidi, and James King (see list below). It offers a theologically nuanced analysis of the myriad factors that have shaped contemporary Zaydī identity. The paper begins with an explanation of the theological views distinctive to Zaydī Shī‘ism. It then discusses the strategies employed by some sectors of the traditional Zaydī elite to accommodate the Republican regime in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This is followed by an examination of the transnational factors that contributed to the strong rejection of such apologetic approaches beginning in the 1990s. The paper concludes by arguing that the Houthis represent a newly resurgent and confident Zaydī community with two goals: (a) to refocus the political activism at the core of Zaydi theology into Republican political structures and (b) to strongly affirm seminal Zaydī theological principles. This agenda resists the state’s demonization of traditional Zaydism but also falls short of advocating the reestablishment the Imāmate. In terms of primary sources, the paper draws on a series of press releases issued by the Houthis (i.e., ‘Abd al-Malik al-Houthi) through their organization (The Believing Youth) including – most importantly – their Intellectual and Cultural Document of February 2012 which spells out their theological views in great detail. The most important secondary sources include: Bernard Haykel, Revival and Reform in Islam, (Cambridge 2003). Gabriele vom Bruck, Islam, Memory and Morality in Yemen, (Palgrave 2005). Gabriele vom Bruck, “Regimes of Piety Revisited,” Die Welts des Islams 50 (2010): 185-223. Ayman Hamidi, “Inscriptions of Violence in Northern Yemen,” Middle East Studies, 40 (2009): 165-87. James King, “Zaydi Revival in a Hostile Republic,” Arabica 59 (2012): 404-45.
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Sub Area
19th-21st Centuries