Varieties of Islamism in Yemen: The Logic of Integration under Pressure1

By Bonnefoy, Laurent | Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online), March 2009 | Go to article overview

Varieties of Islamism in Yemen: The Logic of Integration under Pressure1


Bonnefoy, Laurent, Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)


In the spring of 2005 in a remote corner of former South Yemen, the driver of an old Toyota Land Cruiser displayed two seemingly opposite pictures on his windshield. The first showed Ali Abdallah Salih, the president of Yemen since July 1978 and a new ally of the United States in the "War on Terror," while the second depicted Usama bin Ladin, the world-famous embodiment of transnational terrorism. This reveals much about Yemeni society and its political system; nevertheless it can be framed and interpreted in different ways.

First, the relative tolerance of local authorities (who were necessarily aware of the truck driving through the villages) toward such a display of double allegiance can be seen as yet another symbol of the infiltration of the government by violent Islamist groups and of tolerance toward so-called "jihadi" movements.

In Yemen, these groups have been given much attention since the investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 by a cell linked to al-Qa'ida in Aden. In this framework, Yemeni authorities are frequently accused of paying only minimum lip-service to the American anti-terrorist agenda, while many inside the government directly support violence or turn a blind eye toward those who grant active support to militants.2

The Land Cruiser anecdote (while not necessarily common) could consequently be understood as an illustration of the ambivalent relationship between the state and the Islamists. It may also symbolize a manifestation of state and government plurality. The integration of various Islamist groups into the state apparatus should actually be considered a stabilizing factor. It is a means of minimizing violence through social and political integration rather than encouraging it through stigmatization and repression.

Since the beginnings of Islam, religion has been closely associated with political power in the Yemeni highlands and coastal areas. After having ruled for over a millennium, it was only in 1962 that the fall of the Zaydi imam's monarchy gave way to a more direct separation between politics and religion in the country. This occurred through the establishment of the republican regime, once inspired by Gamal Abdel Nasser's model in Egypt. The modernization of the state and society in North Yemen and in Marxist South Yemen (a former British colony that became independent in 1967 and remained the only socialist Arab state until its fall in 1990) did not really undermine the influence of the religious political actors. The same can be said of the May 1990 unification of North and South Yemen.

Historically, Yemeni society has been divided along two main religious identities. Zaydis are constituents of a Shi'a sect often described as moderate in its jurisprudence, distinct from the Twelver Shi'as found in Iran, and close to Sunnism in many aspects.3 Shafi'is are Sunni. Yet throughout the twentieth century, the divide eroded considerably, and consequently it does not appear to be as important as in the past, when Zaydi imams ruled North Yemen. No accurate and reliable statistics exist, but Shafi'is are usually considered to be the significant majority among a population of 24 million in Yemen, while Zaydis represent around 35 percent of the population, with their bastions in the North.

Owing to recent changes-particularly internal and external migrations, individualization and marketization of religious identities, as well as the improvement of education levels-most Yemenis now consider the divide as merely symbolic. Recent difficulties due to a brutal conflict in the North of the country opposing the army and an armed Zaydi revivalist group called the Believing Youth do not seem to have had a significant effect on the structure of the convergence of religious identities. Indeed, despite episodes of violent stigmatization orchestrated by certain radical groups, the vast majority of the population is at times indirectly (and most of the time passively) involved in the convergence. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Varieties of Islamism in Yemen: The Logic of Integration under Pressure1
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.