Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Yemen : Zaydi Shias

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Yemen : Zaydi Shias, 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


About 40 per cent of the Yemeni population is Zaydi, mainly from Dhamar northwards.

Historical context

Zaydism is traced from Zayd b. Ali, a grandson of the Imam Ali, martyred outside Kufa in 740. Zaydism recognizes as imams those of the Prophet's house who strove to assert the authority of the imamate, if necessary through armed struggle.

Apart from a small state on the southern Caspian shore that was expunged by the Safavids, Yemen was the sole region of Zaydi success. A succession of imams established themselves from the late ninth century in the mountainous northern part of Yemen, acting as arbitrators between tribes and thereby acquiring both a religious following and secular ascendancy. The imamate itself was overthrown in 1962, and subsequently died out, although Zaydism still predominates in the mountains.

Zaydi relations with Shafa'i Sunnis long tended to be free of difficulty. From the 1980s there was a rising tide of Sunni reformist propaganda against Zaydism and religious 'laxity'. Reformists condemn Zaydis as 'rafidin' (religious renegades). It was widely feared that these reformists could prove a growing threat to Zaydis, Isma'ilis and the more tolerant tradition of Shafa'i Sunnism.

In 2004, dissident Zaydi cleric Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi launched an uprising against the Yemeni government in the north-western Sa'ada governate, seeking to re-impose Zaydi clerical rule in the north. Government forces killed al-Houthi the following month, but the rebellion has continued under the leadership of his son.

Current issues

Fighting in Sa'ada between al-Houthi militants and government forces intensified in late 2006 and early 2007 before Qatar brokered a peace agreement in June 2007. The agreement called for the al-Houthi faction to end the rebellion and the government to assist reconstruction efforts in Sa'ada. However, the peace process quickly collapsed, with each side blaming the other. In the fighting since 2004, hundreds of rebels, government soldiers and civilians have been killed, and thousands of Zaydi civilians have been displaced.

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