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Zaydī revival in a hostile republic: Competing identities, loyalties and visions of state in Republican Yemen 1

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Abstract The phenomena of identity formation, religious interpretation and political state-building all intersect in post-imamate Yemen and the positions of Zaydīs therein. This paper investigates the identification and loyalty tensions facing Yemen’s Zaydī community, examining whether or not a recent revival in Zaydī identity, thought and practice has diminished Zaydīs’ loyalties to the Republic of Yemen, which emerged from a state-building project that aimed to reduce maḏhab allegiances and neutralize the influence of Zaydī religious elites. In Yemen today, practicing Zaydīs (particularly those from historically prominent sayyid families) are forced to navigate a “good Zaydī-bad Zaydī” typology that treats Zaydī subjectivities and activism as sectarian at best, subversive at worst. This paper explores the efforts of a group of Zaydī scholar-activists to broaden Zaydīs’ political, social and theological space to define their composite identifications and loyalties. In the context of the divisive Ḥūṯī conflict, as well as the nationwide pro-democracy protests against the regime of ʿAlī ʿAbd Allāh Ṣāliḥ, these Zaydī leaders are disentangling the regime and certain anti-Zaydī elements of dominant Republican ideology from the state. They assert their right to oppose the former, using both modern discourses and classical Zaydī concepts, within the confines of the latter.

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