Ikhwan Al-Muslimoon in Yemen [Archives:2001/06/Reportage]

February 5 2001

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Yemen Times
The theoretical roots of Islamic movements in Yemen relate to the Islah (Reform) movement which emerged as a counter to creed-bias in the past centuries. In the 20th century the movement adopted more organized agendas in some part of the country in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, during the reign of Yahia, one of the Imamite rulers of Yemen before the revolution, opposition movements of a religious dimension came to being against the Imamite. The background of these movement depended on two ideologies: the call to rebel against the tyrant ruler and the call to adopt the reform principles of the Arab Renaissance Movement based on the teachings of Mohammed Abdu, Al-Aphghani and Al-Kawakiby, some of the great Islamic scholars of the 20th century.
In 1939, Mohammed Moahmoud Al-Zobeiry, who received his studies in Egypt, established the Preaching for Good and Condemning Evil society. Members of the society were already those of Al-Hikmah magazine of Ikhwani thought. The society did not last long for after a year its founder was sent to prison. The societys program and principles showed how much the founder was connected with Al-Banna, founder of the Ikhwan movement in Egypt.
In this context, many eyebrows might arise about the relations between the opposition movement and the Ikhwan movement in Egypt. There is some proof that the Yemeni opposition benefited form the Egyptian movement of Ikhwan, especially with Al-Fadhl Al-Wirtalani, an Algerian national, who visited Yemen twice. The first visit was to mediate with the Imamite to free figures connected with the Ikhwan movement and to persuade the British of the Revolutionary Movements right to defend their people. In the second visit, in1947, Al-Wirtalani was able to unite the opposition around one constitution which was called the Holy Charter , and to found the bases of an Islamic Rule to replace the current rule of Yahia and his sons. Upon arrival in Sanaa, Al-Wirtalani made contact with the then politically and socially powerful Al-Wazir family to push them to rebel against the Imamite. Relations of Al-Wazir with the revolutionaries resulted in the break-out of the 1948 revolutionary.
The Al-Wirtalanis relations with the Yemeni revolutionaries did not lead to the establishment of a political organization for the Ikhwan in Yemen. In 1965 Al-Zubeiry established the Allah Party in the district of Barat but he was murdered in the same year.

Ikhwan in the South
The Islamic Reform Clubs which spread in Crater, Attowahi and Al-Sheikh Othman in Aden, and those headed and directed by Ahmad Saeed Al-Asnag were the spark of a more organized Islamic movement in the southern part of the country. Studies indicate that the work of such organizations was more obvious following the visit of the Tunisian Islamic Leader, Abdulaziz Al-Thaalibi in 1924. But following World War II, the British imposed house arrest on Al-Asnag for being affiliated with the Germans against the English. This caused a kind of setback to most of the clubs.
All in all, the 1940s was characterized by a spread of Islamic reform principles in the northern and southern parts of Yemen. The first semi-political organization was set up in 1949 in Aden bearing the name of the Islamic Society. This included a number of Islamic scholars and intellectuals and was chaired by Sheikh Mohammed Ben Abdullah, a Pakistani Muslim lawyer. Activities of this society were more of a cultural, educational and missionary nature and it failed to establish itself as an organized Islamic movement like the one in Egypt. Soon some of its members, like Mohammed Ali Al-Jafri and Assafi moved to another organization called Sons of the South League, which emerged as the strongest political party in 1951.
Some scholars mention that the Egyptian teachers belonging to the Ikhwan movement in Egypt in the south during the 1940s were in contact with many Yemeni students, specially those studying in Egypt. However, following independence and power coming to the hands of the National Front and the Socialist Party, activities of Ikhwan were cracked down upon and the movement was abolished.
As mentioned above, the Islamic movement represented by the Ikhwan existed in Yemen before the revolution. Despite its limited activities and lack of a comprehensive structure, it appeared from time to time to highlight a lot of social and political issues. Their activities were more obvious as an counter movement to the ruling systems in both the north and south of Yemen.
In 1979, the Islamic Front was formed and among its main elements were the Ikhwan. Besides, there were tribesmen and military men joining hands against the National Front composed of a number of left-wingers and nationalists.
The same year marked the beginning of a kind of alliance between the state and the Ikhwan. The State exploited the Islamic movement to get rid of its political enemies and to face the socialist winds blowing from the south.
The Ikhwan also seemed to benefit from their good relations with the rulers and worked on consolidating an educational base for them and their followers by establishing a number of institutes and educational centers totally managed by them, although licensed by the Ministry of Education and enjoying a share of the general budget.
It is important to note here that within this peaceful period between the two parties other Islamic movements, such as those of Sheikh Moqbel Al-Wadei and Attableegh movement were prospering as well.
Coming back to Al-Ikhwan which was active in political and social life through participation in the cooperative societies which emerged in the 1980s in the north, they took part in the formation of the National Charter which was later on endorsed by the National Dialogue Committee, formed by a republican decision in 1980.

Islah & Power
After declarations of unity and adoption of pluralism, several meetings of Ikhwan leaders and other personalities who showed interest in the Ikhwan movement were held on different occasions. On September 13, 1990, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) was officially declared. Among its members were important religious scholars and intellectuals. In its first political article, the party emphasized itself as a public, political organization working for the reform of all walks of life according to the Islamic teachings. The article adds that the party adopted all legal means to achieve its objectives, describing itself as an extension of the Reform movement. The article also put a great emphasis on preserving the Yemeni Islamic identity.

Relations with the state
The Islah has been able to strengthen and deepen its relations with the PGC in order to face other parties of the socialist ideologies. Apart from this, it played an important role in political life, building a strong ground for itself in the political domain. This enabled it to be No. 2 in the first parliamentary elections on April 27 1993 by scoring 62 seats out of 301.
Through this, a good number of important and outstanding Islamic leaders entered parliament, and the most important Islamic leader, Abdulmajeed Al-Zindani, was placed in the Presidency Council. Furthermore, the party got 6 Ministries along with presidency of the parliament.
Political analysts and observers see that the Islah party took advantage of the alliance and the disagreements between the PGC and the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) which led to the Summer War of 1994. Being the only strategic ally with the ruling PGC, it has been able to spread its thought over the republic.
During this short period the party established about 600 institutes and educational centers controlled by Ikhwan leaders. In addition, they secured a large number of jobs in the ministries they won, established many charitable societies and academic universities such as Al-Eyman, founded and managed by Sheikh Al-Zindani.
Such good relations between the PGC and Islah did not prosper and it was after the 1997 elections that relations started to deteriorate.

Ikhwan wings in Yemen
The Ikhwan Moslimoon movement is the strongest Islamic competitor for power. In Yemen, the movement benefited from the shortcomings of similar movements in the Arab countries. So, it tended to establish a strong base at all social levels. The social relations, traditions and economic and political circumstances of the Yemeni society determine wings of the Ikhwan:

Tribal Wing
The Ikhwan strove to attract tribal leaders to their camp. Today, tribes can be considered the military wing of the Ikhwan if we take into consideration the amount of weapons tribes possess.
The most important tribal leader is Sheikh Abdullah Ben Hssein Al-Ahmar, leader of Hashed.

Merchants and Businessmen
These form the main financial support to their charitable and missionary activities.

This wing is led by Islamic scholars (Olamaa) who are the reference of the other wings. Most activities of the party are controlled and managed by this wing. It concentrates on students and young generation.

Relation crisis with the PGC after 1997 elections
The Islah party ran for elections in 1997 as the only competitor with the PGC after the YSP announced its boycott of the elections. The Islah was dreaming of more seats than it won in 1993. But its calculations were out. It won only 53 while 223 went to the PGC.
In the 1997 elections, many Islamic scholars were dropped. The tribal wing of Islah was more lucky. This made the Islah party reconsider its calculations and confrontations with the PGC started to come to the surface. Politicians think that the crisis was expected between the only two allies. Many issues such as unifying education, etc. showed that they lacked a sense of harmony.
Observers predict that the gap between the past allies is to widen further. The Ikhwan are aware of this, and despite the attempts to block many of their missionary centers, such as Al-Eyman University, they seem to be moving forward towards a strong religious ground.
In conclusion , one question remains unanswered; What is the future of the relations between Ikhwan and the state, especially after the former identified itself with the opposition, and will it face the same fate that the Ikhwan of Egypt faced. Lets see what is in store for them.

– The Simplified Encyclopedia of Religions, 1995.
– Islamists and Democracy in Yemen by Abdullah Al-Sabry, 2000.
– Al-Ikhwan Al-Moslimoon and the Extremist Movement by Abdulkareem Qasem, 1998.
– Parties and Political Organizations in Yemen by Ilham Mane
– Al-Shura Newspaper, issues No. 334-335
– Assahowa Newspaper issue No 748
– A letter to the Yemeni Socialist Party by Aby Abdulrahman Al-Yaphe