Last time it happened, the Saudis sided with Zaidi Imam Muhammad al-Badr.
It was the year 1962, when revolutionaries inspired by ideas of Arab nationalism deposed the last king of Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen, Muhammad al-Badr, and put an end to the rule of Zaidi Imams who had been kings of Yemen for the most part of past one thousand years.
Inspired by socialist ideals, Arab nationalism had emerged as a potent ideology around the Arab world and Yemen was no exception. Jamal Abdel Nasser, the then socialist Egyptian president, backed the republicans in Yemen through military support while Saudis, along with Britain, supported the deposed Zaidi king who spearheaded insurgency against the new government.
Not many people outside Yemen know about the Zaidi sect of Islam that exists in the southern part of Arabian Peninsula.
The Zaidiyyah, who are also known as ‘Fivers’, are named after Zaid ibn Ali, the grandson of Hussain ibn Ali. Zaidis follow the jurisprudence that is more similar to Hanafi school as compared to the ‘Twelver’ Shia school of jurisprudence.
Houthis, mostly Zaidis, started as a theological movement in 1992 and spearheaded insurgency in 2004 against the then president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who himself belongs to the Zaidi sect. The Houthis, along with students and Joint Meeting Parties, participated in 2011 Yemeni revolution that followed the Tunisian revolution.
In 1962, Zaidi Shias were friends while nationalists, socialists, and communists were pronounced as foes by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2015, they have been declared as foes and an imminent danger to Saudi sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It is most convenient to paint the whole conflict with broad brushstrokes of Shia/Sunni and Arab/Ajam binaries while ignoring the role of imperial baggage, complex socio-political realities, and all-powerful ruling Arab dynasties.
Also see: Bad Saudi vibes
These simplistic binaries serve as a smokescreen to conceal the ulterior motives of ruling dynasties and autocratic regimes that have come down hard on voices of dissent in the wake of Arab Spring.
This is not a war waged by Sunnis against Shias nor is it the battle between Ajam and Arab – it is simply an act of dynastic self-preservation.
Not unlike the rest of the world, the Muslim world is not a monolith. Muslim societies are diverse on many different levels, with myriad divisions on national, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian lines. The majority of Muslims living in this world are neither Arab nor Persian. And if history has taught us anything, it is that identities cannot be stripped forcefully. It’s a bloody path to tread.
Pakistan is a country with a diverse population. People speak so many different languages, adhere to many different religious schools of thought, and come from different ethnic backgrounds. The state’s miscalculated adventures inside and outside the country have only exacerbated the sense of alienation in many of the communities here.
The state’s obsession with colouring the populace with the same ideological colour has gone terribly wrong.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are the only two Muslim majority states whose raison d’être is interlinked with particular Muslim sects. Former adheres to Wahabism, while latter adheres to Twelver Shi’ism.
Owing to the Pakistani state’s obsession with doing away with Indian identity and ideological tilting towards Arabs, Saudi Arabia wields a way more consequential influence over Pakistan.
According to one WikiLeaks cable, Saudi ambassador to the US once proudly asserted that, “we in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”.
After getting rid of British imperialism, there is a new kind of socio-cultural imperialism that has made inroads into Pakistani society: Arab imperialism
From the illegal funding of madrassahs and the TV evangelists to pop stars, to cricketers, to politicians, to language; the imprints are unmistakable. With each shrine blown up, and every imambargah torched; there’s a bit of indigenous Pakistan that dies silently.
Instead of becoming a part of another Saudi-led war, it is probably the time to ask all the right questions.
It is probably the time to ponder why all the Muslim cities that have diverse populations are burning.
It is probably time to reflect on why Beirut is in flames, and Cairo is bleeding, and Kabul is ravaged, and Aleppo is sacked, and Peshawar is crying, and Baghdad is bruised, and Sana’a is trembling. Why not Tehran, Riyadh, and Doha?
Instead of bringing another war home for the sake of a ruling dynasty, it is probably time to clean the blood and tears brought about by ‘strategic depth’.