Houthis’ “one-fifth” tax sparks accusations of racial, tribal discrimination

A new legislation entitles the Houthis and their cohorts to a percentage of Yemen’s wealth.
Tuesday 09/06/2020
Houthi tribesmen attend a tribal gathering in Sana’a, Yemen. (AP)
Houthi tribesmen attend a tribal gathering in Sana’a, Yemen. (AP)

ADEN–A new executive order by the Houthi militias, amending the zakat (Islamic income tax) law in Yemen by adding what has become known in Yemen as the “Khums” (one-fifth) tax on all resources, has sparked a wave of anger among Yemeni activists who considered the measure as affirming the Houthis’ intent and actions towards laying the foundations of an apartheid system in Yemen by dividing society into classes, abolishing the national identity, and legislating to give control of the country’s wealth and state resources to the group and its cronies.

According to a document obtained by The Arab Weekly, the Houthis deliberately postponed the announcement of a decision signed by Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of the so-called Supreme Political Council, on the 29th of last April, which included issuing a new executive regulation amending the 1999 Yemeni Zakat Law by adding new articles requiring Yemenis to pay the fifth, or 20%, of their resources and earmarking the proceeds to benefit the Bani Hashem clan (to which Houthis say they belong), as stated in the regulations.

Yemeni activists and politicians considered the Houthis’ move as meant to perpetuate their racist and “tribalistic” approach to Yemeni society ever since they seized power in 2014. They, the Houthis, started by cancelling part of the previous government’s subsidies on oil derivatives, then continued with a systematic policy of depriving citizens of any aid and of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of their group under religious banners.

During the past five years, the Houthis gave up on the plan of using the Yemeni Parliament to enact the new tax law due to the angry reactions it caused. So they resorted to amending the Zakat Law enacted during the era of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemeni observers point out that the Houthis’ haste to impose their extremist vision of how to administer the affairs of the state and to enact laws based on their own ideological background is part of their strategy of taking advantage of the chaos reigning in the Yemeni scene and of the conflict inside their opponents’ camp, in addition to being one step ahead of any international endeavours to impose a political settlement in Yemen by always following a policy of fait accompli on the ground.

Najib Ghallab, Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information, described the Houthi move as an extension of a series of measures focusing on the policy of impoverishing the people and state institutions and of concentrating wealth in the hands of the one they call “The Imam” in their religious and political dogma, and that way, they ensure for themselves full control of the state wealth and placing it at the disposal of their closed ideological system.

Ghallab told The Arab Weekly that the confiscated money goes to accounts held by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, and that this colossal fortune of money and property is in the tens of trillions. In fact, one of the first measures called for by the closed Houthi dogma is to confiscate the wealth accumulated by the Yemeni elite over the fifty years of the Republican era.

The Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information pointed out that the so-called “Zakat al-Khums”, or the one-fifth tax, was only one of the ways through which the Houthis work to accumulate wealth and turn it into an instrument in the hands of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi to spend on his followers from his ethnic affiliation, while impoverishing the rest of the components of the Yemeni people.

To create the illusion that they are not subservient to Iran, the Houthis have always denied that they do not belong to the Twelver Shia ideology, but Ghallab pointed out that the concept of the one-fifth zakat tax is one of the foundations of Twelver Shia sect.

The new Houthi law imposing this type of tax is part and parcel of the plan to concentrate religious and political power exclusively in the hands of the Houthi circle. Ghallab said that, for all practical purposes, the measure legitimises a barely veiled system of political and social enslavement in Yemen and establishes a class and ethnic-based discriminatory system by distinguishing between the “Hashemites” in Yemen and the rest of the Yemeni citizens.

Mohamed Azzan, a Yemeni Islamic scholar and founder of the “Believing Youth” group, the first formation of the Houthi group in Saada, commented on the Houthi move by tweeting: “If what is rumoured about the Houthi legislation that gives the Hashemites a fifth of the country’s wealth under the claim that it is their legitimate right, then that is a calamity for the Hashemites before being a disaster for the country, because Yemenis will look at it as looting their wealth motivated by racism, and this tyranny only deepens feelings of oppression, giving rise to appalling revenge, albeit after a while.”

Yemeni lawyer Mohamed Ali Allaw said that the Houthis had failed many times before to pass this measure in the Yemeni Parliament, a measure he described as catastrophic. This prompted them to pursue other means to give it a legal cover. In any case, their persistence simply reveals their extremist sectarian and ideological biases.

Allaw pointed out in a statement to The Arab Weekly that this measure falls squarely under racial discrimination, which is inconsistent with the essence of the law. The proposed measure grants one category of the Yemeni people, the Bani Hashem, explicitly named by the text, undue financial advantages to the exclusion of the rest of the Yemeni society.

Observers expect the step taken by the Houthis to deepen the division in Yemeni society, and to exacerbate the conflict situation, which took sectarian and ethnic dimensions in recent years, with the Houthi group adopting an approach based on class, ethnic and sectarian discrimination, based on religious dogmas.

In this context, Yemeni researcher Rammah al-Jabri called the Houthi militia’s decision plain racist and said it would strengthen class distinction in Yemen and practically hands out a share of Yemen’s public wealth to those who claim affiliation to the Hashemite families in Yemen, in addition to being a perfect illustration of how to use religion and prophetic sayings to rob citizens.

Al-Jabri also said that this decision confirms the ingrained racism of the Houthi militia, despite frequent denials by them of any racial discrimination in their ranks. They do however monopolise state positions and wealth and exclusively hand out important jobs and appointment to people claiming to be of Hashemite families.

“Such racist decisions that exploit religion distort the Islamic faith, which is the religion of justice and equality, and not a class religion,” added al-Jabri. “It is also unfortunate that many people still consider this procedure part of the faith in light of the broad silence observed by many scholars in Yemen, and the most dangerous of all is that these Houthi measures are consistent with theses and fatwas that were marketed in 2013 before the Houthi coup by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, head of the so-called Association of Yemeni Scholars”.