The Gloria Center, an Israeli research center, has issued a report titled “Varieties Of Islamism In Yemen: The Logic Of Integration Under Pressure” which contains a description of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, usually referred to as the Al-Islah party. According to the report:
….the al-Islah (Reform) party, generally described as the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This party was created in September 1990, bringing together Islamist figures, tribal leaders, and businessmen. From its foundation until late 2007, it was headed by Shaykh Abdallah al-Ahmar, chief of the most prominent tribal confederation (the Hashid, of which Ali Abdallah Salih’s tribe, Sanhan, itself is a member) and speaker of parliament. More than a year after Shaykh Abdallah al-Ahmar’s death on December 29, 2007, the tribal and political consequences are still unclear. The party loosely brings together individuals with different agendas and strategies and has proven its ability to adapt to the changing internal, and international, context. The party has taken part in the democratization process since its inception, competing in free elections and participating in the parliament. While debate over whether the democratic system holds religious legitimacy may exist inside the party, al-Islah overtly accepts the multiparty system and has never supported direct armed confrontation with the government. It collaborates with the regime and could even be considered an integral part of it. In 1994, during the secession war opposing Southern elites to the North, militias supported by al-Islah assisted the government in defeating the socialist-led secessionists. Today, al-Islah is well-implanted in numerous regions of the country (including in the former Marxist South, where anti-socialist reaction is strong and favors Islamist candidates and platforms). Nationally, it won an average of 18 percent of the vote during the 1993, 1997, and 2003 parliamentary elections (though the elections’ lack of transparency reduces the significance of this data).
The report goes on to describe the alliance of the Al-Islah party with the Yemeni socialists:
With the turn of the new millennium, a new strategy of alliance and collaboration with other opposition movements–particularly with its former enemy, the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which headed South Yemen–emerged among the party’s leadership. Although not necessarily popular among all activists, a common platform was composed, and Faysal bin Shamlan (a former oil minister) was designated as the main opposition candidate against Salih in the September 2006 presidential election. Shamlan won 22 percent of the votes. His relative success (considering the means monopolized by the president to ensure his reelection) has opened new horizons for the opposition and for the Islamists. The April 2009 parliamentary elections will be an important test for the party’s strategy of frontal opposition and alliance rather than of cooptation as in the 1990s, but the opposition has threatened to boycott the ballot due to its alleged lack of transparency.
The Al-Islah coalition was also discussed in a previous post.
The Gloria report also discussed Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, one of the most important leaders of Al-Islah and designated by the U.S. as a terrorist:
Aside from its deceased leader Abdallah al-Ahmar and his sons (including Hamid, a successful businessman), the most prominent figures of al-Islah include Yahya Lutfi al-Fusayl, Muhammad Qahtan, Muhammad al-Yadumi (who took over the leadership after the death of al-Ahmar), and Abd al-Majid al-Zindani. Al-Zindani is likely the most famous of all and is said to embody the radical component of al-Islah. This former comrade of Zubayri, heads the al-Iman religious university in San’a and spent many years in Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s, he organized for Yemeni fighters to be sent to Afghanistan and thereby gained stature. In the post-September 11 context, Zindani has frequently been described by the American administration as a close partner of bin Ladin. His historical role has protected him from direct government repression. He plays an ambiguous role, acting both as a mainstream popular figure (his criticism of American foreign policy is commonly accepted by Yemenis) and a marginal one, as he represents a bridge to a type of violent militancy that does not appeal to many.
A previous post discussed Sheikh al-Zindani’s ties to Al Qaeda as well as to the global Muslim Brotherhood.