Yemen’s Houthis have been castigated by the country’s internationally recognized government and ordinary citizens for changing an Islamic tax law so that some revenue goes to families who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad — including the rebels themselves.
The amendment applies to a 20% duty on utilizing natural resources, such as the oil, gas and fishing industries. Money generated by the so-called Zakat tax will now go not only to the poor and to fund public services, but also to families considered Hashemites, or ancestors of the Prophet. The shift was approved by the Houthi political council in April, but wasn’t widely known until now.
The government ousted from power by the Iran-aligned rebels from 2014, and which now exists mainly in exile in Saudi Arabia, accused the rebels of dividing Yemenis into “privileged and underprivileged” classes. It called on international organizations to criminalize the bylaw and compared it to the system of racial apartheid in South Africa.
Yemeni social media users also criticized the Houthi move, saying the rebels were promoting privilege based on bloodline at a time of protests against racism around the world. Houthi supporters defended the amendment of a 1999 law.
The Houthis, who say they have traditionally been marginalized, have been battling a Saudi-led coalition trying to restore the government for nearly five years; they currently rule the capital of Sana’a and other northern provinces. The conflict has triggered an economic collapse that’s left most of the population dependent on aid and is now being compounded by a worsening outbreak of the coronavirus.
Zakat is separate from traditional taxes collected by the state. It’s typically defined as a religious levy paid from the assets of solvent Muslims for the benefit of the poor, and is one of the five pillars of Islam.