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The New Arab Staff

Yemen’s Houthis spark outrage with new 'racist tax' benefiting claimed descendants of Prophet Muhammad

The Houthis have controlled the Yemeni capital Sana'a since 2015 [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 June, 2020

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Yemen’s Houthi rebels have caused outcry by imposing a new tax giving one-fifth of natural resources to the Bani Hashem clan, from which Houthi leaders claim descent.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have sparked outrage by issuing a new tax granting the "Bani Hashem" tribe - which the movement's leaders are part - 20 percent of the value of all resources extracted from land, sea, and livestock in the war-torn country.

The Houthis claim that the Bani Hashem tribe are descended from the Prophet Muhammad and so eligible to revenues generated from a special tax.

They have modified the country's 1999 Zakah Islamic charity law to allow the tax to be collected based on a controversial interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence.

Yemenis have reacted angrily to the tax on social media, saying that the law was "racist" and allowed the Houthis to get away with theft.

Read more: Yemen's Houthis kill mother of bride shopping for wedding dress

The Arabic news website Arabi 21 quoted Adil Al-ِِAhmadi, the director of the Nashwan Al-Hemyari Centre for Studies and Media, as saying that the tax was "an official Houthi insult to the entire Yemeni people".

He added that the Houthis were exploiting religion to impose a "racist" tax.

"The Houthi group has found dozens of ways to gain money, from taking it through war to organising religious festivals and now the 'fifth' tax. What’s left for ordinary Yemenis who have nothing?" he told Arabi21.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and its people have endured great hardship and starvation as a result of five years of brutal and complex conflict between the Houthis, who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

The Prime Minister of the internationally-recognized government, Maeen Abdel Malik, echoed Al-Ahmadi’s words, saying in a tweet that the law was "racist and discriminatory".

"The Houthis' publication of what they call the Zakah law, which is based on hereditary discrimination and racism doesn’t just show this group’s ability to tear up the fabric of society and its rejection of the values of equal citizenship, but it also shows their contempt for the people and for all opportunities for peace.”, he tweeted.

However, the Houthis said that the tax had been in place since 1999. Sheikh Shamsan Abu Nashtan, the head of the Houthi's "General Organization for Zakah" said that his group had been the target of a hostile media campaign.

"The Zakah law is not new. It's the same law issued in 1999 and we haven’t changed anything in it," he told the website of the Houthis' television station, Al-Masirah.

He blamed the hostility to the law on "hired mouths" backing the Saudi-led coalition and said that the General Organization for Zakah had spent 52 billion Yemeni rials (US$208 million) on relief for poor Yemenis.

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