Thursday, 28 May 2015 02:28

Who are the Yemeni Houthis?

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The Yemeni Houthis are among the main motives for the intervention in Yemen by Saudi Arabia led coalition that started on the 25th March 2015. The Houthis are not tolerated not only by Saudi Arabia, but also by the US – both leading sponsors of the manageable political process in Yemen that was launched in 2011.

The Houthis were accused of being an Iranian “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated the back areas of Saudi Kingdom. The war in Yemen is interpreted as a proxy war where Saudi Arabia has faced Iranian agents – the Houthis, who had committed a coup in order to seize power in Yemen. The leading international media controlled by the US and the UK have been playing a major role in demonization of the Houthis for long time.

The unusual feature of the Yemeni case is that the country has been de-facto under the mandate of the UN for more than three years, which prioritized the realization of the two-step peace settlement plan of Yemeni crisis – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)initiative. Even President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi who has replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, a dictator, who ruled the country for many years, in February 2012, was nothing more than a designated person who was entrusted to carry out the peace plan of the transition issued by the international community. The Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN Jamal Benomar was a second person appointed for this task by the UN Security Council.

The Saudi intervention that was formally provoked by President Hadi’s speech on the 23d March 2015 has in fact rendered futile the long Benomar’s mission. His resignation on the 16th of April 2015 was followed by a number of shocking declarations with the worst assessments of Saudi military intervention that, from his point of view, has ruined the pretty likely possibility of successful completion of the transition and the termination of the severe crisis in Yemen.

The falseness of the thesis about the connections between the Houthis (Ansar Allah movement) and Iranian agents is evident for the experts. Thus, the leading US orientalists have strongly condemned the Saudi intervention in Yemen as well as the supportive role of the US and the UK governments. In Washington Post they declared that they were well aware of the internal divides in the Yemeni society, but that they strongly believed that the Yemeni should be given an opportunity to negotiate the political settlement themselves.

The Houthis see the intervention as yet another act of adversity by the ruling Saudi dynasty towards Yemen. They believe that the Saudi wish to crush Yemen by the ideology of religious intolerance towards both Zaidiyya(the Shia) and the Yemeni Shafi'i (the Sunni) with the support of the Wahhabiwing of Muslim Brotherhood within the Islah party and of the terrorist structures of Al-Qaeda. According to Houthis the Saudi consider the prevention of the victory of the Yemeni patriots the key element of the general plan to divide the country.

They also consider the war as the indication of fear of the regional reaction to the Yemeni revolution that started in February 2011 and that has brought Yemen closer to a true national rebirth after the hard series of crises.

There are four stages of development of the Houthis as a political movement:

The birth stage covered the period of 1997-2001, when Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, Zaydi, representative of an ancient Hashemitecleric clan of Sadah, became the head of the Zaydi movement “Shabab al-Mumin”. Disillusioned by the Zaydi party al-Hakk, we has turned his attention to the youth and charitable social projects. His concerns were focused on the protection on the Zaydi cultural heritage from the attacks of the Wahhabipreachers, who had declared Zaidiyyaa heterodoxy (Takfir) and were trying to completely eliminate it.

The Wahhabiactivity in Yemen was led by a radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood of Sheikh Abdelmajid al-Zindani, which together with the tribal group of Hashed Sheikh  Abdullah ibn Husayn al-Ahmar formed a core of Islah party. Islah has firmly occupied the second line of the Yemeni political parties rating, with the party of power of President Saleh (GPC) on the first place after the unification of the two Yemeni states in 1990 and with YSP, the party of the South, on the third place. The success of Islah was assured by the generous Saudi funding. A wide network of Salafi schools “Maahid Yl’miya” was founded in 1970 under the aegis of Islah. The political support of the Salafiproselytism by the republic’s government back in the 1979 has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to open a big religious educational center in Sadah, the native city of Yemeni Zaydis, Dar al-Hadis, that has become a source of sectarian conflicts between the Zaydis and the Salafi.

The second stage of the Houthi movement took the period from the end of 2001 to June 2004 and was characterized by the increase of the fields of activity of “shabab mumin” movement and by the simultaneous adoption of the specific attributes of the movement, its stigmatization. The leader’s attention was focused on the criticism against the US policy in the region and on the accented analysis of the Israeli position. Several specific religious and secular dates related to the development of ideas of Zaydi Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi followers were set to be celebrated. These holidays were the following: Zaidiyyaholiday “Id la-Gadir” (the farewell preachment of the Prophet), that was sometimes banned by the republican authorities due to the security reasons; the Birthday of the Prophet (Moulad Nabaviy), common for the majority of Sunni and Shia, but condemned by the Wahhabis; and the day of Palestine, that allowed to attract the audience to the Palestinian issues. The terrorist acts of 9/11/01 that provoked a shock among Muslims and the US military intervention in Iraq in 2003 as well have become the turning point for the ideological development of the Houthi movement. Zaydi Hussein al-Houthi believed that the responsibility for fighting the extremist ideologies lies primarily upon the leaders of the countries themselves. He condemned the delegation of this duty to the US, the politics of which he considered adversary to Islam and explicitly pro-Israeli. He was one of the first to consider Al-Qaeda as one of the means of the US military intervention in the Middle East in order to divide its society. In 2003 the Houthis have adopted a specific slogan “Death to the USA! Death to Israel! Shame to the Israeli! Victory to Islam!” that they yelled after the Friday religious services.

The third phase overlaps with the tragic Sa'dah wars that lasted from June 2004 to February 2010. Besides regular governmental forces the Houthis were opposed by Islah militia. The commander of the governmental coalition General Ali Mohsen, well-known for his sympathies to Wahhabismand close contacts with Saudi military elites, widely used the Jihadist rhetoric against the Houthis. This factor has led to the rapid transformation of the Houthi movement into a strong armed resistance with the participation of Sa'dah tribes, who came to their rescue because of the genocide threat. Despite the broad information warfare against the Houthi, the new leader of the movement Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (who has replaced his brother killed in September 2004) strictly followed the defensive character of his struggle and gave no reasons to suspect him of promoting the Imamite tendencies or rebuilding monarchy in Yemen – the issues that were incriminated to the movement. Just the same, no facts of Iranian involvement in the conflict were found (except the condemnation of the military actions against local Zaydi population).

In 2009 before the beginning of the sixth act of war against the Houthi President Saleh completely renounced all the accusations connected with the “Iranian trace”. The sixth war could not have happened if not for the position of General Ali Mohsen and the Saudi funding, which became the first act of open involvement of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni conflict on the side of governmental coalition. However, Saudi military have been captured by the Houthi and that has enabled the transition of the conflict into the settlement stage in January 2010.

The Sa'dah wars had a catastrophic influence on the economic and humanitarian situation on the North of Yemen. More than 200 thousand people were left without shelter (one third of Sa'dah province), about 10 thousand were dead and dozens of thousands people of all ages became angry on Saleh regime because they were oppressed by his security services. In 2013 President Hadi offered official apology to the Houthi for all the suffering caused by the unjust wars declared by the regime.

These wars have forged the military might of Ansar Allah, which relied on the effective and disciplined units with warlords in the head (so called militia), that were armed by the government issued weapons from Yemeni army and even from disarmed Saudi units. However, Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi continuously stressed his allegiance to the peaceful conflict resolution and the exclusively defensive nature of his movement. The most important issues for him were the just compensation of the war damage and the guarantees of the equal rights for all the Yemeni religious groups in the country. By the end of the war the Houthis possessed a developed propaganda machine that included printed and on-line editions and also a satellite channel Al-Masira, where they showed all the crimes of the regime and condemned the actions of “Takfirites” against the unity of the Yemeni society.

The fourth stage of the Houthi movement began with Yemeni revolution in February 2011 when Sayid Abdul-Malik became the first from the opposition to declare a full support to the ideals of the revolution started by city youth, and expressed his intention to fully dismantle Saleh’s regime in order to carry out the democratic reforms. The revolution and the peace process within the framework of the international plan of GCC initiative that began soon after it have opened for Houthis the road to transform into a political organization. However, the sudden move of General Ali Mohsen with a significant part of Yemeni army to Islah side in March 2011 did not allow this. The Houthis have realized that it was too early to give away the captured weapons and preferred to remain a movement or as they are sometimes called a “Jamaat”, that was called Ansar Allah in 2013. The prospect of General Ali Mohsen’s arrival at power created a fatal danger for all the Zaydi part of the country, which is the third of all population.

So, the dormant conflict between the Houthis and Islah has revived on the wide front and entered the active phase, having widened geographically compared to the Sa'dah wars. However, the fate of this confrontation was decided in favor of the Houthis by Saleh, who has engaged into a real battle with Islah (including General Ali Mohsen), where the President Hadi did not play an important role. Saleh has decided to use the Houthi as a strike force to defeat Islah and thus facilitated his victories in February-September 2014. The contribution of Saleh to the Houthi’s victories consisted of two elements: a.) The establishment of strict neutrality of the army in the Houthi-Islah armed conflict, including when it left the borders of the “Houthi” territories, and b.) Contribution to the divide in coalition of Hashed tribes, the majority of which turned off their supreme leader, Sheik Sadyk Al-Ahmar (from Islah) and took a friendly position towards the Hothis, remembering about their Zaydi origins.

The successful change of the “agreement government” of Basindawaby Ansar Allah in Sana and the simultaneous signing of the the Peace and National Partnership Agreement between all the main parties and movements (including Islah) under the aegis of Benomar in September 2014  meant the change of leaders in the political process inside Yemen.  Islah has lost the ambitions of the main candidate for the power. The last undecided question about the integration of the Southern Movemen (al-Hirak) into the project of preservation of Yemeni unity was put on the agenda. The leaders of Ansar Allah have started paying their utmost attention to this question having launched intensive talks with al-Hirak on finding the compromise in the issue of the country’s federalization.

The causes of the grave deterioration of the political situation in Yemen that have led to the concerted voluntarily resignations of President Hadi and Prime Minister Bahah on the 22d of January 2015 should be examined particularly. I will just note that there were no signs of possible coup or breakdown of the mission of Special Councilor of UN Secretary General Benomar by the effort of the Houthis. After the resignation of Hadi Iran has shown its interest in the development of relations with Yemen in the conditions of its inability to borrow from traditional donors. But it is unlikely to become a true reason for the intervention.

Read 5873 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 May 2015 23:55