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For other uses, see Ansarullah.
Participant in the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, the Yemeni Revolution, and the Syrian Civil War[1]
Houthis Logo.png
Houthi logo reading "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam" [2][3][4][5][6]
Active 1994–present (armed since 2004)
Ideology Zaydi Shi'a Islamism[7]
Groups Houthis, allied Shia tribes in Sa'dah
Headquarters Sa'dah, Yemen
Area of operations
Strength 100,000 fighters[9]

State opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and wars

Houthi insurgency in Yemen

Syrian Civil War[12][13]
Website http://www.ansarallah.net

The Houthis (Arabic: الحوثيونal-Ḥūthiyyūn), also known as Ansar Allah (anṣāru llāhi أنصار الله "Supporters of God"), are a Zaidi Shia group operating in Yemen.[14] The group takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who launched an insurgency in 2004 and was reportedly killed by Yemeni army forces that September.[15] Led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the group succeeded in a coup d'état in 2014/15 and currently retains control of the Yemeni capital Sana'a and the parliament.[16]


Current territorial situation in Yemen as of March 22nd 2015. Houthi forces are shown in green.

The Houthi movement began as the Believing Youth (BY), which was founded in 1992 in Saada Governorate[17]:1008 by either Houthi family member Muhammad al-Houthi,[18]:98 or his brother Hussein al-Houthi.[19]

According to Ahmed Addaghashi, a professor at Sanaa University, the Houthis began as a theological movement that preached tolerance and peace that held a considerably broad-minded educational and cultural vision.[20] Western sources report that BY established school clubs and summer camps[18]:98 in order to "promote a Zaidi revival" in Saada.[19] By 1994–1995, 15–20,000 students had attended BY summer camps.[18]:99

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, BY-affiliated youth began chanting anti-American and anti-Jewish slogans in the Saleh Mosque in Sana'a after Friday prayers. This led to confrontations with the government, and 800 BY supporters were arrested in Sana'a in 2004. President Ali Abdullah Saleh then invited Hussein al-Houthi to a meeting in Sana'a, but Hussein declined. On 18 June 2004 Saleh sent government forces to arrest Hussein.[21] Hussein responded by launching an insurgency against the government, but was killed on 10 September 2004.[22] The insurgency continued intermittently until a ceasefire agreement was reached in 2010.[23]

The Houthis participated in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, as well as the ensuing National Dialogue Conference (NDC). However, they rejected the provisions of the November 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council deal, which included immunity for former president Saleh and the establishment of a coalition government.[24]

As the revolution went on, Houthis gained control of greater territory. By 9 November 2011, Houthis were said to be in control of two Yemeni governorates (Saada and Al Jawf) and close to taking over their third governorate (Hajjah),[25] which would enable them to launch a direct assault on Yemeni capital Sana'a.[26] In May 2012, it was reported that Houthis controlled a majority of Saada, Al Jawf, and Hajjah governorates; they had also gained access to the Red Sea and started erecting barricades north of the capital Sana'a in preparation for more conflict.[27]

By 21 September 2014, Houthis were said to control parts of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, including government buildings and a radio station.[28] While control of the capital expanded to the rest of the Sana'a, as well as other towns such as Rada' City, control was strongly challenged by Al-Qaeda. It was believed by Western states and Saudi Arabia that the Houthis had accepted aid from Iran while Saudi Arabia was aiding their Yemeni rivals [29] Al-Qaeda.

On 20 January 2015, Shia Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace in the capital. While President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was in the presidential palace during the takeover, he was safe.[30] The movement officially took control of the Yemeni government on 6 February, dissolving parliament and declaring its Revolutionary Committee to be the acting authority in Yemen.[16] On 20 March 2015, The al-Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques came under suicide attack during midday prayers. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant quickly claimed responsibility. The blasts killed 142 Houthi worshippers and wounded more than 351, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Yemen's history.[31] In a televised speech on March 22, Houthi leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused US and Israel of supporting the terrorists attacks. He also blamed regional Arab states for financing terrorist groups operating inside Yemen.[32] On 27 March 2015, in response to perceived Houthi threats to Sunni factions in the region, Saudi Arabia along with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen.[33] The military coalition is supported by the Untied States and Turkey.[34]


Ansar Allah fighters in Yemen, August 2009.

There is a difference between the al-Houthi family, which has about twenty members[18]:102 and the Houthi movement, which took the name "Houthi" after the death of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi in 2004.

Membership of the group had between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters as of 2005[35] and between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters as of 2009.[36] In the Yemen Post it was claimed, however, that they had over 100,000 fighters.[9] According to Houthi expert Ahmed Al-Bahri the Houthis had a total of 100,000-120,000 followers, including both armed fighters and unarmed loyalists.[37]


Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. They are from the Shi'ite minority similar to the Twelvers found mainly in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran and are known for being most similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings. They do however, believe in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion, which makes them distinct from Sunnis.[38] However, they are also regularly accused, even by fellow Zaidis, of secretly being converts or followers of the Twelver Shia sect, which is the official religion of their alleged ally Iran.[39][40][41][42]

The Houthis have asserted that their actions are to fight against the expansion of Salafism in Yemen,[39] and for the defence of their community from widespread and systematic discrimination, whereas the Yemeni government has in turn accused the insurgents of intending to overthrow the regime out of a desire to institute Zaidi Shia religious law,[43] destabilising the government and stirring anti-American sentiment.[44] The Houthis have told people they are “praying in the wrong way” by raising their arms, as is the custom among Sunnis in Yemen.[45]

The Yemeni government has also accused the Houthis of having ties to external backers, in particular the Iranian government, as Iran is a Shia-majority country.[46] In turn, the Houthis have countered with allegations that the Yemeni government is being backed by virulently anti-Shia external backers such as al-Qaeda and the monarchy of Saudi Arabia,[47][48][49] despite the fact that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was also Zaidi.[50] The discord has led some publishers to fear that further confrontations may lead to an all-out Sunni-Shiite war.[51]


Motives and objectives[edit]

When armed conflict for the first time erupted back in 2004 between the Yemenis government and Houthis, the then Yemenis president accused Houthis and other Islamic opposition parties of trying to overthrow the government and the republican system. However Houthi leaders for their part rejected the accusation by saying that they had never rejected the president or the republican system but were only defending themselves against government attacks on their community.[55]

According to a February 2015 Newsweek report, Houthis are fighting "for things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence."[56]

In an interview with Yemen Times, Hussein Al-Bukhari, a Houthi insider said that Houthi's preferable political system is a republic with elections where women can also hold political positions, and that they do not seek to form a Shia cleric-led government after the model of Islamic Republic of Iran for "we cannot apply this system in Yemen because the followers of the Shafi [Sunni] doctrine are bigger in number than the Zaydis [Shia]."[57]


The Houthis have used both military action and activism to achieve their goals. In 2004, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi led an insurgency in the north of Yemen.[58] Hussein al-Houthi's brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, took over the insurgency after his death.[55] In 2015, the Houthis captured the capital Sana'a in a coup d'état.[59]

In the past, the Houthis have also used peaceful method, such as civil disobedience, in some cases. Following the Yemeni government's decision in July 13, 2014 to increase fuel prices,[60] Houthi leaders succeeded to organize massive rallies in the capital Sana'a to protest the decision and to demand resignation of the incumbent government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi for "state-corruption".[61] Thousands of Yemenis responded to the Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi's call to "erect tents, carry out sit-ins and organize marches" in the capital.[62] These protests developed into the 2014-2015 phase of the insurgency.


  Houthi control
  Houthis presence

The Houthis exert de facto authority over the bulk of North Yemen. North Yemen was united with South Yemen in 1990; the Yemen government has repeatedly suppressed separatist protests by force.[63] The Houthis' direct administration includes the following territories:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Ariel Ben (31 May 2013). "Report: Yemen Houthis fighting for Assad in Syria". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Photo Essay: Rise of the Houthis". Newsweek. 9 February 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.  Commenting on the meaning of the slogan, Ali al Bukhayti, the former spokesperson and official media face of the Houthis said: “We do not really want death to anyone. The slogan is simply against the interference of those governments.”
  3. ^ "Experts See Signs of Moderation Despite Houthis’ Harsh Slogans". New York Times. 24 January 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.  "The official slogan and emblem of the Houthis ... includes the words “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews.” Houthis shout it when they march, wear it on arm patches, paint it on buildings and stick it onto their car windows. When pictured, those words are rendered in red, framed by “God is great” and “Victory to Islam” in green, on a white background."
  4. ^ Baron, Adam (30 October 2012). "Yemenis suspect Iran's hand in rise of Shiite rebels". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
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  8. ^ "Houthis fighting ‘Western imperialism". January 13, 2014. 
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  10. ^ Al-Qaeda Announces Holy War against Houthis
  11. ^ "Islamic State leader urges attacks in Saudi Arabia: speech". Reuters. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "وجود الحوثيين في النجف يثير أزمة بين الرئيس اليمني والتيار الصدري". الاهرام الرقمى. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
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  15. ^ Deaths in Yemeni mosque blast. Al Jazeera. 2 May 2008. Press TV Saudi soldier, Houthi leaders killed in north Yemen, 19 November 2009.
  16. ^ a b "Yemen's Houthis form own government in Sanaa". Al Jazeera. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  17. ^ Freeman, Jack (2009). "The al Houthi Insurgency in the North of Yemen: An Analysis of the Shabab al Moumineen". Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32 (11): 1008–1019. doi:10.1080/10576100903262716. ISSN 1057-610X. 
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External links[edit]

Houthis|publisher=Counterpunch|date=3 February 2015|accessdate=26 March 2015}}