Houthis

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For other uses, see Ansar Allah.
Not to be confused with Hutu.
Houthis
الحوثيون
Participant in Houthi insurgency in Yemen, the Yemeni Revolution, and the Yemeni Civil War
Houthis Logo.png
Houthi logo reading "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam". (See here for further explanation)
Active 1994–present
(armed since 2004)
Ideology Zaydi Islamism[1]
Groups Houthis, allied Zaidi tribes in Sa'dah
Leaders
Headquarters Sa'dah, Yemen
Area of operations
Strength 100,000 fighters[2]
Allies

State allies

Non-state allies

Opponents

State opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and wars

Houthi insurgency in Yemen

Yemeni Civil War

Website http://www.ansarallah.net/

Ansar Allah (anṣār allāh أنصار الله "Supporters of God"), known more popularly as the Houthis (Arabic: الحوثيونal-Ḥūthiyyūn), are a Zaidi group from Yemen currently in open conflict with the government of Republic of Yemen.[11] 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.[12] Led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the group succeeded in taking over the Yemeni government in 2014–15 and, as of April 2015, retains control of Yemen's capital, Sana'a, and the parliament.[13] It has also gained control of a significant part of Yemen's territory and tried to conquer Aden, the second important city of the country.

History[edit]

Current territorial situation in Yemen. Houthi forces are shown in green.

The Houthi movement began as the Believing Youth (BY), which was founded in 1992 in Saada Governorate[14]:1008 by either Mohammed al-Houthi,[15]:98 or his brother Hussein al-Houthi.[16]

According to Ahmed Addaghashi, a professor at Sanaa University, the Houthis began as a moderate theological movement that preached tolerance and held a broad-minded view of Yemeni people.[17] The Believing Youth (BY) established school clubs and summer camps[15]:98 in order to "promote a Zaidi revival" in Saada.[16] By 1994–1995, 15–20,000 students had attended BY summer camps. The religious material included lectures by Mohammed Hussein Fadhlallah (a Lebanese Shiite scholar) and Hassan Nasrallah (Secretary General of Lebanon's Hezbollah Party) "[15]:99[18]

Although Hussein al-Houthi, who was killed in 2004, had no official relation with Believing Youth, according to Zaid, he contributed to the radicalisation of some Zaydis after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. BY-affiliated youth adopted anti-American and anti-Jewish slogans which they chanted in the Saleh Mosque in Sana'a after Friday prayers. According to Zaid, the followers of Houthi's insistence on chanting the slogans attracted the authorities' attention, further increasing government worries over the extent of the al-Houthi movement’s influence. "The security authorities thought that if today the Houthis chanted `Death to America’, tomorrow they could be chanting `Death to the president [of Yemen]”. 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.[19] Hussein responded by launching an insurgency against the government, but was killed on 10 September 2004.[20] The insurgency continued intermittently until a ceasefire agreement was reached in 2010.[17]

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.[21]

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),[22] which would enable them to launch a direct assault on Yemeni capital Sana'a.[23] In May 2012, it was reported that the 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.[24]

Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has openly allied with Houthis

By 21 September 2014, Houthis were said to control parts of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, including government buildings and a radio station.[25] While control of the capital expanded to the rest of Sana'a, as well as other towns such as Rada', control was strongly challenged by Al-Qaeda. It was believed by the Gulf States that the Houthis had accepted aid from Iran while Saudi Arabia was aiding their Yemeni rivals.[26]

On 20 January 2015, Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace in the capital. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was in the presidential palace during the takeover but was not harmed.[27] 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.[13] 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.[28]

In a televised speech on 22 March, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the US and Israel of supporting the terrorists attacks. He blamed regional Arab states for financing terrorist groups operating inside Yemen.[29] 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, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike in Yemen.[30] The military coalition includes the United States who is helping with the planning of air strikes, as well as logistical and intelligence support.[31]

Membership[edit]

Ansar Allah fighters in Yemen, August 2009.

There is a difference between the al-Houthi family, which has about 20 members[15]:102 and the Houthi movement, which took the name "Houthi" after the death of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi in 2004.[citation needed]

Membership of the group had between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters as of 2005[32] and between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters as of 2009.[33] In the Yemen Post it was claimed, however, that they had over 100,000 fighters.[2] 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.[34]

Ideology[edit]

Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen.[35] Similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings, the Houthi belief in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion makes them distinct from Sunnis.[36] Houthi leaders such as Issam Al-'Imad stated as early as 2011 that they were religiously and ideologically influenced by Iran,[37] and as of 2014 it has been observed that “The Houthi group's approach is in many ways similar to that of Hizbollah in Lebanon. Similarly religiously based and Iran-backed, both groups follow the same military doctrine and glorify the Khomeini revolution in Iran”.[38] As a consequence, the Houthis have regularly been accused, even by fellow Zaidis, of secretly being converts or followers of the Twelver sect, which is the official religion of their ally and backer Iran.[35][39][40][41]

Ethnoreligious groups in 2002. Zaydi Shi'a followers make up over 42% of Muslims in Yemen.[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 discrimination, whereas the Yemeni government has in turn accused the insurgents of intending to overthrow the regime out of a desire to institute Zaidi religious law,[43] destabilising the government and stirring anti-American sentiment.[44][45] The Yemeni government has also accused the Houthis of having ties to external backers, in particular the Iranian government.[46] In turn, the Houthis have countered with allegations that the Yemeni government is being backed by al-Qaeda and 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]

The Houthis have also been accused of expelling and bullying the ancient and impoverished rural Jews of Yemen.[52] The Yemeni Jews date from the time of King Solomon and speak biblical Hebrew, but their numbers have dwindled since the Operation Magic Carpet in 1950. Now only a few families remain in Raida and Sana'a. Many emigrated after killing of a Jewish teacher in Amran by former military pilot in 2008. Yemeni Jews think that none will be left in a few years.[53]

Flag and slogan[edit]

The group's flag reads as following: "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam". This motto is modeled on the motto of revolutionary Iran.[54] 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".[55]

Leaders[edit]

Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi

Motives and objectives[edit]

When armed conflict for the first time erupted back in 2004 between the Yemeni government and Houthis, the then-Yemeni 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.[59] Zaidi Shi'ites compose one-third of the population of Yemen and Houthis have often voiced the grievances of the Zaidi population.[3]

The group has also exploited the popular discontent over corruption and reduction of government subsidied.[3] 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."[60]

In an interview with Yemen Times, Hussein al-Bukhari, a Houthi insider, said that Houthis' preferable political system is a republic with elections where women can also hold political positions, and that they do not seek to form a 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."[61] Ali Akbar Velayati, International Affairs Advisor to Supreme Iranian Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, stated in October 2014 that "We are hopeful that Ansar-Allah has the same role in Yemen as Hezbollah has in eradicating the terrorists in Lebanon".[62]

Tactics[edit]

The Houthis have used both military action and activism to achieve their political goals, and have been accused of violations of international humanitarian law such as using child soldiers,[63][64][65] looting files about US spy operations,[66] shelling civilian areas,[67] forced evacuations, executions, and human shielding.[68][69] In 2004, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi led an insurgency in the north of Yemen.[70] Hussein al-Houthi's brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, took over the insurgency after his death.[59] In 2015, the Houthis captured the capital Sana'a.[71]

In the past, the Houthis have also used civil disobedience. Following the Yemeni government's decision in July 13, 2014 to increase fuel prices,[72] 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".[73] These protests developed into the 2014-2015 phase of the insurgency. Similarly, following 2015 Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthis which claimed civilians lives, Yemenis responded to the Abdul-Malik al-Houthi's call and took to streets of the capital, Sana'a, in tens of thousands to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.[74][75]

Armed strength[edit]

Situation in March 2012

Saudi and former Yemeni officials have claimed that the Houthis have received significant support from Iran in the form of weapons, money and training since 2004, while Houthi leadership denies having received weapons or financial support from Iran.[3][76] Also, Tehran denied the allegation of Houthis arm support by Iran.[77] A December 2009 cable between Sanaa and various intelligence agencies disseminated by WikiLeaks states that US State Dept. analysts believed the Houthis obtained weapons from the Yemeni black market and corrupt members of the Republican Guard.[69] On the April 8th edition of PBS Newshour, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the US knew Iran was providing military support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, adding that Washington "is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized".[78]

Administration[edit]

Map last updated 30 January 2015

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.[79] The Houthis' direct administration includes the following territories:

References[edit]

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External links[edit]