The Story of Houthis

The story of Houthis is widely circulated in mass media during the last five years. It is a confusing story regarding which there are many conflicting analyses and variant explanations. Actually, the truth is lost between proponents and opponents, advocates and critics. Who are Houthis? When did they rise? What do they target? Why are they fought against by the Yemenite government?

To what extent does the influence of universal external powers affect the course of events there? Answer to these question will be the focus of our article which I hope to clear up the mystery of such a complicated story. In the previous article, “The Story of Yemen”, I dealt briefly with the history of rule in Yemen. Through the article, we could know that Zaidi Shiites had authority for as very long period as many centuries and that they remained in authority till 1962 when the Yemen Revolution was staged. We highlighted the difference between Zaidi Shiism widespread in Yemen and Twelver Shiism widespread in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. (We have dealt with it at length in many previous articles such as “Origins of Shia”, “Shia’s Dominance”, “Shia’s Peril” and “Our Attitude Toward Shia”.) Moreover, we spot light in the previous article on the fact that Zaidi Shiites have more in common with Sunnis than with Twelver Shiites. Furthermore, Twelver Shiites do not at all recognize the Imamate of Zaid bin Ali, the founder of Zaidism. On the other hand, Zaidis do not recognize the tremendous theological deviations of Twelver Shiites and do not consent to naming specified twelve Imams. Moreover, they do not agree with them on the claim that Imams are infallible or on their beliefs regarding Taqiyyah (according to Shia, a dispensation allowing Shiites to conceal their faith when under threat, persecution or compulsion), Raj’ah (refers to the Shia doctrine that certain people will return back to life before thene th Day of Judgement), Bada’ah (the belief that sometimes Almighty Allah gives a command and then finds that it is not appropriate, and he then regrets giving this command), insulting Companions and all other Bid’ahs. We also stated that Twelver Shiites had no existence along the history of Yemen, a situation which only changed during the last few years, which has a direct impact on the story of Houthis. Roots of the story The story began in Sa’dah governorate (240 km northern Sana‘a), where most Zaidi population settle. In 1986, Ittihad Al-Shabab, was formed with the aim of teaching the Zaidi school of thought to its adherents. Badreddin Al-Houthi was a teacher in such an authority. In 1990, Yemen was united and the door was wide open before partisan pluralism. Therefore, Ittihad Al-Shabab turned into Hizbul-Haq (Party of Truth) representing the Zaidi sect in Yemen. Hussein bin Badreddin Al-Houthi rose to be a prominent political leader in the party, who was elected as a parliament member in 1993 and in 1997 AD. Badreddin Al-Houthi These events concurred with the rise of a great disagreement between Badreddin Al-Houthi and other Zaidi scholars in Yemen in view of a historic fatwa approved of by Yemenite Zaidi scholars, foremost of whom is the authority Majd Al-Din Al-Mu’ayyidi. The fatwa was to the effect that it should be no more stipulated for the Imam to be a Hashimite descendant, for such a condition was based on certain historical circumstances. The fatwa also provided that people can choose the ruler they deem fit who does not have to be a descendant of Al-Hassan or Al-Hussein (may Allah be pleased with both of them). Badreddin Al-Houthi strongly opposed to the fatwa, bearing in mind that he belongs to the Jarudiyyah sect (a Zaidi branch which held beliefs close to those of Twelver Shiites). The situation aggravated when Badreddin Al-Houthi started to publicly propagate the Twlever Shiite thought. In this regard, he composed a book called “Zaidis in Yemen”, in which he highlighted points of resemblance between Zaidi and Twelver Shiites. Strongly opposed because of his thought that is absolutely deviated from Zaidism, he had to immigrate to Tehran where he lived for a number of years. Although Badreddin Al-Houthi left the Yemenite arena, his Twelver-oriented thoughts began to spread especially in the region of Sa’dah and surrounding areas by the end of the 1990s and definitely since 1997 AD. Meanwhile, his son Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi dissented from Hizbul-Haq to form his own group, which at the beginning took the form of a cultural, religious and intellectual group. Moreover, the group also cooperated with the government in resisting the Sunni Islamic current represented in the Yemeni Gathering for Reform party. However, it did not take long before the group has joined the opposition since 2002 AD. Yemenite president: Ali Abdullah Salih Meanwhile, some Yemenite scholars mediated to have Yemenite president Ali Abdullah Salih allow Badreddin Al-Houthi back to Yemen. Al-Houthi returned to Yemen to re-propagate his ideas among his students and disciples. It seems that the Yemenite government underestimated the danger of the newly formed group and the contingent problems it might cause. Fierce Houthis demonstrations marking the beginning of war In 2004, a serious development took place; Houthis led by Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi staged huge demonstrations in the streets of Yemen opposing the American occupation of Iraq. The government reacted violently to these demonstrations on the pretext that Al-Houthi claims to be an Imam, Al-Mahdi and even to be a prophet. This was followed by an open war launched by the government against Shiite Houthis, during which 30,000 Yemenite soldiers were employed in addition to warplanes and artillery. Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi The confront ended up with the group leader Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi killed and a good number of Houthis arrested. The situation ultimately then aggravated. After the death of Hussein, Houthis were led by his father Badreddin Al-Houthi. It came obviously to be known that the Shiite group had long ago been well-armed, bearing in mind that it could stand war against the Yemenite army for years. Thereafter, the Qatari government mediated between Houthis and the Yemenite government in 2008 by virtue of which a peace treaty was convened to the effect of moving Yahia Al-Houthi and Abdul-Karim Al-Houthis, Hussein’s brothers, to Qatar after they surrender their weapons to the Yemenite government. Soon after, the treaty was breached to announce a fresh beginning of war. It even happened that Houthis could expand their dominance to Sa’dah’s neighboring governorates and even try to dominate a seaport which can guarantee a safe reception of reinforcements from abroad. Actually, they now practice their mission and declare confront openly. In fact, it is more a threat to the whole Yemenite regime than an attempt to establish a separate Shiite state. Yemen map Why are Houthis powerful? The question that should arise is: how could such a newly formed group confront the Yemenite government for such so long period? The answer is more urgent bearing in mind that it propagates a Twelver-Shiite thought, which is not prevalent in Yemen in general and thus its adherents constitute, supposedly, a minority. Actually, there are many answers that enlighten our understanding of the issue, including the following: First: It is incomprehensible that a minority group in a Yemenite governorate remains steadfast for such a long period without a constant external help. Analyzing the situation, we can find out that the only country that benefits from the increasing power of the Houthi rebellion is Iran. In fact, it is a Shiite-oriented state which does its best to spread its thought. It will be a glorious victory for Iran if she can help Houthis take power in Yemen, bearing in mind that, by doing so, she will be surrounding one of its archenemies, i.e. KSA. Were this to happen, KSA would be besieged by Houthis in Yemen Iraqi Shia to the north, Shia of the Eastern Region, Kuwait and Bahrain to the east and Shia of Yemen to the south, which will give Iran innumerable pressure points whether in her relation with the Sunni Muslim world or with the US. Actually, this is a more realistic evidence-based than merely a theoretical supposition. An evidence is the amazing conversion of Badreddin Al-Houthi from the moderate Zaidi thought to the deviated Twelver thought although the Yemenite atmosphere has never been influenced by the Twelver thought along the history of Yemen. Moreover, Iran nursed him very passionately and hosted him in Tehran for a number of years. Badreddin Al-Houthi found the doctrine of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists a KSA besieged by Shia from all directions suitable means to assume power although he is not a descendant of Fatimah (may Allah be pleased with her), a prerequisite of a ruler stipulated by the Zaidi thought. Moreover, Iran is a powerful state which is capable of giving political and economical help to rebels. An evidence of Iran’s support of Houthis is the fact that Iranian Shiite mass media, including such satellite channels of theirs as Al-‘Alam, Al-Kawthar and others, adopt the Houthi cause. Moreover, Houthis themselves asked before for the mediation of the Shiite authority Ali Husaini Sistani the Grand Ayatollah in Iraq. Although he is a Twelver Shiite who may be thought of as a stranger by Yemenites, rebels did so to make clear their school-of-thought adherence. In addition, the Yemenite government announced confiscation of many Houthi Iran-made weapons. Furthermore, the Yemenite government constantly give implicit, not explicit, reference to Iran’s support of Houthis. Of course, Iran in turn denied such a support, an easily-grasped political device, especially in the light of the Twelver-based doctrine of Taqiyyah (dispensation allowing Shiites to limitlessly lie). Iran arms Houthis Second: Another factor that gave Houthis the power to remain steadfast is the public sympathy relatively shown by the inhabitants of the region toward rebels, although locals do not tend to believe in their deviated thought. This is due to the very bad economic and social circumstances the locals suffer from. Although Yemen in general has a very poor infrastructure and most Yemenites suffer from extreme poverty, these regions suffer more than other regions and are paid much less attention than other greater Yemenite cities. An indication of this is the fact that the peace treaty concluded between the Yemenite government and Houthis under a Qatari mediation in 2008 provided that the Yemenite government is to undertake a reconstruction plan of Sa’dah, which will be funded by Qatar. However, all reconstruction plans were halted due to the war. What I want to infer is that marginalized and neglected peoples are likely to rise and rebel even in partnership with people form whom they are radically and doctrinally different. Yemenite tribes Third: Rebellion also continued because of the tribal system dominating Yemen. In fact, Yemen consists of tribes and clans which imposes certain important balances of power between different tribes. Many information sources say Houthis receive support from tribes opposing the ruling regime against a background of problems between them and the government that have nothing to do with religion or school of thought. Fourth: Another factor is the mountainous nature of Yemen making it difficult for regular armies to take control. This is because of difficulty of movement among mountains in addition to the multiplicity of caves and grottos and the unavailability of scientific research regarding the roads among such mountains. Moreover, there are no scientific equipments or satellites to observe accurately movement among mountains. Mountainous nature difficult for regular armies Fifth: The problem continued to exist also because the Yemenite government is busy dealing with the call of separating southern Yemen from northern Yemen. Many demonstrations demanded separation which was also demanded by Ali Salim Al-Beidh the former President of South Yemen, who, in a televised speech from Germany, called for a return of South Yemen. Actually, such a situation distracted the Yemenite government, army and intelligence, which had the effect of weakening their grasp over Houthis. Sixth: Some analytics explain the continuation of rebellion in the context that the Yemenite government itself wants it to continue. This is because it considers the existence of rebellion Demonstrations demanding South Yemen separation a pressure point that it can use to achieve international gains, most important of which is cooperation with the US in the so-called war on terrorism. In fact, the US alludes to a relationship between Houthis and Al-Qaedah organization. However, I view this supposition very unlikely as the school of thought adhered to by Al-Qaedah organization is entirely different from that of Twelver Shiites. Nevertheless, the US wants to poke its nose in all the regions of the Muslim world based on a variety of justifications in order to achieve her objectives. On the other hand, Yemen likes to make use of such a relationship in order to gain political and economical support or at least have the US overlook human rights, dictatorship and other files Westerners want to open. Apart from the benefits awaited from the Yemen’s relationship with the US, other benefits are still to be reaped from the KSA. In fact, the KSA considers supporting Yemen politically and economically in order to resist the Shiite agenda of Houthis. In this regard, continuation of the problem provides a constant source of support for Yemen, not only from the KSA but also from such other countries as Qatar and UAE. Ali Salim Al-Beidh Regardless of what reasons are, the problem is still in effect, which represents, in my opinion, a serious situation. Accordingly, Yemen has to adopt a serious stance toward the events and to spread the sound Islamic thought in order to face such deviated thoughts. She has also to pay a special attention to and care for the inhabitants of such regions so that their loyalty might be guaranteed in a natural manner to Yemen and its government. Moreover, the Muslim world has to help Yemen get out of such a crisis. Otherwise, the Shiite agenda will encompass the Muslim world from all directions. More importantly, the Yemenite people have to reconsider the whole matte taking into account the interest of Yemen, which entails unity, sound thought and rallying around the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Only by doing so, we will find ways out of our crises and work out solutions for our problems. I ask Allah to glorify Islam and Muslims. Dr. Ragheb ElSergany