Who are the Houthis?

In my last post, I wrote about the Houthis spreading their encampments in the capital. Last week, an alleged attempt to storm the cabinet headquarters in Sana’a, resulted in fighting that killed 7, and left several injured.

State-run media and Al-Maseera houthi-run TV ran conflicting accounts as to who’s responsible for the deaths. It’s been more than a week, President Hadi has not responded to the killings.

But who are the Houthis in Yemen ?

  • Officially known as Ansar allah [the partisans of God], the Houthi rebel group began as a theological movement that preached tolerance and peace in the early 1990s, according to Ahmed Addaghashi, a professor at Sanaa University and author of two books on the movement, Houthi Phenomenon and Houthis and their Political and Military Future ( Al Jazeera)
  • The founder of the group is Hussein Bader Addian al-Houthi, who lived part of his life with his family in Qom, Iran. Hussein was the son of a prominent Imam of the Shia Zaidi of Yemen, and was said to have been influenced by the Iranian revolution.
  • The Houthis have been gradually influencing mainstream politics in Yemen, after gaining  35 seats in the National Dialogue Conference.
  • When President Saleh signed a border agreement with Saudi Arabia and made friends with the Saudi leadership, Houthis started to feel redundant and disregarded. Rumours suggest at one point, Former President Saleh supported their militarisation and even called for the group’s elimination. On the other hand, Saleh has never implicitly condemned the group.
  • In terms of religion, the Houthis are part of the Shia Zaidi, a branch of the Shia Imamiya of Iran. The Zaidi believe that Muslims should be ruled only by a descendant of Prophet Muhammad whom they call an Imam. Yemen was ruled by such Imams for more than 1,000 years and their rule ended only in 1962.
  • Through their armed uprising, the Houthis have managed to gain control over all of Saa’da and parts of Amran, Al Jawf and Hajjah.
  • Since August 18, the houthis have expanded their presence in the capital by setting up encampments in key ministries along airport road, demanding three things – overthrow of the government, re-enactment of fuel subsidies and, implementation of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) outcomes.
Photograph by Ali Ibrahim Moshki
Pro-Houthi rally in the capital. Placards read, ‘death to America’, ‘death to Israel’. (Photograph by Ali Ibrahim Moshki)

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