The armed Houthi movement flows all over Yemen and occupies news headlines in international newspapers and on TV channels as a rebellious movement that seized the power and pushed the Yemeni president and his government into exile. This movement would not have had such coverage if not for two important matters: Yemen's strategic location on the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the borders of Saudi Arabia, and its association with Iran regardless the size and quality of this association, which began intellectually in the early nineties.
The armed group is based on a religious intellectual culture that based on the "Twelver" doctrine of Iran and its groups in the region. The Houthis say that their principles are derived from the Zaidi doctrine, the closest sect to the Sunnis, and Yemen has never witness a sectarian civil war, as happened in Lebanon or Iraq. The Zaidis and the Shafi'is (the Shafi'i sect) have been living without any differences and praying in the same Mosques without any sensitivity.
The armed group is based on an ancient political legacy of the "Hashimiyya" class, which ran the country until the establishment of the republican regime and the overthrow of the "Imamate regime" in 1962. The constitution of the country stipulates an equal citizenship that dissolved the classes and everyone became equal before the law and the constitution. A divine right in the "two bellies" in reference to the sons of Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein, sons of Fatima, daughter of Prophet Mohamed.()
The Houthis used both the political Hashimiyya and the Zaidi to build the group and lead the Houthi family to glory and power. It fought six wars against the regime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who later joined the Houthis after the Popular Youth Revolution in 2011 in order to topple the internationally recognized legitimate government.
This paper presents the tracks of the Houthi movement in Yemen from its establishment until the execution of former Yemeni president in December 2017, and its impact on the future of Yemen.
In a decade, the Houthi movement was transformed from a rebel armed gang against the Yemeni government in Maran Mountains in Saada in 2004 into a political partner in the running of the state in 2014 and then into a military force that controls the state by de facto legitimacy in in September 2014.
The Houthi movement has social, developmental, political and intellectual roots that made it come back to rule the Yemenis after it extended from the mountains of Saada in the north until it took control of the capital of the Republic of Yemen on September 21, 2014. By the end of the year, the Houthi revolutionary committees took over seven governorates, Saada, Hajjah, Amran, Sana'a, the capital, Dhamar and Ibb.
The demands of the Houthis, on which the movement is based, grew gradually. The movement began with rational demands related to the class of the Hashemite and then regional demands related to the people of Saada, and then expanded its demands to become political to rule the region that includes the governorates of Sana'a, Amran, the capital and Dhamar, as well as the oil governorate of Al-Jawf, in the east, and Hajjah, in the west, with its Midi port on the Red Sea. The Houthi movements increased the demands to claim the right to restore the state of imams and it may dream of an empire, not only in Yemen but in the whole region. ()
The Houthis do not deny their main goal of reviving the Imamate / Caliphate in Yemen and see that the president / ruler of the country is not Hashemite but the Imam / Caliph should be Hashemite according to their belief. All their works are derived from the history of the Hashemite imams who ruled Yemen for a thousand years.
Some sources categorize the group as Shiite Twelver, but the Houthis deny this and assert that they did not turn on the Zaidi doctrine, although they agreed to meet with the Twelver in some issues such as the celebration of Ghadir and the memory of Ashura.() Mohamed Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi: "We are the core of the Zaidi faith, thought, culture and behavior, and the affiliation of Zaidi doctrine to Imam Zaid ibn Ali, peace be upon him, is a dynamic affiliation, not an ideological affiliation, as it is for the followers of Imam Shafi'i and imams of other doctrines. In this concept, which we have mentioned or otherwise, who claim that we turned on the Zaidi doctrine must determine the rules through which we exceeded the Zaidi doctrine and we came out of it, but with credibility and fairness." ()
Badr al-Din al-Houthi traveled to Tehran and lived there for several years. He was influenced by Khomeini and the Iranian model. He believed that it is possible to revive the Zaidi caliphate in Yemen.() Badr al-Din al-Huthi, who is a jurist of the Zaidi sect, had a great influence in shaping the track of the Houhi movement, which he regarded as the core of the Zaidis, and that the affiliation of the Zaidi to Imam Zaid ibn Ali was a dynamic rather than a sectarian one.()
His son Hussain Badr Al-Din al-Houthi, one of the founders, went to Iran in 1986 and stayed there for 18 days. According to those who accompanied him, he tried hard to enter Iran through Syria despite the Iranian war with Iraq. He managed to find a channel to enter and meet scholars from Iran and Iraq. His brother-in-law, Abdul-Rahim al-Hamran, who accompanied him to Iran, said: "This flag, the banner of Imam Khomeini, may not be compensated." He even considered the joining of Badr Brigade, which was under construction, to defend the Islamic Republic of Iran in the war imposed by the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.()
Al-Shabab al-Mu’min (Youth Believers) and the Beginning of Rebellion
With the political pluralism after 1990, Hussein al-Houthi and his father joined a number of Zaidi leaders to establish the Al-Haq Party. Later, they withdrew from the party after the Yemeni and Saudi authorities tried to create a conflict within the party leadership. They withdrew along with a group of the most important leaders in the party. More 3000 members also withdrew from the party after the party failed to make internal reforms (). After that, Hussein al-Houthi and al-Hamran joined the organization of Al-Shabab al-Mu’min (Youth Believers) which was formed by his brother Mohammed al-Houthi and other young people. The objective was to take care of the youth and keep them away from destructive ideas, the Wahhabi attack on the Zaidis in Yemen.() A number of Zaidi jurists (including founders of the Al Shabab al-Mu’min) have accused the Houthis of leaving the Zaidi school and importing some of the heresies of the Twelver doctrine, or of being radical Zaidis, a charge shared by Hanabilis, who are hostile to the Houthis. ()
Hussein Al-Houthi completed his bachelor degree at Sana'a University. Between 1993 and 1997, he was elected as a member of the Yemeni Parliament. Hussein Badr al-Din Al-Houthi, and his father also, refused to justify Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's war against the Socialists. But he continued to support him later in order to limit the influence of other political parties. His brother Yahya Badr al-Din al-Houthi was elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 2003 to represent the General People's Congress party (Saleh’s party).
The United States launched several military campaigns after the events of 11 September 2001 and entered Afghanistan before entering Iraq. At the same time, Hussein al-Houthi returned from Iraq to Yemen because of the illness of his father's wife (the mother of Abdul Malik al-Houthi). In 2002, the Houthis raised the slogan "Allah is Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews, Victory for Islam." ()
After a series of letters between Hussein al-Houthi and President Saleh, he announced the launch of the war. With simple capabilities, the Yemeni Army could suppress the organization of the armed Houthis, which began its rebellion in 2004. The first war could destroy the nucleus of this organization and killed the founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. His brother Mohamed Badr al-Din al-Houthi went to Sanaa to meet Saleh. He stayed there for two months but Saleh did not meet him. He returned to Saada where his father, "Badr al-Din al-Houthi," began a new rebellion. After the father, the Houthis group was headed by his son Abdul Malik al-Houthi. ()
In the first confrontation, the Yemeni government and the media launched a media war against their rival fighters, accusing them of loyalty to Hezbollah and Iran, and of seeking to restore the Imamate rule. Al-Houthi denied these charges in an open letter on 26 June of that year confirming his allegiance to the president and the republican system in which he said that the reason for the disagreement was the government’s pro-US position in addition to the Saudi policy in Yemen.()
In March 2005, a series of accusations and counter-accusations between the government, Badr al-Din al-Houthi (father of Hussein) and Abdullah al-Razami, a former member of the Parliament, both belonging to the Al-Haq party, .was launched. The opposition and the Popular Forces Union were accused of preparing to resume the rebellion, while Badr al-Din al-Houthi accused former President Ali Abdullah Saleh of not being ready to end the conflict. As a result, the second round of fighting broke out with more fierce attacks on the north and west of Saada. The fighting continued for about two months. The government announced victory and the end of hostilities in May 2005, although the Houthis extended from the Maran Mountains to the north and west of Saada.
The third round resulted from the continuation of skirmishes from the second round, which extended from late 2005 until early 2006. A new variant of tribalism emerged in these confrontations. Fighting began in the form of confrontations between pro-government tribesmen and tribal fighters supporting Houthi militants.() The area of confrontations extended to 25% of the total area of Saada governorate, which included many areas and districts, including (Sohar, Al-Safra, Al-Salem, Saqeen, Haidan and Majz) and other areas. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi was the most prominent field commander in this war.() Despite Saleh's visit to Washington in November of the same year, he asked for financial aid to combat al-Qaeda and did not ask for Washington's help to fight the insurgency in the north. In this war, the regional factor emerged and Iran began manipulating events by supervising the appointment of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi,() brother of the founder of the group, as a leader, which Saleh used to seek support from the Gulf without taking real measures to weaken the movement.
At the beginning of 2006, the fighting stopped abruptly to give an opportunity for carrying out the first competitive presidential elections. This increased the certainty of many that Saleh had high coordination with the rebels, especially after Saleh appointed Yahya al-Shami, close associate of the Houthis, as governor of Saada. It seems that Saleh used the war to get money from the Gulf and the West and to cut the nails of his political foes. ()
The war in Saada calmed down after the elections until 28 January 2007 when the Houthis killed a number of soldiers in their attack on military points. The fourth round began, and the Houthis took control of most of the Saada areas. They displaced the Jews from the governorate. The war stopped in June 207 after a mediation by Qatar that brokered an agreement that was signed by the government and the Houthis in Doha in February 2008, but later the Houthis rejected to implement the agreement.
Translation errorThis year the southerners escalated their discontent with Saleh’s regime and the military retirees announced the formation of a peaceful southern movement. It was only weeks before the fifth war broke out in March 2008 following accusations by the authority against the Houthis of breaking the Doha agreement when soldiers were killed in a Houthi ambush and detonated a bomb in a mosque in Saada frequented by military personnel.
Translation errorSaleh was surprised that this war in this round extended to the vicinity of the capital as clashes took place in Sufyan in Amran and Bani Hushaish in Sanaa, which made Saleh use the Republican Guard for the first time, as the Republican Guard was absent from any role in previous wars. On July 17, 2008, Saleh announced an unilateral ceasefire that coincided with the 30th anniversary of his rule, but the Houthis put Sana’a before their eyes.
Translation errorThe Houthis in Sa'ada carried out kidnappings of foreigners working for international health and relief organizations. This matter led to the outbreak of the sixth war on August 11, 2009. The authorities put six conditions for the cessation of operations, most notably the withdrawal of the Houthis from all sites and all the districts of Sana’a governorate, to deliver what they seized of civilian and military equipment, the disclosure of the fate of the kidnapped foreigners, and the cessation of sabotage. But the Houthis were rejecting any concessions in favor of the option of peace.
Translation errorDuring this war, the Houthis attempted to divert attention from their rebellion to gain local and regional sympathy by accusing Saudi Arabia of supporting Saleh in his war against them and so they carried out an attack on the border with the Kingdom. This pushed Saudi aircrafts to intervene. The Saudi intervention restricted any movement by the Houthis despite leaking information that they obtained special weapons from the Republican Guard including RPG, night telescopes, and anti-tank guns that they used against Saudi soldiers.
Translation errorIn the same year 2009, Yemen witnessed an important event that was the announcement of the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This year Saleh benefited greatly from the unlimited support from the West to fight terrorism. The event coincided with the political movement of the opposition to save the country where the National Consultation Meeting was held in Sana'a on 20 May to elect a committee to prepare for the National Dialogue Conference.
Translation errorThe Houthis exploited the deteriorating in the country and expanded in Saada after the end of the sixth war on February 12, 2010. On January 25, 2011, hundreds of people went to the streets in Sanaa demanding changes in the government following proposals by the government to amend the Yemeni constitution to allow Saleh's son to take power. Thus, a new stage in the history of the Houthi group started.
Exploitation of the Peaceful Youth Revolution
This phase was a breath of relief for the Houthis as they began to spread more in the governorates taking advantage of the democratic glare after the fall of Saleh's regime. The Houthi movement found an appropriate opportunity to cause internal wars that weaken the state and the Houthis’ opponents.
After large demonstrations on February 11 demanding the departure of Saleh, the Houthis used the demonstrations to declare their peaceful involvement in the protest squares but they were moving militarily to expand more and more. They tried to control the Harf Sufyan area in Amran governorate, which they failed to take over in the sixth war in 2010. The Yemeni air force responded and killed a number of Houthis in an air strike on March 12, 2011.
On February 20, 2011, the Houthis organized demonstrations in Saada, similar to peaceful demonstrations in Sana'a to demand the regime's departure. After the massacre of Jumat al-Karama (Friday of Dignity) at Change Square in Sana’a on 18 March 2011 and the joining of Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar on March 21 to protest that demand the departure of Saleh, the Houthis became hostile towards the peaceful revolution. The coordination with Saleh resulted in the handover of Saada to the Houthis without confrontations on 29 March 2011 and at the same time al-Qaeda took control of camps in Abyan without fighting.
By the end of 2011, the Houthis had expanded their wars out of Saada and extended to the eastern Al-Jawf and western Hajjah resulting in many deaths and injuries and a large displacement in March 2012.
The Houthis were the most radical towards any peaceful transition. They rejected the Gulf Initiative signed by Saleh on 23 November 2011 for the transfer of power to his deputy, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. They also prevented the February 2012 presidential elections in most of Saada districts.()
On February 25, 2012, President Hadi took the power and the Houthis stepped up their combat operations to control the land. This year was a year of invasions in which they attempted to control the port of Midi in Hajjah and the Salafist Institute in Damaj, north of Saada. They refused to lift the sit-in camps from the Change Square in the capital Sana'a and turned peaceful sit-ins to armed sit-ins by mid-2013.()
On February 2, 2014, the Houthis succeeded in defeating Al al-Ahmar family in Amran and exploded their home. Al al-Ahmar were sheikhs of Hashid tribes for a long time. Sheikh of Hashid Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, who died in December 2009, was one of the most prominent figures of the regime in Sana'a, and one of the founders of the Islah party that combines tribal, political and ideological groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
The governorate of Amran was also a stronghold of the Hashid tribe to which the former president Ali Saleh belongs. Saleh’s regime was based on tribal nerve as the army leaders were from Hashid tribe as well as the tribal leader Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar used to have an enormous political influence within the Yemeni state because of his tribal background, not because of his political position as a party leader or speaker of the House of Representatives. ()
In spite of the fact that the Houthis totally take over Saada, where the Yemeni state was absent, and the appointment of Fares Mana’a, one of the top Yemeni arms dealers, as a governor of Saada their eyes were on the capital Sana'a in conjunction with their war against Salafis in Damaj.
Alliance with Saleh and Iranian weapons
Tensions escalated in 2013 as a result of the movements of the armed Houthis. In early February 2013, the Yemeni government announced the seizure of a cargo ship coming from Iran loaded with weapons and explosives, including anti-aircraft missiles, "Sam 2" and "Sam 3" that were en route to be downloaded secretly on the Yemeni coasts. Although the Houthis participated in the National Dialogue Conference, which was inaugurated on March 18, 2013, they continued their military operations in Saada. In August of that year, the Houthis broke into the Damaj area. ()
Yemen was politically paralyzed after the January 2014 National Dialogue Conference because the Houthis rejected the conference’s outcomes document, along with Ali Abdullah Saleh. Then the alliance between Saleh and the Houthis began to emerge. A large network of "Saleh" military and tribal leaders allowed the Houthis to advance towards Sana'a. The lack of confidence among political parties conflicting over the power, and people's discontent with the post-revolution phase that was erupted by Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, resulted in a severe fuel and gas crisis that people suffered since March 2014.
The Houthis managed to quickly pass through the Yemeni state and tribe from the far north to the capital Sana'a in the following year. In September 2014, the collapse of the Yemeni army's resistance was almost dramatic, as some have described it. The guards of Radio Sana'a, the Cabinet and the Ministries of Health and Information handed over their positions without fighting, and even left the scene (). The Houthis arrived in Sana'a. The Houthis took control of the headquarters of the 6th and 1st Armored Division, the 4th Brigade Command of the Presidential Guard, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, and the Moral Guidance Department, which broadcasts the state television programs, where the guards handed over those buildings without fighting.
They overthrew the government of Mohamed Salem Basindwa (the post-revolution consensus government) on September 21, 2014, and imposed a siege on the Yemeni President AbdRabbo Mansour Hadi imposing by force the signing of the Peace and Partnership Agreement under the auspices of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar.()
The well-known presence of Saleh - the old man in the Yemeni politics - at the scenes of the Houthi coup gave the connotation of the counter-revolution. As a reminder, the former president, who was ousted through the "Spring 2011", not only remained at the head of the ruling party, but was also supported by a large number of the armed forces, and helped in the military invasion of the capital, Sana’a.()
The Collapse of Sanaa!
The Iranians announcement that they are ruling four Arab capitals, "Sanaa, Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus,"() had provoked anger among Gulf neighbors. The Houthis opened the skies for Iranian planes, and arms shipments from Tehran to the Houthis in Sanaa as well as the arrival of military experts from Iran and the southern suburb of Lebanon to help the Houthis were reported. They really have become at the center of Yemen.
The outbreak of a civil war began more imminent than in the cities of Al-Bayda, Taiz, Marib and Al-Jawf, in addition to Arhab in Sana’a. People of many governorates were disappointed because of the weakness of the state to counter the Houthis. The community began to fear the Houthis who took control of the capital.
The Houthis have expanded throughout the country and occupied a position in the government according to the Peace and Partnership Agreement, but the Houthis banned any expression of opinion and confiscated freedoms. Activists tried to protest against the authority that came from Saada, but the Houthi repression, torture and direct targeting of any activist and his family were far greater than expected. And until January and February 2015, the situation was more miserable than ever as President Hadi and members of his government were under house arrest. President Hadi could flee to Aden in February 2015, so the Houthis escalated the confrontations that extended from the village to the city to the coast to the mountain to the valley. The Houthis have threatened Riyadh with military maneuvers on the Yemeni-Saudi borders. ()
Ali Abdullah Saleh has been threatening President Hadi and his government who were in Aden at the time that they will be pursued, pointing out that they will have to flee to Djibouti only (). The Houthi militants moved to Aden to hunt down President Hadi, who requested a military intervention from Saudi Arabia to save the country from the Houthis. On 26 March 2015, Saudi Arabia announced the leadership of a coalition of several Gulf and other Arab countries to confront the Houthis in order to restore power to the legitimate president.
The Houthis after the storm beams
The "Decisive Storm" brought the return of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the legitimate president, the surrender of the Houthis, the handover of weapons they looted from the Yemeni army, and the destruction of ballistic missiles as the main goals of the Decisive Storm. ()
Twenty five days after the announcement of the Decisive Storm, specifically on April 21, 2015, the command of the operation announced its cessation and the beginning of Operation Restoring Hope, after the Saudi Defense Ministry announced "the removal of all threats to the security of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries," and after the destruction of heavy weapons, ballistic missiles and the air force held by the Houthi militias and forces loyal to Saleh.
But that was only at the level of neutralizing military air force. As for ballistic missiles, the Houthis got more ballistic missiles with a support from Iran. The Houthis and Iranians strengthened their relations more than they were before the Decisive Storm.
The Houthis participated in Kuwait peace consultations and previous consultations in Geneva, Switzerland, but the armed group was controlling the decisions of any military moving. They rejected most of proposals made by the world countries and the United Nations. Thus, the war entered decisive turnings.
A few days before the announcement of the end of Kuwait's consultations in August 2016, the Houthis and their ally, Saleh, announced the formation of a supreme political council to govern the areas under their control. The council appointed a “rescue government.” The Houthis also allowed to the House of Representatives to resume its sessions with a low quorum. They all are loyal to the former president Ali Saleh.
The Houthi-Saleh alliance continued amid quarrels and accusations of treason and complicity until they reached armed clashes by mid-2017 following the transfer of the Central Bank from Sanaa to Aden, which made the funds and supplies of war for the Houthis decrease, in addition to financial and administrative corruption within the de facto authority in Sanaa.
Since the beginning of 2017, the Houthis have applied a plan to weaken and dismantle the remaining blocks loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the remaining Republican Guard brigades as well as the popularity of his party, the General People's Congress.
On the occasion of the founding of the General People’s Congress on 24 August 2017, Saleh tried to restore some of balances after the Houthi bulldozing of all the institutions that he used to control in the past. But the Houthi bow was the first successive strike that ended with a costly defeat of Ali Abdullah Saleh whom the Houthis killed on December 4, 2017. Houthis after this date entered a critical stage of violence, cycles of conflict and bloodshed. This stage was characterized by a clear absence of any political cover for their movement, which reflected negatively on the military performance of Houthi fighters in the battlefields as the Houthi movement began to lose areas and leaders day after day by the end of 2017.
Houthi Movement Scenarios
Between the scenario of subjugation and surrender and the scenario of the military defeat, many other scenarios that were open to the Houthis have been lost until recently. Washington, the United Nations and the European countries are trying to pressure the Arab coalition, the Yemeni government and the Houthis to start the dialogue and find political solutions.
The Houthi movement seeks one goal, which is to rule the Yemenis by force or to be annihilated without achieving that goal. The follower of this bloody movement finds that its steps are heading to a dead end, to the collapse that the movement has borne its seeds since its inception.
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