The Houthis have nothing to offer in Yemen

When there is no possibility of uprooting the Houthis, we can kiss Yemen goodbye.
December 24, 2017

The firing of a ballistic missile by Houthi rebels on December 19 reveals the real situation of the Shia group in Yemen. The Houthis have reached an impasse at all levels, especially in dealing with the people of Sana’a and its residents and with the rest of Yemen’s institu­tions.

The political bankruptcy of the Houthis has pushed them to adopt desperate measures in desperate times such as the recent firing of missiles towards Saudi Arabia, as if such missiles would dissuade the Arab coalition or tilt the balance in favour of the Houthis.

In fact, since the December 4 assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis nothing has changed in Yemen other than the Houthis being exposed and the legitimate government failing to bank on the murder.

The Houthis have nothing to offer in Yemen — no political vision, no economic project, no cultural dimension. Their project is to seize power in Sana’a and its surroundings. They are an armed group loyal to Iran that thinks it is possible to revive the Imamate regime in Yemen. The Houthis claimed power in Yemen in 2014. They have the Muslim Brotherhood to thank for their rising influ­ence as the latter overthrew Saleh in 2011.

Abdul Karim al-Iryani saw through the Houthis right away. Some years ago, Iryani, a former Yemeni prime minister, said: “The (Houthi) rebellion in Saada does not concord in any way with the history of the Republic of Yemen and the history of Yemen. Overall, this rebellion has no connection with the social fabric in Yemen, nor with Yemen’s cultural, political and religious heritage. It’s a weed sucking its water from sources outside of Yemeni heritage and history.

“The Muslim Brothers in the opposition, however, saw it as an anti-government movement and did not realise, or should we say that some of them didn’t want to realise, that it is a movement that is being directed against Yemen’s long Islamic history and against the republic whose protection, freedoms and democracy are sought after by all opposition parties in Yemen.”

Iryani died in November 2015. At that time, he was on unfriendly terms with Saleh, who was maintaining close relations with the Houthis. Nevertheless, Saleh did his best to have Iryani buried in Yemen. It was a time when morals and decency still existed between all Yemenis and Sana’a’s inhabitants in particular.

It’s all the more reason for all parties in Yemen not to stay prisoners of personal squab­bles. The years 2011 and 2012 were marked by endless squabbles that paved the way for the Houthis to lay their hands on Sana’a in 2014.

At the time, Saleh thought he could tame the Houthis but when they took over Sana’a and besieged his neighbourhood, he realised he had become their hostage. He tried several times to escape but Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi’s thirst for revenge was stronger. Al-Houthi had been impatiently waiting for the chance to pounce on the former president and avenge the death of his brother, who was killed in September 2004 in a battle between the Houthis and government forces.

During the interview men­tioned above, Iryani spoke of the opposition in Yemen at length. That opposition had one goal: bringing down Saleh. Iryani could not understand how the Muslim Brothers did not understand the threat that the Houthis posed. They closed their eyes to the Houthi insurrection and let it play out for the sake of overthrowing Saleh’s govern­ment. Well, Saleh stepped down in February 2012 and was assassinated in December 2017. Have the Houthis changed their behaviour at all?

Saleh is gone and 2017 is nearing its end. The legitimate camp in Yemen must understand that a new opportunity is dawning. Those who thought it was possible to negotiate with the Houthis and find common ground with them were chasing a mirage.

Those among the Muslim Brothers who thought that they could reach an agreement with the Houthis because they were an Islamist bloc were making the same mistake as Yemeni Presi­dent Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In July 2014, Hadi visited Amran governorate to discuss rebuilding state institutions with the Houthis. Ironically, he did that just after the Houthis’ military campaign to capture Sana’a.

When there is no possibility of uprooting the Houthis and reducing them to their true size by pushing them back to their original fiefdom in Saada, we can kiss Yemen goodbye. Iryani was right about them. The Houthis could not care less about break­ing Yemen up as long as they have their own zone with Sana’a as their capital.

In the name of revolutionary legitimacy, the Houthis are rewriting Yemen’s history. The unavoidable reality is that Sana’a has become an Iranian city.

Should the Arabian Peninsula tolerate this reality or can the deed be undone? The truth is that a lot will depend on a legitimate government capable of understanding the gravity of what is happening in Yemen, where al-Houthi is dreaming of becoming Yemen’s new imam.