Following the G8 Summit, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with the US President. During this meeting, President Saleh was briefed on information gathered by the CIA, specifically with regards to what is termed the Youthful Believers movement [Shabab al-Moumineen] which is led by Hussein Badreddin al-Huthi. Al-Huthi is said to have incited the Yemeni population against US forces with claims that the US is preparing to invade Yemen. The [CIA] report also discussed the Huthi leader’s ties with Iran, saying that these go back a long time, and that al-Huthi spend three years in Iran. This has resulted in the group appearing to follow Iranian doctrine, and this can further be seen in the group’s political literature, as well as through its military activities on the ground.
The above news sounds as if it only occurred recently, but the majority of the above paragraph comes from a media report published in July 2004. Is it reasonable that fives years later, we are still unable to understand the Huthis, and their identity continues to be a mysterious puzzle?
All of the information that we have about the Huthis is contradictory; there are stories that they are an Iranian-affiliated movement that was let loose [by Iran] against Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Another story claims that the Huthis have no connection whatsoever to Iran, that they are nothing more than a local nationalist movement that is at odds with the Yemeni regime, and that it is the Yemeni regime that is promoting the story of Huthi ties with Iran in order to obtain international support, particularly from the US and Saudi Arabia. They are in need of this support to crush the rebel movement, because the Yemeni regime has failed to defeat the Huthis following five years of incessant fighting.
What the media report revealed [with regards to Huthi ties to Iran] may be untrue, however the date of this report indicates that the Huthis were a problem even before the conflict in Sa’dah, this conflict was later transferred across the border into Saudi Arabia where it has now become an international news story.
Are the Huthis allied or affiliated to Iran in the same way as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Muqtada al-Sadr or are they truly nothing more than a rebel movement, like the rebel movements in western and southern Sudan?
Is labeling the Huthis as Iranian allies nothing more than part of a propaganda war?
On one hand, the official Yemeni argument seems weak. When a Yemeni official was told that the Americans are not certain that the Huthi insurgents are genuinely affiliated to Iran, he answered by saying that the evidence of this is that the Huthis have publicly declared their hostility to the US and chant the slogans “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. However anybody who lives in our Arab world must be aware that these are populist slogans that are chanted by a broad cross-section of society, and even occasionally in countries that are allied to the US, therefore this does not represent evidence against the Huthi insurgents or anybody else. Nevertheless Iran’s fingerprints can be seen in the Huthi religious doctrine and political ideology, as well as in the Huthi movement’s activities. This does not prove that they are affiliated to Iran, but it does cast doubts over the movement’s political position.
In my opinion, even if the Huthis have no links to Iran and the Yemeni government is deliberately “distorting” their reputation, taking up arms for political expression is completely unacceptable, and will only serve to sow discord in Yemen. Despite the many political and administrative weaknesses in Yemen, the country enjoys a reasonable freedom of expression, objection, and protest, not to mention electoral freedoms as well. The Huthis were capable of besieging their opponents in the Yemeni regime without shedding all of this innocent blood.
The fact of the matter is that we have no idea what [Yemeni] President Saleh will do once he tightens his grip on power. He needs a national project far more than he needs political speeches. He needs to win the support of his political opponents who did not take up arms against him far more than he needs to win the military battle with the Huthis. Those Yemenis are far more worthy of his attention, and if he continues to lose their support he will never be able to win the conflict with the Huthis.