Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Houthi Movement official spokesman Ali Al-Bakhiti affirmed that the Shi’ite Zaidi group will adhere to the agreed outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference, saying that this was the only way for Yemen to extricate itself from the political and security crises that have engulfed it.
Bakhiti confirmed that the Houthi Movement, called Ansar Allah by its members, supported the proposal to establish a Yemeni federal state divided into a northern and southern territory, but described the proposal to split Yemen into more territories as unrealistic. Bakhiti also spoke about the Houthi Movement’s relationship with other Yemeni parties, the Houthi conflict currently taking place in Dammaj in Saada Province, and the movement’s relationship with Iran.
The Houthis are a Shi’ite Zaidi group led by Sheikh Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi. The movement is currently involved in a prolonged conflict with Salafist forces over the town of Dammaj—a Salafist stronghold in the midst of the Houthi-dominated Saada province.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What’s your evaluation of the Yemeni National Dialogue?
Ali Al-Bakhiti: Theoretically, the results are good, and the outcome so far has been acceptable and will benefit the majority of Yemeni society. However, the real test of the National Dialogue’s outcome will come in the form of implementation: will the results of the National Dialogue be implemented? Will the traditional centers of power accept the implementation of these results, or not?
Q: Do the Houthis accept the final results of the National Dialogue?
Any results must first be agreed upon. We are one of the parties that must agree on any outcomes from the National Dialogue. These will be binding on us and we will commit to them. The National Dialogue is the only way out for Yemen of the current crises and wars which it has fallen prey to in recent decades.
Q: Do you have any reservations about the prospective outcomes of the National Dialogue?
We have no reservations whatsoever about the agreed outcomes of the National Dialogue, as these must first be agreed on by us.
Q: Regarding the division of Yemen, do you support or reject this?
We support the implementation of a clear vision regarding the issue of regions, and our representative at the 8+8 subcommittee has affirmed that we support the proposal submitted by the Yemeni Socialist Party, which suggests two regions in Yemen. We believe that this vision is the most suitable for the political status quo in Yemen, while it is also more economically realistic, particularly as the other options are impractical and difficult to fund. These options aim to fragment the South by dividing it into two regions, while dividing the North into four regions, even though the North has never been concerned with the issue of regions.
Q: Do the Houthis want to establish an independent state in Saada?
First, we do not support the division of Yemen, we support the establishment of a federal Yemen made up of two regions. As for the rumors that say that Ansar Allah want to take over Saada or isolate it or create a new region there, these are all untrue. The proof is that we have agreed to only two regions in Yemen, and if we had any intention to form a region for Ansar Allah, we would have accepted the proposal of dividing the North into four regions, which was proposed by the 1994 Allies.
Q: What do you mean by the 1994 Allies? Do you mean the Al-Islah Party and the General People’s Congress (GPC) Party?
We meant the Al-Islah Party and the GPC. However we do not mean the two parties themselves, but the Al-Islah Party leadership, which still adheres to the legitimacy of the 1994 war. The parties that dropped this issue or apologized, or distanced themselves from it, are not included in our accusations.
Q: Is the conflict in Dammaj in Saada a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites?
The conflict, or war, in Dammaj in the Saada Governorate is not a sectarian conflict, as some parties and media outlets are trying to portray it. It is a political conflict and is not limited to the Dammaj area. This is the seventh war waged against the Houthis by the same traditional forces that waged the six previous wars. They are trying to give this conflict a sectarian dimension in order to take advantage of financial support and jihadist fighters from around the country, because they cannot manage the conflict politically.
Q: Does that mean a continuation of the war in Saada? How do you expect this conflict to end?
We support the presidential initiative and the agreement which was signed to resolve this conflict, so long as it is implemented literally. However, the other parties refuse to implement this on the ground and that is why the conflict is continuing. Additionally, there are some forces that are benefiting from the continuation of this war and they are nothing more than warmongers. There are also the centers of power, and the decision is in their hands and not in the hands of [Salafist] Sheikh Yahya Al-Hajooree in Dammaj. Therefore, the centers of power should agree to the ceasefire before Hajooree or anyone else. At the forefront of this are Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, Hamid Al-Ahmar, Hussein Al-Ahmar, and the so-called Victory Front, which is killing the people of Saada, as well as some television channels that are encouraging this conflict.
Q: How would you describe the Houthis’ relationship with the other political forces in the Yemeni arena? Will this lead to solutions or wars?
Our relationships with all political forces are positive. Our relationship with the Socialist Party is good and the same goes for the Nasserist Unionist People’s Organization, as well as with many members of the GPC. We also enjoy good relations with some leaders of the Al-Islah Party.
Q: What about accusations that the Houthis are responsible for kidnapping and abductions in Yemen? How do you respond to these accusations?
Due to the current situation in Saada and other areas, there may be some mistakes, and this is possible in many areas, but these are quickly rectified. These are unintentional mistakes on the parts of individuals, which can happen anywhere.
Q: Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi and those close to him have not made any public or media appearances for a number of months. Is there a reason behind this?
This is because Saada is distant from the decision-making center, which is Sana’a, and so our main leaders are trying to stay away from the capital because of the assassination attempts against Ansar Allah.
Q: How do you assess the security situation in the country?
There are centers of power in Yemen which do not want to hand over authority or depart from the political scene, and so they are creating problems and security issues, including bombings and assassinations. Many of these parties have links to Al-Qaeda. They are also trying to destroy oil pipelines and electricity networks; their primary aim is to make President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi look weak in the eyes of the international and local community, and show him as being unable to protect the military institution. These are parts of attempts to overthrow his rule or assassinate him, as he insists on crossing the red lines which the traditional forces have placed around him.
Q: What about the rumors that the Houthis have formed an alliance with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh? Is there any truth to this?
There is no truth in reports of an alliance between the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The reality is that Saleh has formed a strategic alliance with Al-Islah, the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, and this can be seen clearly in their alliance against the Southern Issue and their rejection of a state of institutions and the formation of a Constituent Council, not to mention their position on Saada.
Q: What kind of relations do the Houthis have with Iran?
Our relationship with Iran is good. It is an Islamic state, and our relationship is the same as that with other states, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, or any other Arab country. There are no problems of any sort in such relations under the umbrella of the Yemen state. Our relationship [with Iran] is not as some parties try to portray it, as though this is an official relationship.
Q: Do the Houthis receive arms from Iran?
I think the accusations that the Houthis are receiving arms from Iran are ridiculous. If Iran wanted to support the Houthis it would have sent a few million dollars, as there is an open arms’ market in Yemen. As for the rumors that Iran is sending ships carrying cargoes of weapons … these are pure fabrications.