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Opinion: Embers of Khomeini’s Fire | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Supporters of the Shi’ite Houthi movement attend an anti-government rally in the Yemeni capital Sana’a on August 29, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

What is happening in Yemen represents as great a threat, if not more so, than what is happening in Iraq and Syria, at least in the eyes of the Gulf states and particularly Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis represent a greater strategic threat to Saudi Arabia and Arabs, particularly if we view them as part of a larger Iranian project that is threatening the region.

There is no hidden backer behind Al-Qaeda and its various franchises or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); there is no foreign state—with a state’s capabilities and strengths—backing either of these two groups. As for the Houthis, they are embers of the Persian Khomeinist fire.

Today, Houthis are fighting in the capital Sana’a and spreading chaos across Yemen, seeking to extort the Yemeni government and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthis’ objective is clear, namely to impose their demands on the state. The Houthis are trying to hijack Yemen’s fate on the pretext of protesting the government’s fuel subsidy cut, but this is nothing more than opportunism.

UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, recently left Saada, the Houthi stronghold, to return to Sana’a without reaching an agreement with the Houthis, who are now threatening the residents of the capital. According to media reports, the Houthis have a number of demands to end the violence, including full control of the port of Midi. This has been a longstanding target for the Houthis, and the reason behind this is clear, namely to create a statelet within Yemen, in the same manner that Hezbollah has sought to create a mini-state in Lebanon.

This Shi’ite emirate on the southern borders of Saudi Arabia represents an Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia, particularly after Tehran has lost its influence in Iraq, Syria and the Gaza Strip.

When we say that a Houthi gunman is akin to a solider in Khomeini’s army, we are saying this backed up by evidence. As for Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, he accused Saudi Arabia—in comments on June 12, 2008 to Yemen’s Al-Nida newspaper—of carrying out violence against Yemenis on American orders.

Zaydism, the form of Shi’ism practiced by the Houthis, has always been a subject of controversy. A Zaydi himself, scholar Mohamed Bin Ismail Al-Sanani said that Zaydism does not have a coherent doctrine that is committed to a specific ideology or its own history. He described Zaydism as a doctrine that is open to development and enrichment. Zaydism has been able to encompass Salafist scholar Imam Al-Shawkani, as well as Imam Abdullah Bin Hamzah (d. 1236 CE), who committed a massacre of some of his own followers simply because they said it was not required that the Imam of the group be a descendant of Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, the Prophet’s grandsons.

Hussein Al-Houthi, the founder of the modern Houthi movement—an almost sacred figure to his followers, who was killed in 2004—went through a number of transformations, from the ruling General People’s Congress to the peripheries of the Khomeinist trend. His Khomeinist tendencies were brought to the fore in a book he wrote on Qur’anic exegesis. In the book, Houthi talks about Sunni defeats throughout history, which he traces to their refusal to pledge allegiance to the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, adding that it would be “foolish for us [the Houthis] to follow them.” In the same section he devotes whole passages to the figure of Khomeini, extolling his “divine character and standards.”

Yemen doesn’t need eulogies; it needs us to call a spade a spade.