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Opinion: Will Yemen become a Houthi republic? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Member of the Shi’ite Houthi militia stand guard on a wall surrounding the old city of Sana’a, Yemen, on 01 January 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

What the Houthi militia—or Ansar Allah as they like to call themselves—has done in Yemen amounts to a fully-fledged coup d’état. It is a coup against Yemen’s constitution and people; above all, it is a coup against the historical and cultural identity of Yemen.

After a string of attacks in Sana’a, Houthi militants stormed the Yemeni presidential compound while President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi continued to issue statements and calls for dialogue. Meanwhile, former Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi calmly and rationally responded on Twitter: “When the sound of gunfire rises, the sound of reason must silence it.”

With the rise of the Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the [Houthi] Imam of Sana’a and the so-called Caliph in Constantinople [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan], one does not know where this obsession with reviving our political Islamic heritage is coming from.

Will Yemenis accept being ruled by a Shi’ite Zaydi Imam almost half a century after the end of the rule of Yemen’s Imams? Badreddin Al-Houthi, Abdul Malik’s father, tried to put himself forward as an Imam during the era of Yemen’s Imams. Beyond that, will the Houthi movement even be able to administer the affairs of Yemen, which has a population of approximately 24 million?

It is no easy task for any figure or group to rule a country that is as impoverished as Yemen. Yemen is an Arab state constantly under threat of division and disintegration, thanks to Al-Qaeda’s terrorism, the corruption of warlords and the Houthis’ obsession with seizing power.

The Houthis undermined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative which Saudi Arabia sponsored in 2011, and which later served as a launchpad for international efforts to resolve the political crisis in the country. It is little wonder that President Hadi has called, repeatedly, on all Yemeni parties to participate in national dialogue.

Rumors of conspiracies abound. Some say that Hadi himself is implicitly backing the Houthis in the hope that they will support him against his political opponents. Others believe former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is backing and facilitating the Houthis in order to use them against his enemies. In reality, the Houthi movement has its own political and ideological agenda that supersedes both Hadi and Saleh. This combines elements and dimensions of Iran’s Islamic revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yemen’s Zaydi legacy.

Anyone familiar with the writings of Hussein Al-Houthi, the founder of the group and Abdul Malik’s elder brother (killed in 2004) would find the Houthis overreaching agenda obvious. Hussein Al-Houthi’s Malazim Al-Qu’ran (Essays on the Qu’ran), includes provocative sectarian discourse, including claims that the defeats that Sunnis have suffered throughout history are due to their failure to back Ali Ibn Abi Talib as Islam’s first caliph. “It would be folly to associate ourselves with them [Sunnis],” he writes in his commentary on Surat Al-Ma’ida (the fifth chapter of the Qu’ran). In the same essay he reverently describes Ruhollah Khomeini as “possessing divine qualities” and being the right person to build the Ummah [international Muslim community].

The only silver lining regarding Yemen’s current tragedy is that this has completely altered the status quo, and everything now is out in the open. The Houthi dream is unlikely to come true. What would be worse, however, is if this dream becomes a nightmare for Yemen and its Arab neighbors.

The Houthis have knocked on the door of the Gulf. We must wait for the answer.