Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Huthi Rebels: A Profile | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- Prior to the summer of 2004, few people inside or outside of Yemen had ever heard of the Huthi rebels. The Huthis began their operations in the 1990s as an ideological Zaidi Shiite movement under the name Al-Shabbab al-Mummin [The Young Believers]. The group was founded by Hussein Bedridden al-Huthi, his brothers Abdul-Malik and Yahia al-Huthi, along with Mohamed al-Azzan, who later broke away from the group. Hussein al-Huthi was a Zaidi cleric and former member of Yemen’s parliament for the Zaidi Hizb al-Haq (1993 – 1997). The Huthis managed to convince Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to provide them with support, but they soon backed out of this alliance with President Saleh, who was only supporting them in order to counteract the influence of fundamentalist salafist cleric Sheikh Muqbil Bin Haadi al-Waadi’ee in Saada province.

However in 2003 the Huthi political activities began to gain the group prominence and their famous slogan “Death to America…Death to Israel…Death to the Jews” was chanted outside the Grand Mosque of Sanaa following every Friday prayer. After the invasion of Iraq, the Huthis also arranged demonstrations in front of the US embassy in Sanaa condemning the war, chanting well-known Iranian slogans.

The Huthis are a Zaidi Shiite insurgency that wants to overthrow the Yemeni government, they believe that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime is illegitimate and consider him to be an ally of the US. The Huthis desire to establish a revivalist Imamate [Shiite version of a Caliphate] in Yemen. The Yemeni government has accused the Huthis of having ties to external powers, especially Iran, something that the Huthis deny.

The Yemen authorities began a crackdown on the Huthis in early 2004, with dozens of members being arrested at the Grand Mosque in Sanaa and during other demonstrations. The Yemeni authorities then began a military campaign in Saada province in order to arrest the Huthi commander Hussein Bedridden al-Huthi, who refused to hand himself over to the authorities. According to the Yemeni authorities, the Huthis resisted and violence broke out across Saada, with this conflict resulting in the death of Hussein Bedridden al-Huthi in September 2004. Since then, the government and the Huthi insurgents have fought six wars, the last of which ended with the announcement of a truce on Friday, after the Huthis announced their acceptance of the six governmental preconditions. The latest war can be described as the most bloody of the past six years, as this conflict expanded to include numerous districts in Saada as well as the Harf Sufyan district of Amran. The Huthis also gained a partial foothold in the al-Jawaf province.

The Huthi insurgents infiltrated Saudi Arabian territory in early November 2009, occupying parts of Jizan province and the Jabal Dokhan region. However Saudi Arabia, in its largest military mobilization since the 1991 Gulf war, routed the Huthi insurgents from their territory, and the Huthi forces announced have their withdrawal. The six conditions for ceasefire issued by the Yemeni government to the Huthi rebels includes a pledge never to attack Saudi Arabia again.

According to reports, the Huthis had between 1,000 and 3,000 members in 2005, whereas this number is said to stand somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 today.

The Huthis are a Zaidi Shiite group, and this is a sect that nearly one third of Yemen’s population belongs to. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is also a member of this sect, but he faces criticism in Yemen as people believe that he is encouraging the spread of salafist groups in the country, particularly Saada province, which traditionally has been a center for the Zaidi Shiism.

Having been routed from Saudi Arabia, and after securing another truce with the Yemeni government, what lies ahead for the Huthi movement?