The Huthi Rebellion in Yemen

Philip McCrum writes in an guest Op-Ed for IC:

The Huthi rebellion kicked off in 2004, when Hussein Badr al-Din al-Huthi proclaimed himself “Amir al-mu’minin” (Prince of the Believers), denounced the Yemeni republic and declared that Yemen was reverting to a Shia imamate, with himself as its spiritual leader—in effect pronouncing himself to be the new imam. His cohorts—“The Believing Youth”—had already been causing a ruckus around the north of the country by disrupting Friday prayers in mosques in protest against the government’s co-operation with the US in its ‘war on terror’. The activities of the organisation became increasingly militant after continued incitement by al Huthi, who . . . was previously an MP for the al Haqq party.

The al-Haqq party was established to legally represent the interests of the Zaydi community in the face as what they saw as a growing Salafi challenge in Yemen, as well as the marginalisation of the Zaydi community. But al Huthi, disillusioned with its limited political leverage, broke off to establish the more radical “Believing Youth” movement. He based his challenge to Yemeni leader Ali Abdallah Saleh’s regime on historical Zaydi doctrine, which believes that rebelling against an unjust ruler is a religious duty. This belief originated from the actions of the sect’s founder, Zayd bin Ali, who led an unsuccessful uprising against the Ummayyad caliph Hisham in 740 on account of the caliph’s despotic rule.

Saleh couldn’t ignore the challenge; al Huthi’s proclamation posed a direct threat to his authority, while also reopening the wounds of Yemen’s civil war. By invoking the old—but not forgotten—royalist cause, al Huthi was adding a nationalist dimension to what started out as a religious movement. Saleh’s concern therefore was that the rebellion would reignite long-latent grievances that could coalesce into widespread opposition to the government. An additional concern was that a forceful insurgency could encourage other groups with grievances against the regime to reassert themselves. This has come to pass in the south.

Al Huthi was killed early on in the fighting and after six rounds of fighting, it is not entirely clear now what the rebels are fighting for or what they hope to achieve. The problem is that the violence seems now to have gained a momentum of its own. Although the conflict has been contained geographically, other groups have been sucked into the violence. As other list members have speculated, the government has indeed deployed Salafi militias against the Zaydi rebels and recent information I have received from Yemen would also suggest that it has also mobilised numerous Hashid tribe members. Just this last weekend, Sufyan tribesmen (part of the Bakil confederation of tribes) attacked a gathering of Hashid members. Senior Sufyan sheikhs have warned the government that if Hashid tribesmen are found to be supporting the government, then it would take up arms on the side of the rebels.

So the conflict is clearly now assuming a tribal dimension as well. This element in particular has the potential to take the conflict to another level entirely and may ultimately prove the downfall of Saleh’s regime. With diminishing cash resources to hold his own tribal patronage network together, Saleh’s grip looks to be weakening considerably.

So his continued attempts to lay the blame for the conflict on outside actors is understandable, if lame. Right from the start, Saleh has tried to implicate other “local and regional groups” in the rebellion; those accused include Saudi Shia Muslims, Iran and Libya. There may well be some Iranian support for the rebels, perhaps through Hezbullah. However, there is little proof of this. Equally uncertain is the role of the Saudis.

Philip McCrum

Bath, UK

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One response

  1. the Problem in the regime .the centralization system. saleh failed to improve this is the first front which will never be closed the rest will definitely follow , there is no other way rather than restructuring the government with( in condition that saleh should not involve at all) ? Or without saleh.
    if they don’t accept the change the price will too high as revolution , speration of southern , spread of alqada’h ect, the state already consider as failed state ???

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