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Houthis: Who Are They?

At the very beginning, the Houthi movement began as the Believing Youth, which was founded in 1992 by either Houthi family member Muhammad al-Houthi or his brother Hussein al-Houthi.

The Houthis were widely known as a shia theological movement that started as "Ansar Allah"(Supporters of God). It is a Zaidi group that operates in  Yemen. It said it want to spread the belief and ideologies of the Zaidi shia in the region.

It is also believed that this commonest name it is now known with (i.e. Houthis) was taken from Hussein Badruddin al-Houthi linking its origin to his tribe. He led the group's insurgency in 2004 against the Yemen Government and was reportedly killed by the Yemen army forces same year.

The Houthis all along have received significant support from Iran in the form of weapons, money and training since 2004. A December 2009 cable between Sanaa and various intelligence agencies disseminated by wikileaks states that some analysts believed the Houthis obtained weapons from the Yemeni black market and corrupt members of the Republican Guard.

According to some sources, the Houthis began as a theological movement that preached tolerance and peace that held a considerably broad-minded educational and cultural vision. Western sources report that Believing Youth established school clubs and summer camps in order to "promote their Zaidi revival" in Saada. By 1994–1995, 15–20,000 students had attended Believing Youth summer camps. However, this could also be seen as one of the shia sect wide belief techniques of taqiyyah (concealing) until they attain power to show the exact intent they had behind their earlier concealed plans. The happenings of today can testify to that.

After the American-led invasion of Iraq, loyal youth to Believing Youth started chanting anti-American and anti-Jewish slogans in the Saleh Mosque in Sana'a after Friday prayers. This in turn led to confrontations with the government which they believe is a working tool of America in Yemen. A number of the Believing Youth supporters were arrested in Sana'a in 2004. This was the beginning of what led to the killing of its leader Hussein al-Houthi. Because, the Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh invited him to a meeting in Sana'a, but Hussein declined. On 18 June 2004 Saleh sent government forces to arrest Hussein. Hussein responded by launching his widely known June 2004 insurgency against the government, but was killed on 10 September same year. The insurgency continued intermittently until a ceasefire agreement was brokered in 2010.

Although, the Houthis now claim they participated in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, as well as the ensuing National Dialogue Conference (NDC), but facts available amongst the people of Yemen and the realities on ground as at that time show that they were in the borders terrorizing it and never were they available on ground during the revolution. This gets clearer with the fact that when all participating parties were invited to dialogue and reach to the signed treaty in Riyadh, they were not among and never made any claim then. But with the recent development, in which everybody is tend to believing that the former president made an underground deal with the Houthi, and thus handing over to them all the gadgets of the government under his control or at the least, that are loyal to him, they now claim that they were part and parcel of the revolution and that they rejected as at then the provisions of the November 2011 deal and the establishment of a coalition government.

What Exactly Do They Want?

The Houthi leaders such as Issam Al-'Imad have stated as early as 2011 that they are religiously and ideologically influenced by Iran, and as of 2014 it has been observered that “The Houthi group’s approach is in many ways similar to that of Hizbullah in Lebanon. Both religiously based, Iran-backed groups follow the same military doctrine and glorify the Khumeini revolution in Iran”.

Houthis belong to the Zaidi sect, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. They are known for being most similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings. They do however, believe in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion, which makes them distinct from Sunnis. However, they are also regularly accused, even by fellow Zaidis, of secretly being converts or followers of the Twelvers sect, which is the official religion of their ally and backer Iran.

The Houthis have asserted that their actions are to fight against the expansion of Ahlussunnah in Yemen, and for the defence of their community from widespread and systematic discrimination. But the facts on ground show that they have confirmed what the Yemeni government accused them of earlier that  they intend to overthrow the regime out of a desire to institute Zaidi religious law. The Houthis have told people they are "praying in the wrong way" by raising their arms, as is the custom among Sunnis in Yemen.


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