Now at the centre of an international struggle for power over the region, the Houthis initially began as a theological movement preaching peace. Though their slogans embodied Khomenian ideas such as “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam”, the focus of the movement remained on pressing for non-interference by these governments. Today, Yemen is in danger of becoming a battlefield for an alleged Saudi-Iran proxy war as the Houthis channel their aggression towards fighting Salafi expansionism in Yemen.
Post US invasion of Iraq, the movement picked up as anti-US and anti-Israel rhetoric helped gain popular support. Hussein al-Houthi declined Saleh’s invitation for dialogue and was later killed in 2004 as the insurgency against the government threatened internal stability. A ceasefire was reached in 2010. The situation started deteriorating in 2011 (during the Yemeni Revolution) as Houthis began to gain control of greater territory including Saada and Al Jawf and reaching Hajjah which would make it easy to target the capital for which preparations such as construction of barricades north of Sana’a were being made.
The Houthis and Al-Qaeda came into direct confrontation as the former extended their control to Sana’a and Rada. According to popular belief, Saudi Arabia was funding the latter and the Houthis received their aid from the former. After surrounding the presidential palace in January 2015, Houthis dissolved the parliament and declared the Revolutionary Committee to be the acting authority in Yemen. Fears of a backlash were confirmed as suicide attacks were carried out by ISIL at al-Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques killing 142 Houthi worshippers and wounding more than 351. Again, the involvement of US, Israel and Arab states became an integral part of the Houthis’ rhetoric.
Benefitting from the power vacuum created after the ouster of Saleh, the Houthis have come a long way. They have succeeded in garnering popular support and gained legitimacy. The future of the movement vis-à-vis fighting repression (its raison d’etre along with ushering a Zaydi revival) remains murky as accusations of using coercion to further its goals are being hurled at the Houthis.
It is a universally observed trend that wherever inclusiveness is missing from the power structure, resentment finds a fertile breeding ground and internal strife follows. What began as the Believing Youth Forum (a modest gathering in the nineties), has now become a force to be reckoned with. Irrespective of how things play out, the Houthis cannot be sidelined. It has been a chaotic route to accumulate power, marked with violence and instability—the question really is whether or not the Houthis will be able to sustain the political clout that they have managed to acquire.