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Political Relations: the Houthis of Yemen Security Dilemma Essay

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Updated: May 1st, 2020


The 21st century has witnessed an increase in the number of Islamic militant groups. In the Middle East, ISIS continues to create terror and fear among the locals. Though the international media attention has focused on the ISIS, other Islamic militant groups are present in the Middle East.

In Yemen, the Houthis have emerged as a major political and religious organization. The Zaidi Shia affiliated insurgent group operates under an ideology similar to ISIS. The group was named after its founding commander, who died following an attack by the Yemeni Defense Forces (Hellmich 621).

Other members of the Houthi family have been killed by raids carried out by government forces. Despite earlier setbacks, the group has operated a strong unit in Yemeni that continues to expand and create havoc. In this paper, the rise of the Houthis in Yemeni will be discussed. The paper will also discuss the security dilemma that has been created by the emergence of a strong Houthis in Yemeni.

History of the Houthis

The lack of adequate leadership structure within the Saada governorate in the early 90s presented an opportunity for Islamic groups to galvanize the region. As a result, the Houthi Islamic group was created in the region in 1992. It was called Believing Youth (BY) and was mainly made up of members of the Al-Houthi family. To improve its influence in the region, BY developed a number of school clubs and camps. The group used such a forum to spread the Saidi ideology and philosophies to the youths.

Over 20,000 students graduated from the camps within one year. This presented a major challenge to the Yemeni government as the number of radicalized youths increased significantly (Terrill 429). In 2003, Iraq invaded Yemen, and this gave the BY group new impetus to advance their anti-American crusade. Within the Sanaa mosques, various anti-Jews and anti-American slogans were narrated by the youths.

Yemeni has had a positive relationship with the United States over the years. By adopting an anti-American slogan, the Houthis hoped to create tension between the two governments (Durac 170). However, the government responded swiftly and arrested over 800 BY youths in 2004. When Houthi’s leader failed to honor an invitation by the government, Special Forces were sent to arrest him.

This marked the beginning of an extended conflict and confrontation between the Yemeni government and the Houthis insurgents. The conflicts continued until 2010 when the government and the terror group agreed to sign a non-confrontational ceasefire (Eissa 41).

In 2010, the Houthis was included in the National Dialogue Conference after the Yemeni revolution. However, the group rejected the terms of the dialog that called for the formation of a coalition government. While the convention agreed to provide immunity to President Saleh, the group called for his persecution and possible execution. When the demands of the group were not factored into the final agreement, the Houthis began fresh resurgence.

They took control of two governorates, including the Saada and the Al Jawf (Novak 16). The group also organized further attacks on other governorates such as the Hajj. Controlling Hajjah enabled the group to organize a successful takeover of the capital city of the country. Despite the resistance mounted by the government, the Houthis control various parts of the capital, including key government installations and buildings (Seyyed and Javad 100).

Background of Houthis

The Al-Houthi that was later transformed into the Houthi terror group was only made of 20 members. A majority of the members belonged to the Houthi family. After the death of the founding commander in 2005, the group adopted an intensive recruitment drive. This drive enabled the sect to attract over 10,000 fighters by 2009. Just like other modern Islamic groups, the Houthi has operated under a single ideology (Hansen 165).

The organization is affiliated to Shia Islam, known as the Fivers. According to the leadership of the group, widespread discrimination of the community has pushed them to act. The group has accused the Yemeni government of isolating them from major government appointments.

However, the government has counter-argued that the group plans to overthrow the government and introduce Shia affiliated rules. The Yemeni government argues that the group intends to achieve this through the destabilization of the current leadership and increasing anti-American crusade in the country (Eissa 41).

The strength and effectiveness of the Houthis have been attributed to external organizations and governments. According to the Yemeni government, the Houthis have received significant financial and arms support from the Iranian government. Iran is the only country in the Middle East with the highest number of Shia Muslims.

Yemeni officials have argued that Iran seeks to control the resources of the country through this group. The Houthis have, however, insisted that the government is working with other anti-Shia organizations in the region. Al-Qaeda and the government of Saudi Arabia remain at the center of the conflict propagated by the Houthis (Terrill 429).

Unlike other Islamic resurgent groups, the Houthis have adopted a peaceful mode of advancing their agenda. They advocate civil disobedience among their members in different parts of the country (Selim 260). Such actions have been initiated whenever the government adopts a less popular policy.

For example, a group organized for civil disobedience in July this year when the government increased the cost of fuel. This led to widespread demands for the resignation of the government by the group and its affiliates. Such actions have enabled the organization to infiltrate the capital and take over key installations from the government (Hansen 165).

Present-day Houthis of Yemeni

In the recent past, international media have given much coverage to the ISIS issue. This has pushed the situation in Yemeni to the periphery though it has massive implications on the domestic and global security. Yemeni is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, which has been attributed to a number of domestic issues.

Lack of proper governance, corrupt, weak, and ineffective government, and decades of struggles have affected the country. The inability of the government to address such economic and social issues has led to increased public discontent and disobedience (Eissa 41).

The Houthis have capitalized on the current situation in the country to take control of the capital city of Sanaa. This has affected the operations of the government and crippled various essential functions in the country.

The locals have placed significant hopes on the Houthis to salvage the economy of the country and improve their status. Bogged with a difficult economic situation, the locals took to the street to protest the move by the government. The Houthis used this opportunity to infiltrate the unstable capital and take control of key buildings and government installations (Hansen 165).

With strong political and military capabilities, the Houthis was well placed to advance their campaign against the government. In a well-orchestrated move, the insurgent group took control of Sanaa and adopted their Shia motivated laws in the capital.

As a way of increasing their political dominance in the country, the Shia forced the country’s Prime Minister to resign from the government. However, when the president replaced him with Hadi, the group rejected the appointment. This gave the group significant control of the government’s operations and decisions (Porges 30).

According to various security analysts, the actions of the group are motivated by a number of factors. The Houthis have been frustrated by the government due to continued discrimination and lack of recognition. By taking control of the capital and other governorates, the group has attempted to push the government into political concession (Freeman 1008).

The Houthis have improved their chances of influencing the policies adopted by the central government. Political concession will enable the Houthis to have full autonomy and control of northern Yemeni, a situation that the government has failed to consider. However, recent events in the country have left the country’s leadership with no option. The organization is in full control of the country’s security apparatus. The military wing of the Houthis control major parts of the city and ensures law and order (Phillips 123).

The effectiveness of the Houthis has been witnessed on various occasions since they took control of the capital. For example, the appointment of Hadi as the new prime minister has failed to calm the group and reduce their grip in the city. The group views Hadi as an obstacle to political reforms in the country. To fasten their goals, the Houthis gave the Yemeni government a 10-day ultimatum to form a new government of national unity by November. Hadi announced a new government in the first week of November 2014 (Winter 395).

This gave the group significant control of the central government from inside, contrary to past situations. The government of national unity formed is made up of representatives from different groups. This move enabled the Islamic radical group to transform itself into a legal, political party driven by longterm party manifesto (Seyyed and Javad 100).

Impacts of Houthis’ control of the Yemeni government

Houthis’ control of the Yemeni government presents a number of challenges to local and international governments. Though the locals supported the Houthis Islamic militant due to their stand on fuel prices and corruption, their leadership approach is loathed by many.

Despite taking control of the city, the Houthis militants have remained reluctant to take full control of the country’s leadership. Instead, the organization has entered into a partnership with the government and the secessionist group from the south. Such a move has handed the group significant powers to influence key government decisions and policies (Phillips 123).

The presence of the Houthis in the decisions made by the Yemeni government creates a dilemma for the country’s leadership, the locals, and the international security apparatus. For example, the National Dialogue Conference of 2011 made a number of resolutions aimed at stabilizing the country. Though the Houthi participated in these deliberations, they rejected the decisions that were made. The group has been keen to stop the government from implementing these recommendations (Winter 395).

The southern Hirak tribe has unsuccessfully struggled for the liberation of the region and declaration of self-independence. However, the central government has been successful in containing their revolt through military action. The emergence of the Houthi in Yemeni presents the Hirak with an opportunity to advance their course and achieve self-independence. Though the Hiraki has also been included in the transitional government, they have failed to adopt a proper framework for engaging with the Houthis (Porges 30).

A majority of the southerners believe that the group can capitalize on the instability in the central government to declare independence. This is a direct consequence of the emergence of the Houthi in Yemeni. The Hirak is also affiliated to Al-Qaeda, a terror group that has historically opposed the emergence of the Houthis in Yemeni.

The conflict between the Hirak and the Houthis will complicate the stability of Yemeni further. This will present a fertile breeding ground for future terrorist cells whose influence and threats can spill to other countries in the world. The transitional government must, therefore, maintain a delicate balance to improve the security and stability of the country (Phillips 123).

The growing influence of the Houthi has been associated with the support they have continued to receive from the Iranian government. Iran is predominantly Shia, and this explains its increasing activity in Yemeni through the Islamic insurgent groups. With support from Iran, a new position held by the Houthis has remained a major international issue. Countries such as the United States and Saudi Arabia have been forced to develop the right approach and remain relevant in the face of emerging threats from the Houthis.

However, the equation has been complicated for the Saudis as opposition to the emergence of the Houthis places it on a similar side as other Sunni- based Islamic groups. Such groups include Al Qaeda, whose operation has affected the security situation in the United States (Winter 395).

Saudi and Al Qaeda cannot be allies, as this will complicate the relationship of the country with the United States. In retaliation to the growing influence of the Houthi, the Al Qaeda has initiated a number of attacks against the government. Such attacks may be of great interest to other countries as opposed to the emergence of the Houthi in Yemeni.

Though the united states have taken a relaxed and less concerned attitude towards the crisis in Yemeni, developments in the country have presented it with major challenges. The Houthis have launched an anti-American and anti-Israeli crusade. This has affected the country’s ability to intervene in the crisis and ensure stability in the country (Seyyed and Javad 100).

The enemies in the Yemeni crisis have a common goal against the United States. As a result, it is important for the US to monitor the growth of the Houthi and their Al Qaeda enemies. The United States has encouraged the two antagonists to form a strong coalition government and ensure that the country is stable.

The stability of Yemeni, even under the leadership of the Houthis, will enable the United States to monitor the security situation within the Middle East. This position adopted by the United States has been attributed to the country’s preoccupation with protecting its homeland against external aggression (Porges 30).

Organizations such as the Al Qaeda are the main threats to domestic security in the United States as compared to the Houthi. A strong government under the Houthi leadership will reduce the presence of the Al Qaeda group in southern Yemeni. The United States has encouraged the stabilization and strengthening of the Yemeni military and other security units to partner with other organizations and neutralize the influence of Al Qaeda in the region.

Though the Houthis have openly organized anti-American campaigns in the country, a common enemy in Al Qaeda is likely to bring them together. The Houthi have demonstrated the ability to control and stabilize areas it captures from the government. Such strong military and policing capabilities can be applied to the Al Qaeda in the southern governorate (Phillips 123). The Houthi has also demonstrated strong organizational capability by bringing down the Yemeni government in a period of fewer than two months.

This has enabled the group to advance its course and reduce corruption and inefficiency in the government. However, the continued presence of Houthi in the Sanaa capital is in doubt due to a number of religious and geographical challenges. Though the Houthi has full control of the capital, the group has remained reluctant to rule the country directly.

Iran’s role on the rise of the Houthis

Iran, a predominantly Shia country, has been accused in the past of financing various militia groups to bring down Sunni-led governments. From Syria to Damascus, Iran stands accused of having a hand in the crisis in these countries. The Syrian government has accused the supreme leader of Iran of financing the rebels in the country. In Lebanon, the growth of the Hezbollah has been a result of the support that they receive from the Iranian government.

Unlike the Sunnis, the Shia has a well-organized leadership structure based in Iran. The analyst believes that this is the genesis of the Houthis rise in Yemen. In the last century, the Houthis were a little known group struggling to fight the Yemeni government. However, the group has grown from a group that uses civil disobedience to achieve their course into an armed organization. The Iranian government has been accused of being part of the Houthis rise in Yemen.

In 2012, a shipment of weapons was seized while headed to the Yemen coast from Iran. The shipment was destined to Medi Harbour in Hajj governorate that is under the control of the Houthis. Ideologically, the Shia Zaidi is affiliated to the Shia Imamiya of Iran.

This has contributed to the strong relationship between the group and the Iranian supreme leader. Though the Houthis continue to discredit the existence of an Iranian link, its growth and strength are questionable. The emergence of the group has been compared with other Shia militant organizations in countries such as Yemen, Syria, and Jordan.


The world continues to witness the emergence of sectarian Muslim organizations whose objectives remain unknown. Most of the organizations present significant security challenges to governments and the international community. The Houthis of Yemeni is a Shia affiliated Islamic group from the northern part of the country. In 2014, the group successfully replaced the Yemeni government after taking control of the capital city.

This situation has presented significant challenges to global security players such as the United States and Israel. Though the focus has been on the ISIS, the Houthi presents a serious security concern. This paper has discussed the security implication of the emergence of the Houthis of Yemen.

Works Cited

Durac, Vincent. “Yemen’s Arab Spring – Democratic Opening or Regime Maintenance?” Mediterranean Politics 17.2 (2012): 161-178. Print.

Eissa, Abdulmalik Mohammad Abdullah. “Islamist Political Movements in Yemen.” Contemporary Arab Affairs 6.1 (2013): 41. Print.

Freeman, Jack. “The Al Houthi Insurgency in the North of Yemen: An Analysis of the Shabab Al Moumineen.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32.11 (2009): 1008-1019.Print.

Hansen, Jarle. “Yemeni Security-Political Dynamics and Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean Region.” Journal of the Indian Ocean Region 8.2 (2012): 165. Print.

Hellmich, Christina. “Fighting Al Qaeda in Yemen? Rethinking the Nature of the Islamist Threat and the Effectiveness of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 35.9 (2012): 618-633. Print.

Novak, Jane. “Comparative Counterinsurgency in Yemen.” MERIA Journal 14.3 (2010): 12-28. Print.

Phillips, Sarah. “Chapter Seven: Yemen and the 2011 Arab Uprisings.” Adelphi Series 51.420 (2011): 123. Print.

Porges, Marisa. “De-radicalisation, the Yemeni Way.” Survival (00396338) 52.2 (2010): 27-33. Print.

Selim, Gamal. “The United States and the Arab Spring: The Dynamics of Political Engineering.” Arab Studies Quarterly 35.3 (2013): 255-272. Print.

Seyyed Abdolazim, and Javad, Amani. “A Study Of The Causes Of Wars Between The Government And The Shiites Of Yemen Based On “Fuzzy Cognitive Maps.” Journal of International & Area Studies 19.1 (2012): 97-114. Print.

Terrill, Andrew. “Iranian Involvement in Yemen.” Orbis 58.3 (2014): 429. Print.

Winter, Lucas. “Fragile State: Yemen in Conflict.” Current History 109.731 (2010): 395. Print.

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