Find a Security Clearance Job!


Hothi / Houthi / Huthi
Ansar Allah
al-Shabab al-Mum'en / Shabab al-Moumineen (Believing Youth)

After four years of war, by 2019 the Houthis had transformed themselves from an isolated militia in Saada to a local state that rules the bulk of Yemen's north with an iron fist. They deepened their influence through a combination of force and strengthening alliances with powerful tribes and leading Yemeni figures using political expedience or buying loyalties. On a local level, they have established a system of administration by appointing "supervisors" in every district. The supervisors take all the decisions needed for day-to-day administration, escalating any larger decisions up to higher Houthi management. Their points of focus are largely security, maintaining control, and mobilising more people to fight for their cause. The Houthis had proved to be more capable to govern than the legitimate government. Comparing Sanaa and Aden, Sanaa is better with regard to security.

The popular support for the Houthis today is strengthened by the ever-present threat of aerial bombings by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The coalition, which started its bombing campaign four years ago, has resulted in thousands of deaths and enormous destruction to the Arab world's poorest country.

The Houthis are Zaidi Shia originating from Saada in northern Yemen, their official name is Ansar Allah, or the supporters of God. They gained prominence after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and have survived repeated attempts by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, supported by Saudi Arabia, to eradicate them. They share an ideological affinity with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and with Iran by extension.

After the advent of the Arab Spring to Yemen, President Saleh was removed and replaced by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a Sunni politician from the south. The Houthis were unhappy with this arrangement, as well as with their allotment in the proposed reconfiguration of Yemen into a federation of sorts.

In 2014, the Houthis formed an alliance with Saleh and elements of the armed forces who were still loyal to him and opposed to Hadi, who was seen by some as a Saudi puppet. They moved on Sanaa in September 2014 and overthrew Hadi. They soon took the port city of Hodeidah as well and began to move on Aden.

The situation was dangerous for Saudi Arabia, which did not want to see vital shipping lanes under the control of the Houthis and its regional rival, Iran. And thus, Operation Decisive Storm was born, a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE that went to war to reinstate Hadi and the internationally recognised government he headed.

Yemen's government faced a persistent rebellion by Shiite tribesmen. The Houthis led a campaign calling for the replacement of the government and economic reforms. The Houthi motto is: "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam." Yemen's Sunni-majority government accused them of being a proxy for Iran, blaming the mainly Shi'ite nation for sparking the unrest.

Ansar Allah, previously known as Al-Shabab al-Muminin, is the military wing of the Shiite Houthis Movement. "We are in the end time, the promised Yamani and messenger of Imam Mahdi to the Shia Muslims, the Mahdi who is born in the end time for the Sunnis Muslims..."

One of the deepest root causes of the conflict in Sa'ada is religious. Over the past 20 years, Zaydis - who have historically made up the majority of the governorate's population - have felt increasingly threatened by the radical Sunni Salafism exported from Saudi Arabia (ref b). "Sa'ada is so Shi'a that even the stone is Shi'a," Abdulkader al-Hillal, former head of the Sa'ada Mediation Committee, said, quoting a Yemeni poet. However, Sa'ada's unique Zaydi identity has been challenged by the establishment of Salafi schools and mosques in the governorate, and local residents founded a Zaydi revivalist group called the Believing Youth to teach young people about their Zaydi religion and history. A branch of the Believing Youth later produced the more extreme Houthi ideology and organization. The Houthis are fighting to preserve their unique identity, religious beliefs and practices by seeking to establish their own schools and university.

The government of Yemen argued at every turn that Iran and its surrogate, Hizballah, inspired, financed and trained the al-Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, various sources alleged that the Saudi government was providing significant financial support to the government in its fight against the Houthis.

In an 08 September 2009 interview on al-Jazeera satellite channel, President Saleh alleged that unnamed Iranian parties support the Houthis financially and otherwise. In April 2015 a confidential UN report by a panel of experts presented to the Security Councils Iran sanctions committee indicated that Iran has been shipping weapons to Yemens Houthi rebels since at least 2009. The panel of experts reported on the findings of an investigation into the 2013 seizure by Yemeni authorities of an Iranian ship, the Jihan, that was carrying weapons.

The Al-Houthi rebels were centered on opposing the government, but were also anti-American and criticized Sunni scholars for ordering people to obey "cruel rulers who cooperate with America." In 2008, the leader of the al-Houthi group stated that their new slogan was "God the Greatest, Death to America and Israel, Victory for Islam and Muslims."

Yemen likely has among the highest number of small arms/light weapons per capita in the world, with easy access to many varieties of explosives. Weapons and explosives are easily attainable, and gun markets are well-stocked. Although the presence of weapons is smaller in scale in the larger cities, small arms remain prolific in tribal areas and smaller towns. The Al-Houthi rebellion has also indicated how easy it is to obtain light and heavy weapons in country. In addition, there have been reports of surface to air missiles in the hands of terrorist groups in Yemen.

Yemen was engaged in an intrastate conflict with Shia rebels loyal to Abdul Malik al-Houthi, also known as the Shabab Al-Mu'minin (Believing Youth), or even more recently as the Mujahedeen group, according to recent statements by the group's leader. In the early 1990s, in the face of what Zaydis perceived as religious persecution, Zaydis in Sa'ada founded a Zaydi revivalist group called the Believing Youth as well as the Zaydi-affiliated al-Haq opposition party. It was supposed to be a religious renewal for Zaydis, to teach our young people about the Zaydi religion and history.

This conflict began in mid-2004, and flared up again in the spring of 2005. In late December 2006, the conflict erupted again and has become more intense. There were a large number of violent clashes in Saa'da in Jan/Feb 2007. The conflict remained largely localized in the north until May 2008, when ROYG forces confronted al-Houthi rebels in Bani Hushaysh, an area approximately 12km from the US Embassy. The conflict in this area lasted approximately the entire month of June of 2008, and into early July. On 17 July 2008, the government announced an end to the conflict in Saa'da.

The Houthis are followers of cleric Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houti (Husain al-Huthi), who was killed in September 2004, after months of battles with Yemeni security forces. Sheik al-Houti, a one-time political aspirant in Yemen, had wide religious and tribal backing in Yemen, particularly in Yemen's northern mountains. Hussein al-Houthi was a former member of parliament for the pro-monarchy al-Haqq (Truth) Islamic party. The government of Yemen accused Hothi of setting up unlicensed religious centers.

The Houthis are a group of combatants associated with the Zaydi Revivalist movement in Yemen, which emerged as a result of deep-seated frustrations among those tribes who felt as though they had become marginalized after an Egyptian-backed revolution against the Zaydi Imam in 1962 brought an end to Hashemite domination. Led at first by Badr al-Din al-Houthi and later by his son Hussein al-Houthi, the revivalists that spawned the Houthi presence promoted religious and local identity over national priorities. There was a resentfulness of the central governments tolerance of growing Sunni Wahabi influence and its policy of concentrating investment in infrastructure and services on Sanaa and areas with economic resources, to the exclusion of the rest of the country, and in particular the Saada-Amran-Hajja area.

Sheik al-Houti, a Zaidi religious leader, headed an armed group called the Believing Youth. The group led protests against the United States and Israel at mosques. Al-Houti's followers said Yemen's government had become too closely allied with the United States. During the main weekly prayers each Friday, al-Houthi's followers used to chant slogans against Israel and the United States. Yemen's government said the group was modeled on the Lebanese Hizbollah, and that it sought to re-establish a monarchy in Yemen by force. Al-Houti was accused of trying to set himself up as Imam. Hizbollah in Lebanon denied any links with the rebels in Saddah, though some thought the Iranian-backed insurgents were linked.

The Houthis surprisingly avoided assuming a singular tribal identity, which is significant given the country is dominated by tribal allegiances. Instead, the group strategically drew support from tribes of the northern Bakil federation, rival to the Hashid federation which had been a traditional ally of the central government. The Houthis lacked both a political program and a centralised command structure, with varying degrees of coordination applying across four constituent groups: an ideological core with symbolic or political ties to Iran and an anti-Western posture; those driven by concern for Zaydi and Hashemite identity; groups of armed men whose main interest is money; and a majority, tribesmen defending their families and villages against state violence. These trends allowed them to generate immense support, as Yemenis from diverse backgrounds have joined their cause.

Given the opacity of the Houthi rebels in the northern governorate of Sa'ada, as well as the government's misleading claims about the group's goals, as late as 2009 it was difficult to answer the question, "What are the Houthis fighting for?" They were rhetorically anti-American, painting the slogan "Death to America" on buildings and boulders throughout Sa'ada governorate, but they had not targeted U.S. citizens or interests. The Houthis are also anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, and their threats against the Jewish community in Sa'ada (one of only two remaining Jewish communities in Yemen) caused the Jews to relocate to Sana'a in 2007.

The Houthis' objectives have evolved since the first Sa'ada war began in June 2004, when the Houthis were a small group of fighters defending a member of their family, MP Hussein al-Houthi, from arrest. Hussein al-Houthi was reportedly one of 21 brothers, including current leaders Abdul-Malik and Yahya. For almost three months Houthi and his supporters, who at that time claimed allegiance to the state, fought off government troops from his stronghold in the Marran Mountains, until he was killed on September 10, 2004.

In the years since, as the Houthis gained supporters and territories, the group's objectives have expanded while becoming even murkier. According to the International Crisis Group, there was no evidence of a coherent ideology or political program: "Some groups fighting the government, though referred to as Houthis, appear motivated by multiple, mostly non-ideological factors having little in common with the leadership's proclaimed grievances." These factors include disenfranchisement with the ROYG and the need to avenge the killings of family members or tribesmen unless blood money is paid.

Join the mailing list