Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the last days of the Trump administration, designated the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen – colloquially known as Houthis – a terrorist organisation. This measure, combined with the ongoing US-supported Saudi war on Yemen, will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis wracking that country. Not only is this designation slanderously false, it also obscures the culpability of US and Saudi Arabia for the calamity they have created in Yemen.
The new Biden administration, after intense criticism of this designation from human rights organisations, has moved to exempt aid groups, the United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and relief groups from this classification. Nevertheless, designating the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group increases the likelihood of famine in the stricken nation.
The Ansar Allah group (Supporters of God), are an armed organisation of Zaydi Shias, a minority denomination within Shia Islam. They are a Yemeni nationalist group, waging a campaign against the US-supported Saudi war since March 2015. The Saudis, having implemented a strict land, air and sea blockade of Yemen, have prevented food and medical supplies from reaching that country.
The Saudi war against Yemen has resulted in catastrophic conditions, where 80 percent of the population are dependent on some form of food aid. The medical system, already under strain from the casualties caused by Saudi bombing, collapsed under the combined weight of war and the impact of Covid-19.
The corporate media, when mentioning the Houthis, almost always preface their remark with ‘Iran-backed’, or ‘Iran-aligned’. This incessant repetition is intended to convince us of a falsehood that obscures the origins of the conflict – the Houthis are proxies of Iran. This lie, circulated by Saudi Arabia’s supporters and allies, falsely portrays this conflict as a regional proxy war. This misleading characterisation ignores the indigenous roots, and causes, of the Houthi rebellion against foreign domination.
The majority of Yemeni Muslims belong to the mainstream Sunni denomination. The Shia Zaydis, a minority in their own nation, are lazily lumped together with Shia-majority Iran in a simplistic formulation. This mischaracterises the Yemen conflict as a sectarian issue. The Houthis have legitimate political and economic grievances against the Saudi-imposed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In fact, there are serious doctrinal disagreements between the official Shia ideology of Iran and Yemen’s Houthis.
Even if they wanted to, it would be a practical impossibility to establish an Iranian-style Shia theocracy in Yemen. The Houthis, while upholding Iran as an ideological template, have their own philosophy for dealing with Yemen’s problems. While much is exaggerated about the purported Iranian backing of the Houthis, Tehran’s influence on the group is actually quite limited.
What is important to note is that the Houthis are actively resisting the spread of Saudi-inspired Wahhabi extremism in Yemen. As Saudi influence grows in the region, the literalist and fanatical interpretation of Islam – as practiced in Saudi Arabia – also spreads. This Saudi soft power push is no secret; Riyadh’s finances enable it to publish and disseminate its version of fanatical religion around the world. The Houthis, as Shia adherents, are targeted by extremist groups as apostates and renegades.
In fact, the truly scandalous aspect of this attack on Yemen is the quiet but significant marriage of convenience between the Saudi forces with Al Qaeda fighters. The militants of Al Qaeda, a Sunni supremacist and fanatical organisation, have found a sympathetic ally in Saudi Arabia. Shared hostility to the Houthis and Yemeni nationalism have brought the US-supported Saudis and Al Qaeda together in Yemen.
This tacit alliance is not only known by policy makers in Washington, but is being actively encouraged. Al Qaeda militants, while formally denouncing their previous membership of that group, obtain American-made armaments as part of this de facto arrangement. Al Qaeda fighters have been deployed against the Houthis in further of US-Saudi objectives in Yemen.
The US-Saudi backed puppet government of President Hadi is currently aligned in a working alliance with Al Qaeda militants. While the United States is ostensibly committed to a ‘war on terror’ whose main objective is the elimination of Al Qaeda, Washington has a long history of allying with and encouraging Sunni supremacist militias in the Middle East.
The designation of the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group is actually a diplomatic victory for Saudi Arabia and its Al Qaeda associates. Placing the blame for the Yemen war squarely on the shoulders of Ansar Allah removes guilt for this conflict from the main culprits – the US, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies. Whatever the stated intention of the Biden administration to remove this designation, we must exert maximum pressure to end US (and British) support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen.