Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 17
highly critical of the rebels’ resort to violence,77 it is united in its view that the government is wrongly targeting the Zaydis as a whole. An al-Haqq party leader said, “the Huthis are just a label. The government’s true targets are Zaydis”.78 Like the government, Zaydis claim self-defence. A Zaydi scholar said:
As people, as a community, as a tradition, we [Zaydi Hashemites] have been targeted in a very violent way. We have been prevented from exercising our rights. We have been deprived of jobs and education. Our schools and institutes were shut down. Such oppression has convinced many to defend themselves.79
Denying any political agenda, Zaydis accuse the government of being motivated by ideology and historical resentment. As explained by a Zaydi intellectual and founder of a Sanaa research institute, “the Huthis have no agenda whatsoever. They never articulated any conditions for peace other than to be left in peace – not to be attacked and not to have their villages bombed”.80 A journalist affiliated with the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party pointed to the fact that
Whenever the state declared an end to the fighting, the Huthis immediately stopped. They respected the decision and only responded when the army attacked them. Husein al-Huthi had no plans of any kind. It is the government and the army which, through their mistakes, wrongdoing and violence, gave rise to the rebellion.81
In a mirror image of the government’s assertion of Iranian links, the rebels and their allies contend the authorities are acting on behalf of foreign powers,
77 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi scholar, Sanaa, 17 January 2009.
78 Crisis Group interview, Hasan Zayd, al-Haqq general secretary, Sanaa, 9 January 2009.
79 Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 14 January 2009. A Sanaa-based human rights activist who has defended persons imprisoned in the context of the Saada war complained: “I am secular but the political situation has led me to take a closer look at my origins, which are Zaydi and Hashemite. Once, when I handed my passport to an immigration officer at the airport, he asked me whether I was a Hashemite, as if it was legal to question my origins, as if the law demanded it and favoured such discrimination”. Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, January 2009.
80 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi intellectual, Sanaa, 14 January 2009.
81 Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 17 January 2009.
notably Saudi Arabia and the U.S.,82 and accuse Riyadh of targeting them as Hashemites. Many claim that Riyadh provides the government with weapons and encourages it to pursue the fight. In the words of a Zaydi scholar, “Saudi Arabia is scared of the Hashemites. They are the only group that could directly compete with the Saudi royal family”.83
82 Crisis Group telephone interview, Yahya al-Huthi, Berlin, 3 February 2009. While the government has come under pressure from the U.S. and European governments for inconsistent anti-terror policies – releasing prisoners suspected of involvement in attacks, lenient sentences, concealing intelligence from foreign investigators (for example, FBI agents looking into the 2000 attack against the USS Cole) – it has faced no direct or public criticism for conduct in Saada, despite the deadly nature of the conflict and its threat to Yemen’s stability. The rebels see Western governments as complicit in government behaviour. Ibid. Another Zaydi religious figure contended: “If there is a will to stop the war, there will be a solution. But the government wants the war to continue in order to continue receiving financial support from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. Crisis Group interview, Zaydi scholar, Sanaa, 11 January 2009. Rebel claims of Western support have bolstered the Believing Youth’s popularity and enabled Abd-al-Malik al-Huthi to pose as a true defender of Yemen’s Islamic identity. See, eg, Al-Diyar, 4 January 2009. In mid-January 2009, during the Gaza war, Huthi leaders organised large demonstrations in support of Gazans, denouncing Israel and the U.S. They analogised the Gaza siege to the blockade they claim is imposed on Saada governorate residents. Al-Diyar, 18 January 2009.
83 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi scholar, Sanaa, 11 January 2009. By portraying the fight as against Saudi and Wahhabi encroachment, the Huthis have also sought to buttress their Yemeni credentials, which some contest due to their Hashemite lineage. The claim is at least somewhat undermined by the fact that Zaydi royalists received massive Saudi support during the 1960s post-revolutionary civil war.