SANAA – For years, Yemen’s Shiite minority has taken up arms against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, complaining of the State neglect and aggression.
Now, after Saleh’s departure and the election of a new president, questions are rising whether the armed Shiite rebellion would see an end in post-revolution Yemen.
“The fact that al-Houthis understood they could use politics to their advantage is an important psychological shift,” Ahmed al-Soufi, a Yemeni political analyst, told OnIslam.net.
“The group understood that rebellion itself would not serve their long term interests.”
For years, Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, took up arms against the government troops of president Ali Abdullah Saleh in northern Yemen.
The Houthis, a Zaidi tribal group from the Northern Province of Sa’ada, say that their rebellion was in response to government aggressions on their villages.
Houthis have recently announced plans to form a political party to participate in the country’s next election.
Analysts opine that the Houthis now could take their fight onto the political arena, leaving behind their warrior-like ways.
“Ultimately, Sheikh Abdel Mageed al-Houthi wants to have a voice in Yemen’s future and he knows that in order to achieve that he needs to become visible on a political level.”
Al-Houthi movement first emerged in Yemen in the 1990s when Sheikh Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi founded a political and paramilitary group called the Believing Youth.
Essentially, Badr al-Din sought to revive Shiitism in Yemen, advocating a return to the ancestral rule of the Imams.
At the time, the Houthis did not openly call for the overthrow of President Saleh, himself a Zaidi but rather sought a partnership in their calls for change.
But Saleh’s alliance with the US in the so-called “war on terror” changed everything.
The Houthis, who see the United States as a direct enemy of Islam, violently opposed the government, calling for Saleh’s ouster.
The killing of the group’s leader Sheikh Hussein al-Houthi in 2004 in a government attempt to arrest him escalated the situation, prompting a widespread insurrection in Sa’ada.
For the next 5 years, the Yemeni army battled out the Houthis, deepening the resentment of Sa’ada residents towards the state and its amicable foreign policies towards the West.
Sunnis make up nearly 60 percent of Yemen’s population, while the Shiites account for 40 percent.
The two groups lived peacefully side by side, but political affiliations and regional game plans threw off the balance of the ideological truce, spurring violence.
When Yemenis rose up against Saleh following the ouster of the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt in popular uprisings, the Houthis extended a friendly hand to revolutionaries, pledging support for the pro-democracy movement.
Extraordinarily, an accord was signed between the Shiite Houthis and Yemen’s Islamic Sunni faction, al-Islah, as both found they had one common enemy.
But the truce soon broke down as religious tensions re-emerged leading to more violence and bloodshed in the province of Sa’ada.
Following the signing of a Gulf-brokered deal last year, under which Saleh was swept of power, the Houthis announced they would form a their own political party to participate in the country’s next elections.
“Sheikh al-Houthi knows that once Yemen reaches economic and political stability he will lose popular support,” Mohamed Said al-Beydha, a professor of Political Science in Sanaa University, told OnIslam.net.
“His rhetoric is based on the inability of the central government to provide the Northern provinces with basic services.
“Once this issue is resolved, his calls for rebellion will become irrelevant; religious matters alone will not carry him,” he said.
“Therefore he is making the move towards politics. It would actually bring some balance to the national dialogue.”
Although the Houthis were satisfied with Saleh’s departure, they, however, did not approve of the idea of having a sole candidate run for Yemen’s presidency, announcing they would boycott the process.
Their leader argued that having Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi run alone was counter-productive and contrary to democracy.
Like many Yemenis who opposed Saleh’s immunity under the Gulf-brokered deal, the Houthis opposed the transition, demanding a “real change of power” rather than a cosmetic patch up.
“Yemen needs to create a platform were minorities and factions are able to communicate and debate without having to resolve to violence,” said al-Beydha.
“Sectarianism is just the result of decades of frustration, only the side effects of an autocratic regime, it does not define Yemeni society.”
For many Shiites, their rebellion was only a manifestation of a deep resentment against the state.
“We Shiites feel as if your opinions do not count,” a Houthi loyalist told OnIslam.net.“We don’t hate our Sunni brothers, we just want to be accepted that’s all. Our attacks are just a defense mechanism.”
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