Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war for six years, that has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the grievances between both sides extend to decades. The Houthi movement, officially called Ansar Allah (“Supporters of God”), is an Islamic political and armed movement that emerged from Sa’ada in northern Yemen in the 1990s. They have clashed with the Yemeni government in six armed conflicts from 2004 – 2010.
Tensions escalated in 2015 when the Houthis captured Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and the Yemeni government called on Saudi Arabia (together known as the Arab coalition) to intervene in the conflict. The Southern movement in southern Yemen became involved in the war when the Houthis took control of their spaces. But tensions between the Southern movement and the Arab coalition arose, complicating war efforts. The Southern Transitional Council (STC) was formed, aimed at achieving independence for south Yemen. On top of these two separate parties, the war is also being worsened by the introduction of al Qaeda in the country.
This set of two letters is between the Houthis (represented by Abdul) and a member of the Hadi-led government (represented by Salemi).
I don’t know how long we have been at war, and still no end in sight. We’ve got the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. We are extremely pained by this preventable suffering. But when bombs are thrown and the government ignores what the peaceful are saying, measures have been taken in self-defense; preventive attacks are launched to avoid being attacked. Let me share with you Ansar Allah’s side of the story.
We are a ground up movement promoting democracy. We are tired of the biases of the international community, due to vested economic interests in Saudi oil. The transitional government now consists of mainly members of Saleh’s ruling party, without any input from Yemenis, and as expected, failed to provide for basic needs of Yemenis. How is this different from the old regime?
We are not deterred by foreign intervention; it only encourages us to sharpen our battle strategies. Yemen is our land, and foreign countries have nothing but selfish interests in it. The UAE are using the STC as just a temporary marriage of convenience. After all, they’ve both shown support for us as well as blackmailed us by breaking our alliance with Saleh. If the Houthis stop fighting, then the UAE-backed STC will start picking a fight with you anyway. The UAE is interested in the oil fields and seaports in the south, to prevent it from challenging its own ports in the Gulf.
Together with them, Hadi proposes absurd solutions like the splitting of Yemen into six federal states, which is doomed to landlock our movement. And the issue has never been about the shape of Yemen on the map – it’s about the abuse of power and ensuring basic services for Yemenis. It is also wise to note that none of the Gulf nations really support the unity of Yemen. Splitting them only makes Yemen bow down to foreign interests all the more.
More outrageously, they could be even profiting from our suffering. One day we read, “Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman buys [£452m] yacht.” and then again, “$300m French chateau bought by Saudi prince.” So has the UAE been exacerbating human rights abuses. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have revealed the existence of a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and its proxy forces.
The Houthis know foreigners’ strategy well. That is why we never trust the foreigners, and turning to them as a source of quick support only adds complications. We need to pander to everyone’s differing interests to solve this crisis – and fall under their oppression again. Corruption has only shifted from one place to another.
Ansar Allah has chosen a smarter approach. Instead of depending on foreign actors that have personal interests in Yemeni affairs, we have chosen to build up a strong base among Yemeni civilians. We want a Yemen designed by Yemenis; run by Yemenis. Sharing their grievances is why we have been able to forge coalitions with other groups – both Shia and Sunni – unhappy with Yemen’s persistent high unemployment and corruption.
It seems that recently they realized that this approach is crumbling, as expected, so they started calling for ceasefire. But after all the war crimes they have committed, and misled the world to be against us, do you think we can easily believe their sincerity? In fact we were the ones who unilaterally announced that we would stop strikes in Saudi Arabia all the way back in 2015 when the war was in its nascent stage. The Saudi-led coalition responded by bombing, killing more than 3,000.
We will persevere to the end, like the Vietnamese did in the Vietnam war. We cannot lose this opportunity to institute a just system for Yemenis; we’re not going to fall in their trap anymore. They have stoked unnecessary tensions everywhere, from sectarian politics to petro-power rivalry. They might wage another war against us soon again (after they gain strength), with the international military might backing them once more.
There are ways international actors could be helping us. They could invest in our economy, help in providing medical and educational services, and contribute to the basic infrastructure of the country. But most have disrupted all of these very services and precious infrastructure. And they try to devise peace plans for our future when Yemenis have so much they want to say. They should leave us alone, because we know what went wrong in Yemen, we know what to do and how to lead the country.
Despite all the bitterness towards the Saudis and the Americans, we are willing to take a step towards friendly relations if they give Ansar Allah the chance to lead Yemenis, because we want to do what is good for our country.
We will institute a transitional government that takes into account all political parties. We have already worked on a policy document, titled, “National Vision for Building the Modern Yemeni State”, and Ansar Allah leaders have encouraged other political parties and the public to provide input and commentary. In it we also document how to achieve a democratic, multi-party system and a unified state with a national parliament and elected local government. We will continue to uphold dialogue with other international parties and take into consideration the domestic situation of local Yemeni parties. And the government will consist of technocrats, so as not to be subject to quotas and partisan tendencies. We have a well-planned programme ready from the first meeting.
We want the war to end. War has never been our choice, we hate the human rights violations war causes. We will always champion peace. But international actors have to end their mismanagement in the war. The Arab coalition must lift its air and sea blockade. They must pay reparations for the destruction done. We also hope that Sanaa airport is reopened, and a number of things that must be made available to the Yemeni people.
We see a rainbow at the end of this tumultuous journey for Yemen. We dream of a united, independent and democratic country, with strong judicial, education and healthcare systems, and has warm relations with its Middle East neighbours and the rest of the world. Yemen will be free of mercenarism, oppression, and terrorism, built on the principle of mutual respect and acceptance of one another and where people are in sovereignty over their own land.
Photograph By Henry Ridgwell (VOA) – Yemen Fighting Intensifies as Fears Grow of Sectarian Conflict, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70173465