SANA'A, May 05 (IPS) - The popular uprising of 2011 pushed long time Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power but it has emboldened the Houthi movement that is rapidly changing the balance of power in North Yemen.
Houthi supporters show their political strength at a gathering in capital Sana'a. Credit: Mohamed Abdulhamed Qutaab/IPS.
Until a few years ago, the Houthis, who belong to the Shia sect of Islam, used to be a bunch of rebellious tribesmen hiding in the northern caves of Sa'ada province. But their movement has evolved into a force that is reshaping the Arab nation's political landscape.3
Late Houthi leader Hussein Badr Addin al-Houthi was an outspoken critic of the government's dependence on foreign allies like the U.S. and oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
He was from the Hashemite Zaidi dynasty that played only a marginal role in Yemen after it was toppled in 1962. This dynasty had ruled North Yemen for over a thousand years.
Members of this group say that from the late 1980s the government encouraged the Saudi-backed Salafi creed of Sunnis who considered Zaidis "heretics".
Betwen 2004 and 2010, there were six rounds of fighting between the Houthis and the government, which alleged that the former were backed by Iran. The non-Zaidi locals of Sa'ada joined the Houthi cause after their homes came under indiscriminate shelling.
Now, battles between the Houthis and the Ahmars, a powerful family that leads the Islamist Islah party and that dominated mass protests across Yemen during the 2011 uprising, have intensified in the north.
Ahmar fighters in Amran have been overwhelmed by the Houthis. Over the last couple of months, the fighting has spilled over into Hamdan and Arhab, two strategic locations bordering capital Sana'a.
Despite President Abdo Rabu Mansoor Hadi's efforts to contain the violence, the situation remains volatile. The clashes have displaced an estimated 40,000 people, Zaid al-Alaya, senior public information assistant at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tells IPS.
During the Yemeni uprising of 2011, Ahmar leaders had asked the Houthis to forget the past and turn the page. Harmony prevailed for a while but differences over politics and power surfaced again.
The Ahmars resent the fact that the Houthis remained neutral when they were battling Saleh's army in the north. The Houthis blame the Ahmars for waging yet another round of war in the name of being "protectors of the revolution".
The Sa'ada conflict was among nine key issues to be addressed when a deal was brokered between the opposition coalition and Saleh on Nov. 23, 2011 with the help of the U.S. Under the deal, presidential powers were transferred to Hadi, who was then Saleh's deputy.
The Ahmars led the new government and shared portfolios evenly with Saleh's party, the General People's Congress (GPC). The Houthis didn't take part in government but were allocated 35 delegates out of a total 565 in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a taskforce aimed at drafting a new constitution.
The deal recognised the grievances of the Houthis but it gave the rival Ahmars an upper hand in leading the transition.
Since the inception of the NDC, a wave of assassination attempts has targeted not only security officials but also loyalists of the Houthi movement.
On Apr. 8, a Houthi affiliate, law professor Ismaeel al-Wazeer, narrowly escaped an assassination bid. On Nov. 22 last year, leading Houthi delegate Abdulkareem Jadban was assassinated by unknown gunmen, two days after a similar attempt on a Houthi member.
The Houthis have been demanding that the government includes all political powers that formed the NDC. But that hasn't happened.
"The government did start putting in place a mechanism (for implementing the NDC's recommendations), but it hasn't begun implementing them under the pretext that it's facing a financial crisis," Ali al-Bukhaiti, Houthi spokesperson at the NDC, told IPS.
In March this year, Saudi Arabia designated the Houthis a terrorist organisation along with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Houthi youth leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi has said the move is not based on facts. "It will be sensible if the Saudi interior ministry reconsiders the designation," he said.
Fears are rising now that the confrontation may get out of hand.
© Inter Press Service (2014) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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