Thank God for the Houthis: Why Arab World is Backing Yemen Rebels

March 14, 2024 | by


The article titled “Thank God for the Houthis: Why Arab World is Backing Yemen Rebels” explores the reasons behind the Arab world’s support for the Yemeni rebel group known as the Houthis. The author delves into the complexities of the conflict in Yemen and highlights the various motivations that have led Arab nations to back the rebels, despite the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in the country. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the political, religious, and strategic factors that have influenced regional support for the Houthis, shedding light on a complex and often misunderstood situation.

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The conflict in Yemen has drawn attention from around the world, with various factions and groups involved in a complex struggle for power and control. One group that has gained significant support from the Arab world is the Houthi rebels. Despite being an insurgency group, the Houthis have managed to garner backing from several Arab countries, leading to questions about the reasons behind this support. This article will explore the historical background of the conflict, the reasons for Arab world support of the Houthis, their role in fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the political implications of supporting the Houthis, the Arab world’s stance on the group, the international response to the conflict, and the future prospects for Yemen.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are a rebel group based in Yemen. They belong to the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, which is a minority sect in Yemen. The group takes its name from its founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who started the movement in the 1990s. The Houthis have been involved in various conflicts with the Yemeni government and other armed groups, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They gained significant military strength and territorial control, especially in the northern parts of Yemen, after the outbreak of the civil war in 2014.

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Historical background of the conflict in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen traces its origins to long-standing political and social divisions within the country. The unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, which was intended to bring stability, actually exacerbated tensions between different factions. The Yemeni government’s inability to address grievances and provide basic services to its citizens led to widespread discontent and protests, which eventually escalated into a full-blown civil war in 2014.

Reasons for Arab world support of the Houthis

Anti-Iran sentiment

One of the primary reasons for Arab world support of the Houthis is the perception that they are a bulwark against Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the region. Arab countries, particularly those in the Gulf, view Iran as a major threat and are wary of its influence in Yemen. The fact that the Houthis belong to the Zaidi sect, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam, has led to suspicions of Iranian support for the group. Arab countries see supporting the Houthis as a strategic move to counterbalance Iran’s influence.

Desire for stability in Yemen

Yemen has been plagued by instability and violence for decades, and the Arab world has a vested interest in seeing the country stabilize. Arab countries fear that a complete collapse of the Yemeni state could lead to a power vacuum that can be exploited by extremist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. By supporting the Houthis, Arab countries hope to bring stability to Yemen and prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

Opposition to Saudi-led coalition

Another factor that has contributed to Arab world support of the Houthis is opposition to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015. The coalition, which includes several Arab countries, launched a military campaign against the Houthis in an attempt to restore the internationally recognized Yemeni government. However, the coalition’s airstrikes and blockade of Yemen have had devastating humanitarian consequences, leading some Arab countries to question the wisdom of continued support for the coalition and to seek alternative alliances.

Religious and sectarian ties

The Arab world’s support for the Houthis can also be attributed to religious and sectarian ties. The Zaidi sect, to which the Houthis belong, has historical ties with other Shia communities in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon and Iraq. Some Arab countries, especially those with significant Shia populations, may see the Houthis as fellow Shia Muslims and feel a sense of solidarity with them. This religious and sectarian dimension adds another layer of complexity to the conflict in Yemen and influences Arab world support for the Houthis.

Houthis’ role in fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda

Despite their status as a rebel group, the Houthis have played a significant role in fighting against ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Both extremist groups have taken advantage of the chaos and instability in the country to establish a presence and carry out attacks. The Houthis, with their well-trained and equipped militia, have been effective in pushing back against these extremist groups and limiting their territorial control. This has garnered appreciation and support from Arab countries that are concerned about the spread of terrorism in the region.


Humanitarian crisis in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen has had a devastating impact on the civilian population, resulting in a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. The ongoing airstrikes, blockade, and fighting have caused widespread displacement, death, and destruction. The Yemeni people have been subjected to severe food shortages, lack of access to healthcare, and a deteriorating economy. The international community has called attention to the dire situation in Yemen, with some attributing blame to the Saudi-led coalition and others to the Houthis.

Impact of conflict on civilians

Civilians in Yemen have borne the brunt of the conflict, with thousands killed and millions displaced from their homes. The indiscriminate airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have hit civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and residential areas. The Houthis, on the other hand, have been accused of using human shields and carrying out extrajudicial killings. The conflict has created a humanitarian catastrophe, with millions of Yemenis in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

Yemen’s deteriorating economy

The conflict in Yemen has severely impacted the country’s economy, which was already fragile before the outbreak of the civil war. The blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has disrupted imports and exports, leading to shortages of essential goods and skyrocketing prices. The closure of airports and seaports has further exacerbated the economic crisis, making it difficult for Yemenis to access vital services and forcing many businesses to close. The economic downturn has pushed millions of Yemenis into poverty and dependence on humanitarian aid.

Blockade and food shortages

The blockade of Yemen’s ports by the Saudi-led coalition has had a devastating impact on the country’s food security. Yemen is heavily reliant on imports for basic food items, and the blockade has severely restricted the flow of food into the country. As a result, Yemen is facing one of the worst famines in decades, with millions of people at risk of starvation. The international community has repeatedly called for the lifting of the blockade to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, but the situation remains dire.

Political implications of supporting the Houthis

The Arab world’s support of the Houthis has significant political implications, both regionally and internationally. Arab countries aligning themselves with the Houthis risk straining their relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which have been leading the military campaign against the rebels. Moreover, backing the Houthis may garner backlash from the international community, particularly those countries that view the group as a destabilizing force in Yemen.

Regional power dynamics

The conflict in Yemen has highlighted the complex power dynamics within the Arab world. Arab countries, particularly those in the Gulf, are vying for influence and control in the region, and the Yemeni conflict has become another battleground for this competition. Supporting the Houthis is seen by some Arab countries as a means to counterbalance the influence of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, who have traditionally been the dominant regional powers. This power struggle has further complicated efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen.

Consequences for relations with Saudi Arabia

Supporting the Houthis also has consequences for the Arab world’s relations with Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the coalition fighting against the rebels. Arab countries that back the Houthis risk straining their relations with Saudi Arabia, which may view such support as a betrayal or a threat to its own regional influence. Saudi Arabia has shown a willingness to assert itself and punish countries that it perceives as challenging its authority, as seen in its recent actions against Qatar. Arab countries supporting the Houthis must navigate this delicate geopolitical landscape.

Potential backlash from the international community

The international community has been critical of the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen, particularly regarding the humanitarian crisis. Arab countries that support the Houthis risk facing backlash from the international community, which may view their actions as prolonging the conflict and exacerbating the suffering of the Yemeni people. Human rights organizations and other advocacy groups have called for an end to arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Arab countries supporting the Houthis must consider these concerns and their impact on their international standing.

Arab world’s stance on the Houthis

The Arab world’s stance on the Houthis is not monolithic, and there are divergent positions among Arab countries. Some Arab countries, particularly those with significant Shia populations, may view the Houthis as a legitimate resistance movement fighting against an oppressive government. They may see the group through a sectarian lens and consider supporting them as a way to protect Shia communities in Yemen and beyond. Other Arab countries, especially those that are part of the Saudi-led coalition, view the Houthis as a threat to their national security and regional stability.

Role of regional alliances

Regional alliances play a significant role in shaping the Arab world’s stance on the Houthis. Arab countries are divided into two main camps: those that support the Saudi-led coalition and those that have aligned themselves with the Houthis. The former includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, while the latter includes countries like Iran, Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. These alliances and rivalries influence the positions that Arab countries take on the conflict in Yemen and their support for the Houthis.

International response to the conflict

The international community has responded to the conflict in Yemen in various ways, ranging from condemnation of the violence to diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution. Global powers, including the United States, have been involved in the conflict through arms sales and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition. However, there has been increasing scrutiny and criticism of this support, especially in light of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Efforts for peace and negotiations, led by the United Nations, have seen limited success, with both the Houthis and the Yemeni government showing reluctance to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Involvement of global powers

The involvement of global powers, particularly the United States, has been a controversial aspect of the conflict in Yemen. The United States has been providing military support to the Saudi-led coalition, including arms sales and logistical assistance. This support has drawn criticism from human rights organizations and advocacy groups, who argue that it contributes to the humanitarian crisis and undermines efforts for peace. The international response to the conflict has centered on calls for a cessation of hostilities, a lifting of the blockade, and a return to meaningful negotiations.

Efforts for peace and negotiations

Efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen have faced numerous challenges. The United Nations has been leading diplomatic efforts, including hosting peace talks between the warring parties. However, these talks have largely stalled, with both the Houthis and the Yemeni government reluctant to make concessions. The complex nature of the conflict, coupled with the deep divisions between the various factions, has made it difficult to find common ground and reach a lasting peace agreement. International actors are continuing their efforts to bring an end to the conflict and alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Future prospects for Yemen

The future prospects for Yemen remain uncertain, with the conflict showing no signs of resolution in the near term. The humanitarian crisis is likely to worsen, with millions of Yemenis at risk of famine and disease. The political, economic, and social fabric of the country has been torn apart by years of conflict, and rebuilding will require significant resources and sustained international support. Finding a political solution that addresses the grievances of all parties involved and paves the way for a more inclusive and stable Yemen is crucial for the long-term prospects of the country and the region as a whole.

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