YEMEN’S Houthi movement, also known as Ansarullah, is one of the primary political players in that country, also boasting a powerful armed wing. Principally representing the country’s northern Zaidi Shia tribes, it has been in the thick of Yemen’s civil war, as well as the confrontation with the Saudi-led coalition that began in 2015. Widely seen as an Iranian ally in the Arabian Peninsula, the movement captured the capital Sana’a in 2014 and soon thereafter sent Yemen’s government packing, causing the Saudis to intervene. While the Houthis have been front and centre in the numerous conflicts facing Yemen, it is difficult to agree with the Trump administration’s recent move to declare the movement a foreign terrorist organisation. This is exactly what the White House intends to do next week, on Donald Trump’s last day in office. It is unclear what the logic behind the move is, other than to present a parting gift to the House of Saud.
The move has attracted criticism from within the US as well as internationally. The UN says the designation is “likely to have serious humanitarian and political repercussions” while some American lawmakers have also opposed the move. The fact is that branding the Houthis as terrorists will have very little, if any, impact on ending the Yemeni conflict. While it is difficult to agree with many of their tactics, the group’s political wing has strong roots in northern Yemen — the Zaidi Imam at one time ruled the country —and disenfranchising a whole community is likely to further complicate an already tangled situation. Therefore, it is hoped the Biden administration takes practical steps to end the war in this impoverished country. This can primarily be achieved by letting the Saudis know that America favours a negotiated settlement rather than an endless cycle of violence. Millions of Yemenis are suffering from chronic hunger and disease; what they need is an immediate end to this destructive war and the rebuilding of their lives and country.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2021