Safa AlAhmad writes: Last September, thousands of fighters from northern Yemen seized control of the country’s capital, Sanaa. The government was weak, its army fractured, and the rebels – called the Houthis – took the city in only four days.
The secretive Houthi movement was always a mystery to me.
I went to Yemen to follow them, to understand where they came from and what they want since they have suddenly become the most powerful people in Yemen.
I discovered a divided country. The Houthis who belong to the Zaidi sect- an offshoot of Shia Islam, still control the capital, but face a determined alliance of al-Qaeda and other Sunni militants further south.
Mass protests against the Houthis have been reported in some of Yemen’s largest cities. I encountered a very different mood – and a sense of the country fragmenting – as I crossed front lines and travelled the country speaking to the Houthis and their enemies.
During my first week in Sanaa, al-Qaeda bombs the main square, as the Houthis, in power for only a few weeks, are staging a rally.
“The power of the explosion threw people in the air,” a witness tells me when I arrive on the scene soon afterwards. “There were many dead children and old men. So many people.” A suicide bomber is blamed for the carnage.
The Houthi slogan is posted on walls across Sanaa. It’s an Iranian-inspired political chant from the days of that country’s 1979 revolution and reads: “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. God curse the Jews. Victory for Islam.”
They have established a so-called Revolutionary Committee, now the de facto government, which claims to be clamping down on corruption.
While in Sanaa, I stay with the family of my close friend Radiya, a human rights activist, and her father Dr Mohamed Al Mutawakil, a politician.
“Honestly, I think this is the worst phase Yemen has ever gone through,” Radiya tells me.
When I return to the city a few weeks later, the mood has changed. Houthi slogans are crossed out everywhere. [Continue reading…]