March 28, 2015

The Mistake of Delegitimizing Houthis' Grievances By Linking Them To Iran

Painting your political opponents as agents of foreigners to delegitimize their grievances is a classic trick used by dictatorships, and governments in general, especially during wartime. The Shiites in Iran and Iraq have long painted the Kurds as agents of Zionism and the United States to delegitimize their struggle for statehood and whip up popular Shiite sentiment against them. The defeated dictator in Yemen who fled to Saudi Arabia is making the same mistake when he calls the Shiite Houthis, who have been ruling northern Yemen for centuries, agents of Iran.

And it's not just corrupt politicians in Yemen who are using this card. Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition of failed states attacking Yemen have sought to justify their aggression against the country by describing the Houthis as puppets of Iran in their official statements.

But the historical evidence shows the opposite. The Houthis rose up against the Saudi-controlled Yemeni government without bothering to notify the Ayatollahs in Tehran. Read this profile of the movement by Katherine Zimmerman and Chris Harnisch from January 2010. An excerpt:
The al Houthi movement draws its supporters from the Zaydi Shiite population in northern Yemen and is primarily active in Sa'ada and Amran provinces. The al Houthis' grievances include economic and social marginalization, corruption in the government, close alignment of the state with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and excessive Wahhabi influence on state policy and schools. 
It is understandable why Saudi Arabia wants to depict Houthis as passive agents of Iran, but why is the United States and the rest of the world running with this flawed narrative? Nothing in Yemen will be resolved as long as the international community uncritically accepts Saudi Arabia's self-interested portrayal of the conflict and thereby deny the Shiite Houthi movement any political legitimacy.