The Houthis enjoy wide support from the Yemeni people, and the movement itself can be more accurately described as a national liberation movement.
Ever since the Houthi Ansarullah-led takeover of Yemen back in 2014, the western world has deliberately tried to paint the movement as either ”Iranian-backed” or a “rebel militia group”. Both claims false and lack basis in fact. Western media outlets claim that Iran regularly smuggles weapons and rockets into Yemeni territory, and that the Houthis are dictated by Iran on all its actions. They also liken the Houthi Ansarullah movement to a terrorist organization.
The movement’s founder and first leader, Sayyed Hussain Badreddin Alhouthi, created the “believing youth” movement back in the 90’s in an effort to spread awareness about government corruption and use of excessive force to the youth of the northern-Yemeni regions. At that time, Sayyed Hussain was an MP in the Yemeni parliament, sitting in opposition to the rule of former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh quickly got information about Sayyed Hussain’s political activities, and even went further to conspire against him, saying that he received “funds from Iran” and blamed him for trying to stir up violence. Saleh was totally sure that this group, with strong roots in the Shi’a-Zaydi community, would take over Yemen and impose the rule of the Imamate, and govern the country like it was prior to 1967. None of these claims were true either, but Saleh, paranoid and frustrated, launched what would escalate into 6 total wars against the movement in the north from 2004 to 2009. All of these assaults were backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi Ansarullah movement was, at its core, never violent nor was it armed. It started as a grassroots movement, dealing with everything from corruption to lack of women’s rights. It privately funded initiatives that would raise the quality of healthcare, schools, and infrastructure in the regions under their control, and people loved them for it. They were in every sense of the word – a popular movement.
But this was years ago. Sayyed Hussain was brutally murdered in a cave by Saleh-loyalist forces, and his brother, Sayyed Abdel Malek, would soon take over the role of leadership from his elderly brother.
One of the primary goals of the movement from that point was to make an initiative that would effectively eradicate religious extremism. The Zaydi community had long felt marginalized and threatened by the expanding threat of extremism – a problem the Saudi-backed government had no interest in addressing. Yemen has long dealt with extremism in its country, mainly originating from Saudi Arabia. They saw the weak Yemeni leadership as an opportunity to seek shelter on its territory, primarily in the eastern parts of the country. Furthermore, with Mansour Hadi’s rise to power, the Islah Party (an al-Qaida affiliate) had the opportunity to shift focus from al-Qaida, enabling them to roam freely without resistance.
The Houthis were one of the main organizers that protested against former President Saleh back in 2011, and they were also skeptical of the one-candidate election that would instate Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi as president which the western media, including most notably famed columnist Thomas L. Friedman, called ‘democratic’.
So what happened that year? Why did they take Sana’a so quickly, and nearly without confrontation? The problem lies in a common worry that all Yemenis shared. Not only was Mansour Hadi better favored by Saudi authorities than Saleh, his government also enabled the Islah Party to gain way more influence in the government and the parliament. Something many, if not most, Yemenis feared would happen. This led to greater dissatisfaction with the new government, sparking even bigger protests than before. And the Houthis were yet again at the forefront in a position of massive popular support.
When discontent came to a head during the September 21st revolution of 2014, the Houthi revolutionaries swept in and took control of the government, nearly without confrontation from security forces. This was because many units inside the Yemeni army had sympathy towards the Houthi cause. They too were subject to the huge amount of corruption and lack of rights, and finally, there was a solution to these problems, which have plagued Yemeni society for decades. The Houthis reassured that they were proud Republicans, and that they would strive to improve the country on all aspects.
Of course, the overthrow of the Saudi-loyal former government irritated the Saudi regime, and that’s what led to the current aggression we’re witnessing today.