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???????? Yemen: Pulling the Strings | Al Jazeera World

The current crisis in Yemen is a very complex one.

This film focuses on one aspect of it: how the Houthis were able to move south from their northern base and take the capital, Sanaa, quite so easily, and whether former President Ali Abdullah Saleh may have played a role in this move.

Founded in the early 1990s by Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, the Houthis grew into a strong military force.

As Zaidi Shia, they were convinced of their right to participate in the national government and fought a series of six wars against the Saleh regime between 2004 and 2010. Here, we look at the rise of the Houthis and their move south from their northern stronghold of Saada Province, and explore the possibility that there was more to former President Saleh’s role in this than was apparent at the time.

Some who had been closely associated with Saleh and served in the army during battles against the Houthis testify here about what they saw as double dealing.

Fahad al-Sharafi was a leading member of Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party during the third Houthi war.

“I was part of the presidential committee when the president ordered the First Armoured Division and the 17th Infantry to withdraw. These honourable men had to leave behind the sacrifices they’d made,” he says. “They even had to leave the bodies of their comrades without covering or burying them.”

Abdullah al-Hadhari is a Brigadier-General in the Yemeni Army and has a PhD in international law. He took part in the six wars against the Houthis and was surprised at some of the orders coming out of Sanaa.

“I think the ceasefire was the biggest crime,” he says. “Tribes supporting us were being annihilated and killed, but the government turned a blind eye on the pretext of the ceasefire.”

“All these tribes were served up to the Houthis on a golden platter,” Sharafi says. “Many tribes fought alongside the government and achieved victory, but the government gave them up during the truce.”

Al-Sharafi also spotted what he felt was double-dealing between Saleh and the businessman, politician and arms dealer, Fares Manaa, while he was negotiating peace deals with the Houthis.

“The Houthis had four trucks loaded with weapons that were used against the people of Ghamar while Fares was part of a mediation committee,” Sharafi says. “He was on a mediation committee and supplied weapons to the Houthis at the same time.”

In February 2011, Yemenis protested against President Saleh and his government on the streets of Sanaa. Houthis took part in the Youth Revolution which led to Saleh handing over power to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. But some Yemenis thought that their commitment to their own cause was greater than to the general good. The revolution seemed also to galvanise the Houthis and give them both the opportunity and encouragement they needed to initiate their move south. They duly made their gradual way towards the capital, attacking the cities and villages in their path.

At the same time, Saleh began plotting how to take revenge on those who had opposed him during the revolution, including leading military figures like Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Hamid al-Qushaibi. It’s possible that Saleh manipulated the Houthis to serve his interests in a proxy war against his own political enemies, including President Hadi.

As the Houthi rebellion gained momentum in 2014, forces in the Yemeni Army and Republican Guard who had remained loyal to Saleh, may have colluded with the Houthis to help pave their way to the capital. When they arrived there, they were able to take the city with unusual ease, explained by interviewees in the film, by the lack of resistance by army groups involved in this double dealing.

“I believe the Minister of Defence betrayed Yemen, the nation and his military honour. He betrayed the Arab nation because he handed over Sanaa to the Houthis instead of defending it as a national and constitutional duty,” Hadhari laments.

Peace talks are planned in Kuwait in the coming days, involving the three main players: the internationally-recognised government of President Hadi with the Sunni tribes, the Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party.

The film concludes that if factional in-fighting and Machiavellian plans had not been hatched by Saleh, the Houthis and all the other parties involved, Yemen might have been spared such a prolonged and damaging civil conflict.

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