We did not start the war

Interview with Mohammed Abdulsalam, speaker of the Houthi movement in Yemen
(Junge Welt, December 28, 2009)

Since August 2009 the Yemeni Government launches war against the Houthi Movement in the Northwest of the country. The Houthis live in the border area to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi army started to support the Yemeni government in November 2009. Mohammed Abdulsalam is speaker of the Houthi movement. For the Berlin based daily newspaper Junge Welt he answered questions of Karin Leukefeld (December 2009)

1. Can you explain our readers, who are the „Houthis“? Are you a tribe, a group of tribes, a party? What is your history.
We are a part of the Yemeni population and we represent a large component of it. Our history is known since it represents a big part of the Yemeni history in the culture, beliefs, and civilization. We are not a specific tribe but from all the Yemeni tribes. We are a nation that has a great history and many of scholars and thinkers. We have a pioneer Islamic history that is respected by all Muslim sects because of its justice and fairness and commitment to the Holy Quran. In our methodology, we respect differences and refuse disperse between Muslim communities. Also, we see that all Muslims should come back to reunification and adhering to the Qur’an as the book of Allah.
Regarding parties, we had an experience with the political parties after the Yemeni reunification in 1990 and that was by establishing „Alhaq Party“ but the regime faced us with the willful marginalization and fought us by many ways like assassinating our party members and depriving them from the simplest rights. The regime did that because they know that most of the Yemeni people started to rally around us. Also, reproduction of political parties, buying allegiances, and recently dissolution of „Alhaq party“ are some of the crucial issues that we have faced from the regime.
It is clear that democracy in Yemen is only a media banner where dictatorship, injustice, and oppression are hidden behind it. In fact, there is no real democracy and the existed political parties are suffering today of what we have been suffering. These parties have gathered in what is so-called ((Joint Meeting Parties) but they are still weak and are not able to solve any issues. Although of their position in all of their statements is clear that they are against all of what we are facing of war and injustice by the regime, they could not stop anything or reduce some of the inequalities committed against us.

2. Why did you take up arms against the Yemeni government?
We did not raise arms against the state. Those who have been following the course of wars against us, marginalization, and the injustice that happen to us know that we are defending ourselves only. They also know that the war was launched on us because of our peaceful and cultural positions. Furthermore, our movement is a cultural movement primarily. In fact, we did not start the war and did not have any demands from the state before they waged the first war against us. The government is the one who came to our homes and villages with all arrogance and pride and used force and violence to stop culture and thought. They are afraid of the power of each word in our cultural position because their regime has been built on corruption, ignorance and poverty.

3. What are your demands. Are they social, political or religious demands?
Now, after six brutal wars we have some demands that can be summarized in the following items:
• Stopping the war and stabilizing the cease-fire on the ground and ensuring the return of displaced persons to their homes and villages.
• Releasing all detainees because of the wars and revealing all the missing persons after their disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
• Fixing all what wars caused by:
a: Rebuilding what wars have destroyed.
b: Compensating citizens whose farms and properties were exposed to plunder and destruction.
• Returning the situation in Sa’ada and other areas to the situation before war took place in 2004 and that can be done by the following:
a. Withdrawal the army from villages and farms, and stop militarization of civilian life by turning it into military barracks.
b. Dealing with us without any racial or sectarian discrimination, and stopping to target our security militarily, politically and intellectually.
c: Starting a real development by providing basic services on fair and equal basis with other areas in the Republic of Yemen without any regional discrimination.
d. Allowing teachers and government employees to go back to their jobs and pay them their wages and salaries that were confiscated.
• Not to object to practicing our cultural activities which are some of the ensured rights in the Yemeni constitution and the public freedoms.

4. Why did the ceasefire, which was brokered by the Emirat Qatar (in 2007), break down?
The regime is the one who broke the Doha agreement that was signed between the government and us in 2007. The President admits that by himself when he said that the ceasefire agreement was a mistake they have committed. At the same time, we dealt with the agreement with all clarity and implemented most of its items. However, the regime refused to implement any items from the agreement. They did not release anyone of the detainees and they did not even try to solve any of the problems of what wars have caused at all. Also, another reason behind that is the external interference from Saudi Arabia particularly when Saudi rejects any presence of the State of Qatar in Yemen. After Qatar has earned a massive respect among the Yemeni people for trying to solve this problem, Qatar was not appreciated by the Saudi regime because of the known sensitivity between the two countries. Yemeni newspapers that work for the Saudi regime attacked Qatar more than once and in many occasions and they also affirmed that Qatar is playing a very suspicious role. In addition, there were many press statements by Saudi analysts where they implicitly affirmed Saudi unwillingness of Qatar intervene to solve the problem.

5. When did the Saudi army start attacking you and why?
The Saudi army or let say the Saudi regime interfered clearly in the war against us since the fourth round of the war in 2007. The reason behind the Saudi intervene is that the Yemeni regime was able to intimidate and blackmail Saudi Arabia that we are an extension for some international parties particularly Iran and HezboAllah which Saudi has some problems with. Unfortunately, Saudi regime believed these false accusations against us; however, both regimes failed to prove any of these untrue accusations.
As the situation starts to worsen in the current war (the sixth round) and for political reasons, the Saudi regime got involved directly by targeting Yemeni villages with warplanes, and trying to invade Yemeni territories under a false accusation, that we infiltrated the Saudi territories.

6. (Western) Media call your conflict, war with the Yemeni government a „proxy war“ which Iran is waging against Saudi Arabia and Yemen? They say, there is a war between Sunni and Shia in your region and Iran is using you, the Houthis, to put up a new pillar in the Iranian „Shiite Empire“ from Tehran to Lebanon. What is your comment to this allegation?
In our cultural principles, we cannot be an extension for any parties neither Iran nor any others in the world. In fact, Iran is supportive for the Yemeni regime and they both have large diplomatic relationships and commercial exchanges. Also, Iran offers a lot of financial support to the Yemeni regime. In addition, the Twelver Sh?‘ism sect in Yemen, who follows the same Doctrine as people in Iran, has more freedom than us.
What is being said about Iran interference is just to intimidate and blackmail Saudi Arabia to continue supporting the poor and fragile regime of Yemen that lives on wars leftovers and conspiracies.
We are not stupid to offer our children, women, and ourselves‘ blood, get our houses, villages and mosques destroyed, and also get blockaded in every aspect in our lives because of a political position for a State here or there. What they say is not fair and unacceptable by any rational human beings. We are defending ourselves against a direct and unjustified aggression. The Yemeni regime is contradicted in their statements about Iran’s involvement and we challenge them or any other parties to prove any of their false accusations.

7. Is there a rift between the Sunni and Shia Muslims in your homeland?
In our country, there are two major communities Zaydi Shiaa Islam and Shafiee Sunah Islam and we live with each other with all peace, harmony and respect. There have never been any clashes between us and Shafiees at all. We respect them and they respect us and we have been like that for hundreds of years.

8. After nearly 4 months of war, how is the situation for you and the civilian people in the war zone? Do international organizations, does the UN help providing food and shelter?
The situation the fighters has become normal since we have no other option. However, the situation for the civilians is „catastrophic“ for what the word means especially those who live in the areas of conflict. There is no shelter or food and they become easy targets for Yemeni and Saudi armies and warplanes since they target anything and everyone as a reaction for their inability to make any progress in the battlefields against us. As an example of that is what happened last September when the Yemeni warplanes targeted a civilian camp in Harf Sufian and killed more than 90 persons about 80 of them were women and kids and many other massacres in Razeh, Altalh, Saqain, and in many other areas. Talking about those crimes requires a separate book or a lengthy interview.
Unfortunately, international organizations and UN do not provide any services in the areas of conflict because the situation is not secure at all since everyone is targeted by the Yemeni and Saudi rockets and warplanes.

9. Would you accept any mediator, for example the Conference of the Islamic Nations made a proposal to mediate.
We welcome any mediation from any party. The most important thing is to consider our fair and legitimate five demands that were mentioned earlier since they are some of our rights and can be applied easily.

10. What are your demands to end the fighting? Any special demands towards Germany or the European Union?
Our demands to end the conflict are stopping the war immediately, and then getting a strong mediator who can listen to us and feel our sufferings. The mediator should be able to make the Yemeni regime give us our demands. Also, the mediator should monitor the situation and consider the massacres and war crimes committed by the Yemeni and Saudi regimes against innocent civilians of women and children, and solve the problems that wars have caused.
Regarding Germany and German people, we consider them close and warm friends and the services and support that have been offered by them to our country are noticeable and can be seen by visitors in many fields. The Republic of Germany is approximately one of most of the European countries that is close and looking to help in solving the situation in Yemen.

11. Is Yemen a „failed state“? And what does it mean for you?
Yemen is not only a failed state but also cannot be called a state. The regime in Yemen is only a gang that lives on blood shed, wars leftovers, regional manipulations, and sensitivity between countries. This gang did not offer any real development in the country and any visitor to Yemen can notice the cases of unemployment, poverty, ignorance, diseases, and racism. There is a small group that is very rich and another one that lives on the streets. The ones who are in the regime have big bank accounts in Europe and all around the world whereas ordinary people hope to find a piece of bread. What Yemen receives from international support is more than enough to make Yemen and Yemenis independent and secure, if there were a real justice and a real and responsible State.

12. Do you have any information about the German family, who disappeared in June?
We are very sorry for what happened to the German family. This criminal act is against our values, morals, and customs. That family was a part of our society and they were fully respected and appreciated for what they did in Yemen in general and Sa’ada in specific. They lived in Sa’ada for tens of years and they did not receive any harm during their staying among us. They used to come to our houses, eat from our food, and sit and talk with us in our language. The one who did this shocking and terrible crime has a goal of distorting the relationship between Yemenis and Germans. We do not have specific details about the crime because it happened in a place where we do not have access or control over it. The crime happened near the Political Security building that is in the middle of Sa’ada town which is surrounded with full security guards from both the police and the army. However, we are still looking with every way possible for them or any information that might lead us to their whereabouts since we really consider the family a part of us and we see that it is our duty to find offenders and know the crime details.
What causes sadness here is the regime attempts in exploiting this crime to distort our reputation and trying to put pressure on Yahya Alhothi who is residing in Germany as a political refugee. These dirty businesses are clearly for the sake of the corrupt regime. We believe the blame and main responsibility lies primarily on the government since they have to be concerned about protecting citizens and guests. Accusing others without any true basic grounds does not absolve the regime of their duties at all.