Yemen’s Houthis rule with iron fist and economic distress

The Houthis – or Ansar Allah as they are known locally – are respected for their refusal to tolerate corruption including the bribery that is rife throughout society.

A worker searches through the rubble after Saudi-led strikes targeted the old city of Sanaa, Yemen (photo credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/ AFP PHOTO)
A worker searches through the rubble after Saudi-led strikes targeted the old city of Sanaa, Yemen
Along with the death and destruction wrought from a civil war that killed thousands of Yemeni citizens and displaced scores of thousands more, it remains a great political irony that despite the economic shambles in which the country finds itself and the heavy authoritarian hand of Houthis’ rule, many Yemeni continue to welcome the Houthi presence and in particular their control in the northern part of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. But with limitations.
The situation has catalyzed a thriving black market where an American dollar worth 250 Yemeni Riyal (YER) through legal channels is worth 320, soaring prices for necessities ranging from baby formula to transportation seemingly justify the cost differential to the populace.
But tolerance is tested regarding what the locals call the newfound sense of racism that has grown from a Houthi sense of superiority – triggering tension between Yemenis of the north and south and those who are “Sadah” – or Hashemite; versus those simply referred to as “the tribes.”
Nevertheless, the Houthis – or Ansar Allah as they are known locally – are respected for their refusal to tolerate corruption including the bribery that is rife throughout society; and for fighting the foreign intervention of the Saudis as well as the Islah party headed by a ruthless and corrupt family.
But on the other side of the coin, journalist Abdullah Hawouash told The Media Line that under the Houthis, Yemen is not a good place to be in his field. “Since Ansar Allah took control they started silencing all journalists and arresting many of them making Yemeni journalism live in the worst conditions ever in the past 30 years,” he said.
Hawouash added that “many media outlets were shut down just for being anti-Houthi, forcing them to escape Yemen and start broadcasting from other countries. And the Houthis have closed down many websites simply for not supporting their cause.” Many veteran journalists have been relegated to performing menial jobs such has selling food on the streets or working in construction in order to survive.
Sana’a resident Hifdh Allah Najib, a small merchant who has a degree in economics and politics, commented about the economic situation to The Media Line. “Ansar Allah have pushed the country’s economy to the abyss, saying it is the result of the besiegement imposed by the aggression of other countries against Yemen, which would be acceptable to any reasonable person in Yemen.
But when they launch a massive media campaign costing billions to print and post huge photos and sayings of their murdered leader Houssine Bader Al-Din Al-Houthi that makes us rethink what they are saying, repeatedly. ” Najib and others fault the Houthis for failing, as the nation’s self-declared leaders, to spend those vast sums to feed Yemen’s hungry and ease the plight of the families displaced by the war.
Streets in areas controlled by the Houthis are littered with photos of the Houthis’ dead soldiers, and quotes glorifying them. Last month, though, a massive campaign was launched to commemorate the death of the Houthi movement founder Houssine Bader Al-Din Al-Houthi. Photos and quotes of the late man were spread all over the Houthi-controlled areas.
An advertising specialist told The Media Line on condition of anonymity that the Houthi’s self-serving public relations effort cost an estimated 6 billion YER, a figure dismissed by Abu Ayash, a leading Houthi figure, who told The Media Line the figure was closer to 200 million YER.
Anwar Abadel, a former colonel retired from the Special Security Forces (SSF), explained to The Media Line that, “Yemen is suffering a grinding war that spared nothing and no one, so naturally, the Houthis that will create many justifications for their bad choices and play the war card every time in order to hide their mistakes, while in the same time gaining more and more support from the people.”
At the same time, he added, “Ansar Allah has been able to spread security in Sana’a and decrease the number of terrorist attacks in a short period, thanks to their alertness and the strict security measures they adopt.”
Houthi checkpoints are spread all over the areas they control. Sadly, and more often than not, these checkpoints are manned by nervous teenagers who are told to keep an eye out for ISIS (Islamic State) or Al-Qa’ida members.
Unfortunately, these teens killed several civilians accidentally and tried to cover it up in fear of retribution.
Another factor about the Houthis tolerated by the people is the cost the Houthis must bear to carry on the war effort. To do so, taxes are imposed on the public sector adding to the already inflated cost of everyday necessities. Some war taxes reach 15% of the typical salaries received by public sector workers.
The Houthis also ask people to donate through SMS messages sent by cell carriers twice a month. They ask the same of Facebook and of imams when they address their mosques. Mobile carriers have raised millions of dollars monthly to support the Houthi war effort.
The Houthis are very persistent in effectively convincing the people of the religious justification of their actions. Most, if not all imams, are given specific instructions about what to preach in their Friday sermons and are threatened against veering from the designated topics according to Imam Mahdi Al-Makroub.
Salah Al-Din Al-Ansi, a security guard for Total Oil who lost his job recently told The Media Line that, “Yemen is no longer an inhabitable place, we are disintegrated on every level, Ansar Allah are following a racist path in all their treatments, viewing the Hashemites as a race destined by God to rule over people.”
According to political and economic analyst Adel Baaqib, “Yemen is undergoing its worst periods ever, human rights have been violated like never before and civil rights have been completely forgotten, and people are now using triable tradition with complete disregard to the Yemeni law. What little democracy and freedom Yemenis used to enjoy, they have lost completely in this period.”
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