Over the past few days, the question that everyone interested in the Yemeni issue has been asking is why has the Houthi militia rejected any serious step towards peace in Yemen, the latest of which was the Saudi initiative last week?
The Houthi militia responded quickly by rejecting the Saudi initiative, one which the rest of the world considered, and rightly so, to be an advanced step to find peace in a war-torn country where the state of societal fragmentation is expanding in ways that trigger both fear and sadness. The Yemenis saw in it a sincere and fraternal step that aspired to establish the peace that both Yemen and the region as a whole equally need.
However, the Houthi rejection, which shocked many observers, was not surprising for most Yemenis, who have become increasingly familiar with the mindset of the Houthi militia and have been besieged by its strange project. This is difficult to explain to the rest of the world because of the latter’s inability to understand a vision that emerges from the caves of history, while claiming to be divine truth and to be supreme over all people. But this is a story that will need more time for narration and analysis.
For the time being, let us answer the urgent question of why the Houthi militia rejected the Saudi peace initiative. In my view, there are two main aspects to this rejection.
The first is linked to its regional dimension and to the international conflict, by which we clearly mean the relationship with Iran and the fact that the Houthi militia definitely needs Tehran’s approval and guidance. The second is related to the depth of the Houthi vision of the project it believes in, one based on the premises of divine selection and racial distinction and a Yemeni historical legacy burdened with retaliation and closed-mindedness.
Regarding the first aspect, the Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected the Saudi initiative last Tuesday, according to a statement in the Iranian media, or one day after the initiative was published. Iran, in fact, refuses to support peace in Yemen, because it would entail the loss of an important source of pressure through which it achieves huge benefits at almost no cost to itself when compared to the outcomes it reaps from it.
For Iran, the continuation of the war in Yemen means not only the continuation of regional security concerns, while putting the Arabian Peninsula, and not just Yemen and its neighbour Saudi Arabia, in a situation of permanent tension, but also its aim of expanding the resulting circle of chaos to the Bab Al-Mandeb, one of the most important waterways in the world. Iran hopes that this will thrust a sectarian dagger into the entire Gulf region, with this, according to the Iranian vision, leading to the birth of a new Persian crescent in the region.
Iran does not hide this imperial dream, and instead it boasts about it. It is a wound in the memory of Yemeni history since the rise of Yemeni civilisation before the advent of Islam, as the Yemenis have always been destined to clash with Persia, which aspires to the kind of broad hegemony that clashes with the Yemenis. The latter believe that they are the protectors of every Arab civilisational project beginning with the conquests of Islam and not ending at the Bab Al-Mandeb. Yemen is a nation that aspires to emancipation.
For this reason, there is a need for a great Arab effort to get rid of the Persian incursion that wants to take the Yemeni capital Sanaa out of its Arab surroundings due to the Houthi militia’s membership of a new Persian orbit.
Regarding the other aspect of the Houthi’s rejection of the Saudi peace initiative, this is also due to the nature of the Houthi project, which is based on its supposed supremacy over the Yemeni people and a state of perpetual war. The latter is the project’s oxygen, as the militia finds in it a justification for survival, as well as a guarantee of a source of income.
It is very hard to explain this point to outsiders or reveal the truth of the Houthi mindset and its outlook. It is difficult for any Arab to understand, as well as for any non-Arabs, since they may not grasp the theories of sectarian conflict.
In a world where choices rest upon the pillars of humanism, it cannot be accepted that there is something called “divine selection,” by which certain people contend that they are of another kind and that they possess the infallibility of God who in their belief has given them the right to make the rest of humanity mere followers.
The Houthi leader, whose followers call him “the speaking Quran,” has drawn jurisprudential readings from bygone history that stipulate that rule is the exclusive monopoly of his race and line and that other human beings must obey his commands. He believes that waging a war against the rest of the people of Yemen, and then against the rest of the world, as well as of course against neighbouring countries, is a sacred duty.
He does not accept that people will come to him in peace, because for him that would be defeat. Instead, the Houthi militia intends to invade the territory of others and force and compel them until they surrender in total submission.
Within the theory of the “Imamate” that the Houthi militia fundamentally believes in, things are to be taken by force from unbelievers, and the infidels are everyone outside its narrow circle, i.e. most of the Yemeni people, then the region, and then the world as a whole. This is the same madness of religious extremism that one sees in organisations like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group.
Based on such views, we can understand the Houthi militia’s rejection of every step towards peace in Yemen, as this would establish a dialogue based on parity and give all concerned a stake proportionate to their position in society. This would make the Houthi project vanish, much as peace kills the merchants of war.
The idea of a dialogue based on equality and the acceptance of the other and leading to a democratic path destroys the project of a militia whose theory is based on achieving “victory” – in other words, defeating everyone not on its side.
Observers of the Houthi militia’s rejection of all peace initiatives from its pre-coup rejection of the legitimate authority in Yemen in September 2014 and beyond will find that it has rejected every possibility for peace and rebuilding the state. When it is put into a corner and finds itself in a dilemma that will lead to its demise, it reverts to evasion based on pseudo-consent as part of its notorious taqiyya approach that is based on concealing rejection through dissimulation and presenting a false face to other people that is other than what is believed. This it will do until the storm passes and the truth appears, which of course is the rejection of the other and a disbelief in peace.
This is indeed what Yemen experienced with the Houthi militia throughout the various phases of the National Dialogue proceedings, the Peace and Partnership Agreement and the war that has taken place from 2004 until now.
I firmly believe that the defeat of the Houthi militia in Yemen does not only lie in achieving a decisive military victory, but also, and mainly, in achieving a just peace and building a modern civil state based on pluralism and the acceptance of the other.
For this reason, supporting the path of restoring legitimate institutions, achieving stability, and following the peace process in Yemen will eradicate the Houthi coup at its foundations as well as the forces of terrorism and chaos. This is what we must do, and this initiative will be a catalyst for establishing an effective path forward.
The writer is ambassador of the Republic of Yemen in Morocco.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly