Requiem for a Yemeni Dream: Houthis in Sanaa

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Supporters of Mohammed bin Abd al-Malik al-Mutawakkil place tape over their mouths during a rally in Sanaa, on November 8, 2014, against the control of Yemen's main cities by Houthi fighters. Anadolu Agency/Mohammed Hamoud

Published Friday, November 14, 2014

It happened just as in the movies – but life is not cinema. In real life, there is flesh and blood, chaos, bullets, and souls... and underwear scattered outside shop windows. It happened suddenly. A small group [of militants] who encircled the city was able to defeat a large army, which it considers to be the enemy. However, this is the official army whose mission is to protect the city and its residents.

Sanaa – When the young Houthi leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, declared a revolution against corruption, and decided to besiege Sanaa from all sides and organize sit-ins, his demands were clear: the government’s reversal of its decision to cancel fuel subsidies and the departure of the corrupt government. But it appears that these demands were a mere charade. The government reversed its decision and the prime minister resigned. But Al-Houthi did not care. He declared: Sanaa is next, no matter how long the siege and sit-ins last.

The events started to quickly unfold. The first bullet was shot, and the invasion of Sanaa began. The army retreated, or vanished. Developments occurred at a rapid pace, and it was no longer possible to understand the real situation on the ground. Within a few hours, a new chapter in the history of the city began. The state, in its fragile form, collapsed. Newsflashes could not keep up with the accelerating events. The city collapsed, and orders were reportedly given to leave Sanaa to its own fate. The local residents were the only ones who confronted the Houthis.

Soldiers fled, and their tanks were taken over by the Houthis. Militants loyal to Abdel-Malek al-Houthi deployed across the city, seemingly astonished at their achievement, as if it were by coincidence and not premeditated. An armed boy, younger than 18, told us, "We did not plan this. It is a victory from God, and these spoils are our reward." He walked towards a tank stationed outside the public prosecutor office, which was to be taken to Saada.

It is a real battle. The siege was not for nothing. Sanaa appeared defenseless and controlled by armed elements, some of whom had never been to the city and were not prepared to deal with it or its components.

They seemed to harbor feelings of revenge in their hearts. They entered the bedrooms of a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. During the Yemeni Spring, one of these leaders had made an unprecedented threat to raid the bedroom of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This exposed elements loyal to the former president, who joined the underprivileged masses that supported al-Houthi in the journey to topple the government.

While these accounts may be mere rumors, the raiding of bedrooms and taking pictures inside them did take place. The house of Tawakkul Karman, a Muslim Brotherhood activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was also raided.

According to Yemeni customs, [the raiding of houses] is a disgrace that cannot be forgiven.

After breaking into people’s homes, a new phase began: removing underwear from the windows of shops.

Abdel-Karim al-Khiwani, a pro-Houthi civil activist, wrote on his Facebook page: “The display of such clothes might seem normal to some, but others see it otherwise.” He justified these acts out of concern for the sentiments of Houthis, as if they cannot resist the temptation displayed in storefronts. There has never been any incident before involving the display of these “sexy” garments. We have never heard of an incident where a teenager stopped outside a store, became aroused because of the displayed underwear, and started masturbating in public. We used to hear stories about areas under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and laugh assuming they would not happen here. We were not aware that history repeats itself, sometimes reversing time and drastically transforming a place.

That's not all. The Houthis have also banned women from driving cars, which seems to hurt their feelings.

An activist described how she was stopped by a Houthi element who told her, "No driving is allowed as of tomorrow." She said that he started at her with wide eyes, as if it was the first time he has ever seen [a woman driving.]

Similar incidents were reported in several areas. There are many mixed cafés in Sanaa, but fewer women have been going there out of fear of sudden raids.

There is a general sense of fear, anticipation, and uncertainty among the people in the city.

Sanaa is not Paris, or even Beirut. But its people were content with the minimum amount of openness they had: the small and free things in life they used to do without being tracked by anyone. Today, they look at the situation with sorrow, as these small [freedoms] are slipping through their fingers.

It is like a movie. But life is not cinema. Cinema is more beautiful than life. More precisely, it is more beautiful that the life of Yemenis.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


It seems we have to upgrade our skills in "reading the news". Not only does what we read come from Western intelligence sources (or else we never hear of anything at all), but all they ever tell us is about things they've done. So this Houthi spring is just another CIA futile machination.
I say "futile" because that word "indigenous" ("born within") is the ruling concept in politics, not tanks, cameras, nor information superhighways. "All politics is local."

It is not a good argument that Saudi arabia or al- Qaeda is worse, the Shia people should push the houthis towards a positive example. In Iran, and Hezbollah controlled parts of Lebanon, women can drive, and have some very important and public jobs, including throughout government and news broad casting.
by ensuring the maximum of tollerance, the people will not feel burdened by the houthis, and will not rise against them, or aid their enemies.
The Houthis Revolution needs to be aided, supported, and we should work towards continuously improving, finding problems, and correcting them, not becoming stagnant and degenerate, and eventually hated by all like the Saudi regime...

a vacuous article that fails to acknowledge the even more traditional indigenous culture outside Sanaa or the danger to every Yemeni of unchecked mass corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and the near total lack of every basic service that government exists to provide

One detail: The Houthis are the ones fighting Al Qaeda. in Yemen.
If Sanaa falls in the hands of Al Qaeda, the Houthi era of Sanaa would be remembered as a paradise.

Do women drive in Saudi Arabia paradise?

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