The Houthi movement in Yemen: another factor in the extension of war and chaos

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Along with increasingly dangerous military exchanges between Hezbollah and the Israeli army on the Lebanese border and the actions of the 50-odd armed groups of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces against US bases in that country, the attack by the Yemeni Houthis on international shipping through the Red Sea and the subsequent bombing of Yemen - largely restricted to American and British forces - represents a significant escalation of the wider war across the region through a multiplication of imperialist clashes . The Houthi attacks are also having an impact at the economic level, forcing ships to steer clear of the Suez Canal and go round the whole of Africa, thus greatly increasing transport costs and disrupting global commerce. The Houthis have thus become an additional factor in the irrationality and unpredictability of the Middle East conflict.

The regional forces aligned to the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel are much more diverse than Hamas, underlining the fact that while Iran is at the centre of this alignment of forces – supplying them, supporting them - it is by no means in a position of “command and control” over all of them. Considering the many differences between all these component parts, this is not a coherent “bloc” but what the bourgeoisie call a “multi-dimensional” convergence of purpose, which is really a living expression of capitalist decomposition. The fact that the groups of this “Axis” cannot possibly be bombed into submission will not stop the futile attempts to do so – as the civilian populations take the brunt of the suffering.

The Yemeni Houthis are a pure expression of capitalist decomposition...

The Houthi movement is a religious and nationalist movement that has its roots in Zaydism, one of the branches of Shiism that appears as a reaction against religious and political corruption. Enjoying a relative territorial autonomy, the Houthi region in the North joined the Royalist forces in the civil war with the Republicans during the sixties. The establishment of the independent Republic of Yemen in the seventies, with a huge political influence of Saudi Arabia, has led to the pre-eminence of the Sunnite elites of the country and a religious pressure by radical forms of Sunnism, like Wahhabism and Salafism, against Zaydism, while Houthis represent more than 30% of the population. From 2004, and activated by the Gulf War of that year, the Houthis rebelled against economic segregation and political and religious oppression by the corrupt Sunnite elites, supported by the Saudis. They made deep connections with other Shiite movements, like Hezbollah, and therefore Iran, while the official government, although adhering to the “partnership against terror”, sought support from al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and Isis. In 2014 the Houthis began a civil war against the Saudi and western-backed government of President and head of the military, Abudrabbuh Mansur Hadi. They took the Yemeni capital Sana’a and, emphasising the fact that these are not simply Iranian proxies, they did so against the express wishes of Tehran[1]. This expressed an immediate danger for the Saudis, as the Houthis claim certain border provinces in Saudi Arabia (Najran and Asir), populated by similar Shiite tribes

In response, the Saudis, British and Americans unleashed “Operation Decisive Storm” which launched tens of thousands of air strikes deliberately aimed at civilians: schools, nurseries, public transport, hospitals, clinics, etc., in a bombing campaign that lasted 4 years. They also organised a blockade that was aimed to spread starvation and disease, a man-made famine which was very effective in killing children and spreading cholera, all contributing to many tens of thousands of deaths of Yemeni civilians. Much of this horror went unreported in the western press. With the help of Iran and Hezbollah, the Houthis replied in September 2019 with a devastating attack on the Saudi-Aramco oil fields and processing facilities in Jeddah which cut Saudi oil production by half. The result was the offer of a Saudi cease-fire.

Like Hamas, the Houthis were particularly unpopular with their populations before the latest war and the subsequent attacks on Red Sea shipping. At the end of last year there were massive demonstrations in Sana’a and other major cities, led by workers protesting over unpaid wages (Channel 4 News, 20.1.24). But the repressive apparatus of the Houthis responded. This apparatus, which was built up on the basis of the dreaded Saudi/Hadi torturers, is formidable and extensive and even includes trained female torturers (the “zainabiya” who assist in the rape and torture of both women and men - the Houthis have particularly demonised women under the guise of a crackdown on prostitution). Like the Taliban, Hamas or Hezbollah – other pure expressions of decomposition – the Houthis have fashioned their medieval ideology and adapted it to the capitalist world of imperialism and oppression.

The Middle East threatens to get out of control

Within the present tensions and war in the Middle East there is no doubt about the central role played by Iran to increase its leading role in the region. To reach this objective, it has been using its various tentacles and “allies” in order to stir up more trouble against Israel and its western backers. However, these “allies” have their own agenda, which cannot be reduced to the aims of Iran, as was highlighted by the restricted direct military support of the Mullahs to the suicidal offensive of Hamas, as a direct military confrontation with Israel and the USA would put at risk the considerable gains they have accumulated in the region over the last two decades. Within this, Iran itself is racked by the effects of the economic blockade and more globally of decomposition on its fractured society, with the heads of the Islamic Republic engaged in political infighting and facing a working class which remains militant.

Since the collapse of the bloc system in 1989 where, instead of a new millennium of “Peace, Freedom and Prosperity” promised by the ruling class, we have had three decades of austerity, war, chaos and irrationality. Rather than coherence and stable alliances, we see incoherence and every man for himself in international relations as capitalism breaks down and rots from its very roots. Thus, the situation today is much more dangerous than the Cold War when pawns and proxies were generally held in the straitjacket imposed by the major powers, and there was a certain stability and “playing by the rules” in imperialism’s Great Game. Today, that is no longer the case, and the accelerating and world-wide flight into irrationality and everyman for himself has become the dominant tendency of imperialism, so that increasingly uncontrollable escalation is everywhere on the cards.

Baboon, 15.2.24






[1] See Huffington Post 20.4.15: “Iran warned Houthis against Yemeni takeover”.



War across the Middle East