Al-Houthi’s temperature goes MILD as the US sanctions key finance networks

  • The US sanctioned a key finance network of al-Houthi on the 23rd of February. 
  • The Houthi rebels are still targeting neighbouring states through airstrikes.
  • 2022 has witnessed a dramatic escalation of the conflict

Why is Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s temperature MILD? 

Answer: Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and the Houthi rebels are facing sanctions from the US and there are no advances on the battleground. 

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi rebel group in Yemen led the 2014 overthrow of the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Since then, Yemen has been at the centre of a regional conflict between Shia hegemon Iran and Sunni hegemon Saudi Arabia. Backed by Iran, the Houthis drove the former president from power by taking the country’s capital, Sanaa. Ultimately, the Houthis sought to dissolve the parliament and take control of the country. 

This triggered the reaction of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS and the UAE’s Crown Prince MBZ, who formed a coalition of Sunni-majority Arab countries, composed of Egypt, Morocco and Qatar, aiming to reinstate the former government of President Hadi. Seven years later, the conflict is far from a solution and Yemen faces one of the worst humanitarian crises worldwide. The situation is characterised by a deep division between the Houthis supporters and the supporters of President Hadi.

Map of the division between Houthi supporters and President Hadi supporters from Al Jazeera.
Map of the division between Houthi supporters and President Hadi supporters from Al Jazeera. 

In response to ramped-up attacks from Houthi territory against the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the UN Security Council extended an arms embargo to all Houthi rebels. Adding to this, on February 23rd, the US announced the targeting of key finance networks funding Houthi activities and weapons purchases. These sanctions directly target shipping companies and other businesses that smuggle commodities, such as petroleum or weapons, into the country. Furthermore, President Joe Biden said last month that the US was considering redesignating al-Houthi and his group as “terrorists”, a step that typically carries harsher US government penalties for anyone engaging in business with them.

Who is changing Al Houthi’s temperature?

Answer: Al-Houthi faces the pressure of sanctions whilst fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Meanwhile, he witnesses one of the worst humanitarian crises worldwide, raising his unpopularity amongst the Yemeni population.

In spite of the military pressure put by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 on multiple fronts, al-Houthi has been able to hold Houthi territory for the past few years. The coalition’s effort consisted mainly of airstrikes but they had limited impact on advancing the battle lines and larger impacts on civilians’ lives. Overall, the Saudi war efforts have only had a slight influence on Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s thirst for power. Riyadh intervened in Yemen, concerned that the ties between the rebel group and Iran would grow and threaten Saudi territory. However, the intervention had the opposite effect as Iran and the Houthis grew closer to uniting in front of a common enemy. 

Furthermore, despite the heavy restriction of imports in Yemen, Al-Houthi and his supporters continue their war efforts. Iran has been providing extensive military support including weapons, despite a UN security council resolution prohibiting such actions. Al-Houthi has been asserting the power of the Houthi group by targeting strategic infrastructure across the countries of the Saudi-led coalition, such as airports, gas fields and oil tankers.

At the same time, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi has been unable to solve the current deadlock and provide actual improvements to the Yemeni population. Furthermore, sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have decreased humanitarian aid reaching Yemenis in Houthi controlled territory. Consequently, al Houthi struggles to reach his goals to tackle the poverty issue in Yemen, raising dissatisfaction in the population. Meanwhile, the influence of al-Qaeda has been rising in recent years, raising concerns about the safety of Yemenis. 

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi has been able to spite Saudi efforts to defeat the Houthi rebels and has managed to evade sanctions aimed at his finances and weapons supply. This slightly increases his temperature. But a worsening humanitarian crisis undermines al-Houthi’s popular support. A blazing resilience against outside actors and a freezing response to humanitarian needs balance each other out and result in a mildly successful Houthi rebel leader, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi

What is driving Al Houthi?

Answer: Abdul-Malik al-Houthi wants to control Yemen and establish a majoritarian Zaydi ideology, based on extreme, sectarian beliefs and strong hate towards western models of democracies and Jewish communities.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, al-Houthi strived to replace the government with an extreme Zaydi ideology and a growing animosity for countries like the US and Saudi Arabia. As the Houthis promote backward ideas to reaffirm the religious foundation of Houthism. The Houthi group was mainly supported by the Shia minority, often oppressed and disenfranchised, seeking more representation. Since al-Houthi is aiming to control the largest part of Yemen and impose the Houthi ideology on the country, he challenges Sunni domination.

The main element driving al-Houthi is the drive for acceptance and legitimacy. To do so, Al-Houthi aims at reinstating fuel subsidies that had been cut off in July, by pressuring the government and threatening to take other steps if the latter failed to do so. Only the support of his population helps him to reach his main goal: to gain control of the entire country and assert his dominance over his opponents. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: al-Houthi is a player in a regional conflict that has caused the biggest humanitarian crisis on this globe.

Here we would like to quote a Yemeni woman from an interview for a frontline report: “Why are they (Saudis) doing this? Because of Iran? Iran has its own country, fight them there!”. The consequences of the war affect the Yemeni population in terms of casualties since around 24 million of the population are dependent on humanitarian aid. Furthermore, more than 1 million Yemenis have been displaced since the beginning of the war. Additionally, around 10,000 children have been killed since 2015. 

Making matters worse, in December the UN has declared it would cut down aid in Yemen because of a funding shortfall. Furthermore, the majority of wheat keeping Yemenis alive is coming from Ukraine and Russia, a source that is bound to run dry. Overall, this humanitarian crisis is barely covered in the media, and the international community has not been devoted to intervening and solving the situation in Yemen.