Who really are the people, whose actions put whole Yemen on the edge of the civil war and why their powerful neighbour the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hates them so much?
To answer this question we need to go back in time. Houthis are a Zaidi group – branch of Shia Islam, which shares piece of history and was only able to develop in Iran during first ages of Islam. But having Zaidi origin is not the only issue.
The movement was founded in early 1990s as Believing Youth. Local residents, who felt threatened by the radical Sunni Salafism from Saudi Arabia created it to teach young people about their Zaidi heritage. Over time more extreme Houthi ideology and organisation emerged with its leader Hussein al-Houthi and an idea to establish Zaidi school and university. And this was what the government of Yemen didn’t like. Administration of then president Ali Abdullah Saleh started to accuse Houthis of spreading hostile ideology inspired by Hezbollah and being financed by Iran. From the other hand Houthis were claiming that the government was supported by Saudis and became too closely allied with the US. Various sources confirm Houthis accusations about Kingdoms ‘help’ while there is no evidence about Iranians financing the movement back in the 90s. However using lectures by Hassan Nasrallah (leader of Lebanese Hezbollah) to ‘educate’ the youth leaves no doubt as to the ideology of the movement. The tension between two sides escalated more and more and reached its peak in 2004 when Houthis get armed and government intervention started in Saada governorate – homeland of Zaidi in Northern Yemen. Clashes finally finished in 2008 but the distrust and special government control over the region remained. Policy of this kind resulted in stronger radicalisation of Houthis, who put on their slogans: ‘God is Great; Death to America; Death to Israel; Damnation to the Jews; Victory to Islam’. The thing could only get worse. In 2011 the group took active part in the protests, which at the end deprived of power Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years of his rule. And now in 2015 Houthis forced new president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee the country and are trying to get the dominance they lost decades ago.
All this only add fuel to the fire. Saudis scared that their biggest nightmare would come true, launched military air strike operation ‘Decisive Storm’ against Houthis, terrified of having Iran backed neighbour on their doorstep, who moreover controls very strategic land and sea. What means that Saudi oil export routes would be under dominance of two hostile Shia governments – Iran and Yemen.