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Al Houthi eye a state within a state

Rebels has been actively trying to expand presence in Yemen’s north

Gulf News

Sana’a: After a series of military campaigns failed to crush the Al Houthi movement in its north Yemen base of Sa’ada — including one in 2009 during which Saudi Arabia openly joined in against them — the province has fallen into the rebels’ hands and now even has a governor of their choosing.

Al Houthis clashed with Salafists over control of mosques in Amran and Hajjah provinces north of Sana’a in September, and many fear the conflict could move to Sana’a.

In the Al Qaa quarter, a mosque preacher praises the Zaidi imams.

“He wouldn’t dare have said that before, when [Ali Abdullah] Saleh was around,” muttered Mohammad Bamatraf, a supporter of the Yemen Socialist Party and an opponent of the former president.

Free to operate, the group sold CDs, books and posters at this year’s Sana’a Book Fair and maintains a large tented presence at Change Square, the focus of last year’s uprising against Saleh. Along the road, they have daubed the words ‘USA’ inside blue Stars of David on the tarmac.

Al Islah, represented in the transitional cabinet, fears Al Houthis are trying to bring all northern provinces under their control before entering the national dialogue. “They are flexing muscles on the streets of the capital... They want a conflict with Salafists in some neighbourhoods,” said spokesman Mohammad Qahtan. He said Al Houthi sectarianism could open a pandora’s box in Yemen.

“We support turning them into a political party, but we don’t accept that they replicate Hezbollah in Yemen and become a state within a state.”

This may have already happened, analysts say.

“They were able to reach outside their homebase because of corruption and lack of rule of law, though their ideology is not appealing to the majority in Yemen,” said political analyst Abdul Gani Al Eryani.

“The concept of the Imamate is inbuilt with their ideology but they are not foolish enough to think they can enforce it: that’s why they favour decentralisation.”