“Houthis Reach Out as They Cement Power in Yemen”
The New York Times, January 30, 2015, p.A4
“Once a party representing the insular demands of the Zaydis, who account for about a third of the country’s 26 million people, the Houthis see themselves now as having evolved into a broad-based voice against government oppression, corruption and incompetence. How successful the Houthis will be in unifying the country or overcoming sectarian tensions remains to be seen. Long divided between north and south, Yemen was unified only in 1990, and is now facing rising calls from separatists in the south, which is also where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is anchored. … As the group has expanded its ranks and grown more powerful, self-appointed men of all ages and backgrounds have come to run the city with uncontested authority. … Treating their enemies with respect was an early tactic, designed to win the support of tribes that had sided with the state and fought them. … ‘We are Ansar Allah,’ or Champions of God, [a Houthi fighter] emphasized, invoking the newer and more popular name for the Houthi rebel movement. For many in Yemen, the revolution brought a momentary sense of freedom. For the Houthis, it was the critical juncture where they say they transformed from an insurgent group with a grudge to a movement that is reaching out to, and now drawing more support or at least acceptance from, the country’s Sunni majority. It is also when they began referring to themselves as Ansar Allah, rather than Houthis, casting the movement in a new light. In a country where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day, the group has extended its reach into more needy areas, building a safety net and slowly introducing people to its political principles and faith.”
Quickie Analysis: Will the Houthis succeed in transforming their brand from its distinct sectarian and geographic tribal base to a national good-government movement? And if they do, can they deliver? For now, Yemenis seem to be willing to wait and see how things shake out.