“We prefer the current Syrian regime to the jihadist groups that are running wild there today”
Houthis expressed their support for Syrian protesters when they first started peacefully protesting against their government two years ago. But we clearly prefer the current regime to the jihadist groups that are running wild in Syria today. We believe the United States and Saudi Arabia’s support for the Syrian rebels is exacerbating this problem. And at least, under Bashar Al Assad, Syrians have more rights than [people do] in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t even allowed to drive!We Houthis are disappointed by the aftermath of the revolution in our country, too. It has been usurped by the Muslim Brotherhood [a Sunni movement that has also gained power in Egypt and Tunisia following their revolutions], who for decades were allies of Saleh’s government; they only joined the revolution at the last minute out of opportunism. Now, many of them rank high in our government. That’s not what we fought for.
“Some Yemenis support Assad because they believe the Arab Spring is orchestrated by the West to try to divide and weaken Arab countries"
In Yemen, there are several segments of society that are in favour of the current Syrian regime. In general, those who were against our revolution and still support Ali Abdallah Saleh [Yemen’s former president, ousted in 2011] don’t want to see the revolution succeed in Syria, either. But they don’t particularly cherish Assad, and are more focused on Yemen’s internal problems. There are two groups in Yemen, however, that openly support the current Syrian regime.First, there are the Arab nationalists, who believe that the Arab Spring is orchestrated by the West to try to divide and weaken Arab countries. This group is made up of both Shiites and Sunnis. Secondly, there are the Houthis. [Editor’s Note: The Houthis are a Shiite group based in northern Yemen which fought several wars against Saleh’s government, the last of which ended in 2010. They accused the government of discrimination.] For some Houthis, especially the more religious ones, this is no doubt influenced by the fact that Assad is Shiite as well, but for others it’s political – like the nationalists, they do not like the idea of the West meddling in Syria, nor do they like Saudi Arabia’s support for the Syrian opposition, since they do not trust Saudis. [In the last round of fighting the Yemeni army, Houthis also fought against troops sent in from Saudi Arabia, the Sunni-ruled kingdom just across the border.]Houthis regularly hold up photos of Assad or flags of the current Syrian regime. I saw some of them do this when they protested the Turkish foreign minister’s visit to Yemen last year, claiming that Turkey was part of the “conspiracy” against Syria.Yemenis who participated in Yemen’s revolution, meanwhile, sometimes hold up flags representing the Syrian opposition during their regular Friday protests. Some of these protests [which bear different names every week] have even been given names that express solidarity with the Syrian rebels.“Yemen has its own problems to deal with”However, Syria is not at the forefront of most Yemenis’ concerns. We have huge problems to deal with inside Yemen right now. We’re in the midst of a national dialogue, in which different actors from across the political spectrum are meeting to try to reconcile their differences and draft a new constitution before the next elections, in February 2014. [Editor’s Note: So far, the talks aren’t going very well – they have been marred by violence, and several representatives have already quit.]