The Houthis in retrospect

The Houthis in retrospect
The Houthis are serious guys

Yemen: Once the Eden of the Arabian Desert

The Houthis are now well-known. They are passionate guys: either they will capture an Israeli ship, or they will sink a British ship, or they will use cheap drones in the Arabian skies the expensive overseas Patriot air defense system is being mocked.

But who the Houthis are, where they came from and what they are fighting for – few people know about this.

Let's try to figure it out and start, as usual, with stories.

Yemen. The homeland of the Houthis, and in the pre-Islamic period, the most developed, culturally and economically, part of Arabia.

It was from there, as the Scripture says, that the Queen of Sheba came to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.


“Today,” writes the orientalist historian S. A. Frantsuzov, “the most probable background for the biblical legend about the visit of the Israeli king Solomon to the queen of Saba (Sheba) should be recognized as possible contacts of this powerful monarch of the mid-10th century. BC e. with one of the North Arabian “queens,” that is, female leaders of large Arab tribes, whose existence is attested by cuneiform documents, albeit for a slightly later time (VIII-VII centuries BC).”

Alexander the Great played an important role in the life of Yemen. After his campaign, Hellenistic culture reached the outskirts of Arabia. Thus, Greek tetradrachms were in circulation in Yemen, in particular with the coat of arms of Athens in the form of an owl, and later Roman coins appeared.

The dynasties of the Diadochi and other small Middle Eastern states were replaced by Rome, which withstood the most difficult struggle with Carthage. The footsteps of the legions reached Arabia.

But if the Eternal City subjugated itself in the 2nd century. Nabataean kingdom located in the north-west of the peninsula, near the Dead Sea, then Yemen remained in the status friends of Rome: both honorable and not particularly obligatory.

On its current territory, a kingdom was formed back in II BC. Himyarcalled by the Romans Arabia FelixThat is, Happy Arabia.

Rich trade caravans made him happy. And not only him, but also future Muslims, since

“Mecca most likely owes its emergence,” writes S. A. Frantsuzov, to the fact that a busy trade route from Yemen to Palestine passed through these places.”

When the Yemeni forelocks cracked

Meanwhile, in the 3rd century. the weakened Parthian kingdom is replaced by Persian Sassanid dynastywho professed Zoroastrianism; a century later in the Roman Empire Christianity gains the status of state religion.

Both superpowers of the Ecumene are entering into a fierce struggle for dominance in the vastness of Western Asia. And here Himier was no longer destined to remain on the sidelines, since the Christian kingdom located on the territory of modern Ethiopia, and partly Sudan, turned out to be an ally of Constantinople Aksum.

It is important. For the confrontation between the Persians and the Romans took on, among other things, a religious character, aggravated by the church schism into Dyophysites and Egyptian Monophysites supported by Constantinople.

In those days, religion played a much larger role than now, and was not separated from politics, into the plane of which theological discussions immediately moved, turning Egypt into the center of anti-Roman separatism, which the Persians, and later the Arabs, who easily conquered the Nile Valley, did not fail to take advantage of.

Moreover, in Aksum, as well as in Egypt, Monophysitism was established, but since the Romans did not lay claim to the lands of the former and did not interfere in its internal affairs, the relations between the two powers were of an allied nature.

Christianity also established itself in Himyar. However, he also had plenty of internal opponents. One of them, the king Zu Nuwas, in 520 he destroyed the Christian city of Najran.

In addition, on his orders, as noted by the largest Russian orientalist V.V. Bartold, the Roman merchants in the country were killed, which played into the hands of the Persians, because they eliminated competitors, and the monarch himself became a conductor of their influence in the southwest of Arabia.

However, due to the remoteness of Himyar from the borders of the Sassanids, Ctesiphon could not provide operational military assistance to Zu Nuwas. And Aksum - here it is, nearby, separated by a small strait.

And the king, who was in genocide against Christians, soon needed help. The pro-Persian policy of Dhu Nuwas caused a predictable reaction in both Aksum and Constantinople.

The allies quickly coordinated their actions: the Romans sent a fleet that transported Aksumite troops to Himyar, which quickly conquered it. For half a century, Yemen fell under the rule of a more powerful neighbor, who also had cultural influence on it, for example, through the construction of a majestic cathedral in Sanaa al-Kullayz.

Later, Muslims turned it into a mosque, now located, according to S. A. Frantsuzov,

“in the heart of old Sanaa. From the previous cathedral, columns with capitals decorated with crosses and a unique polychrome painting of the ceiling have been preserved.”

Agree: a visible symbol of the inextricable connection of cultures and eras.

Yemen - once the paradise of Arabia; and even now it’s impressive

Despite its remote location, Ctesiphon could not calmly look at the expansion of the influence of his hostile Aksum in Arabia, especially since Constantinople was trying to persuade its ally to coordinate actions against the common enemy.

Aksumite troops did indeed undertake an unsuccessful campaign into the center of Arabia.

In the end, sent by the Shahinshah Khosrow I Anushirvan (531 - 570) the fleet drove the conquerors back to Africa, and Yemen became a Persian province.

His governor, apparently due to the remoteness of the territory entrusted to him from the metropolis, pursued a loyal policy towards Christians - Najran received the status of a free city - which contrasted with the implantation of Zoroastrianism in Transcaucasia, which we recently discussed: Iran and Armenia in the context of history and modernity.

The situation did not change in 614, when the Persians achieved their greatest military successes in the fight against the Romans, taking Jerusalem and capturing Egypt.

And then tectonic changes take place in Arabia itself: he begins his preaching Muhammad. He begins by living not only among pagans, but Jews and Christians. By the way, unlike the mentioned Nabatean kingdom, Muhammad did not visit Yemen.

And it’s also useful, especially in the context of today, to note: at first, thanks to Medina Constitution of 622, Muslims and Jews formed a single ummah and lived in peace.

In addition, there were many different kinds of God-seekers in Yemen. Let's say Hanifswho believed in one God, but were neither Christians nor Jews.

What is interesting: Muhammad also had competitors on the “prophetic” path. One of them preached in Sanaa a year and a half before the death of the founder of Islam.

His name was Abkhala nicknamed al-Aswad (Black). A decisive man: he agreed to kill the Persian governor. And there were plenty of such “prophets” in Arabia; there was even one woman named Sajah.

After the death of Muhammad in 632, Islam split into Shiite and Sunni sects.

Birth of the Imamate

And in 740, an uprising broke out in Kufa - once the capital of the Abassid dynasty that replaced the Umayyads, and now the Iraqi An-Najaf. His reasons go beyond the scope of our topic, but the leader fits well into it.

His name was Zeid ibn Ali. And he was an adherent of a highly intellectual theological school Mu'tazilites, which postulated human free will, which destroys the stereotype about the fatalism of Muslims, the mundaneness of their religion, and the alleged lack of depth of theological and philosophical thought in it.

Zeid himself died during the uprising, but his supporters took refuge in hard-to-reach places, including Yemen. They developed a teaching that generally did not go beyond the framework of Shiism - Zaydism.

No, there are some differences. Shiites believe that the caliph, that is, the head of all “believers,” can be a descendant of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib (Sunnis consider the first four caliphs righteous, Shiites only the one mentioned). The Zaidis are ready to see any worthy Muslim as caliph.

Having experienced the influence of the Mu'tazilites, the Zaydis, in a broad sense, showed loyalty to the Sunnis - and there was little doctrinal difference between them.

In 901 they created an imamate in Yemen, which lasted until 1962.

Under Portuguese, Ottoman and British crosshairs

The 16th century became tragic for him, due to the appearance of the Portuguese and the Ottomans, who entered into a struggle for control over transit Indo-European trade.

Devastated by war, Yemen found itself set back centuries in development. As an analogy: imagine modern Libya, or rather what is left of it, in comparison with M. Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya.

Unfortunately for Yemen, the opening of a sea route around Africa undermined transit trade, which caused Lisbon and Istanbul to have a bloody fuss.

The situation for the Imamate was aggravated by the intensification of Ottoman expansion in the 17th century. But Yemen survived, defeating the enemy in the battles of El Kufla - 1613 and Sana'a - 1638.

Yes, the Porte was at the zenith of its military power, but even then there was a trend toward its decline, since the military revolution that transformed the Christian West did not affect the Muslim East.

In addition, the focus of the sultans was focused on Europe - two sieges of Vienna: 1529 and 1683 – and Iran: Battle of Sufian 1605. In all three cases, victory was on the side of Istanbul’s opponents.

He simply did not have sufficient strength left to conquer the distant periphery.

Ancient Najran, now located in Saudi Arabia

But the imams had another problem: the reluctance of the tribes inhabiting Yemen to live in a centralized state and pay taxes, and in 1819 the East India Company reached the country, by force weapons wrested the right to garrison and trade privileges.

And the Ottomans intervened periodically, and after the opening of the Suez Canal, which increased their logistics capabilities, at the very least they brought Yemen under their control, or rather, they divided it with the British.

XX – XXI centuries: Zaydis only dream of peace

The chance to revive the long-forgotten peaceful life in Yemen presented itself in 1962 after the organization Free officers coup that led to the overthrow the last imam Muhammad al-Badr.

However, peace did not really come to an end. There are many reasons. And an unsuccessful attempt to implement the idea of ​​​​Arab socialism implicated in Islam, and flirting with pan-Arabism, and the separatism of the tribal elite, and the fight against Britain, which owned a military base in Aden, and the intervention of external forces - the same British, as well as the Americans and the Saudis.

And then, back in 1967, there was a temporary closure of the Suez Canal, which hit the Yemeni economy, which, as in ancient times, was based on transit trade.

It all got worse split into the Arab and People's Democratic Republics. The latter almost collapsed into the maelstrom of civil war in 1986, and intrigues, which sometimes took on a bloody character, within the ruling National Front (I’ll call it that, without a complicated abbreviation) never stopped at all.

Inopportunely, the USSR curtailed economic assistance. Under these conditions, the leadership of the PDRY considered it good to unite with the ARY. But essentially the same thing happened as in the center of Europe in the same year, when, as part of the “unification” of the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR, the former annexed the latter, collapsing its economy, humiliating the officer corps and sending the party nomenklatura into political oblivion.

A new round of conflict has given rise to nostalgia for the imamate in part of Yemeni society. And Zeydism as a component of the worldview has not gone away.

The short-sighted attempt to secularize public life by secular authorities played into the hands of its adherents. But if in the Shah's Iran the process of secularization did not achieve success, then in the more traditional Yemen it was even more so. Especially against the backdrop of squabbling within the ruling elite.

This is where the energetic Hussein Badruddin al-Houthi, an influential clan whose ancestry traces its ancestry to Muhammad.

Hussein Badruddin al-Houthi

Having previously created armed detachments from his followers, he accused the government of the same thing that R. Khomeini accused the Shah of: pro-American orientation. Not without reason: Sana supported the US aggression against Iraq in 2003, which caused outrage on the Arab, and not only Yemeni, streets.

At the same time, Tehran began to increasingly rely on the Shiites to spread influence in the region, as we recently discussed: Iran: realpolitik under religious cover.

And Tehran could not ignore its almost co-religionists in Yemen, given its strategically important position. Feeling the strong Iranian shoulder behind him, al-Houthi entered into a confrontation with the central government and died in the first battle.

But his work lives on. At least in the title. In addition, Sana, in order to achieve an increase in foreign military assistance, did not find anything better than the absurdity of blaming the Houthis in connection with the prohibited in Russia Al-Qaeda, which only accumulated the conflict.

The movement, as the orientalist historian D. R. Zhantiev emphasizes, should be considered in the context of the growth of Shiite - that is, essentially Iranian - influence in the Middle East.

And more precisely, the Houthis are the most important tool in Tehran’s struggle for dominance in southern Arabia, where the significant prize is control of Bab el-Mandeb Strait и Gulf of Aden.

Yes, due to the weakness of its own naval forces, the Islamic Republic is not able to oust the United States from there, but it is fully capable of weakening their influence by including Yemen in its sphere of influence.

The armed conflict between the Houthis and the Saudis is due to increasingly widespread influences since the 1980s. Salafism, which, according to S.V. Frantsuzov, represents

“extreme Sunnism,” if by the epithet “extreme” we mean intolerant attitude towards all those who do not agree with this teaching.”

The Zaydis rightly blame Riyadh for its spread. They have cause for concern: the ideas of Salafism are gaining more and more popularity among Yemeni youth.

The number of relevant schools in the country is growing and the distribution of Salafi literature is expanding,

“flowing,” writes D. R. Zhantiev, “to Yemen from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies of the Gulf.”

In the wake of opposition to Salafism, the al-Houthi family came out.

The political future of the Houthis is not easy to predict. As a real force capable of significantly influencing the situation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, they may come to the attention of China, which recently created its first military base abroad in Djibouti; as well as Russia - plans, if I’m not mistaken, to build a logistics support center for the Navy in Port Sudan.

Another thing is that Moscow and Beijing are now actively developing a dialogue with Riyadh, so if there is any support from them for the Houthis, then, I think, it will be limited and not particularly advertised.

But it is obvious that the Houthi movement is serious and here to stay.

Использованная литература:
Gusterin P.V. Yemen on the path to collapse // Military Review. – 11.09.2014.
Zhantiev D.R. The Houthi movement in Yemen: genesis and current state
Bartold V.V. Essays. T.VI. Works on the history of Islam and the Arab Caliphate. M., 1966.
F. Muati Spread of the Shafi'i madhhab in Yemen
Frantsuzov S. Polyphony of Islam
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. +1
    4 March 2024 07: 58
    Gaddafi still offered the people of Africa a clear policy of unifying the economies of this continent. And here the past is complex, and the future is even more vague. Some kind of relationship may arise with Russia and China. But hardly anyone would dare to enter this unpredictable country. The future is seen in children .And in this region they have no toys other than weapons. Everything is very difficult.
    1. +4
      4 March 2024 08: 06
      Quote: Nikolay Malyugin
      Gaddafi nevertheless offered the peoples of Africa a clear policy of unifying the economies of this continent
      How do you imagine that? Some are dark-skinned, others are black, some are Muslims, others are Christians and followers of various African cults. Some countries are desperately poor, others have disproportionate oil reserves wink
      1. +6
        4 March 2024 08: 49
        Quote: Dutchman Michel
        Quote: Nikolay Malyugin
        Gaddafi nevertheless offered the peoples of Africa a clear policy of unifying the economies of this continent
        How do you imagine that? Some are dark-skinned, others are black, some are Muslims, others are Christians and followers of various African cults. Some countries are desperately poor, others have disproportionate oil reserves wink

        I couldn’t even with my neighbors from Egypt. They immediately quarreled when they began to divide power
        In August 1972, Anwar Sadat announced her support for Muammar Gaddafi's plan to unite states. However, serious disagreements soon arose regarding the further vision of the union, including personal differences between the leaders of both states.

        Every dictator there wants to see himself as Emperor of all Africa. Yes, there is only one throne for everyone.
      2. +2
        4 March 2024 13: 48
        Well, he got into Chad. And it was no longer easy to get out of there.
  2. +2
    4 March 2024 10: 22
    “The USSR inappropriately curtailed economic assistance,” the collapse of empires causes economic and military-political chaos..
    Guys, I don’t know about others, but I single out two LEADERS: Alexander 3 and Stalin. Both led powerful empires. EVERYONE took into account their opinion. Their heirs "wasted" their former greatness
    1. 0
      4 March 2024 13: 50
      Alexander III was lucky in many ways - his reign coincided with a situation that largely excluded a large-scale war in Europe. He did not particularly show himself on the international stage.
      1. +2
        4 March 2024 17: 28
        Under Alexander III, the army was greatly weakened. The rapid growth of capitalism, but huge expenditures on the construction of railways and the ever-increasing transfer of the army to "pasture" were then continued by Nicholas II all the way to the Russian-Japanese. It was under Alexander that the economic activity of the army began to flourish, greatly encouraged from above. So, pigsties and self-sufficiency, which were then loved in Krasnaya (out of necessity) and then by tradition in the Soviet Army, come from there. Remember Kuprin’s depressing stories about the Army. This is all that period, and we woke up only after the late war.
        1. +1
          5 March 2024 06: 49
          “Spending on the construction of railways” is vital for the Russian Empire.
          Russia is not some kind of Luxembourg or Liechtenstein: you can go around them on a bicycle.
          There is a historical anecdote about Liechtenstein
          At the end of the 19th century, the prince became angry with one of the courtiers and ordered:
          - At 24 leave the principality
          - It will take me 40 minutes to leave your principality.
          Kuprin was a pacifist and had a cool attitude towards the army.
          When I was in my first year, there was also talk that the army was a costly business. Something like this
    2. +1
      4 March 2024 15: 33
      Igor, without Lenin and Stalin there would not have been.
      I recognize the merits of Stalin, but in fairness, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was the first, and the first is most difficult
  3. +6
    4 March 2024 11: 07
    Colleagues, DVS. I may be mistaken, but the author “drowned” in antiquity. I didn’t see anything about the “Houthis” themselves, their leaders, structure
    1. +5
      4 March 2024 13: 53
      I shortened as much as I could about antiquity. Although I wanted to write more about the Zaydis as such. And the period from 1962 - the collapse of the Imamate - and until 1990 requires a separate discussion. Perhaps I’ll continue the topic.
      1. ANB
        4 March 2024 20: 57
        . Perhaps I’ll continue the topic.

        Add “To be continued” at the end and claims are canceled :)
        I even glanced at the article about Armenia while I was reading this one.
  4. 0
    4 March 2024 20: 58
    Thank you!
    I am curious.
    Review the text. You have BC and B.C. meets.
    And, perhaps personal perception, sharp transitions from one event in history to another. I would like to add “watery transition phrases” like “and after 200 years such and such a kingdom has already begun...”.
    This is the reader's opinion.
    1. 0
      5 March 2024 17: 06
      BC - in the above quotes. I write exactly: BC.
  5. +1
    5 March 2024 02: 03
    The Libyans who studied with us at the institute were poor, vicious and stupid freeloaders. You can't cook porridge with them
  6. +1
    5 March 2024 06: 47
    Quote: Alexander Trebuntsev
    Soviet army pigsties

    In subsidiary farms in parts I see only advantages, with proper organization.
  7. -1
    12 March 2024 11: 48
    The Houthis' political future is uncertain. They challenged not just anyone in particular, but the entire financial system of the modern world. The more problems they cause in the strait and the greater the costs of the coalition’s military mission, the more economic problems there will be in Yemen. When things get really bad, an internal crisis and active civil confrontation will begin. Various forces from neighbors to various groups will immediately take advantage of this matter. The civil war (which actually never ended there) and devastation. As a result, there will be some semblance of Somalia on the Arabian Peninsula. And as soon as Yemen weakens, the Saudis will be happy to take control of this territory.