Farea Al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar at Carnegie, Abdullah Al Shammari, former Saudi diplomat and head of Gulf studies at the International Middle East Peace Research Center, and Khaled Fattah, consultant on Yemen at the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, discussed the origins of Houthi power. Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, moderated the discussion.

THE HOUTHIS: A LOCAL TAKE

  • The Emergence of Identity: The Houthis emerged in the northern parts of Yemen, a region characterized by a lack of security, resource scarcity, and conflict over ownership, explained Fattah. Unlike the narrative that is circulated in the media, sectarianism is not the most significant social dimension at play in northern Yemen, he clarified.  
     
  • Inattention to Local Level: The Houthis’ rise to power is a result of a lack of communication between different levels of governance and security. During reconciliation efforts, the elites participated in dialogues while neglecting engagement with local representatives, Fattah said. This resulted in growing divisions and fragmentations in every village, clan, and family, leading to in the failure of the transitional process.

SAUDI ARABIA POLICY

  • Illusions of One Gulf Policy: The Gulf is not a monolith, and there can be no single Gulf policy, Al Shammari said. The reactions and interests of the Emiratis, the Omanis, Kuwaitis, and Bahrainis differ significantly from one another. 
     
  • Operation Decisive Storm: Saudi Arabia led Operation Decisive Storm in large part as a reaction to the emerging power of Iran. The operation was seen as critical to re-establishing equilibrium in the region, explained Al Shammari. 
     
  • Saudi-Iranian Dialogue: Al Shammari questioned whether Operation Decisive Storm could really create a historic opportunity for a Saudi-Iranian dialogue. Drawing on his previous experience as a diplomat, Al Shammari said that even if some previous blocks to negotiations have disappeared, Saudi Arabia may not see any value to participating in negotiations, given Iran’s involvement in countries like Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq 

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Foundations of War: The current war in Yemen is grounded in the wrongdoings and inaction of the Yemeni central government, the Gulf, and the international community over the last three years, said Al-Muslimi. 
     
  • Poor Governance: Poor governance, especially on an economic front, and the inability to manage power led to the collapse of the Yemeni state and the emergence of the Houthis, Al-Muslimi continued. Over the last three years, while the Gulf powers were busy in Syria and Egypt, the world allowed Yemen to sink into its current situation. Al-Muslimi added that peace is impossible so long as President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is still in power.