Aside from suffering from the world’s highest per capita usage of journalistic clichés relating to ancestral homelands, Yemen is also embroiled in a brutal (and, one can ascertain, not population-centric) counterinsurgency campaign against Houthis operating in the northern part of the old North Yemen. Due to what seems to us like a years-long ban on journalists traveling to the affected regions, very little solid information was forthcoming. That hasn’t changed, but now the Houthis are implementing a “keeping up with the Salehs” propaganda campaign of their own, if not actually reaching propaganda parity. As such, they’ve started a YouTube channel and have an official website.
They’ve also decided to start granting interviews, or at least an interview. To their credit, they didn’t go with an interviewer from a friendly newspaper, but rather with al-Sharq al-Awsat. Nonetheless, Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, the interview subject, mostly sticks to his talking points.
Because it’s a little long, we’ve decided to break down the interview, and will be publishing it in two or possibly three separate posts. From al-Sharq al-Awsat’s 20 September 2009 edition:
Abd al-Malik al-Houthi: We Don’t Rely On Any Regional Power and If The Government Stops Targeting Us We Will End Our Isolation
He Says They Are Found In Many Areas in Saada and Amran Provinces, and If The War Continues They Will Open New Fronts
Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, the Houthi movement’s field commander in Saada province, revealed in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat that the fifth war ended on 17 July 2008 with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s decision, with a “verbal understanding” with the president. But al-Houthi also denied that any telephone conversations took place between him and the president at that time. He also said that the government demands that they lay down their arms and come down from the mountains while at the same time expelling them from their villages and homes. Here he discusses the most important issues relating to the war, dialogue with the government, relations with Iran, etc. The text of the interview follows:
Al-Sharq al-Awsat: First off, can you update us on the latest developments in Saada and Amran provinces and your human and material losses?
Abd al-Malik Al-Houthi: You can find information about the situation in the field from the office’s reports. With regards to human and material losses, most of them have been suffered by civilians, due to the heavy shelling of villages and cities and refugee camps. As for our losses, they are limited, by the grace of God and due to the combat experience we’ve accumulated.
SA: During the past two days the Yemeni government has spoken of great military progress and the destruction of your strongholds. So how can you say that your losses are limited?
AMH: This is a claim without any basis in the truth and not based on any evidence. It is clear that the truth is the opposite of what they claim. With God’s help and his grace we are making great progress in the face of our enemy. With our reports we usually provide visual evidence that proves what we are saying, contrary to the government, which is satisfied with making claims.
SA: Where are you currently in the field? Not you personally, but what specific areas do you control?
AMH: We are located in a large number of places.
SA: In your opinion what are the real reasons for the outbreak of the sixth war with government forces?
AMH: The authorities have been bent on war since the end of the fifth war. They didn’t end it out of a desire for peace nor in the interests of the country, but rather because military and political conditions dictated that they do so. And since the fifth war ended they have not ceased their attacks, from Ghamr to Razh to Shada to al-Hasama to Saqeen amongst other places. [TBE has no idea about the voweling of any of these place names.]
SA: What are the areas that border Saudi Arabia that you control?
AMH: Saada and al-Jawf provinces border Saudi Arabia.
SA: Accusations have been leveled against you that you receive monetary, media and moral support from Iran… What is your response?
AMH: These accusations are baseless, and the enemy is confused with regards to them. The authorities’ confusion is clear in the statements of the foreign minister, who made the claim then withdrew the charge, and in the official position espoused by the president himself. [We aren’t sure about the translation of that last sentence, particularly the withdrawing of the charge, which we have not seen anywhere else, and the translation of the words اضطراب and سبق in this context.] The authorities have no proof, and it is clear that the authorities are the ones that rely on foreign support to face us, and they work to spread fear among regional actors as a means of gaining unconditional support. And they have clearly used this support against the Yemeni people. On a cultural basis and in principle we do not accept being an extension of any international or regional side. We rely on God and therefore do not need anyone else. Many people don’t understand this logic, so that when we say we rely on God they don’t comprehend the value in doing so in our confrontation. Nor do they understand the possibility that relying on God is an alternative to reliance on any other side. It does not serve us to be allied to or receive support from anyone else, because that would influence our sovereignty and independence in formulating positions and making decisions and our actions in general. And we place great importance, above all other considerations, on our freedom and independence to come to our own decisions and positions.
SA: How are you able to disseminate information in light of the cutting of communication lines in Saada?
AMH: There are many means and alternatives that we see no benefit in disclosing.
SA: If you are not supported by Iran or others, where do you get weapons and money?
AMH: Yemen’s people are an armed people. This is well known. Markets for arms are dispersed throughout a number of provinces, and the stock of weapons the Yemeni people have is large. Anyone who travels to the northern governorates will notice this clearly and unambiguously. As for money and resources in general, it is evident that people, when confronting tyranny or occupation, can rally its inherent potential in facing any challenge. Anyone who has studied history or the current situation knows that. The Yemeni people are not bankrupt, they have wealth and they have potential even if the government has wasted a lot of it.