The Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah, are a group based in Yemen, primarily of the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority. Their origins trace back to a religious movement in the 1990s, and they gained prominence in the early 2000s under the leadership of Hussein al-Houthi.
Geographically, Yemen is a crucial location in the Middle East, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, with coastlines along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This positioning makes Yemen strategic, especially for maritime routes and oil shipments. Major waterways near Yemen include the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and the Suez Canal, connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
Historically, Yemen was a center of ancient civilizations, including the Sabaeans, known for the Marib Dam and trade in frankincense and myrrh. The region has been influenced by various powers over centuries, including the Romans, Ethiopians, Persians, and Ottomans. Yemen’s rich history includes significant interactions with early Jewish and Christian communities.
In the 20th century, Yemen experienced colonial influence and, later, divisions into North and South Yemen, with different political alignments. The Zaydi Shia, a distinct branch of Shia Islam, has been significant in Yemen’s history, particularly in the north.
The Houthis emerged as a force opposing what they saw as economic and political marginalization by the Yemeni government and foreign influences. They have been involved in repeated conflicts with the Yemeni government and have faced intervention from regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia. The Houthi movement’s slogan, reflecting anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments, underscores their opposition to U.S. policies in the Middle East.
The conflict involving the Houthis has led to significant humanitarian crises in Yemen, including widespread famine and destruction. This conflict is often seen as part of a larger regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the Houthis allegedly receiving support from Iran.
The U.S. has had a complex relationship with the Houthis, especially concerning counterterrorism and regional stability. The group has been involved in attacks against military and civilian targets, contributing to instability in the region.
In 2021, the U.S. designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, a decision that President Joe Biden later reversed. However, in January 2024, the Houthis were again designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. This designation reflects the group’s involvement in acts of violence and destabilization, impacting both Yemen and the broader region. The ongoing conflict in Yemen, with the Houthis as a critical actor, continues to pose a significant challenge to international diplomacy and regional stability.