The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive regimes on earth. The regime does not bother to hold fraudulent elections, or even pretend to be in any way democratic or respecting of human rights. The king is the absolute dictator, and the country and everything in it is considered his property.
The rule of the Saudi monarchy is enforced with brutal repression. Beheadings occur on an almost daily basis. Flogging, torture, imprisonment without charges, and other extreme violations of basic human rights are considered routine. People are executed for crimes like “insulting the king” or “sorcery.” The Saudi kingdom is ruled by a circle of wealthy people who live through the exploitation of both impoverished Saudis and guest workers from other countries. Poor people from throughout the region are brutally exploited in the Saudi oil fields. Their wages are sometimes as low as pennies per hour.
While the politicians who lead the United States love to call themselves “champions of democracy,” they are absolute, unapologetic backers of the repressive Saudi monarchy. The Saudi regime functions as a vassal of US and British oil corporations. Saudi Arabia is now the fourth-largest weapons purchaser in the world. Its weapons are purchased exclusively from the United States.
One particularly vulgar aspect of Saudi society is its repression of religious minorities. Those in Saudi Arabia who practice Shia Islam face severe discrimination. They are legally barred from holding a number of jobs. Saudi schools teach children that Shias are apostates, and that Shia Islam is a “Jewish conspiracy” against the Saudi king.
In Saudi Arabia there are currently 300 schools for Shia girls. Not a single one of them is even permitted to have a principal who practices the Shia religion. Testimony before the US Congress described Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Shia Muslims as “religious apartheid.”
The monarchy’s repression of the Shia community extends beyond its own borders. In the Saudi-aligned Gulf states such as Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, Shias are often confined to occupations involving manual labor. The leaders of Shia communities face political repression and harassment by the government if they organize for their rights or even hold routine religious services.
Since the 1990 overthrow of the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen, the country now known as the Republic of Yemen has been led by a corrupt, repressive US-backed regime that heavily depends on Saudi military support. Minority Shias in Yemen face the same discrimination as in other US/Saudi regimes throughout the region.
The continued fallout from the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, including the drop in oil prices, has rendered millions of young Yemenis unemployed. The Shias in Yemen have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn, as they were already among the most impoverished peoples in Yemeni society.
Who are “the Houthis”?
Around two decades ago, a religious movement of Shias in northern Yemen began to take hold. The organization first called itself “Young Believers.” It provided summer camps for Shia youth to attend, and provided basic services to this oppressed and impoverished community. While the Yemeni government continued to align with the United States and Saudi Arabia, in 2003 the “Young Believers” took a political turn. The Young Believers began to loudly oppose the US invasion of Iraq, and preach an explicitly anti-imperialist message. They condemned the leaders of Yemen as well as the Saudi monarchy for its complicity in US and Israeli crimes throughout the Middle East.
Over the course of the last two decades, the “Young Believers” began to operate as more than simply a religious group. They practiced Zaidi Shia Islam and, much like the followings that developed around Elijah Mohammed or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States, many Shias rallied around the religious leader Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi as they demanded their rights.
What began two decades ago with a few thousand people has now turned into a mass movement. An army of thousands of young Shia men have “picked up the gun” to defend their communities from discrimination, and demand things like jobs, healthcare, and education. With slogans like “Death to America,” this group of young, armed Yemenis has continued to battle against the US/Saudi-aligned government.
The US media refers to them in the terms adopted by their opponents. “Houthis” comes from the name of their founding minister, who was hunted down and killed by the US-backed Yemeni government. Now his son leads this vast political and religious movement.
Crushing Democracy with Saudi Missiles
In 2011, when thousands of Yemenis poured into the streets as part of the larger “Arab Spring” — also sometimes called the Islamic Awakening — the Houthis joined them. They built alliances with other forces in the country that sought to depose the US/Saudi-backed regime. The Houthis represent a religious and tribal minority in Yemen, and don’t seek to impose their religion on other Yemenis. They are at the center of a coalition in northern Yemen that includes many different religious and secular groups.
After decades of building up their strength, the Houthis seized control of all Yemen’s major government buildings in the early months of 2015. The Houthis and their allies intend to convene a constituent assembly in order to form a new Yemeni government. The new government will be based on an alliance of forces in the country that want independence from the rule of the United States.
One of the forces that has expressed interest in forming a coalition government with the Houthis is the Arab Spring Party. This is a new political party formed in the aftermath of the mass protests of 2011 against the US-backed Yemeni regime. In a country with strong patriarchal traditions, the Arab Spring Party is led by a woman. Its rhetoric is viewed as being somewhat Marxist and anti-capitalist.
As the Houthis have announced the intention of writing a new, inclusive, democratic constitution for Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken swift action. The Saudis have begun to bomb Yemen. The United States has offered absolute support to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it reigns cruise missiles on Yemen in order to depose the Houthis. The Saudis have formed a “coalition” to attack Yemen. This “coalition” includes a number of the repressive, US-backed autocratic kingdoms from throughout the region. These well armed vassals of Exxon-Mobile and BP are unleashing their stockpiles of US-made weapons against the Yemeni people, hoping to reassert the rule of Wall Street.
The United States has so often presented itself as a “champion of democracy” in the Middle East, but right now it is supporting a coalition of repressive absolute monarchies in bombing a country that is attempting to compose a democratic constitution after a popular revolution.
ISIS, Wall Street, and Saudi Arabia Stand Together
The US drone strike program, which has killed thousands of Yemenis, is supposedly done for the purpose of destroying “Al-Qaeda in Yemen” and their allied organization, the Islamic State or ISIS. US media analysts are bemoaning the fact that the Houthi revolution has made it difficult for the drone strike program to continue.
The Houthis and their allies are absolutely opposed to both ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which operate primarily in southern Yemen. They accuse ISIS and Al-Qaeda of secretly being agents of the US and Israel – that the role of these groups is to justify US military expansion.
The US media has been ignoring or belittling this key detail about the situation in Yemen. It has focused on the unproven allegation that the Houthis receive funding from the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as highlighting anti-Jewish slogans sometimes displayed at Houthi rallies. While the Houthis have gone out to fight ISIS and Al-Qaeda many times, the US media presents the Houthis as somehow the moral equivalent of these extremist Sunni forces simply because they are a religious organization with political goals.
The fact remains that the billions of dollars funding ISIS activities originate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While the Saudi government has denounced ISIS, money from Saudi banks continues to flow into accounts of the ISIS organization to fund its activities.
More than half of the US-backed terrorist group in Syria called the “Free Syrian Army” defected to join ISIS during 2014. Prior to their official parting of ways, ISIS and the Free Syrian Army conducted joint training programs and military operations.
Now, as the Houthis have seized power in northern Yemen, ISIS has attacked them and bombed Shia mosques. Considering them to be Shia apostates, ISIS has called for the overthrow of the Houthis. The US-backed Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the same stated intention, is conducting air strikes.
A Crime That Must Be Opposed
The US-backed regime in Saudi Arabia and the terrorist group called ISIS, are currently engaged in a joint operation that aims to overturn the Houthi revolution. Meanwhile, for almost half a decade the US, Saudi Arabia, and the forces that eventually constituted ISIS have been conducting a joint Syrian operation intended overthrow the government led by the Baathist party.
The Houthis are targeted by the US and their Saudi Allies because they stand for the possibility of a stable government. They represent a coalition of impoverished people who have a record of opposing US crimes and advocate an alliance with independently minded countries throughout the world. Like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic, Cuba, China, Russia, and the Bolivarian bloc in Latin America, the Houthis stand for the possibility of independent economic development beyond the control of Wall Street neoliberalism.
Progressive forces around the world, including within the United States, must both demand an end to the Saudi attack on Yemen and expose its true nature. The bombing of Yemen by Saudi Arabia must not be viewed as “yet another sectarian conflict” in some “far off land.” It is Wall Street viciously asserting its power – and desperately trying to keep its grip on the world filled with peoples and nations that want freedom.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.