Guerrilla to Government: Who are the Houthis?


– gov·ern·ment



  1. the governing body of a nation, state, or community.

The cornerstone of any government is protecting its citizens. Ideally, these roles are to provide protection for its citizens, to enforce law and order, to form tactical alliances with other governing groups, to maintain peace, to protect the integrity of their borders and to train and initiate uniformed enforcers. In many ways the Yemeni Houthi rebel group has assumed the role in Western Yemen of a government, taking on duties similar to those necessary for a government to carry out. In Yemen’s capital Sana’a, what were once immaculate government buildings are now canvases for the Houthi slogan, “God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam”.

The Houthis’ roots can be traced back to a summer education program promoting heritage to Zaydi youth, particularly in northern Yemen, where Salafist Sunni Islam was growing in popularity. During this time, some Zaydis believed that they were being ignored or shut out of Yemeni government and culture, and became activists associated with opposition to the ruling government. One particular activist, who served as a Member of Parliament but later quit to concentrate on his of-the-people efforts, was Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi.

The core of the Houthi rebel success is found within their successful challenge to the Yemeni government. The notorious outpouring of anti-government uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, known to many as the Arab Spring, reached Yemen in 2011. In the forefront of these uprisings stood the Houthi rebels. In attempts to quell the national unrest, then President Ali Abdullah, facing mass protests against his autocratic regime, announced that he would step down to allow for new elections. With government forces otherwise occupied, the Houthis took full control of the city of Sana’a. Soon the Houthis proved themselves victorious in a mission to control northern Yemen against Sunni Islamist militants. Once Saleh left office to be replaced by his vice president, Hadi, the Houthis controlled the Saada and al-Jawf governorates. In 2015, the Houthi rebels kidnapped President Hadi’s chief of Staff and Prime Minister Bahah’s motorcade. They continued to take control of the president’s residence – keeping Hadi under house arrest. Both the president and prime minister agreed to resign in order to permit the formation of a new government with al-Houthi as head. The Yemeni government has been highly criticized for the way it handled that conflict which only furthers the amount of support for the rebels. In the last decade, the Yemeni government has launched a total of six wars against the Houthis prompted by the fear of what seems to be their inevitable control.

One of the Houthis main goals is to reinstate a 1,000 year period of monarchic rule that was led by the descendants of the prophet Muhammed who were members of Zaydi. This was called the Imamate. It has become clear that The Houthis aims in Sana’a are merely political and do not involve any military action. Al-Houthi wanted to establish a self-sufficient economic system to sustain his followers and force the government to give into the Houthi demands. Since Yemen is underdeveloped, these measures have implied a very clear improvement in standard living. But today, Yemen is in ruins. Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in 2015 in order to influence the outcome of the Yemeni civil war in favor of the government of President Hadi.

The Houthis have taken measures to spread their ideologies by actively convincing children that if they fight Saudi Arabia, they are fighting America and Israel. In order to maintain influence of Yemeni people, 15 newspapers, and 19 public and private T.V. channels have been shut down in a manner similar to other oppressive governments. The Houthis have begun to form political alliances and coalitions for tactical reasons. In January, the Houthis joined in a coalition with the Baath party and the Union of Popular Forces against al Islah Islamist party although Al-Houthi and Imad have assured that this party does not represent them. The Houthis believe that the main source of law in Yemen should be Sharia. In order enforce the Houthi agenda and the Sharia law on the government, they have established a “revolutionary committee” which remains a low profile group.

It is indisputable that the Houthis fit the definition of a government having evolved from a guerilla gang into a governing body of a community. Given the Houthis strides and victories of enforcing their agenda and maintaining significant control, the Houthis have not only acted as a government, but defeated one.


MS-13: From Gang to Government

Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, first began as a youth gang in Los Angeles in the 1980s and was made up of immigrants from El Salvador escaping the civil war. However, as gang violence increased, the 1996 immigration law sent thousands of MS-13 members back to El Salvador. In search of safety and acceptance, the members stayed together and their power grew rapidly as they took advantage of the weak governments in the northern triangle. As MS-13 expanded their territory they began to search for forms of income, entering the business of drug, gun, and even human smuggling. Bringing people into the U.S. illegally quickened the expansion of their territory and made it even harder for law enforcement to control the crimes. Currently, MS-13 is prevalent in at least 42 states but, it still remains the most influential and destructive in El Salvador.
In the past two years, it’s clear MS-13 has taken a dramatic shift in its leadership style and local influence. Previously, MS-13 had been playing a minor role in the drug trade and focusing primarily on gang rivalries but, as they become increasingly more independent their impact has changed. MS-13 acts now as hired hitmen for cartels and have begun selling larger amounts of cocaine in their local territories. This increase in territory and power has led MS-13 to the realization of the potential in their political influence.
MS-13 has recently started collecting money from local businesses and services for protection money. They focus mainly on collecting from bus services, and as they expand the number of buses they exploit their territory also expands. The lucrative part about this business is that the bus drivers also receive extensive government subsidies.
Another key factor leading to this realization of MS-13’s newfound political influence was the truce between gangs in El Salvador and the concessions granted by Salvadoran government-sanctioned negotiators in 2012. Anonymous leaders within MS-13 state that after this truce many have been approached by several political figures who are offering support for laws in exchange for votes in the gang controlled territories. These actions are furthering the political corruption in El-Salvador and increasing MS-13’s role in the weakened government.