A Houthi Masterclass in Dystopia

A Houthi Masterclass in Dystopia

The Sana’a Center Editorial

The international educational non-profit organization AMIDEAST opened an office in Sana’a in 1981, before the Yemen Republic was even a country (the unification of North and South Yemen occured in 1990). Since then tens of thousands of Yemenis have passed through the institution, receiving education, training, accredited testing and exchange opportunities that allowed them to proceed to further education at universities around the world. They brought this education back to Yemen. AMIDEAST alumni have gone on to become ministers in the government, high-level bureaucrats and leaders in the private sector, academia and civil society. In an impoverished country starving for minds able to create opportunities for economic and social development, the impact of AMIDEAST in fostering Yemen’s intelligentsia has been significant.

Even under the massive challenges posed by the ongoing conflict, AMIDEAST had kept its doors open to Yemenis. However, on May 30 this year, AMIDEAST announced that the Houthi authorities had forced its Sana’a office to close, without any justification. In doing so the Houthi authorities closed a gate through which potential agents of socio-economic progress could develop. Indeed, closing AMIDEAST was closing arguably the most significant window through which Yemenis with potential have been able to access the world of opportunity.  

For paranoid ideologues, the intellectual advancement of individuals within a society is the ultimate threat to the cohesion of a totalitarian dogma. Put directly: how could the head of the armed Houthi movement, Abdelmalik al-Houthi, retain his veneer of absolute authority if those under his fist were able to articulate better ideas than he? Rather than being seen as an opportunity to advance collective good, these free thinkers are seen as a menace to entrenched Houthi interests. The greatest threat to Abdelmalik Al-Houthi is not the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or the Yemeni government; rather, it is the possibility that those within his ranks will one day see that there is more to life than war, and that there is so much more meaningful possibility to life than martyrdom.  

The Houthi authorities’ campaign to send Yemen back to the dark ages of thought did not begin with closing AMIDEAST. Since overtaking Sana’a in 2014 the Houthi leadership has aggressively pursued a campaign to restructure the minds of the population under its control. Religious zealots now occupy most ministries in the government, in particular the Ministry of Education, headed by Abdelmalik’s older brother, Yahya al-Houthi. A UN-sanctioned arms dealer is also a member of the cabinet. Of late, the primary school curriculum has been reworked to expand religious studies that in reality do not study religion at all — rather, they teach that there is one interpretation of the divine, the Houthi interpretation, and all others are heretical. Educational advancement for Houthi leaders has meant taking children from orphanages, giving them guns and sending them to the frontlines to learn how to kill or be killed. At the same time Houthi authorities have blocked vaccination campaigns for hundreds of thousands of children and, during the holy month of Ramadan, looted aid from the mouths of the hungry.

The mixing of men and women at cafes and universities has been banned, while religious-based female militias — known as Zainabiat — now pass as women’s liberation. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, Houthi forces have bombed the homes of those who have opposed them and proudly posted the videos on YouTube. They have imposed martial law and systematically arrested or otherwise censored imams, civil society leaders, journalists and activists, and sentenced members of religious minorities to death in kangaroo courts. Houthi forces have planted millions of landmines in civilian areas across the country. Indeed, a Houthi leader once gloated to a prominent human rights activist that domestic landmine production was a market that the Houthis have mastered; such should indicate the Houthi ideal for technological advancement. And the trump card in their hands are the millions of people who live under their sway, who are better understood as hostages rather than citizens.

Yemeni institutions have long been riddled with corruption. Among the new elements that the Houthi authorities are introducing, however, is mass indoctrination. The armed Houthi movement is a militia that is better understood as an ideologically driven mafia, one that has through the course of the conflict rapidly learned how to manipulate the international community and garnered its own ambitions for statehood. The reconfiguration of education is among the primary means through which the Houthis are laying the foundations for their dystopia.[1]

This editorial appeared in An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review, May 2019

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  1. ‘Dystopia’, a noun meaning an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia.