Inside Sanaa, a city of fear, hunger and Houthi repression

People flee Sanaa with their belongings. (File photo/Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017
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Inside Sanaa, a city of fear, hunger and Houthi repression

JEDDAH: People in Sanaa have spoken of a “silent volcano of anger” against Houthi militias who control Yemen’s capital with a rule of terror, suppressing dissent and looting the public treasury.
The Iran-backed militias issue their diktats through “malazem,” propaganda booklets or leaflets containing the beliefs, ideologies and speeches of their leader, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi.
Stricken by fear, hunger and repression, Yemenis whisper to each other on street corners, then fall silent when a stranger passes by. “Sanaa has become a prison with more than three million inmates,” a shop assistant, 37, told the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
He described a city under the absolute control of the Houthis since they murdered former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Dec. 4. “The malazem, which the Houthis deem as a guide to governance and management through their supervisors, rule here; not the law or the constitution ... there is no mercy here.”
The man’s shop was burnt out during the violent confrontations between Saleh’s guards and the Houthis, which ended in his murder. “There is a volcano of anger against this Houthi behavior, their administration and their dispossession,” the shopkeeper says.
Around him there is debris from the smashed walls of houses, shards of broken glass, burnt-out shops, and walls pockmarked by bullets and shells. The ruins of Saleh’s houses and those of his relatives, and the headquarters of his General People’s Congress, are pitiful — but still surrounded by Houthi guards. This is the “hateful Houthi time, says Slim, 40, a civil servant.
A remote corner of Baghdad Street is like a scene from a mafia gang movie. Two people talk tensely. When you pass by, they fall silent and contemplate your features to judge whether you belong to the militia.
Greetings are exchanged, you walk on, and they resume the conversation. One says to the other: “Oh, my brother, what is the matter with you? He does not appear to be a Houthi!”
Mohammed, 25, who works in an electronics shop, deletes all the photos and messages he receives for “any reason that might lead to suspicion.” His Houthi supervisor will ask for his phone to check it for evidence of opposition to the militias or any affiliation to Saleh or the General People’s Congress. Ibrahim, 33, an education worker, prefers not to carry his phone at all when he goes out.
Once, hundreds of cars and vans displayed portraits of Saleh and his eldest son Ahmed, or flags of the General People’s Congress. They have all gone. Instead, bridges and the walls of schools and mosques carry huge billboards with Houthi slogans.
Economists told Asharq Al-Awsat the Houthis spend at least 50 billion Yemeni riyals ($200 million) a year on printing slogans and publications.
Imad lives on Taiz Street. One of his neighbors was a high-ranking former army officer who has not been involved in the conflict, and stayed at home after the invasion of Sanaa by the militias in September 2014.
“These days,” Imad says, “our neighbor no longer goes to pray in the mosque. He is said to have moved to the home of a relative, which is not known to the Houthis. Some of his neighbors are likely to leave Sanaa on the advice of a relative who works with the militias.
“The Houthi hell affects everything. No salaries for employees for the second year in a row. The huge resources they earn from taxes, customs, zakat, telecom revenues and other state institutions, as well as the royalties they impose on traders and businessmen, all go to private accounts of the group, not to the public treasury.”
It is no longer unusual to see a woman or a child searching in garbage bins for food scraps, or asking you to give something of the little you have at road junctions, near bakeries or at the entrances to the markets. Elderly men and women, and thousands of children, are starving.
Many of the cases being heard by the Sanaa courts are brought by landlords against tenants who have no money to pay their rent.
Unless, of course, you are a Houthi. Adnan, 23, says: “My Houthi neighbor has three cars and recently bought a villa in Heddah and land on the airport road. I can hardly find the cost of a water tank or gas cylinder. The Houthis looted us. God avenge them.”
The value of the Yemeni riyal against foreign currencies has collapsed, amid accusations that the Houthis are speculating on the currency and pocketing millions.
“Sanaa is no longer Sanaa,” said Samir, 27, a former soldier in the Republican Guard. Since the militia’s takeover of Sanaa, he has been selling vegetables in a market east of the capital. “The poor citizen has nothing to do,” he said.
Hassan, an employee at the Ministry of Health, says: “As you talk to the people of Sanaa, you feel that despair is oppressing their lives. But with successive field losses for the Houthi militias, most people hope the end is imminent for the darkest and most miserable pages in Yemen’s modern history.”


UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

Updated 14 December 2018
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UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

  • Griffiths called for deployment of UN monitors to observe the implementation of a cease-fire in Hodeida and the withdrawal of Houthi militia
  • Saudi Arabia says it is committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen

JEDDAH: A robust monitoring regime is urgently needed in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah to oversee compliance by the warring parties with an agreed cease-fire in the region, United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Arab Coalition-backed Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi agreed on Thursday to stop fighting for Houthi-held Hodeidah and withdraw their troops, the first significant breakthrough for UN-led peace efforts in five years of conflict.
“A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is also urgently needed and both parties have told us they would very much welcome it and indeed depend on it,” Griffiths told the 15-member council, adding that UN officials were already planning for such a deployment.
Such a monitoring mission needs the backing of the Security Council in a resolution, diplomats said.
Griffiths said in a video briefing that retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert had agreed to lead the monitoring component of the agreement, which took effect on Thursday when the deal was published. He said Cammaert could arrive in the region within days.
“Being present in the field soon is an essential part of the confidence that needs to go with the implementation of this agreement,” Griffiths said.
The council was already discussing a British-drafted resolution to enshrine five requests made by UN aid chief Mark Lowcock — one of which was for a truce around facilities needed for aid and commercial imports — and diplomats said that would now be reworked to endorse the agreement reached in Sweden.
“We hope to be able to work expeditiously with colleagues to bring about a Security Council resolution which will give the firmest possible support to what has been achieved so far,” British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.
“As requested we will of course want — with colleagues — to address the monitoring requirements,” she said.
“The UN will take on a leading role in supporting Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa,” Griffiths said. “The UN ... has developed a plan seeking specific support from member states in the port.”
Meanwhile, in a statement by Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom backed “the agreements reached in Sweden in UN-sponsored talks between a delegation of Yemen’s legitimate government and the Houthi rebels,” the official SPA news agency reported.
“The Kingdom remains engaged in the search for a political solution in Yemen which guarantees the security and stability of the country,” the statement said.
The statement also called on the Iran-aligned Houthis to “embark on this path” toward a political solution.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry also said on Friday that it welcomed the agreement between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi militia. 
The ministry said that the Kingdom was committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen.
The handing over of the port of Hodeidah to the control of the United Nations will help to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, the ministry stressed.