Like Daesh, the Houthis have brought nothing but death, destruction and misery to the people over whom they have ruled. While there is an important difference between the two militant groups — in the sense that the Houthis are Yemeni and could have a place at the negotiating table if they were to lay down their arms and withdraw from the regions they took over by force — in other regards the two groups have remarkable similarities. The Houthis would be wise to draw lessons from the fate of Daesh and other terrorist groups.
As I have mentioned previously in this column, a number of Yemeni officials — past and present — analysts, journalists and human rights observers have come to see the Houthis through the same lens as other terror groups that have devastated Yemen in recent years, including the so-called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Daesh. After all, the Houthis have violently usurped power from the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, repeatedly targeted civilian institutions, used medicine and food as weapons of war, laid heartless sieges to several regions, recruited child soldiers and have extensively used landmines, which also tend to injure and maim children disproportionality.
This legacy has no doubt been the main factor in the Houthis’ meager support outside their base of Saada. After turning on and killing their one-time ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis now find themselves with virtually no support or allies inside Yemen. That has meant they are now fighting a war on multiple fronts. After their killing of Saleh, two battalions that were loyal to the former president joined an Arab coalition-led offensive against the Houthis along Yemen’s western coast. At the same time, Islah has also supported the coalition in order to try to break the siege of the city of Taiz.
In addition to having scant support domestically, the Houthis also have very few supporters outside of Yemen. The overwhelming majority of countries in the international community recognize President Hadi and his government as the legitimate government. Iran is virtually the only country that has supported the Houthis, both militarily and politically, as the militants continue to impose their will on the rest of Yemeni society.
Yemeni militants must understand that violence, intimidation and humiliating the people over whom they rule will not work in their favor; otherwise they will face the same fate as Daesh.
While the Houthis have taken a page from the playbook of Daesh and Al-Qaeda in some respects, they also seem to have adopted the equally objectionable tactics of another militant group: Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is well documented that Hezbollah has sent advisers to Yemen to help the Houthis advance their project. Hezbollah is also helping the Houthis with their media and propaganda campaigns, much of which are produced by the militant group inside its strongholds in Lebanon.
For their part, Houthi leaders, especially Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, have tried to emulate the incendiary and irresponsible oratory style of the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. Both seem to relish the opportunity to engage in bluster and threats against their countries’ neighbors, showing complete disregard for the security and wellbeing of their own people.
The Houthis cannot survive this isolation for long. It is only a matter of time before they lose all their territory. When they do, they will have very little leverage at the negotiating table during post-conflict talks. They would be wise to learn from the defeat of terrorist groups like Daesh. They must understand that violence, intimidation and humiliating the people over whom they rule will not work in their favor. Sooner or later, they will lose.
• Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, and an international fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer