Crescent international conducted an interview with Yousef Mawry, a Yemeni-American journalist with 10 years’ experience in the field. He has worked with Vice News, BBC, HBO, AJ+, NBC and several other major networks. He is also a political analyst and commentator on Yemeni and Middle Eastern affairs. Yousef was the first reporter to expose the use of US laser-guided missiles by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. He now runs his own media company, tellurtale.com that specializes in producing important stories from around the world.
1. The corporate media is constantly reinforcing the Sunni-Shia divide by projecting the war on Yemen as one between a ‘Shia’ Islamic movement, Ansarullah (Houthis), and ‘Sunni’ Saudi Arabia. Could you comment on this narrative?
The Sunni vs Shia narrative is coming out of the mouth of the boy who cried wolf. People are not joining the ranks of Ansarullah or supporting them because they are Sunni, Shia or Zaydi.
They are supporting them because they view them as defenders of Yemen against Saudi aggression. Their supporters also believe that once/if the group reaches power they will implement Islam at a state level. People are also convinced that Ansarullah is a Zaydi movement, not Shia. Despite this, sectarian elements have very little to do with this conflict. What the media is saying and what people are finding out on the ground simply don’t match. Ansarullah would not have accomplished what they have so far if the Yemenis believed this was an Iranian takeover or that it’s a Sunni vs Shia conflict. Iran is involved in other parts of the Muslim world but there is no evidence to support the claims that Iran is calling the shots for Ansarullah. There are, however, some Yemenis who do believe this narrative and have chosen to side with Saudi Arabia to counter what they believe is a “Shia takeover.” I would also add that most Sunni Muslims do not view Saudi Arabia as a representative of Sunni Islam and are in favor of seeing the Saudi family ousted from power. If Ansarullah can help deliver on this, one can imagine how the movement will win the hearts and minds of millions of Muslims around the world and at the same time attract just as much enemies.
2. Are there large Sunni Islamic organizations in Yemen who are allied with the Ansarullah movement? Who are they and what are their ideological inclinations?
There is no specific Sunni organization allied with them but there are many ordinary Sunnis who support the movement and are in the front lines with them. Ansarullah movement is a Zaydi movement and the majority of Yemenis are Sunni Muslims. It’s true, however, that most of those fighting against Ansarullah are Sunni Muslims but the conflict is mainly political not sectarian.
3. These days whenever there is conflict in the Middle East, the corporate media, NATO regimes and their allies are quick to point at the involvement of the Islamic Republic of Iran. What is Iran’s involvement in Yemen today?
I would say that the Islamic Republic of Iran supported the revolution against Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011 and supported Ansarullah’s revolution against President Abd Rebo-Mansour Hadi that began in 2014. But this support was political and through media coverage. There is no evidence to prove that Iran has in any way directly supported Ansarullah militarily. One frequently hears that Iran is sending weapons and money to Ansarullah but that is physically impossible considering the Saudi-imposed blockade from land, air and sea. Before the blockade, the coalition government was in power and it would have foiled or seized any armed shipments from Iran to Ansarullah.
I think Iran will support any regime in Yemen that is not controlled by Saudi Arabia like the previous regimes have been. The reason for this is because Iran wants to boost its economy and it needs to open trade with countries in the region. Iran needs to increase its international trade network that has suffered drastically due to the US blockade. If a pro-Ansarullah government is in power you can expect the two countries to trade with one another that would improve the economy of both. A pro-Ansarullah government establishing economic partnership with Iran based on mutual interest is a possibility. But the Islamic Republic has to keep in mind that Ansarullah is not Hamas and they are not Hizbullah because this is a group that has its own Islamic political agenda that Iran might not agree with in the future.
4. There are many Islamic organizations in the Muslim world, but except for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizbullah, most have no or very limited socio-political and economic programs. What about the Ansarullah movement? Have they put forward a coherent program?
The socio-political and economic programs of Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Muslim Brotherhood are merely just charters and manifestos. They actually don’t have a comprehensive law book that outlines laws and regulations to govern the people. The Muslim Brotherhood’s social, political and economic system is based on the secular constitutions of their respected countries with minor changes. You must remember that Ansarullah has been at war since their inception. They haven’t really had the opportunity to actually put together a coherent socio-political and economic system that is ready to be implemented. They say the political and economic system they establish, will be derived from the Qur’an and the examples of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). I would say this is an important element that the group needs to address sooner rather than later because if they implement the same socio-political system of the previous regimes, which was imported to Yemen from France and Britain, they will lose credibility.
The only Islamic group that I am aware of that has a constitution not based on the current secular systems is a group called Hizbut-Tahrir. It has an official constitution which consists of more than 200 articles they believe is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. So unless for strategic purposes, Ansarullah is withholding their new socio-political system, I would say they don't have one yet, but this doesn’t mean they don't have plans to draft one or announce it when the time is right. It is possible they probably have one ready and just haven’t announced it yet.