While the Houthis, a group of Shiite rebels who are now seeking to enter mainstream politics as a way to legitimize their movement, are being accused by their political and religious arch enemy, al-Islah ,of expanding their territorial influence to neighboring provinces to serve Iran's plans in the region, the group is arguing it seeks to promote the establishment of a modern democratic civil state in Yemen.
Mohammed Nasser al-Bogheti, one of the Houthis' representatives at Yemen National Dialogue Conference opened up last week in an interview with al-Monitor, speaking of his faction's political and religious ambitions.
As much as al-Islah has grown critical of the Houthis, the Houthis are now fighting back, accusing the powerful al-Ahmar family of sabotaging the dialogue.
Al-Ahmar, one of Yemen's most prominent and influential tribal families is headed by Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the tribal chief of the Hashid confederation of tribes. Al-Islah was founded by his father, late Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar to couter-act then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh General People's Congress.
Al-Islah is essentially an umbrella for three political factions: the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh al-Ahmar tribal confederacy and the Salafis (a group of Islamic fundamentalists who seek a purer application of the Quran).
The political anti-thesis of the Houthis, al-Islah, which is supported by Saudi Arabia has been battling for control over Yemen northern territories, a Houthis' fief.
Despite obvious religious divergences, al-Islah has been more troubled with the Shia group's hold over Yemen northern territories as they sit directly south of Saudi Arabia than its political message to the masses. Rather than a political or even religious crusade, the Houthis and al-Islah's discord lies in the fact that the former is an associate of Iran and the latter an ally of Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis which started off as a dissident group whose ideology and political vision was in opposition of the Republican system, is now alleging it stands to represent democratic values and Yemen's civil rights' aspirations, a far cry from its previous calls for a return of the Imamates (a form of theocratic monarchy).
The Houthis and Politics
Al-Bogheti is now alleging that al-Islah and through al-Islah, al-Ahmar family, has no interest in seeing the National Dialogue succeed as democracy would in essence put an end to their tribal way of life. He added the Houthis however were staunch supporters of democracy , knowing too well what repression and dictatorship could do to one's people. The Houthis, who took up arms in 2004 against the regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have always justified their armed insurgency by saying they sough to protect their people from religious persecution.
Bogheti emphasized that al-Ahmar family had too much to lose in a way of power and influence by establishing a functional democracy, where corruption and nepotism would become obsolete.
Echoing al-Harak's calls for independence (Southern Secessionist Movement) Bogheti explained that his faction is supporting "a federal parliamentary system based on a relative electoral Law," which would allow sub-national entities a certain level of political autonomy.
A federal parliamentary republic refers to a federation of states with a republican form of government that is, more or less, dependent upon the confidence of parliaments at both the national and subnational levels. It is a combination of the federal republic and the parliamentary republic.
Bogheti noted that the General People's Congress actually shared the Houthis' vision, at least as far as parliamentary federalism is concerned, as it realized such a system would dismantle al-Ahmar's power network.
The Houthis and the Imamates
Speaking of Yemen's social and political make-up Bogheti went on explaining that federalism would allow Yemen to preserver its national and territorial sovereignty while allowing sub-national entities to exercise their right to political self-determination, a notion which Yemenis have come to hold dear.
He added that only "through a real partnership and a political consensus" would Yemen survive the crisis.
Rejecting allegations the Houthis are seeking to revert Yemen to an Imamate, Bogheti said, We say the civil state should be the result of consensus between the various forces, based on equality and justice to all citizens, regardless of their political or religious or ethnic backgrounds.”
Moreover, Bogheti insisted that the Zaidi doctrine of the Imamate actually does not oppose the establishment of a civil state as both the religious and the state are different entities, ruled by different concepts.
"The group’s new approach is that the ruler should follow the principles of Islam and the values of the Quran, because it is not possible to establish an Islamic state based on Shariah in Yemen today."
Referring to the Houthis' ambitions in Yemen, Bogheti noted that his group's main concern is to promote democracy, political self-determination, nationalism, territorial independence and sovereignty as well as a return of the religious in public life, beyond the Sunni and Shia divide.
Despite the Houthis' best efforts to re-brand their political strategy by appearing democratically benevolent to the masses, the group's para-military forces have continued to violently crush their opponents in Sa'ada, Amran and al-Jawf, trying to rid the region of all Islahi militants and supporters, thus putting a question mark over their motivations.
Moreover, government officials have accused the Houthis of promoting and pursuing Iran's policy in the region, asserting the Ayatollahs a strong foothold in the Arabian Peninsula to couter-act Saudi Arabia's Sunni hegemony and tip the balance of power in its corner.
While the Houthis have strongly denied such allegations, President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his Western allies seem to have no doubt about the group's allegiance and intention.