Who are the Houthis?

5 Feb

The devasting simplicity and exquisite righteousness of the Yemeni response to Israel’s ongoing mass murder has caught the imagination of all right-thinking people whatever their race, creed, colour or patch of dirt they call their beloved country. Since definitions matter, as any scientist will tell you, I should add that by ‘right-thinking people’ I mean people who believe genocide A Bad Thing, and efforts to stop it A Good Thing.

Since this definition excludes, alas, some of the most powerful interests on the planet, together with their morally insane hired monkeys, the vacuum has had to be filled by the group we call the Houthis. Rarely in this Vale of Tears do the forces of Light – I confine this descriptor to the context, literally and metaphorically narrow, of their deeds at the Bab el-Mandar chokepoint – wield such deliciously poetic leverage over those of Darkness.

It amuses me to call it chutzpah.

But who are the Houthis? Here for your instant erudition I’ve plucked from cyberscurity two videos, neither of them long, which in their very different ways address the question head on.

First, from Democracy Now, is Helen Lackner – author of Yemen, Poverty and Conflict  and an expert on that country for more than half a century. Her answer takes just thirteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds of the grippingly lucid.

My second offering, from Turkish Radio & Television (TRT), is sumptuously shot. It also delivers, in eye-popping granularity, glimpses of the daily struggles of Yemenis on both sides of a civil war the world has forgotten. Need I say more? Only that given its brevity – 25:21 – how could you live with yourself after passing on it?

As an optional bonus I’m throwing in something not obviously political. In fact it could be seen as downright geeky, from the seductive allure of its title – Why are no large container vessels sailing to the United States? – to its delivery by ageing baldie droning on about container sizes, canal widths, port depths and a short history of maritime evolution since WW2.

Except he doesn’t drone on. This is not only fascinating boy-stuff. It implies, even if its excellent presenter shows precious little sign of recognising the fact, the fatal weaknesses – product of an ascendance in the USA of rentier  capital discussed often on this site – of a nation whose rulers no longer know, or care, how to look after the interests of a manufacturing economy.

* * *

4 Replies to “Who are the Houthis?

  1. That bonus video usefully, and vitally, reminds us that the devil is in the detail.

    The problem he identifies – lack of larger container ships coming to the USA due to insufficient port capacity in terms of deep water and larger cranes – is merely the tip of the iceberg of a much larger systemic set of problems arising from the rentier TINA model currently offered as the only credible option across the collective West.

    A systemic problem described in succinct details by someone at the sharp end of what can only be described as the supply chain non-system:


    [NOTE FROM STEEL CITY SCRIBE. THIS ARTICLE IS BEHIND A PAYWALL. I’VE FOUND IT AT THE MEDIUM – https://medium.com/@ryan79z28/im-a-twenty-year-truck-driver-i-will-tell-you-why-america-s-shipping-crisis-will-not-end-bbe0ebac6a91 – AND IT’S WELL WORTH READING. THANKS.]

    Whilst this was written in October 2021 and some of the issues arising were as a result of the pandemic the bulk of the problems described in this fascinating piece remain relevant simply because those problems a feature of rentier capitalism (or what used to be known as feudalism) rather than a bug.


    “My prediction is that nothing is going to change and the shipping crisis is only going to get worse. Nobody in the supply chain wants to pay to solve the problem. They literally just won’t pay to solve the problem. At the point we are at now, things are so backed up that the backups THEMSELVES are causing container companies, ports, warehouses, and trucking companies to charge massive rate increases for doing literally NOTHING. Container companies have already decreased the maximum allowable times before containers have to be back to the port, and if the congestion is so bad that you can’t get the container back into the port when it is due, the container company can charge massive late fees. The ports themselves will start charging massive storage fees for not getting containers out on time — storage charges alone can run into thousands of dollars a day. Warehouses can charge massive premiums for their services, and so can trucking companies. Chronic understaffing has led to this problem, but it is allowing these same companies to charge ten times more for regular services. Since they’re not paying the workers any more than they did last year or five years ago, the whole industry sits back and cashes in on the mess it created. In fact, the more things are backed up, the more every point of the supply chain cashes in. There is literally NO incentive to change, even if it means consumers have to do holiday shopping in July and pay triple for shipping.

    This is the new normal. All brought to you by the ‘experts’ running our supply chains.”

    And that is only the overview of the details provided earlier in the article.

    An article which provides yet a further example of what is described in this piece from a few years previous (which I’ve posted before)….


    …..which delves generically into the same systemic issues of the impractical organisational atomisation inherent in rentier financial so called ‘Capitalism’.

    If dropping bombs is seen as a ‘solution’ to the current supply chain non-system the US and UK are dropping them in the wrong place. Rather than wasting fuel resources transporting them over to Yemen to drop them it would be more efficient – using the rentier definition and concept of efficiency – to drop those bombs on the centers of decision making in Washington, London, Brussels, Berlin and other Western capitals.

    • Dave I took the liberty of adding, in block caps within your own comment, a link to a free source for your first reference. I recommend it, as I do your second.

      Capitalism is anarchic and wayward, driven by unruly tendencies containing the seeds of its own destruction. I spoke of this not long ago in a post on The cost of marketising Britain’s NHS:

      … what I mean [by neoliberalism] is the reification/deification of market solutions for every problem; a corollary being the relentless search to shrink the state. But markets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. A national economy may indeed be energised by freeing up markets for the pursuit of private profit and capital accumulation but that energy is wayward and anarchic even on its own terms. Full of internal contradiction. Take Britain’s coal, rail and steel sectors prior to nationalisation by the 1945-51 Attlee government. Though hailed as a victory for socialism, this narrative obscures another: that coal, rail and steel were vital to a powerful, profit-led industrial capitalism – but were themselves running at a loss. The paradox was resolved by transferring them from private to public hands.

      For the differences between on the one hand an industrial capitalism whose critical sectors are protected by a strong state – as in Britain 1840-1980 and in China today – and on the other the financialisation of neoliberal economies, see Why read Michael Hudson? In it I wrote of the state funding of infrastructure (roads, rail, ports) and education: burdens that must otherwise fall upon private capital, raising production costs.

      The arrival of Mrs Thatcher in the UK and Mr Reagan in the US synchronised the triumph of rentier capital. Its Chicago School short-termism oversaw a withering of industry, export of manufacturing to the global south, and the adulation of a Small State. With big bucks pouring in to Wall Street and London, who needed its nanny fussiness?

      It turns out capitalism needed it. Container ships not coming to US ports which can’t handle them? A $1tn a year arms sector outmatched on every indicator that matters by Russia’s cheaper output? The consequences for capitalism of its own deregulation – its attendant corruption seeing the Lloyd ‘Raytheon’ Austins of this world oozing back and forth between high office and a bloated military industrial complex responsible in large part for the forever wars – are piling up. Meanwhile a core reason for the West’s literally fatal underestimation of Russia is its obsession with GDP: an unreliable metric given that the problems spoken of in your first link – ports suing truckers, truckers counter-suing and both suing shipping companies – boost GDP! Alice-in morality, Alice-in accountancy and Alice-in economics go together like horse, bridle and carriage. You couldn’t make it up!

  2. Thanks, Phil. I watched all three of these the other days and found them very informative.

    I also came across this useful post from @Aldanmarki on X recently:

    In case you’re not on there and can’t access it, here’s the text from the main part of the post:

    “Seeing a lot of people confused by these news. “These are Houthis, not the Yemeni government” some people screech. You’re wrong. Here’s a quick crash course on some background history, the political landscape in Yemen & appropriate terminology:

    1. The “Houthis” (known officially as the Ansarallah) is a broad grassroots movement with only a few defined political keypoints. This is deliberate, as the movement seeks to incorporate and represent the Yemeni people in its entirety across both Islamic and political differences. The movement has a right-wing, a centre-wing and a left-wing, each organized into separate unions and interest groups. For example, the left-wing is organized into what is called the “Cultural Front Against the Aggression”, just to be very specific.

    2. The “Houthis” ceased being a rebel group in late 2014 with the advent of the September 21st Revolution and the signing of the UN-sponsored Peace & National Partnership Agreement.
    Prior to 2014, the group could indeed be described as a rebel movement as it fought 6 consecutive wars against the corrupt Saudi-backed government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. In September 2014, when the “Houthis” entered Sana’a to topple said government, more than 2/3rds of the entire Yemeni Armed Forces switched and took their side instead of the side of the government, giving the “Houthis” access to missile stockpiles and heavy weapons. More on that further down.

    3. There are currently two competing governments in Yemen, one based in the constitutional capital Sana’a, and one de-facto based in Aden – although the Aden-based government remains unable to exercise its authority there. The “internationally-recognized government” based in Aden doesn’t actually operate from within Yemen, but from a shadow cabinet based in the luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh where they’ve been exiled since February 2015.
    Their direct authority is limited to warlord figures and tribal factions doing their bidding, representing less than 15% of Yemen’s total population. In turn, the so-called “Houthi rebels” are part of what is called the Government of National Salvation, which exercises direct authority over 85% of Yemen’s entire population.

    4. The forces which have launched drones, ballistic & cruise missiles towards Israel are the forces aligned with the Government of National Salvation. They are far from being a “rag-tag rebel group”, but operates as a truly conventional army. They don’t “represent” the “Houthis”, nor do they wage war on behalf of one party or group against another. They represent all of Yemen, and fight on behalf of all of Yemen without exception. They are the only Armed Force in Yemen loyal to a government with a parliamentary mandate to exercise authority – a mandate the Saudi-backed “government” does not have.

    Tl;dr: It was indeed the Yemeni Armed Forces which launched the attacks against Israel.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *