Hussain al-Bukhaiti represents one side of the conflict in Yemen. The senior official of the Houthis’ political arm condemns the Saudi-led coalition’s actions as “illegal and illegitimate,” and asserts that Yemen’s problems existed long before Ansarallah got involved.
SANAA, Yemen — Hussain al-Bukhaiti is a former human rights activist and spokesman for the Houthis, the rebel group which has seized control of Yemen. He currently serves as a senior official of Ansarallah, the Houthis’ political arm, where he’s a strong advocate for political dialogue and peace.
A media adviser for the Houthis since 2011, al-Bukhaiti helped the Houthi delegation shape its proposals and liaise with the press during the National Dialogue Conference from 2012 to 2014. He rose through the ranks of Ansarallah quickly throughout 2013 and 2014.
Speaking to MintPress News from Yemen’s capital Sanaa, al-Bukhaiti offers rare insights into Ansarallah, as well as his take on past events leading up to the current crisis.
MintPress contacted him in the name of objectivity, offering him the opportunity to respond to the same questions put to Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s former human rights minister.
MintPress News (MPN): For over a week now Saudi Arabia and its coalition has been bombing Yemen. We often talk about the political and geopolitical endgame of this war, but what about the people?
HUSSAIN AL-BUKHAITI (HB): If I may, I’d like first to answer some of former Minister [Hooria] Mashhour’s comments, as I think she said some things which require addressing. This war we see unfold today, this crisis which was brought upon Yemen and the Yemeni people, is not of our making. And by “our” I mean the Houthis, aka Ansarallah political party.
Ansarallah members were part of the democratic process. We sent a delegation to the NDC [National Dialogue Conference] so that our voices and that of the people we represent would be heard.
To understand the Ansarallah movement you need to understand where we come from.
For decades our people have been repressed by Al Islah party in the name of sectarianism.
Our faith, Zaidi Islam, was vilified, our traditions mocked under the influence of this Saudi-sponsored faction. We came to the NDC to ensure that Yemen would return to its republican principles of freedom and social justice. We did so in good faith. And even after two of our members were assassinated, we carried on with the negotiations, we refused to give criminal elements within Yemen the satisfaction of derailing the transition process.
Another thing which we never talk about is that it was [former President Abed Rabbo Mansour] Hadi who refused to implement the NDC resolutions. When we called upon the Sanaa government to abide by its mandate we did so because cabinet members were straying from the path the people set before it. Hadi was perverting the transition of power, trying to establish himself as a new despot over Yemen.
His presidential mandate was meant for two years. He was supposed to hand over the reins of power and organize new presidential elections in February 2014. And though the NDC reached a conclusion in January 2014, Hadi made no attempt to organize any elections. Does this sound democratic to you? Or does it sound like a man attempting to establish a new political oligarchy over Yemen?
And even though the members of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] decided to extend Hadi’s mandate under the GCC-brokered transition of power initiative, Hadi’s popular mandate was no longer valid. Anyone who has followed events in Yemen knows that foreign powers — mainly Saudi Arabia — have been meddling in Yemen’s internal affairs, trying to exercise political and institutional oversight over the country so that they could remain in control.
Yemen was in crisis long before Ansarallah came onto the scene. Hadi never made any efforts in addressing any of Yemen’s problems. If anything, he has sunk Yemen deeper into debt and poverty by allowing his ministers, close aids and family members to swindle millions of dollars. Where is the aid money the international community poured into Yemen? Where has the money gone? No one seems to be too troubled about that!
Now, when Ansarallah negotiated a deal with Hadi in view of setting Yemen back on track, what did Hadi do? He resigned! He willingly and very publicly decided to abandon his responsibilities and create a power vacuum and institutional vacuum.
We had to pick up the pieces. … We all know what happened after that.
As for [former President] Ali Abdullah Saleh, he was given immunity under the GCC agreement, under the supervision of the United Nations. He was also banned from travelling, so he had no choice but to stay in Yemen. Moreover, blaming Ansarallah for Saleh’s mistakes is preposterous. … We were never part of the former regime, we were oppressed under the former regime. Hadi, however, was a member of the former regime — a very high-ranking member at that, since he was vice president for over a decade.
Now going back to your question: We condemn this war waged by Saudi Arabia and the Arab coalition against Yemen. This war is illegal and illegitimate. Civilians are being killed in the name of Saudi imperialism and the international community is not saying anything. Only Russia and Iran have spoken against this war.
Where is the U.N.S.C. [United Nations Security Council] now?
The people of Yemen are suffering tremendously. The Saudi airstrikes have targeted and are targeting the country’s infrastructure — the military, power plants, gas stations, food warehouses and water facilities.
Only last week the Saudis destroyed a dairy and a cement factory. This led to the deaths of dozens of innocent, unarmed workers. How is that legitimate? How is that helping democracy?
Are we meant to believe that a coalition of Arab monarchies, backed by brutal autocracies, wants to establish democracy in Yemen? Is that what the public is willing to accept as truth?
What about the al-Qaida prisoners the Saudis helped escape? In Saada, a prison was hit by a warplane and 130 terror militants escaped. Was this a mistake or a tactical move? Aren’t they claiming to have intelligence from the United States to know what targets to hit?
Hundreds of my fellow countrymen have been killed. Children have been orphaned, women have been widowed, and somehow the Saudis, the aggressors, are turning this on Ansarallah? How? Saudi Arabia is the aggressor, Saudi Arabia chose to use its military because it does not want to see an independent and free Yemen.
The most oppressive and violent dictatorship in the world is waging an illegal war against the most impoverished nation in the Arabian Peninsula, and the U.S., the EU and the U.N. are watching — supporting even.
MPN: Do you think the international community is doing enough in terms of aid relief and humanitarian assistance? I mean, there have been reports that Oman’s efforts to bring food parcels into Yemen were blocked by the Saudis. What do you make of this?
HB: No! When Russia called for a cease fire to allow humanitarian aid into Yemen, what did Riyad Yassin call for? More bombing! This self-proclaimed Yemeni foreign minister called for more death and more destruction. What is the world doing? Nothing!
When you have 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, then you need to ask yourself what the world has stooped to?
The double-standards and hypocrisy we see at play here are deeply sickening. International law remains the weapon of the strong! This is the message world powers are sending to the people. But Yemen will not yield. Yemen will remain independent. The people of Yemen have withstood oppression over the ages and we will prevail.
People in Aden and other areas of Yemen are running out of food and water. Medicine supplies are running low and the injured are piling up.
Saudi Arabia is running a blockade against Yemen. They even targeted the Russian consulate and prevented Russia from evacuating its diplomats from Aden. … Again, this is a clear violation of international law and actually an act of war against Russia. And though Russia was finally able to evacuate its people, Saudi Arabia showed its true colors. And yet no one is saying anything.
MPN: Yemen was already a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis before this war began. What now? How can Yemen make it through such tough times?
HB: Foreign powers need to leave Yemen to the Yemeni people. The Yemenis have the right to decide their own fate and carve their own path. Of course we will need help and assistance, but we don’t want foreign tutelage. We don’t want to become a colony.
Yemenis understand that we are under foreign invasion and many have joined Ansarallah in this fight.
MPN: I would like to talk now about the risk of radicalization. Al-Qaida seized control of the Mukalla military base and freed some 300 prisoners earlier this week [April 3, 2015]. Do you agree with Abdel Bari Atwan, a prominent political analyst, when he says that al-Qaida is Yemen’s greatest threat?
HB: Al-Qaida is a very big problem. And I don’t agree with former minister Mashhour here. Saying that Yemen does not have a terror problem is completely ludicrous. I don’t think that anyone in the world can deny that al-Qaida is a threat to not just Yemen’s national security but the world.
Already terror elements staged prison breaks in Yemen, in Saada [a northern province] and in Hadramawt [a southeastern province].
Al-Qaida Yemen, aka AQAP [Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula], is using the situation to its advantage, and unless we stop it it will succeed in gaining more footing in Yemen.
Saudi AQAP leader Khaled Batarfi, a high-ranking AQAP operative, was among the prisoners who managed to escape in Mukalla earlier last week.
And if the Saudis say they are only targeting Ansarallah, why are their planes shooting at refugees in Hajjah? What about answering those questions?
What about those elements within al-Islah party we know have links to al-Qaida? What about those documents we found in Hadi’s office proving that funds were transferred to tribal leaders we know are in collusion with AQAP? Is anyone asking those questions? Because we are!
But we have no illusions as to what the international community will do. It will do what it always does — condemn from a distance while civilians die. We have seen what happened in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine. We know that world powers only answer the call of money and oil.
We know Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is about getting control over Bab Al Mandab [a critical section of the world’s oil route] and our natural resources.
The Saudis have already stolen some of Yemen’s lands. They want to take more.
The real question you should be asking is, how long will the world nations allow their leaders to wage wars in their name?
When we see so-called “state officials” like Hadi, Mashhour, Yassin and Karman call for war on their people from a safe distance, I say treason. When I see foreign powers bomb my country from the air, I say invasion. When I see my fellow Yemenis die under foreign bombs, I say murder!
What will you say?