hen the Houthi—or Ansarullah movement of Yemen is mentioned in the headlines regarding the brutal war currently unfolding in its fifth year since March of 2015, their infamous slogan (known as the “sarkha,” or scream) is often highlighted, ostensibly to portray them as extremists. But how many of us have actually read their official views and policies?
Sure, “Death to America, Death to Israel” doesn’t exactly invoke liberal beliefs, however the historical and cultural context behind these sharp words goes over the head of the typical Westerner. In the opinion of those sympathizing with this populist Yemeni movement, the sarkha was created as a reaction to “Western imperialism,” specifically the wars waged by NATO states and allies in the Middle East. It refers to those governments, not ordinary citizens.
In late March of 2019, the “Supreme Political Council” of the “National Salvation Government” (established by the Ansarullah-led authorities in Yemen’s capital city to fill the political vacuum) released a comprehensive reform plan titled the “National Vision to Build the Modern Yemeni State.” At 82-pages in length, it explicates the movement’s goals and visions for improving the conditions in Yemen, which has been dubbed “the world’s most fragile state” by the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index.
The document begins with a summary of its purpose and its goal: “A modern, democratic, stable and unified Yemen which rests on having strong institutions, the realization of justice, the pursuit of development and a dignified life and standard of living for Yemeni citizens, the protection of the independence of the nation and seeking world peace and appropriate equal cooperation with the other countries of the world.”
The terms “democracy,” “justice,” and “world peace” are not ones most would associate with the Ansarullah movement, however due to inherent cultural barriers, much of the Anglo-American press has a blind spot concerning key political changes unfolding in Yemen. Westerners must consider the possibility that progressive values have existed within the Ansarullah movement since its inception.
The report (available in Arabic, English, and French) is packed with statistics and infographics showing the vast cultural and economic benefits that will come to Yemen upon implementation of the reform plan. This is a trajectory carefully constructed by a political class and intelligentsia who have studied Western democracies, hoping to apply many of the same values to Yemeni civil society and government.
This includes total freedom of press and freedom of expression, as well as a system that enables a bipartisan parliamentary system where no party or political group is above all others. As a prime indicator, detainees held behind bars “for reasons of opinion” are slated to be released. Amid the chaos of the war, Ansarullah has been accused of holding prisoners of conscience.
Westerners must consider the possibility that progressive values have existed within the Ansarullah movement since its inception.
Other objectives of the Ansarullah-backed National Salvation Government include: raising female participation to 30% of the entire labour force by 2030 from a dismal 6% currently (according to latest 2018 report by the Global Economy); instituting a mass literacy campaign; establishing mandatory and free education for the children of the poor; making five Yemeni universities amongst the best universities in the Arab world; and improving Yemen’s world ranking in technology innovation.
And lastly, no statecraft manifesto is complete without thoughts on international relations. The document does not present any radical foreign policy plan, rather it primarily stresses the importance of establishing diplomatic ties with countries based on bilateral agreements. There is no specific ideological imprint on it. It reads like a typical government document that could be from any developed nation on earth.
Why the media has been silent on the publication of the “National Vision to Build the Modern Yemeni State” has yet to be answered; this is puzzling since it is the only document that can be considered a manifesto for the Houthi Ansarullah group. It is secular and progressive in its wording and tone, and the values presented are those that we in Western society hold dear to our hearts. It offers a rare glimpse into the objectives of Ansarullah– something political analysts have been unable to decipher for years. The entire document can be downloaded for free on the website www.yemenvision.gov.ye/en
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