The Conquest of Sana’a by the Houthis on Social Media

Michael Barak examines the discussion on social media about the Houthi conquest of the Yemeni city of Sana'a.

“‎‎‎I am a Yemeni expatriate, the Houthis do not represent me”‎‎‎
“‎‎‎I am a Yemeni expatriate, the Houthis do not represent me”‎‎‎ (pictured).


The decline of Yemen in its civil war, the conquest of Sana‘a by the Houthis (a Zaidi Shi'i minority supported by Iran) in January, and the forced resignation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur following the conquest stirred agitated responses from users of the social networking sites (SNS) concerning the future of Yemen and its position in the region. This discourse was characterized by dismay and great anger about the Houthi‎s’ move and widespread concern about an Iranian takeover of Yemen. Many users, both within Yemen and without, and especially in the Persian Gulf, used social media to express anger at the occupation of Sana‘‎a by the Houthi minority, whom they perceive as betraying the unity of the Yemeni people and tearing the homeland asunder. In protest, some added a slogan to their Twitter account: “‎‎‎I am a Yemeni expatriate, the Houthis do not represent me”‎‎‎ (pictured). Many users chose to direct their criticism at the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was overthrown in 2011 after many years of control. These users accused Saleh of collaborating with the Houthis in order to return to power. A Yemeni user noted, “‎‎‎Those fighting with the Houthis today are Republican Guard and Central Security Forces loyal to Ali Saleh. Therefore, they should be called, ‘‎the Afash gangs’‎ [after Salah’‎s grandfather, whose name became a derogatory term to indicate that a person who is not well-liked] and Houthis.”‎‎‎[1]

A significant portion of the discourse was devoted Saudi Arabia’‎s involvement on the side of the ousted Yemeni government. Curbing the increasing strength of Iran is a primary interest of Saudi Arabia in its struggle for regional hegemony and its effort to strengthen the Sunni axis against the Shi‘a. Geopolitically, Yemen has always been Saudi Arabia’s “‎‎‎backyard.”‎ Therefore, they perceive the rise of the pro-Iranian Shi‘‎ite Houthi regime to be a real threat, primarily to the security interests of Saudi Arabia, both in the immediate region and the broader arena of the Middle East. Many user‎s, both Yemenis and others, stressed the importance of this issue and their gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s support, especially in light of Iran’‎s involvement.[2] Saudi users argued that present events are part of a historical sequence in which Saudi Arabia has proven repeatedly that it is the only guarantor of Yemen’s integrity and security.[3]

Many user‎s have focused on attacking Iran’‎s involvement and responsibility for fanning ethnic strife and exacerbating the rift between Sunnis and Shi‘a. A Yemeni user tweeted that every person who was killed in Yemen, whether they be a Salafi, a Houthi, a reformist, or an ISIS supporter is part of the Yemeni nation regardless of their ethnicity, and the preservation of unity is important.[4] Another user stressed Iran’‎s responsibility for sowing discord among various groups in Yemen as part of its plan to expand its influence and dominate the Arab Middle East. Indeed, the lively participation of users from the Gulf States in this discourse on social media exemplifies the significance of the Yemeni issue in the region as a whole. A Saudi user termed it an “‎‎‎Iranian invasion and a widespread process of ‘Shi‘ization.’”‎‎‎[5] Dr. Abdullah Fahad Al-Nafisi, a professor of political science in Kuwait, tweeted that the Houthis are a fifth column of Iran, and their true headquarters are in Tehran: “‎‎‎Iran conquered an Arab capital in Arabia. There is no inter-Arab conflict [here; rather it is inter-Muslim, MB]. Combating the occupation cannot be achieved by dialogue, only by opposition.”‎‎‎ Al-Nafisi added that Iran‎ intends to annex Yemen as it did in Iraq, and as Russia did in Crimea.[6] Another user claimed that Iran is trying to replicate the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon in Yemen, while others argue that it is American support for Iran that allows it act so brutally. Faisal al-Qassem, an interviewer on the Qatari Al-Jazeera network, tweeted that American support for Iran stems from its desire to fight ISIS.[7]

Many non-Yemeni users from the Gulf states expressed serious concern about the ongoing strengthening of Iran’‎s influence in the region, as Walid Al-Ahmad, an Kuwaiti columnist, tweeted: “‎‎‎The Iranian octopus is coming for you.”‎‎‎[8] Other users stressed that “‎‎‎The Houthi are threatening Saudi Arabia.”‎‎‎[9] In light of this, many users emphasized that the Gulf states must pull together and establish a united front to block this trend. Some tried to promote this by using the hashtag “‎‎‎Global Arab-Gulf front for fighting Shi‘i terrorism.”‎‎‎[10] One Saudi user tweeted that Iranian ships are considered enemy ships and the Yemeni army should therefore attack them.[11] Under the hashtag “‎‎‎fighter against Houthis”‎‎‎ some users stressed the importance of resistance to the Iranians.[12] Another Saudi user stressed that Yemen’‎s Sunni residents will lose out if they do not immediately act against the Houthis and their supporters.[13] Other users expressed their wishes with the hashtag “May ‎‎‎Yemen be a graveyard for Iranian plans,” and‎‎‎ that Iran and its allies would sink in the mud of Yemen, as history proved in the past when Egypt became embroiled in a Yemeni civil war in the early 1960s.[14]

The discourse on social media about the conquest of Sana‘‎a ‎is indicative of the real anxiety and distress felt by residents of the Sunni Arab Gulf states. They see Iran as constantly striving, successfully, to expand its influence. The “s‎‎wallowing”‎‎‎ of Yemen by Iran is, therefore, another link in the chain of Iranian conquests of Arab territory, as were Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, that have become its pawns on the way to regional hegemony. Social media emphasize the urgent need to meet this danger not only with diplomatic action but also through physical force, a belief that almost goes unmentioned in the official channels of traditional media.



[1] #عصابات_عفاش_والحوثي

[2] #انا_مغترب_يمني_الحوثي_لايمثلني, #اليمن_سقطت_بيد_الحوثي, #صنعاء_في_قبضة_الحوثيين

[4] #انا_مغترب_يمني_الحوثي_لايمثلني

[5] #اليمن_سقطت_بيد_الحوثي, #إنقلاب_الحوثيين_في_اليمن,

[9] #الحوثي_يهدد_السعودية

[10] #جبهة_خليجية_عربية_عالمية_لمواجهة_الإرهاب_الشيعي

[14] #اليمن_مقبرة_المشروع_الإيراني