There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about attacks in the Red Sea from Houthi rebels based out of Yemen.
So, who are these people?
The Houthis emerged in Yemen’s northern Saada province along the border with Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. It was established by former Yemeni government MP and religious scholar Hussein Al Houthi who said he wanted to protect and revive Zaydi Islam. This sect of Shia Islam currently makes up roughly 35% of Yemen’s population and has been found here for centuries.
Al Houthi was against outside influences on Yemen’s rulers from Saudi Arabia and Americaб and in so doing was accused of being backув by outside influences himself from Iran. Al Houthi was also accused of wanting to re-install a religious form of government headed by an Imam who must be a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed.
Supporters of Al Houthi grew in popularity amongst the populationб and in 2004 they launched their first attack on the government, which turned into a war lasting 6 years until Saudi Arabia intervened. The Arab Spring led to a fracturing of the country and further splits along political lines resulting in further civil conflict in the country. The weakened state of the country allowed the Houthis to expand their control of Northwest Yemen.
This area of Yemen has seen some of the fiercest conflict seen during the civil war and resulted in Saudi Arabia joining the war against the Houthis. Recently, as of December 2023, there have been increased peace talks between the Saudis and the Houthis, however progress on this has stalled since the war in Gaza began.
What do they control now?
The Houthis now control roughly 20% of the entire country of Yemen. This area is located in the northwest of the country along the border of Saudi Arabia, and includes the capital Sana’a. This area is very mountainous and has historically been always one of the poorest areas of the Middle East.
Images of the Houthis often include them holding up green and red writing in Arabic script that lays our their slogan, which is quite extreme. It says (in Arabic) “God is great, death to America, Death to Israel, cursed be the Jews and victory to Islam” .
This very clearly lays out their extreme elements and their opposition to the USA and Israel.
Why are they in the News?
The Houthis have been in the news recently because they have been launching missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea and also towards Israel itself to show their support for Hamas and Gaza. This has led to a massive decrease in commercial ships using the Red Sea for transit and is costing billions in extra fuel costs for shipping companies. The US has also increased its presence in the region and has been shooting down drones and missiles sent from Houthi territories.
So, with all this said, is it safe to go to Yemen?
This will depend on where you go. We don't think it's the best idea to go to the Houthi controlled areas. It is possible to get permits to go to Sana’a, so you theoretically can, however several foreign travellers have been arrested upon arrival and this is a risk that we don't think is worth it at this point.
If you want to head to the safer part of Yemen, you’ll have to stick with the eastern Hadramout region or the isolated island of Socotra. Both these regions have maintained stability in recent times and are considered relatively safe for travellers.
If you’ve been interested in travel to Yemen but was unsure how to then this is your chance to join!
Check out all our Yemen tours here .