OP-ED

The Difference Between Al-Khomeini and the Al-Houthi

National Yemen

By Mohammed Al-Absi

“History repeats itself” is an incorrect statement.

34 years ago, a religious man named Ayatollah Al-Khomeini, living in Paris, called on his supporters to express their rejection of the rule of the Shah by shouting from the rooftops.

Three decades later, on September 3 at 9:00 PM, a young man in his 30s named Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called on his supporters in Yemen to protest in the same way, shouting from rooftops, “death to America, death to Israel, and the government must fall!”

The difference between the two events and the two men is very big, but it’s being blurred because of the state of polarization and verbal violence, which poisons Yemeni discourse.

There is a difference between the call of the old man who lived in Paris and the young man who lives in the caves and mountains of Marran is the different between Sana’a and Tehran. There is also a difference in the appearance of the Houthis on the streets of Sana’a and the appearance of tens of youths waiting together in a long queue in front of a cinema on Valsaan Street in Tehran.

The strange thing is how Houthis didn’t know that the shouting from the rooftops in the al-Khomeini era was an idea that attracted the attention of the world press, while the shouting of the Houthis is just an imitation. In addition, Yemen’s weak president isn’t the Shah of Iran. Yemen’s divided security institutions aren’t the Savak, the strongest intelligence agency in the Middle East at the time.

The security and political situation in Tehran in September 1979 is completely different from the current situation in Yemen, where Sana’a is surrounded by Houthis from all sides.

Al-Khomeini’s call for the shouting from the rooftops was a reaction to the decision to ban movement in Iranian cities and force people to stay home. Therefore, the call was a reaction of oppressed people, not those showing strength, like Abdulmalik al-Houthi.

Al-Khomeini was forced to shout from the rooftops because of a curfew. However, did the Yemeni government prevent Houthis from protesting? Did they attack their tents?

Unlike Al-Khomeini, who was an exile and fugitive, many letters from heads of state arrive to Abdulmalik al-Houthi to negotiate with him.

In addition to all the newspapers, mosques, and TV channels owned by Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the only chance for Al-Khomeini to spread his voice was his location in Paris.

The call of Al-Khomeini was the only option for him at the time, while the call of Abdulmalik al-Houthi was cheap imitation.

Shouting from the rooftops turns the protests of Houthis from a domestic Yemeni dispute to the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and between Saudi Arabia and Tehran.

The problem is that the political elites don’t notice the fundamental differences between the two situations.

At the time of the Al-Khomeini, the media was under the control of the state and there wasn’t the means of communication what we have today, where people write “Death to America, Death to Israel” on their Facebook for thousands people around the world.

In short, the freedom of people thirty years ago was symbolic. The call of Al-Khomeini was a peaceful way to protest, not a promotion for social division.

What about the state and the system of governance?

The Shah was a dictator who was governing Iran with an iron fist. In Yemen, where is the state and the system? Does Hadi act like a president?

Houthi militias in Amran defeated one of the largest segments of the Yemeni army. So, what did Hadi do? He went to Amran to negotiate with the Houthi group and suddenly announced the withdrawal of the province without even mentioning the victims who were killed in the war.

Al-Khomeini and his men were threatened with expulsion from Iran by the Shah, but in Yemen Abdulmalik al-Houthi controls Saada freely.

On September 8, 1978, thousands of people participated in a demonstration in Tehran. About 4,000 people were killed, which led to increased anger. Al-Khomeini convinced the army to turn on the Shah.

The Yemeni army didn’t kill 4,000 Houthis, and Houthi protests aren’t peaceful like they claim.

Events in Iran escalated in a large strike in Ashura, the final message to the Shah.

The President of the Iranian military cancelled the commemoration of Ashura and announced the curfew, which forced Al-Khomeini to call on people to shout from the rooftops.

In contrast, in Sana’a there is no curfew, no suppression, and ban of Ashura. The Houthis have two events every week and a religious festival that the president allowed them to hold in a stadium.

The Houthis are partners in the political process. Hadi even went to Amran despite the Houthi withdrawal.

In fact there isn’t any comparison between the call of the Houthis and the call of Al-Khomeini.