In their last days in office, former President Trump and his administration have moved to condemn the Yemeni Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, as a foreign terrorist organization.
According to the Los Angeles Times, three of the group’s higher-ups, including leader Abdul Malik Houthi, may also be named on the global terrorist list. This blacklisting would have gone into effect on Jan. 19 and may effectively limit his room for negotiation with the violent group. So, what does this mean for the already war-torn country?
The 30 million people of Yemen have been suffering since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, overthrew the now former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. According to the LA Times, this conflict has since resulted in the deaths of around 131,000; these fatalities are largely due to insufficient food and health resources, poor infrastructure and disease outbreaks.
According to the New York Times, 80% of the population is now in need of foreign assistance. Even more, the citizens continue to suffer from reckless bombings by the overthrown, Saudi-backed government, whose billions of dollars’ worth of arms and funds are largely supplied by the United States, according to the New York Times.
The move to classify the Houthi movement as terrorism is part of a larger, high-pressure approach that the current administration has taken against Iran. It is also in response to a recent attack at the airport in Aden, a port city in Southern Yemen.
According to the BBC, a large explosion occurred shortly after a plane carrying members of the former government touched down in the city. Though Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and the other officials were unharmed, at least 22 were killed and 50 more were injured. The United States blames the Houthis, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo cited this incident as a motivation to blacklist the organization.
“We need not look further than the callous attack targeting the civilian airport in Aden on December 30, in which the Houthis struck the arrival terminal killing 27 individuals, including three staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to see the destruction the Houthis continue to inflict upon civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Pompeo said in a Jan. 10 press release.
According to the LA Times, naming the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization would have several implications for the Yemen crisis.
First of all, the blacklisting would outlaw all negotiations with the rebels. As a result, it could prevent 20 million civilians from receiving the help they need, as aid organizations rely on open communication with the Houthi group. It would also hinder any American banks or establishments from providing funds to the Yemeni people.
Also, it would affect other nations’ abilities to support the civilians, as it would deny non-United States entities the use of any American currency or markets. This includes the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system, which allows for swift transfers of funds between countries.
Lastly, condemning the group as global terrorists would also prevent foreign entrance into Northern Yemen, effectively isolating the innocent citizens from the global organizations trying to help them.
While Pompeo says that work will be done with the United Nations and other global organizations to minimize the impact on the citizens of Yemen, many remain unconvinced. They believe these potential consequences to be very problematic, as 70% of the Yemeni population lives directly under Houthi rule and relies on foreign aid to survive.
Also, banks and other entities have expressed their hesitance to engage with Yemen now, fearing that they will violate the United States’ regulations. This was seen in November when the current administration was only discussing the prospects of the designation; during this time, food imports to the country dropped by 25%, according to the LA Times.
On the other hand, many supporters of the blacklisting believe it to be the only option left to pressure the Ansar Allah group into ending the war. According to the LA Times, they also hope that it will prevent the Houthis from acquiring a new foothold near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which is a valuable shipping route connected to the Red Sea.
However, others now look to the incoming Biden administration to reverse the terrorism classification. One of these individuals is the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, Mark Lowcock, who predicts great suffering for the people of Yemen if this action is not prevented.
“First, what is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years,” Lowcock told members of the United Nations’ Security Council. “Second, would licenses and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that? The answer is no. Third, well, what would prevent it? A reversal of the decision.”