Abdul Malek Al Houthi shows up from time to time on Yemeni television. These days there is not a single day that passes by without his face on appearing during the news broadcasts on Yemen. He can be seen waving his finger and threatening viewers, in his usual habit. Yemen now has a new face, which emerged in 2011 and was later destroyed by the emergence of rebellions. Yet, in 2011 Yemen did not have the Houthi identity that it now has in 2015, because at that time, it was personified by the image of hundreds of thousands of marching faces belonging to the Yemeni youth. They had hoped for a better future for their country and many of them were thrown into prison for their views after the Houthis staged a coup on their country and their dreams in 2011.
"ISIS-ees": That is how the Houthi force in Yemen describes all of its opponents in an effort to deprive them of their humanity and transform them into legitimate targets. This was how Houthi forces were able to throw hundreds into prisons that none of us know anything about. Among the people who were arrested was Ahmed Ali Abdul Lateef, whose ever-smiling face can be seen radiating in all of his social-networking profiles as he represents the dreams of the Yemeni people in 2011. He is an intelligent man who does not affiliate himself with a political ideology or party. Like many of his peers, he identified with a non-violent revolution seeking to establish a non-authoritarian regime.
Are we living in the era of Abdul Malek Al Houthi, who is trying to establish his narrative around the actions of Ahmed Abdul Lateef and other young men like him who are trying to give rise to a Yemen that fulfils the people's dreams in the 21st Century; rather than transporting them back to the 7th century, which is embodied by bloody wars that do not help Yemen progress in the political or humanitarian sense.
Ahmed, who is responsible for leading all of the youthful revolutionary initiatives since 2011, whether they were against Ali Abdullah Saleh or his successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his coup-based government, or the Houthi government. In the last protest against Houthi, political parties let go of their youth and as a result of this Ahmed ascended the minbar on during the Friday prayer to give a speech to the people, to mobilise them politically and to help them conceive their revolutionary movement as something independent of any distorted religious leaders or ideologies.
Ahmed was a model for a peaceful youth movement; he dreamt of a more beautiful time and as a result of this was subject to repression and marginalisation. And yet, Abdul Malik is the embodiment of the opposite and is the result of corrupt former oppressive system. He does not have a dream for progress and is personification of the saying: "the student has left and the teacher has arrived".
This is the old regime as it transforms the youth into Houthi pupils, students of oppression and marginalisation who are unable to differentiate between underdevelopment, discrimination and injustice, all of which have become the primitive values of the state and the encourage clans and tribes to engage in senseless wars.
Abdul Malik is the son of privilege of a sacred dynastic Hashemite religiously conservative; he has never left Yemen, and probably never left Saada. He was not educated in regular state sponsored schools and never studied the history and geography of Yemen. It is possible that he knows a little bit about his large country beyond Saada. The bulk of his education was in Quranic verses and the tenants the Zaidi sect from his father.
Abdul Malek Al Houthi comes from a conservative Zaidi school of thought in Saada, the same one that Imam Hadi went to one hundred thousand years ago when he established the Zaidi state. Abdul Malek comes from an extremely religious and conservative family. Zaidi's believe that their beliefs place them in a higher ranking than the rest of society and humanity.
Abdul Malik was around 20 years old when the war in Saada broke out. His brother, the founder of the Houthi Hussein group was killed in battle in 2004. After that, when the third stage of the war broke out in 2006, Abdul Malik became the leader of an armed militia fighting against the state's forces. This is how a twenty-something year old man found himself combatting a state whose history he did not know, nor did he experience its modernity as it was embodied by state institutions, services, and laws. He was always in Saada, isolated and deprived of the opportunity to study at the university level or to work on the ground. Therefore, this young man soon found himself in a killing spree against the state.
In contrast, Ahmed was a young Muslim man from Ibb, a central agrarian city in Yemen. The majority of sects live there together in peace and harmony. In general, the people of Ibb reject sectarian and tribal affiliations. Ahmed left Yemen to complete his university studies in India and returned to the country in his mid-twenties and began his political activism from 2011 to 2014. Ahmed studied in state sponsored schools all of his life and refused to say what his tribal name was as to not perpetuate the already existing sectarian and tribal affiliations in Yemen. There is nothing that qualifies Abdul Malik Al-Houthi to be the leader of the Houthi movement other than his ancestral line and his connection to the historical leader of the movement, Hussein Al-Houthi. As for Ahmed, what would allow him to lead the people of Yemen are his education and his dreams. Today, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi is leading a bloody war against the sons of Yemen and its Saudi Arabian neighbour and in doing so he is forcing many children and young people to pay the price of this war with their lives. A country of 25 million people is currently suffering under the hands of a young man who knows very little about the country and the era in which he currently lives, and yet, he fiercely believes that he is the son of a sacred hereditary line.
Today Ahmed Ali Abdul Lateef is in a Houthi prison and no one knows his fate. This is not be the first time has been imprisoned. When he was released from prison the first time, he said: "My issue is not with being imprisoned. Prison is ok. At least I will be honest with my son Sam when I tell him that I tried to tell him to secure a better future for him".
Ahmed and Abdul Malek represent two different types of Yemeni youth who are rising to prominence in the midst of the chaos affecting the state. At this current stage there is no benefit in reviewing everything that happened prior to the Arab Spring. Ahmed represents Yemen's potential to be more open to the world and a mentality that is not devoted to a certain ideology, whereas, Abdul Malek represents the closed off past and a marginal mentality as he belongs to a group of religious extremists. The former was confronted by everyone and the latter succeeded in advancing his own agenda to return to the pre-Arab Spring status quo.
Ahmed is currently in prison for believing in the dreams of his youth and for trying to move past an era that has reached its end. Abdul Malek is pulling Yemen down towards the abyss but like all attempts to go back to the past, they will be short-lived before the gateway to the future opens once again.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 11 May, 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.