Sanaa, Yemen – After a week of mounting anti-government protests in Sanaa led by the Houthis, a rebel Shia movement from the north of the country, a counter-protest was organised by Islah, Yemen’s biggest Sunni Islamist party and the Houthis’ biggest political rivals.
Although the Islah march on August 24 was ostensibly aimed at promoting unity among Yemenis, much of the rhetoric was distinctly anti-Houthi.
“Amran, Amran, Houthis this is your last days,” chanted former members of the 310th Armoured Brigade, which was routed by the Houthis in Amran, north of Sana’a, in July, and whose commander Hameed al-Qushaibi was killed in the fighting. Pictures of al-Qushaibi, who disobeyed orders from Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to fight the Houthis, were on prominent display.
The march came amidst growing tensions between the Houthis, the government, and Islah, which sees the Houthis as an existential threat after its recent military successes in Amran, historically an Islah stronghold.
Meanwhile, the Houthis’ leader, Abdelmalek al-Houthi, has demanded that the government step down and that Hadi restore fuel subsidies cut in July, threatening a series of “measures” to bring the government down if his demands are not met.
Talks between the government and al-Houthi broke down on August 24, leading to fears of fighting in the capital and rising anti-Houthi and sectarian rhetoric among the group’s rivals.
Although most Houthi supporters gathering in Sanaa for daily anti-government marches have been unarmed, officials say that encampments set up around the outskirts of the city are filled with well-armed Houthi fighters. Hadi has called on Houthi supporters to withdraw from the capital.
Al Jazeera spoke to Houthi and Islah supporters and independent protesters in Sanaa about why they took to the streets.
|Muaad al-Shami, independent protester from Taiz|
Muaad al-Shami [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]
The whole country is with us and we are with the dialogue.
We will not allow a small group to destroy our country, like the Houthis and Al Qaeda. They want to destroy the country.
I am Hashemi, the same as the Houthis. They want to install a Hashemite president and I do not.
I am like them, but I am not with them.
|Zaid Atef, from Amran, independent protester at Houthi protest camp|
|Zaid Atef [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
I am not a Houthi, no.
I am here because life is so expensive.
The government is corrupt. We are like slaves while they control everything.
I want them to cancel the subsidy reform and dissolve the government. Justice must be served.
If [President] Hadi does not do this, he must also go, with the corrupt people.
|Mohammed al-Sihami, tribesman from Mareb|
|Mohammed al-Sihami, tribesman [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
The Houthis want to take our country by cutting the throats of the people.
They are terrorists, like the Taliban in Afghanistan…
They killed my cousin Mohammed. You couldn’t recognise him when they were finished with him.
|Yahya Minamiri, independent tribesman from Mareb|
|Yahya Minamiri [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
We are tribesmen. This is why we have guns, not because we have come to fight.
When we go to Sanaa we leave our guns here.
We are not like these people who slaughter innocents [al-Qaeda].
|Majida al-Hamadi, Islah women’s group member from Sanaa|
|Majida al-Hamadi [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
I am not with any one party or tribe from Yemen; I am with unity.
I don’t want just one party to win. I don’t want to lose my republic.
|Mohammed Maftah, Houthi supporter from Beni Hushaysh|
|Mohammed Maftah [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
I am working as security for the camp.
I worry that people will attack us, but we will stay peaceful.
|Munir al-Ameri, Islah supporter from Ibb|
|Munir al-Ameri [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
I want to see the implementation of the outcomes of our national dialogue [conference] and elections.
But I worry about the Houthis because they want to leave normal people behind.
They ignore the national dialogue and everything, and now they have Sanaa surrounded.
|Mohammed al-Talha, independent protester from Khowlan|
|Mohammed al-Talha [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
We have seen the treachery of the corrupt people who control this government.
They steal money and live in palaces while the Yemeni people suffer.
We hope they will go soon.
|Saleh Salem, Islah supporter from Sanaa
|Saleh Salem [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
We want to start our republic again, and to cut off the road to any of these small groups with their little projects.
They [the Houthis] don’t care about the people. They only care about themselves.
Change has started and it will not stop.
|Mohsen al-Fadhl, Houthi supporter from Dhammar|
|Mohsen al-Fadhl [Peter Salisbury/Al Jazeera]|
Your G10 [diplomatic group in Yemen formed by the United Nations, European Union, and other regional and international powers] sends letters telling us what to do, but where is our democracy?
Tell them that the Yemeni people are dying.