Among the thousands of tweets that were sent out celebrating Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup on Tuesday, there were a few from unexpected sources.
“A thousand congratulations for the victory of the Saudi national team over its Argentina team. This victory put Arab football back on the map,” Dhaifallah al-Shami, a member of the political bureau of Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, tweeted.
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The Houthis have been actively fighting a war against Saudi Arabia since 2015, with the latter conducting thousands of air attacks in support of the Houthis’ enemy, the Yemeni government.
In fact, the Houthis have described Saudi Arabia as the “devil’s horn”.
So it was not surprising when al-Shami soon deleted his tweet.
Abdulqader al-Mortada, the Houthi chairman of the National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, was another who deleted his tweet congratulating Saudi Arabia. He also tweeted “a thousand congratulations” to the Saudi team for their win in a post later deleted.
Al-Mortada later explained that his tweet was a message of brotherhood to the people of “Hejaz and Najd”, using the names of two well-known regions in Saudi Arabia, rather than the country’s name itself.
“The wounds of our people from the House of Saud are deep … I offer my deepest apologies,” al-Mortada added.
The Houthi members’ initial posts reflect a degree of support for the Saudi team during the World Cup, which has spanned Yemen’s political divide.
Some Yemenis even took to the streets in celebration of celebrations and joy on the streets.
Videos of the celebrations have spread widely across social media, with one Yemeni user saying the Saudi win had “warmed our hearts and raised the Arabs’ head [made us proud], making Yemenis happy everywhere, as if it were the Yemeni national team”.
المنتخب السعودى البطل أثلج صدورنا ورفع رأس العرب، فرحة اليمنيين فى كل مكان وكإنه منتخب اليمن. عاش يا أخضر، مبروك للشعب السعودى الشقيق ولكل العرب، فرحتنا كبيره والله، ويارب دايما".
— المتفائل7 (@ahmddrhm3) November 22, 2022
Some anti-Houthi Yemenis shared the videos, with one user saying, “celebrations in Arabia Felix [Yemen], even after the air strikes exhausted them”.
شيء بسيط ككرة القدم وحّد العرب والمسلمين، وهذا أكبر دليل على أن الوحدة والحب المتبادل متجذران في هذه الأمة، وهي تحتاج الموّجه فقط!
سأضع تحت هذه التغريدات عدة مقاطع فيديو تبيّن الفرحة بفوز منتخبنا.
— تركي الشلهوب (@TurkiShalhoub) November 22, 2022
Yemen has been mired in conflict since 2014, when the Iran-allied Houthi rebel movement seized much of the northern part of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, as the government fled. In March 2015, a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the war with the aim of restoring the government.
The conflict has devastated the country, created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and over the years turned into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. More than 150,000 people have been killed, including 14,500 civilians.
For some Yemenis, that simply cannot be ignored.
Mohammad Abdelwasi al-Wajeeh, a TV anchor for the Houthis’ Al Masirah channel, said he was offended by Yemeni support for Saudi Arabia.
“Whoever said that football is a soft war [soft power] method by which Westerners pass on whatever they want to billions of people … is right,” al-Wajeeh said.
“It offended me a lot when the majority congratulated the Saudi team because they are Arab … they can all go to hell.”
Another Houthi supporter on Twitter said he “did not, and will not, celebrate the Saudi national team’s win over Argentina”, before referring to the support of members of the Saudi national team for the country’s military.