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Asharq Al-Awsat Exclusive: Sanaa Residents Living in Silent Anger against Houthi Oppression

Asharq Al-Awsat Exclusive: Sanaa Residents Living in Silent Anger against Houthi Oppression

Monday, 18 December, 2017 - 11:45
A boy searches for food among litter on a streetside in Sanaa. (Reuters)

Sanaa has become a prison for 3 million people, who are governed by the Iranian-Houthi rules, said a store owner in the al-Seyasy neighborhood in Sanaa while summing up the situation in the capital.

The 37-year-old described the conditions in his city amid the growing oppression of the Houthis and the absolute control the militias have imposed on every aspect of the Yemeni people’s lives after the murder of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh earlier this month.

The Houthis have sought to stifle the uprising he called for on December, said the citizen.

“The Houthi rules are what govern here, not the law nor the constitution. There is no mercy,” he added.

His shop was destroyed during the fierce battles between Saleh’s guards and the Houthis that led to the former president’s death.

As he walked away, he told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is a silent anger against the Houthi practices and the way they are managing affairs and looting the country.”

Saleh had during his famous speech at the al-Sabeen square in August spoken against the Houthi rules, in what was one of the signs of his General People’s Congress revolt against the militias.

Asharq Al-Awsat toured Sanaa to report on the state of fear in which the citizens are living in under these Houthi rules. The majority of the people chose not to reveal their whole name out of security fears.

While wandering Sanaa, it is absolutely forbidden to take photographs without first obtaining permission from the national security agency that is affiliated with the Houthis. The permission details the media outlet that the photographer is working for.

Damaged homes, broken glass, burnt shops, rocket shrapnel and bullet holes can be seen everywhere. The worst damage was witnessed at Saleh’s house and those of his relatives and Congress headquarters. They are under tight Houthi security and anger can be seen in the eyes of the casual pedestrians as they take in what has become of their capital under the “hateful rule of the militants,” as “Salim”, a government employee described it.

On the corner of Baghdad Street, two people appear engaged in a serious conversation, but they go silent when you pass by them as they examine you and try to determine whether you are a member of a militia, one of its agents or neither.

As you move away from them, you can hear one of them tell the other: “Why are you so alarmed? He does not look like a Houthi.”

“Mohammed”, 25, an employee at an electronics store, deletes all of the messages and images from his phone before leaving the house.

“A Houthi may demand to inspect your phone to search for any evidence that would show your opposition to the group or your backing of the former president or the Congress,” he explained.

“Ibrahim,” 33, who works in the education sector, prefers not to take his phone with him to work, especially since he used to frequently attend Saleh and Congress rallies.

The posters of Saleh and his son, Ahmed, and Congress flags that used to be hung in cars and throughout the city have disappeared.

They have now been replaced by Houthi posters and “Khomeini” slogans.

Economic experts told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis spend no less than 50 billion riyals (1 dollar equal 430 riyals) a year on printing these posters.

It is no longer an unusual sight to see a woman or a child rummaging through garbage in search of food. The numbers have multiplied and now thousands of Sanaa residents are starving.

“Adnan”, 23, declared with exasperation: “My Houthi neighbor now owns three cars and recently bought a villa… while I can barely afford my water bill or buy a gas canister.”

“Sanaa is no longer Sanaa,” said Samir, 27, a former soldier in the republican guard, who now sells vegetables.

“The poor citizen is helpless,” he added.

The Houthis have sought to erase the people and city’s identity. They have imposed their influence in education, curricula and mosques. Even humanitarian aid presented by international organizations has to adhere to their conditions.

“Hassan,” a health ministry employee, said: “You feel that desperation among Sanaa residents has become a part of their souls, but the successive Houthi losses on the field are giving them hope that there will be an imminent end to this dark chapter of despair in Yemen’s modern history.”

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