Exclusive - Houthis Restore Slavery in Yemen

People walk in a market street in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on November 13, 2018. (AFP)
People walk in a market street in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on November 13, 2018. (AFP)

Exclusive - Houthis Restore Slavery in Yemen

People walk in a market street in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on November 13, 2018. (AFP)
People walk in a market street in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on November 13, 2018. (AFP)

Modern slavery is prevalent in Yemeni regions under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi militias, including the capital Sanaa.

Sources close to the group told Asharq Al-Awsat that several civilians have been forced into slavery by prominent Houthi leaders. More than 1,800 Yemenis work as servants and slaves at the residences and workplaces of high-ranking Houthi officials.

These including militias leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi, his brother Abdulkhaliq and their relatives Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, Hamza al-Houthi, Abdulkarim al-Houthi, Mohammed Abdulkarim al-Houthi, Yehya Badreddine al-Houthi, Sheikh Ashraf al-Kabsi, Abdulrab Saleh Jarfan, Hassan Amer and others.

The Houthis are working tirelessly to restore slavery in Yemen, nearly 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and decades after the 1962 revolution in Yemen. The revolt called for liberation against all forms of oppression and slavery.

Several local reports have confirmed that slavery witnessed a rise in Yemen during the past four years when the Houthis staged their coup against the legitimate government. Crimes linked to modern slavery vary from actual slavery, abusing people’s poverty and hunger, forced marriage, human trafficking and the forced recruitment of children, women and African migrants.

Yemeni activists revealed that since the coup, the Houthis sought to segregate Yemeni society into rulers and subjects, and masters and slaves.

They told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis are attempting to cement these ideas in society by having the Houthi family seize all aspects of the state and its institutions.

“We do not doubt this segregation because it is the literal implementation of racist ideology that is based on modern slavery and the divine right to control rule, money and the affairs of the people,” they said.

A member of the lawyers syndicate in Yemen told Asharq Al-Awsat that some Houthi elders and social figures still enslave the poor, bind their freedoms and force them to work without pay. They are also forced to the battlefield to fight for the Houthis.

The Houthi discrimination against the people is based on color, race and ancestry, he said on condition of anonymity.

The masters, who call themselves the “Hashemites”, are now at the top of Yemen’s social class. They believe themselves to be of the purest ancestry and have given themselves the privilege of ruling the country and accumulating wealth. They are followed by tribes, workers and farmers. This class is often looked down upon and discriminated against by the Houthis.

Slavery is outlawed by Yemeni law, said the lawyer. Perpetrators can face no less than ten years for buying, selling or depriving a human of his free will.

Since their coup, the Houthis have sought to turn back the hands of time and take back Yemen to the era of the oppressive imamate and all forms of slavery.

A civilian, who works for a pro-Houthi tribal leader in Saada, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I have been working for years at the sheikh’s house without pay. I cannot go back to my family or do anything out of my own free will.”

“I do not know the meaning of freedom,” he said.

He revealed that he is responsible for all the house work, as well as farming. He noted that the number of servants and slaves rose remarkably under Houthi rule, attributing it to the increase in poverty, unemployment and hunger, all of which were sparked by the coup.

Experts confirmed that poverty, starvation tactics, oppression and systematic Houthi exploitation have forced civilians into slavery.

The Minister of Awqaf in the legitimate government had previously called for the need to uncover the Houthis’ misleading practices, expose their discrimination against the people and their dividing of society into masters and slaves.

According to an international report, more than 40 million people around the world, including 85,000 in Yemen, are victims of slavery. It said the war-torn countries of Yemen and Syria account for 76 percent of slavery cases in the Arab world.

A US State Department report had also previously confirmed modern slavery in Yemen, accusing the Houthis and the al-Qaeda group of promoting slavery and human trafficking. Sexual abuse, slavery and child recruitment are among the most glaring examples of human trafficking in Yemen, it said.

Egypt... An ‘Alternative Sudan’ for those Fleeing War

A café in Giza popular with displaced Sudanese (Asharq Al-Awsat)
A café in Giza popular with displaced Sudanese (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Egypt... An ‘Alternative Sudan’ for those Fleeing War

A café in Giza popular with displaced Sudanese (Asharq Al-Awsat)
A café in Giza popular with displaced Sudanese (Asharq Al-Awsat)

With the influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese into Egypt over the past months due to the ongoing war in their country, Egypt has turned into an “alternative Sudan” that embraces more than 5.5 million regular and irregular refugees.

“We live in an integrated Sudanese society in Egypt,” Musaab Hamdan, 33, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Hamdan, a cleaning worker at a private company in the Mohandiseen neighborhood, said that the country was a haven for thousands of displaced people fleeing the war.

The Egyptian government estimates the number of Sudanese at about 5 million out of 9 million refugees on its territory, while President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi describes them as “guests of Egypt.”

The large inflow of Sudanese since the outbreak of the war in their country in 2023 has put pressure on the International Commission for Refugees in Cairo and Alexandria, where about 3,000 refugee applications are received daily. This has increased the number of Sudanese registered with the Commission to 300,000 persons, which represents 52 percent of the total number of refugees registered in Egypt with UNHCR until April.

The Sudanese features and traditional attire are distinctive on the streets of Cairo and Giza, where Sudanese vendors and citizens are now seen practicing business activities that were limited to Egyptians for decades, including driving taxis and small buses in popular neighborhoods. Hamdan said that this reflects the rapid integration of newcomers into everyday life in Egypt.

Mohamed Abdel Majeed, a taxi driver in Giza, speaks the Egyptian dialect so fluently that many locals do not realize he is from Sudan.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that he has adapted to driving on Cairo’s streets and now knows the names and locations of stations by heart.

Alternative haven

Social networking sites are monitoring this heavy Sudanese presence in Egypt, as some videos have focused on the idea of an “alternative Sudan in the country.”

Among them was a comment made by a Sudanese influencer who joked about the heavy presence of his countrymen in the Faisal neighborhood in Giza, saying: “If you are Sudanese living abroad and want to see your family and your country. All you have to do is go to Giza, Egypt.”

Tens of thousands of Sudanese fleeing the war in Sudan consider Egypt the “best haven.” Fatima Hassan feared that her daughters would be “raped by armed militias in Sudan,” and decided to enter Egypt irregularly, she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Extreme heat and thirst exhausted Fatima and her three daughters during a long trip, before she succeeded in reaching Giza to join her sister who had preceded her there several months ago.

Last month, the authorities announced that they have prevented the illegal entry of buses carrying displaced Sudanese. However, Abdullah Qouni - who has lived in the Maadi neighborhood in Cairo for 15 years and helps many newly displaced to find housing or a job opportunity - told Asharq Al-Awsat that around 11 buses from Aswan enter Egypt daily. He added that each irregular migrant pays about $500 to smugglers in exchange for the trip.


One of the most important features of “Alternative Sudan” is the sight of dark-skinned students on their way to dedicated schools. Their number has increased steadily in recent months, forcing the Egyptian authorities to close some of them in order to “legalize the situation.”

Sami Al-Baqir, spokesman for the Sudanese Teachers Syndicate, estimates the number of Sudanese schools in Egypt at about 300 basic and intermediate schools.

The Sudanese embassy in Cairo, which moved its headquarters years ago from Garden City to the Dokki neighborhood, thanked the Egyptian government for its cooperation in making the Sudanese primary certificate exams a success in June, through six educational centers affiliated with the embassy. ​​

On the academic level, Ayman Ashour, the Egyptian Minister of Higher Education, estimated the number of Sudanese students who enrolled in Egyptian universities last year at more than 10,000.

Egyptian sensitivities

With the Sudanese “jilbab” dominating Egyptian streets and neighborhoods, and videos of large Sudanese gatherings in Cairo being circulated on social media, in addition to reports about the expulsion of Egyptian tenants to house displaced Sudanese, concerns have mounted over their presence in the country.

Moreover, news have emerged about some Sudanese families performing circumcision on their daughters in Egypt, prompting activists to call on Egyptian authorities to enforce the law that criminalizes female circumcision.

Egyptian media professionals joined in criticizing the Sudanese presence. Qaswa Al-Khalali expressed “concern” about the presence of refugee clusters in popular areas, considering this matter “extremely dangerous.” Meanwhile, journalist Azza Mostafa warned of “some refugees taking control of entire areas in Cairo,” pointing to bad consequences on Egypt.

Egyptian parliamentarians responded to calls to legalize the status of refugees, including Siham Mostafa, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the House of Representatives. In television statements, she said: “Egypt hosts millions of foreigners and provides them with services at the same prices provided to citizens without any increase, despite the current economic crisis.”

Reducing burdens

Due to the economic crisis, Egypt has called on the international community to support it in “bearing the burdens of refugees.”

Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said, after his meeting with the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, Amy Pope, that the support Egypt receives from the international community was not commensurate with the burdens it bears, especially as the Egyptian economy suffers from the consequences of global crises.

The Egyptian government recently launched a process to count the numbers of refugees residing on its territory, with the aim of calculating the cost of hosting them and determining the financial burdens.

In a statement issued in April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt requested $175.1 million to meet the most urgent needs of Sudanese refugees who have fled to Egypt since mid-April 2023.