Houthis suppress protests in Yemeni capital

Female Houthi supporter armed with a baton (photo via Twitter)

As the humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to worsen, there are signs that the Houthis who seized control of the capital in 2014 face a growing challenge in the form of public discontent.

On Saturday more than 50 people were arrested outside Sana'a University while protesting against food shortages and price rises. At least 16 of those arrested are said to have been female students who were attacked by female Houthi supporters (known as “zainabawiyyat”) with electric prods and batons.

According to Reuters the students were later released after signing pledges not to take part in demonstrations again.

Over the last few days residents have also reported Houthi militias deploying in other parts of the city to prevent demonstrations from taking place. The Houthis attributed Saturday's protest to "mercenaries" who they accused of trying to "disturb public peace".

On Sunday, a statement from the Houthi-run interior ministry described the situation as "stable" and said the extra security deployment in Sana'a was "only to protect the vigils that the citizens have taken out against the steps of the aggression" (i.e. by the Saudi-led coalition).

The Houthis are still able to muster large rallies in their support and, with some justification, blame the coalition's embargo for their economic plight. However, their behaviour has also made them unpopular among many Yemenis in the areas they control – for example by abducting young men and boys to become fighters.
 
It remains to be seen whether quiet discontent will translate into open resistance to Houthi rule but the Houthis' recent actions suggest they are worried that it might. Widespread protests, if they developed, would put the Houthis under additional pressure, forcing them to divert resources from their war effort.

Houthi militia deployed at Sana'a University. Photo via <a href="https://twitter.com/Ndawsari/status/1048504371879841792">Nadwa Dawsari</a> on Twitter.