Houthis politicise Hajj

Yemen's Houthi rebels have shown the world that nothing is beyond them

This year's Hajj will take place in the first week of September. Ahmad Gharbali / AFP
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Nothing, it seems, is beyond the pale for Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Armed and financed by Iran, they have been waging a devastating campaign for more than two years to topple Yemen’s internationally recognised government. Having begun by taking over Saada, Yemen’s northernmost province, they quickly stormed their way south, laying siege to the capital city in 2015 and placing members of the country’s legitimate government under house arrest. Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, has been in the grip of the Houthis for more than two years.

Now comes news that the Houthis are preventing Yemenis from travelling to Mecca to perform Hajj. Mukhtar Al Rabash, undersecretary at Yemen's ministry of Awqaf and Guidance, disclosed on Monday that Houthi militias had confiscated the passports of more than 2,000 Yemeni citizens planning to travel to Mecca. Hundreds more have been prevented from leaving Yemen for Mecca, turned back from the port of Wadiah in Hadhramaut province on Yemen's southern tip.

This is a new low. Mecca welcomes all Muslims, and all Muslims yearn to visit it and perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Do the Houthis, and their sponsors in Tehran, have any reverence for this holy place? Their actions leave no room for doubt. Last month, they fired a ballistic missile at Mecca. The projectile was intercepted before it could reach its intended target. Saudi Arabia called it a “desperate attempt” by the Houthis to “disrupt Hajj”. Now, in stopping people already suffocating under their rule from visiting Mecca, the Houthis have gone a step further.

The UAE is at the forefront of the effort to defeat the Houthis. It has been a testing commitment. Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, grieved with families of Emirati pilots and soldiers who fell serving in Yemen. But the Houthis and their backers in Iran should not doubt the resolve of the UAE government. Yemenis are being held hostage in their own country. Only the restoration of the country's legitimate government will end their nightmare.