Mohamed al-Sayaghi / Reuters Smoke billows from a fire at a Houthi-controlled military site after it was hit by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, June 3, 2015.

Houthis, Divided

How the Saudi Strikes Created Discord in Yemen

In Yemen’s tattered capital city, Sanaa, the fortified walls around the sprawling, now vacant Saudi embassy have become one of the favorite hangout spots for the Houthi militia group that seized the capital in September of last year.

The rebel group’s supporters have covered the steel gates with graffiti. A large white skull floats forebodingly next to the head of a black snake—mouth open, fangs bared. The combination is meant to send a message to Yemen’s oil-rich neighbor, Saudi Arabia, to keep out.

But the graffiti has done little to stop the Saudi-led coalition from targeting the Houthis and their allies in Yemen. Almost daily for the last six months, the coalition has bombed Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen’s major cities. And as a result of their weakening position, the Houthis’ initial bold words, anti-Saudi cross-border attacks, and recent killings of dozens of coalition troops in a rocket attack are no longer winning it any points among civilians. Nor are its military assaults on its rivals, which together with Saudi-led air strikes have led to heavy civilian casualties that human rights groups have said may amount to war crimes.

Indeed, locals who used to generally support the Houthis now debate which is worse: the Houthis or the Saudis. Meanwhile, defections from the movement have multiplied, and its leadership is divided between conservative hard-liners—the so-called men of the podiums (named after the religious figures who follow Houthi founder Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi) who favor the use of force—and the pragmatists who are pushing for a political settlement.

Houthi militants stand in the house of Houthi leader Yahya Aiydh, after Saudi-led air strikes destroyed it in Yemen's capital Sanaa, September 8, 2015.

THE THIEVES OF GOD

Once a small insurgency group in the northern hinterland of Saada, over the past year, the Shiite Zaydi Houthis amassed weaponry and grew in power as they marched southward, striking alliances with other disenchanted tribes and political factions while winning the

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