The meeting of the Saudi Crown Prince with president of the Yemeni Islah party in Riyadh, November 2017 (SPA)

Between Riyadh and Tehran: Are the Islah Political Positions Different from Hamas?


Wed, 27-07-2022 02:48 PM, Aden

*Ibrahim Ali (South24)

Hamas Eid Al-Adha congratulations to the Houthis were not a surprise from the movement whose relationships with Iran and its regional proxies were earlier deepened. The pretext behind such ties is to continue the flow of support and benefiting from the Iranian military expertise according to justifications from many figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Hamas has not mentioned this point directly or indirectly. The Palestinian movement’s actions confirm that their relationship is far from the notion of “gratitude” or working for the sake of interest under the pressure of need amid exceptional circumstances. 

Talking about Hamas’s relationship with Iran stirs an important question about the real stance of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups towards Iran, especially the Islah Party whose senior officials and president stay in the KSA since the Houthi coup against the authority in Yemen in late 2014. 

Regardless to the Islah’s formal and informal positions towards Iran in general and Hamas’s policy in particular, there is another opposite stance which can be obviously detected through the approach and the way by which the party deals with the Yemeni crisis and its parties which oppose the Iranian project since the Gulf nations announced a military operation against the Houthis. 

Before talking about this point in detail, one should return to the pre-Yemeni crisis following the Houthi coup to review the previous positions and put everything in its natural context.

The Saada war

Although the war launched by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Saada was against rebels who opposed his regime, the Islah Party decided to stand with the Houthis. This had no relation with the party’s membership in the dissident “Joint Meeting Parties”, or its being among opposition parties. Its status in the two cases doesn’t allow it to adopt positions that threaten the republican regime. Over the Saada war, the party’s newspapers kept talking about the humanitarian disasters. They portrayed the war as if it targeted the Saada people until most areas of the governorate fell into the Houthi hand.

Beyond that, “the Islah Party’s media outlets participated in supporting the Houthis’ intellectual rights and criticizing Saleh regime’s practices” according to in 2014. [1]

Grassroot protests

During the popular protests against the Saleh regime in Sanaa and a number of Yemeni cities between 2011-2012, the Islah, which had semi-control on the “Taghieer (change) Square” in Sanaa, welcomed the Houthi participation in the so called “Shabab Al-Somod (youth of steadfastness) uprising. Representative Hamid Al-Ahmar considered the Houthi control on the Saada governorate’s center in March 2011 as a victory for the youth revolution according to his interview with the local channel “Al-Saeeda”. [2] 

The Islah-Houthis convergence in the trench of "protests" against the Saleh regime didn’t prevent the emergence of disputes between the two parties in the Taghieer Square. However, they remained natural disagreements which didn’t denote big contradictions contrary to some views which attributed this to Sunni and Shiite sectarian considerations.

It is important to indicate that praising the Houthi's participation in the anti-Saleh protests came in conjunction with the group’s military expansion in a number of governorates outside Saada including Al-Jawf, Hajjah and Amran. The Islah put such an expansion in the context of the revolution to topple Saleh republic regime according to Representative Al-Ahmar during his Al-Saeeda interview. 

Along with celebrating the Iranian proxy project in Yemen, there were anti-Saudi positions adopted by many of young Islahis who came to the forefront during protests including Khaled Al-Anesi, Tawakkol Karman and others. Their statements reflected the real stance of the Islah even though the party ostensibly showed the opposite. However, the Yemeni crisis ended through a pure Saudi solution in the form of “The Gulf Initiative”.

The coup and the Houthi visit

A month after the Houthi control on the capital Sanaa and a number of Yemeni governorates, the Islah’s General Secretary, Abdulwahab Al-Anesi” visited Saada and met with the Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi. The dominant belief within the party at that time was that things will be settled in favor of the Houthis, and that the Islah has to rearrange its stance in light of these updates. The Sahwa Newspaper, affiliated with the Islah, [3] said then: “The goal behind Al-Anesi’s meeting with Mr. Abdulmalik Al-Houthi is working to turn off the page of the past and open a new page”. 

Before the party began to harness all its capabilities to enhance the Houthis, the GCC states, led by the KSA, announced on March 26th 2015 launching a military operation to confront the Houthi coup against the "Legitimate Yemeni government”. The Gulf move was not expected by the Islah who was pushed to support Operation Decisive Storm (Asifat Al-Hazm) in light of its military assessment about the war’s fate. 

Support from inside KSA and attack from outside

While senior Islah officials inside the KSA confirmed their support of the military operation against “the arm of the Iranian project in Yemen, many influential Islah voices adopted opposite stances. First, the Islah Party sought to divide the unified Gulf ranks through an article [4] which attacked the UAE and accused it of working against the Saudi goals inside Yemen. Later, its official site “Al-Sahwa net” claimed that it was hacked and denied any relation with thr article. [5]

However, the false hacking claim was proven as the content of the article was being repeated in different media outlets affiliated with the Islah such as Belqees, Al-Mahria and Yemen Shabab in addition to a number of online sites and newspapers. The party claims that those media platforms work away from its control and directions. Furthermore, Islah prominent voices described the Gulf States as “Yemen's enemy number 1”. Meanwhile, they called for a rapprochement between their party and the Houthis. [6]

The Islah’s activist, Karman, was the most prominent voice in the Party who called for such a rapprochement. She exploited her channel, Belqees, to attack the Gulf States and doubt its goals in Yemen. Al-Mahria, which is based in Turkey and led by the Islah leader Mukhtar Al-Rahbi, adopted the same policy. Moreover, the activities of the Islah’s media figures, journalists and activists who stay in a number of Arab and Western countries were largely consistent with the policy of the two channels and not with the official declared position of the party.

At the peak of the Gulf-Qatari disagreement, Marwan Al-Ghafuri, the writer who resigned from the Islah Party, said: “The Islah is an important party and seen by Iran as being a big and organized party. It has the ability to make good, stable and balanced relationships with Iran, according to an article under the title “Everlasting Mess” in which he severely attacked the KSA and the UAE." [7]

Two contradicting positions?

The aforementioned developments don't mean that there are two contradicting positions by the Islah Party towards the KSA and Iran. They indicate a real stance and an unreal one. This outcome is confirmed through statements by prominent Islah leaders such as Karman who considered that the positions adopted by the Islah leaders towards the KSA and the UAE contradict with the general mood of the party. In an indication of their false nature, Karman wrote on “Twitter” and “Facebook” in 2018 that “these positions adopted by the party are not taken in natural circumstances”. [8]

It is remarkable that most Islah media activities which aim at thwarting the Saudi role in Yemen in favor of the Iranian influence were and still broadcast from Turkey. The latter hosted a meeting in 2014 between The Quds Force affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and some Muslim Brotherhood members according to statements by Ibrahim Munir, the Muslim Brotherhood Deputy General Guide to "Arabi 21". [9]

Accordingly, it can be said that Hamas' declared position towards Iran is the real Muslim Brotherhood's stance as well as its branches around the world including the Islah Party whose position can be obviously noticed through its role during the latest Yemeni crisis. If Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood is not restricted by special circumstances, their relationship with Iran would be as clear as Hamas and the Iraqi Islamic party. 

*Ibrahim Ali is a pseudonym of a researcher specialized in the armed group affairs. He demanded anonymity for personal reasons.

[1] Al Jazeera Net, Yemen: The Seven War Paths- Abdulhakim Hilal
[2] Al-Saeeda Channel: The meeting with Hamid Al-Ahmar
[3] Breaking news on the Al-Sahwa Net followed by the author at that time.
[4] Al-Sahwa Net deleted the article which was seen by the author.
[5] Breaking news on the Al-Sahwa Net followed by the author at that time.

RiyadhTehranIranIslahHamasMuslim BrotherhoodYemeni governmentYouth movement