A delegation from the Houthis and the Islah Party visits the headquarters of the Hamas movement in Sanaa (Houthi media)

Did the Gaza War Deepen the Houthi-Islahi Rapprochement or Bring it to the Surface?


Wed, 10-01-2024 05:10 PM, Aden

Some claim that the war in Gaza has been just a joint meeting point between the Islah Party and the Houthis and that their rapprochement is related only to this issue. However, the history of interactions between the two sides doesn't support this belief. 

*Ibrahim Ali (South24)

While talks about a rapprochement between the Islah Party (Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood) and the Houthi militia is not new, the latter’s involvement in the Gaza war, by targeting ships in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait as well as launching missiles toward south Israel, has created a fertile background to address this convergence from a different perspective. This has been particularly noticeable after senior Islahi figures publicly supported the Houthi operations and accused those who opposed them of being “pro-Zionist”. This is even though the aim behind the rejection of the Houthi operations by other parties is to save Yemen from the repercussions that these attacks could invite. The Houthis have been targeting the most important global economic waterway in pursuit of their self-serving projects and goals.

The Islah Party (‘Yemeni Congregation for Reform’) has not so far issued an official statement about the Houthi attacks. However, if it does so, the party will likely take into consideration the position of its leaders in Saudi Arabia as usual. What has been monitored since the first Houthi operation, including through their meetings, statements, and media and propaganda activities, reveals a clearer stance toward the issue of the Houthi-Islahi rapprochement. 


Once the Houthis announced the launching of missile and drone attacks against Israel (following the October 7 Israel-Hamas war), Islahi leader Sheikh Mabkhout Bin Aboud Al-Sharif quickly endorsed the Houthi acts. Likewise, parliamentarian Mohammed Al-Hazmi, a senior Islahi leader, did the same. This was followed by a series of similar supporting stances by the Islahi party [1].

Although Al-Sharif was forced to back away in the wake of fierce and widescale criticism on social media platforms, he attributed his retreat to the lack of impact of the Houthi attacks. According to Al-Sharif, he had initially praised the Houthis and hoped that their operations would continue but he found that their missiles fell into the sea with no impact on Israel [2].

He added: “I find myself obliged to delete my previous tweet. If you (the Houthis) and the so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ hit the Zionist entity again sincerely and continuously, I will repost my tweet for you and everyone who throws a stone toward Israel.”

His statement came before the Houthis seized an Israeli ship (November 19, 2023) and bombed others for alleged links with Israel. They also stopped vessels headed toward the Israeli Port of Eilat from passing through the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The adverse impact of the Houthi attacks on the global maritime commerce and Israeli navigation has been quite evident.

It is important to mention that Al-Sharif is a Member of the Shura Council and the Head of the Islah Party’s Executive Bureau, and not a low-level leader whose statements can be described as “personal opinion”.

Remarkably, the aforementioned statements aren’t isolated cases as they are issued by heavyweight figures of the Islah Party. Now, similar stances adopted by the more prominent party leaders are emerging. For example, a Political Science Professor at Sanaa University and MP Mansour Aziz Al-Zindani, who is from the Islahi Party, wrote two articles about the Yemeni stance toward the Gaza war in which he endorsed the Houthi operations more explicitly.  

The rapprochement between the two using the pretext of the so-called “joint enemy” is asserted by Al-Zindani who said: “In Yemen, we stand behind Gaza and the resistance. We stand with Palestine as one heart, one voice, and one position. It unites us in Yemen. Zionists and their supporters must know that Yemen always does what it says. It tells the truth and makes the right things. Thus, victory is our only choice. On the other hand, the Zionists will be hit by defeat and shame.”

He explained: “In this case, we are one people, one army, and one rank. There is no place for differences and fragmentation. This is our Yemen from Al-Hodeidah to Al-Mahra and from Aden to Saada." [3] It is worth mentioning that these excerpts from Al-Zindani’s first article came as a reaction to the Houthi militias’ operations in the Red Sea. 

It must be noted that the Houthi media hailed Al-Zindani’s article and republished it. The most prominent among these media platforms is the ’September 26 news outlet, which is affiliated to the so-called ’Moral Guidance Department’ in the Ministry of Defense. The latter’s Deputy Head, Brigadier General Abdullah bin Amer, retweeted it on his ’X‘ account. [4]


Along with statements, some meetings were held between Islahi and Houthi leaders that revealed an advanced level of rapprochement between the two sides.

One week after the ’Al-Aqsa Storm’ operation (the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel), Ali Al-Qhoom, a member of the so-called ‘Houthi Political Bureau’, published a photo that featured him with Islahi MP Dr. Mansour Aziz Al-Zindani and former presidential nominee in 2006 Dr. Fathi Al-Azab, a member of the Islah party.

Al-Qhoom revealed that his meeting with Al-Zindani and Al-Azab “aims to solidify the internal front in the face of challenges” and what he termed as “the siege”, in addition to maintaining Yemen’s “sovereignty, enduring and national gains” [5].

Commenting on the visit by the Islahi affiliates, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Oman Samir Al-Namri, who belongs to the Islah party, said: “It is a step in the right path. There should be broader convergence between the two sides in a way that would enable solving important social issues, including opening roads between the cities and facilitating people’s movement” [6].

Official interaction

Regarding the Islah party’s official stance toward the Gaza events in general, it is important to point to the Arab initiative signed by Mohammed Al-Yadoumi, Chairman of the Islah’s Supreme Authority, on December 26. The initiative called on the national factions and the Palestinian people to cling to the historical chance provided by the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ to meet around a new national strategy that would amount to the level of “disaster and championship” in Gaza. 

Mohammed Al-Yadoumi was one of more than 100 Arab and Islamic figures who signed the initiative which “urges Palestinian leaders to unite in the face of the hatched plots and conspiracies that aim to reverse victory into defeat and transform opportunity to a threat which would lead Palestinian people to suffer a new Nakba* and to be displaced from their homeland”.

Al-Yadoumi’s signature on the initiative is considered the first interaction by an Islahi public official regarding what is happening in Gaza. It should be noted that the initiative is consistent with calls within the Islah Party for rapprochement with the Houthis and others. However, it focuses basically on the internal Palestinian parties. 

Hamas welcomes

Although the Islah Party may deny any rapprochement moves and describe what happened as individual behavior, Hamas’ representative in Sanaa said that the joint visit expresses “the unity of ranks”. There is no doubt that the word “unity” he used goes beyond mere rapprochement to include additional meanings.

Providing details, Hamas’ representative in Sanaa, Moaz Abu Shamala, said the visit by the Houthi-Islahi delegation “represents the nation’s aspiration toward its main path and its support during its current battle”.

In a more obvious manner, Abu Shamala asserted that the unity image in the joint Houthi-Islah delegation “raises the morale and determination of our Palestinian people in the battle against the Zionist enemy. All segments of the nation should unite for its central issues“.

There is no doubt that what was said by Hamas’ representative in Yemen is considered an obvious and direct indication of rapprochement or even about an alliance between the Islah Party and the Houthis [7].

The media front

The Islahi-Houthi rapprochement in this regard is probably clearer due to the links with Qatar and Oman to many figures affiliated with the Islah Party. The Qatari-owned channel ’Al-Jazeera’ has played a big role in promoting the Houthi attacks against Israel and in the Red Sea. Moreover, Oman has played a similar role as its Mufti (Sheikh Ahmed Bin Hamad Al Khalili) has repeatedly praised the Houthi attacks. Therefore, the Yemeni journalists affiliated with the Islah Party and who have links with Qatar and Oman have been more uninhibited. For example, the Islahi leader Mukhtar Al-Rahbi has transformed the ’Al-Mahria‘ TV channel*, which he runs, into a platform dedicated to the Houthi propaganda about their operations against Israel.

It is worth mentioning that this news channel has devoted itself to attacking the Arab Coalition in Yemen over the past years. It was initially established for this purpose. Like Al-Rahbi, there have been propaganda activities by other Islahi media figures, including Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Oman Samir Al-Namri, the Editor-in-Chief of ’Hona Aden’ Anis Mansour, Yemen Shabab’s Presenter Abdullah Dublah and others. It can be said that these figures, with their media activities, have been conveying indirect reconciliation messages from the Islah Party to the Houthis. The Iran-backed Houthis have built on these media endeavors to call for a rapprochement that goes beyond what was earlier termed as a disagreement*.

On November 7, a member of the Houthi Political Bureau, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, called on the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, particularly the Islah Party, to “unify ranks and end the conflict between them”.

Al-Bukhaiti stressed that “the aim behind this isn’t achieving political gains by submitting impossible demands but to thwart the attempt by wicked forces to eliminate Gaza and break its resistance”. He called on them to “secure the back of the Resistance Axis in Yemen, Syria and Iraq through coordination to de-escalate the internal situation in order to achieve stability and rapprochement as well as prepare for making joint moves in case of the expansion of the battle”. He also urged Turkey to adopt a stance “more closer to the Axis of Resistance than to the United States and NATO” [8].

He also thanked Hamas for its role in unifying the Yemeni people, in a possible reference to the alliance with the Islah Party. Al-Bukhaiti directly urged Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood “to open a new page and close the past one in order to unify ranks in the face of the Israeli and Western aggression, led by the United States, against Gaza and Palestine”. 

Remarkably, the Islah Party hasn’t issued a statement to reveal its official stance like what it used to do in the past. This comes despite the activities of its affiliates confirming the allegation of allying with the Houthis. For example, the Islah Party was forced to disavow Tawakkol Karman* in an official statement after she criticized Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also did the same with unknown media figures such as Radad Al-Salami for the same reason. [9]

Before the Gaza war

Some claim that the war in Gaza is merely a joint meeting point between the Islah Party and the Houthis and that their convergence is only related to this issue, especially since other entities along with the Islah Party have adopted a similar position. However, the history of interactions between the two sides doesn’t support this belief.

For example, Islahi leaders quickly visited Saada (in northwest Yemen) to meet the Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi after the group seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and some Northern governorates in late 2014. The ’Al Sahwa Net‘ newspaper, affiliated with the Islah, said that the goal behind the party’s meeting with ’Al-Sayed‘ (the Master) was equivalent to turning the page of the past and opening of a new one. The talk about opening a “new page” indicates that matters can go beyond “rapprochement” and toward “alliance”. Moreover, using the term “Al-Sayed” for the Houthi leader instead of “rebel leader” has its own significance [10].

At the time, ’Al-Sahwa Net‘ said that the meeting “aims at turning the page of the past and heading toward enhancing trust and cooperation to build the state in addition to implementing the outcomes of both the National Dialogue and the Peace and Partnership Agreement”. It added that “everyone expressed the desire for cooperation and coexistence based on the principles of true Islam that call for brotherhood, love, and peace. This is derived from the national and moral responsibilities and the imminent dangers surrounding Yemen” [11].

It is important to note that after the Houthis wrested control of Sanaa in September 2014, the Islah Party took steps toward rapprochement with them. According to a January 2015 report by the ’Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’ think tank, the path of rapprochement reached its peak “in the meeting on November 29 (2014) that brought together a high-ranking Islah delegation—including Political Bureau Head Saeed Shamsan and parliamentary bloc leader Zaid al-Shami—with Houthi leaders, among them Abdulmalik Al-Houthi. This highlights the Islah leadership’s attempts to establish a political partnership with the Houthis to ensure the party’s political survival” [12].

The alliance between the two parties would have been solidified if Saudi Arabia had not announced its military operation in Yemen in 2015. The Islah Party adopted a pragmatic stance in dealing with the Saudi-led ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ military intervention in Yemen. Later, it attempted to exploit this to compensate for its losses in the so-called ’Arab Spring (a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s).

Although the Islah Party endorsed ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, its communication with the Houthis hadn’t been cut off, and was carried on even through medium-level leaders, according to the Lebanese newspaper ’Al-Akhbar‘ which has close ties with Hezbollah. Three years after Operation Decisive Storm was launched, the newspaper stressed that “there are growing indications of a rapprochement between the Islah Party and the Houthis due to the emergence of an Islahi anti-Coalition wing which calls for reconciliation with the Houthis”.

The newspaper added: “Despite the ongoing resistance of the other wing, MB (Muslim Brotherhood) sources told Al-Akhbar that it implicitly blesses the moves of the medium leaders. The Houthis welcome the reconciliation calls and express their readiness to submit necessary guarantees.”

According to the newspaper, the political flirtation between the Islah Party and the Houthis was followed by leaks about a meeting hosted by Doha held in late December 2018 between the Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul Salam and the Islahi leader Tawakkol Karman. However, she later denied this meeting in possible attempt at equivocation [13].

The role of Iran

For better understanding, it is important to state that Hamas belongs to ‘The International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood' to which the Yemeni Islah Party is affiliated. Thus, the Houthi’s support of Hamas during the ongoing war in Gaza is important to demonstrate the rapprochement between the two sides. This comes even though the Houthi stance has been at the behest of Iran that has delivered support to the Palestinian movement for decades. Such a fact isn’t denied by both Hamas and the Houthis, but is even a source of pride for them. This means that Iran – earlier too and now - has been the mastermind of the rapprochement between its arms in the region and those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This can be applied to the Al-Qaeda, though to a lesser extent, given the close ties between the latter and the Muslim Brotherhood. This was clearly demonstrated in the latest Yemen war in which Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) participated in the Islah party’s fronts in North and South Yemen. This was recently confirmed by AQAP’s prominent leaders. In 2016, AQAP commander Jalal Bileidi Al-Marqashi confirmed that they participated in 11 battlefronts against the Houthis. A year later, Abu Hurayrah Al-Sanaani (the then AQAP leader) confirmed that they participated in the battlefronts alongside the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis [14].

We can note here that the past years witnessed communication between AQAP and the Houthis, and this led to the release of prominent leaders from prisons in Sanaa. In return, the Iranian Cultural Attache in Tehran Embassy in Sanaa [11] Nour Ahmed Nikbakht was released by AQAP in March 2015 after being kidnapped by the extremist organization and held hostage for two years. (The Iranian diplomat was seized in July 2013 while leaving his home in the capital Sanaa by gunmen suspected of being members of AQAP)

Other voices

Contrary to the Islahi voices who dared praise the current Houthi attacks, other voices have emerged with differing views. For example, Islahi researcher Essm Al-Qaisi has criticized the level of praise for the Houthi operations. 

He wrote on ‘X’: “Suddenly, some young men-whom we thought had deep understanding, national affiliation and noble character that don’t accept the projects of priesthood, quackery and unconsciousness - stand in the Houthi side claiming that they fight Zionists and accuse their opponents of being pro-Zionists! What days! Unless we stick to the honesty of words, we would have left this trivial space silently” [15].

However, the voices who adopt such an opinion lack impact and position within the Islah Party.


Given the statements issued since the beginning of the Israeli operations in Gaza, the Islah Party is apparently divided on the Houthi issue. However, linking each statement with the place factor and the calculations of personal security indicates that there is a unified position. For example, the figures affiliated with the Islah Party in countries such as Qatar, Turkey, and Oman have publicly endorsed the Houthis, unlike their colleagues in other countries. However, why is it that the stance of the first category is treated as the one that really represents the Islah’s stance and should be an official one? This is simply because they have the choice to adopt another position, unlike the second category whose members just express the stance of “necessity”.

This doesn’t take away from the Islah’s position toward the Arab Coalition’s states. Nonetheless, it seems clearer in the case of the Gaza war due to the existence of a larger space for justification and the camouflage of inclusive issues such as the Palestinian one. 

Lifting embarrassment

The Islah Party hasn’t issued any official statement about the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait. However, nearly one month after the attacks, it published a report about them in which it used statements by analysts outside the party such as Abdulnasser Al-Mudwadea [16].

Naturally, the report, which was published on its official site ’Al-Islah Net’, doesn’t reflect an official position but aims to remove any embarrassment. Despite the fact that the Islah Party behaves in a very no-nonsense manner, it won’t issue an official statement that goes against its true stance in a way that can anger Hamas and Iran, especially at this time.

What is important to note is that the statements issued by the Islah Party about sensitive matters don’t often reflect its true stance. This includes its congratulatory message sent to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for winning the latest Presidential election in December 2023*

This is realized by those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in and outside Yemen. For example, Mohammed Al-Amin Al-Shinqiti, Professor of International Affairs at Qatar University, commented on this, by saying: “While the Houthis seek to build legitimacy for their coup in Yemen (2014-15) and its acceptance outside it through their courageous stance with regard to Gaza, the Chairman of the Islah Party congratulates al-Sisi, who has blockaded Gaza, for winning a farcical election.”

He added on ‘X’: “I won’t discuss the degree of believability and hypocrisy in the two positions but there is a clear difference between them, between political cunning and a devilish political approach” [17].

Acknowledgment and reservation

The author tried to contact Islahi leaders to comment on the rapprochement with the Houthis but most of them declined. A medium-level leader agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity. He delivered brief and cautious statements to ’South24 Center‘ in which he said: “We as Yemenis meet with the same stance against the Zionist enemy in Palestine. As Yemenis, we should put our differences aside before everything else. This shouldn’t happen only today but forever.”

He added: “With regard to the rapprochement, I can’t describe what is happening as rapprochement. However, there are positive signs. There are Houthi leaders who contact us. For our part, we also do not impose any obstacles. However, the intentions, or the calls from here or there aren’t enough” [18].

He concluded: “We want trust-building steps among all Yemenis and within the official binding framework.”


It can’t be said that the Houthi-Islahi rapprochement in Yemen has reached an advanced level due to the latest developments in Gaza. No single event, whatever be its size, can create such a fast rapprochement between two parties who claim to be fighting each other. However, it can be said that the convergence, that was hidden behind fake battles between the two sides in Yemen over the past years, began to emerge in public more clearly. The Gaza events haven’t been a motif for rapprochement but a new cover or a pretext for it, given that there is a dominant popular opinion that links both. 

Besides, the direct contact between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis has removed any embarrassment from the Islahi leaders and brought their contact with the Houthis leaders to the surface. However, the latest Gaza war has helped to further display it. The several political and military events revealed a wide-scale agreement between the Houthis and Muslim Brotherhood visions, and the fact that they are identical on many issues and stances.


- What has been monitored in this case pushes toward a re-reading, in a different way, of the battle led by the Islah Party - within the internationally recognized government - against the Houthis on some fronts over the past year, especially since these confrontations have led to disastrous outcomes, such as the collapse of governorates and cities into the Houthi grip.

- The failure of the fighting on many fronts against the Houthis over the past years can be attributed to the fact that the Islah Party was a main part of the battle.

- There is a need to reconsider the fact that Islahi affiliates are part of armed entities in the Southern governorates. The foreign parties that supervise this aspect should realize the danger related to that.

- The presence of forces associated with the Islah Party under the banner of the army affiliated with the internationally-recognized government must be reconsidered.

- Talking about the danger linked to the presence of the Islah Party in Wadi Hadramout (in southeastern Yemen) as a dominant force isn’t just idle talk but has been derived from real concerns and realization of such alliances.

- The file of Yemeni areas which are still controlled by the Islah Party in Marib, Al-Jawf, Taiz, Wadi Hadramout, and others should be reopened. In light of the recent Houthi mobilization drives, it is not unlikely that a similar fate awaits these areas.

* Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the mass exodus of Palestinians following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
* Yemeni satellite news channel based in Istanbul, Turkey.
* Yemen’s Al-Islah party has played a vital role in the Saudi-led coalition war against the Houthis since 2014. But with the prospect of peace on the horizon, the equations are changing.
* Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni journalist and women’s rights activist was co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in leading a pro-democracy protest movement. She was also a senior member of the Islah Party. She was suspended by the party in 2018 after she accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of acting as occupiers.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi first became president of Egypt in 2014, a year after he led the military's overthrow of his predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who was affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ibrahim Ali is the pseudonym of a researcher who specializes in armed group affairs. He has requested anonymity for personal reasons.

HouthisIslahMuslim BrotherhoodHamas