Houthi propaganda: following in Hizballah's footsteps

Houthi propaganda: following in Hizballah's footsteps
Houthi propaganda shows distinct similarities to the methods used by Hizballah in Lebanon.
4 min read
12 Apr, 2015
The Houthis have developed a strong propaganda machine [AFP]
After the Ansarullah group, better known as the Houthis, took control of Yemen's capital Sanaa in September 2014, their huge and well-oiled propaganda machine has made a dramatic appearance.

However, the Houthi's propaganda strategy did not start from nothing, and contain hallmarks of the Lebanese Hizballah movement's own propaganda operation in its discourse and format.

The beginnings
     Like Hizballah's media operations, the Houthi media has a religious character.

During the battle between the then regime in Yemen and the Houthis in mid-2004, the Houthi stronghold of Saada in the far north of Yemen remained a closed military zone. Independent reporters were not allowed to enter to cover the conflict, and most journalists had to rely on updates by phone from sources in the province.

At the time, state media dominated the scene. Since then, the Houthis have developed their own media strategy to disseminate their propaganda. They have produced news reports, images, and videos, and leaked information to newspapers and social media forums.

The group coupled its preaching activities in the rural parts of Saada with methodical media coverage at the behest of its founder Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi. The purpose was to document and promote his religious and ideological platform, which was new to Yemen.

Houthi's sermons were filmed and heard throughout Saada. In them, he explained his movement of "cultural and religious renewal". After that, the Houthi propaganda arm printed and distributed leaflets that contained transcripts of sermons and similar texts in Saada and Sanaa. These were usually interpretations of selected chapters of the Quran.

Hizballah's fingerprints

Like Hizballah's media operations, the Houthi media has a religious character, and focuses on issues including the overarching US-Israeli conspiracy and Arab "collusion". The Houthis also allude to conspiracies while absolving themselves of any blame.

Even the way Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the group's current leader, delivers his speeches is inspired by the speeches and performances of Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. This is seen in the way he mimics Nasrallah's tone, mannerisms, and discourse.

Furthermore, since Houthi rebels took control of Sanaa, he has regularly appeared on TV in a similar way to Nasrallah, with the use logos and slogans during each appearance.

The Houthi platform

The Houthis have established a formidable media arm reportedly with Hizballah's technical support. Following the peaceful youth uprising in 2011, the group launched its official channel al-Masira TV. Al-Sahat TV is also considered to be close to the Houthis, although it is officially affiliated to a Yemeni leftist party that is close to the group.

Lebanese TV anchors have occasionally appeared on al-Masira TV. The channel has two offices in the southern suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut, a Hizballah stronghold. The channel also has two offices in Sanaa, and mostly hires reporters and crew from areas under Houthi control.

The Houthis have established two local radio channels in Sanaa, al-Masira Radio and Sam FM, as well as radio stations in other provinces. However, the most impressive part of the Houthi propaganda machine is perhaps in print media. The group has up to 25 print and electronic newspapers that disseminate its ideas and viewpoints, most notably al-Masira, al-Masar, al-Hawiya, and al-Diyar. It also runs electronic news services including al-Masar Mobile and al-Masira Mobile.
     'God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.'
- Houthi slogan

The group also seized control of dozens of local state-run media outlets when it took over control of the capital. Other media outlets have supported them, including those affiliated to the General People's Congress Party (GPC) led by deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh since mid-2014, as well as pro-Iranian outlets in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran.

Houthi propaganda uses particular terminology, and labels slain Houthis as martyrs, and its fighters as "mujahideen". It also uses graffiti and banners to spread messages in the streets. This includes painting slogans, Quranic verses, and sayings of the Prophet as well as quotes by the group's founder on walls and structures.

Slogans and agendas

In 2003, the Houthi slogan "God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam", became the group's trademark.

It is an almost word-for-word translation of Ayatollah Khomeini's slogan. The slogan is written over four lines with two words per line, in green and red on a white background. 

Singing bands

Ansarullah also established a number of groups that performing traditional songs from al-Zamel, a mountainous region inhabited by the bedouin. The lyrics praise tribes, war, courage and faith, and are used to galvanise fighters, intimidate enemies, as well as rally support and sympathy.

These songs are similar to Hizballah's in their tone, rhythm and techniques, and because they use religious connotations associated with jihad. They are broadcast on Houthi-affiliated TV and radio stations in areas under their control, especially near battlefronts. Houthi supporters have recently started playing them loudly from their cars as they drive around Yemen’s streets, to influence passersby and spread Houthi propaganda.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.