The conflict in Yemen, which has become a proxy war for Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and predominantly Shia Iran, has hit the headlines in both Iranian and international media for the past few weeks. Central to this is Iran’s relationship with the Yemeni Houthis, a group of Shia rebels.
Saudi Arabia, which began launching air strikes against the Houthis three weeks ago, accuses Iran of fomenting unrest in Yemen by supporting them, both financially and militarily. Despite Iranian leaders previously denying involvement in Yemen, they now acknowledge Iran’s role in the conflict, defending intervention on the basis that what is happening in the country is a legitimate popular uprising. However, much of the international community refutes this, culminating in the UN Security Council imposing an arms embargo on the Houthis on Tuesday April 14.
In response to this rapidly developing, and arguably deteriorating, situation in Yemen, IranWire asked its Persian readers what they thought of Iran’s support of the Yemeni Houthis, giving them a choice of four answers. The first two responses suggest Iran was right to intervene — the first answer being that Iran has a duty to defend Shias that are being oppressed in other parts of the world, and the second one that Iranian regional interests necessitate that Iran extend its influence to countries like Yemen in order to weaken Saudi influence.
Between them, the first two answers received almost a third of votes, suggesting that one in three Persian-language readers agree that Iran was right to intervene. However, the majority of these respondents justified intervention on the basis of regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia, rather than the need to defend fellow Shias. This equates to over a quarter of voters in the poll that approved Iranian support of the Houthis in order to weaken Saudi influence and strengthen its own rather than to “help” fellow Muslims, which commanded only four percent of the vote.
However, by far the most popular response in the survey was the third option — that Iran should not be involved in the conflict because it should focus on helping the Iranian people rather than the Houthis. This received a significant 63 percent of the vote, demonstrating that the majority of Persian language IranWire readers are opposed to Iranian intervention in Yemen, whether militarily or financially, holding the view that the Iranian people are in need of assistance. This viewpoint is not new to Iranians, as many of them felt similarly about Lebanese Hezbollah, an organization that continues to receive funding from Iran and that remains highly controversial. Following the disputed presidential election of 2009, Iranian protesters chanted the slogan “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran.” The regime, which views groups like Hezbollah as an achievement for Iran, cracked down on this type of protest.
Lastly, readers could answer that Iran’s involvement in Yemen and its support of the Houthis was nothing more than a Western lie, which was intended to harm and further discredit Iran. This response, which adopts an anti-Western outlook, secured just a small six percent of the vote. But it is significant nonetheless, demonstrating that certain Iranians harbor a strong sense of mistrust towards Western powers, something that could begin to change if a nuclear deal goes through on June 30.