Houthis abusing education for sectarian indoctrination
Mansour Al-Akhaly, 16, was unaware that the image on his sports shirt will bring him so much trouble. On February 16, he was assaulted by his classmates from a private school in Sana’a. They beat and insulted him and then tore up his shirt.
“The shirt was not the problem، but the American flag that was printed on it,” Mansour said.
One of the school staff revealed that moments before the assault, the students were exposed to an “emotional dose” of incitement against the United States, Israel and the legitimate Yemeni government. The students burned the American and Israeli flags and posters of some government leaderships. Seeing the flag on their classmate’s shirt was seen as a form of treason, said the staff member on condition of anonymity.
Three days prior to the incident, the school had received a memo from the education agency in Sana’a calling for organizing protest rallies for the students every morning. The agency, which is run by the Iran-backed Houthi militias, also ordered the school radio to hold segments throughout the week on rejecting the normalization of relations with Israel and encouraging trampling on the American and Israeli flags.
A director at a public school revealed that it receives from the Houthi agency daily instructions, the majority of which serve Houthi interests and “have nothing to do with school activities that develop the students’ skills.”
After touring 20 schools in two different provinces over a six-month period, the compiler of this report concluded that the Houthis force administrations in schools in areas under their control to hold “sectarian activities” to convince the students of their ideology and sectarian principles. This measure is a threat to the social fabric and forces Yemeni families to transfer their children from Houthi-held schools to others outside their control.
Some of the non-academic activities include stoking intolerance, encouraging students to carry weapons, pushing them to the battlefronts and insulting religious values of students who do not adhere to the Houthis’ religious beliefs.
Engineer Mayhoub al-Qobati, 43, revealed that he was forced to transfer his son, Hussam, from a school in Sana’a to another in Taiz after he was mistreated by teachers and children fom refusing to perform the Houthi chant every morning. The chant calls for “death to America, death to Israel, Jews be damned and victory for Islam.” The chant was popularized during the 1979 revolution in Iran.
Qobati said: “They used to tell Hussam that if you are not repeating the chant, then you must be in support of the aggression.” The aggression here refers to the Saudi-led Arab coalition that is backing the legitimate forces in combating the Houthis.
Imposing the chant
Through a survey of the 20 schools that were toured, it was found that the Houthis did not impose the chant on the students, but they imposed activities that served their ideology. Teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Houthis appointed several teachers and directors that are loyal to their agenda. This therefore, propagated teachings of Houthi founder Hussein al-Houthi. They convinced several of the students to repeat the anti -America and -Israel chant that is used to cover up the Houthi sectarian activities.
During a lecture at a public school in Sana’a on February 23, a Houthi leader , Abu Hashem, got so caught up in his address that he urged children to head to the battles to fight with the militias. For an entire hour, he cited the “orders of the Sayyed,” or Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi, 17 times. The children would make the Houthi chant whenever his name was uttered.
More than 20 children from this school in particular were killed on the battlefields. An official revealed that hundreds of graduates from the school have joined Houthi ranks because they believe in their ideology.
Courses for teachers and directors
A director of a private school recounted how he was forced to attend a “cultural course” organized by the Houthis. Along with 27 directors from other schools, he was forced to sit through an entire week of lectures about Houthi religious teachings and the need to contribute money and fighters to the group. The organizers also urged the gatherers to dedicate activities and radio segments to promote Houthi religious teachings.
The Houthis forced directors in the al-Thawra district in Sana’a to attend such courses. A survey revealed that 14 of the 20 attendees were forced to take part in the events, while four said that they attended out of their own conviction. Two said they took part to avoid problems.
An owner of a school that he established 14 years ago revealed that he was considering shutting it down due to the Houthi practices. The school is located in the Beit Bos area and employs 38 teachers and staff.
The owner complained that the Houthis were imposing teachings that transform the students into “intolerant people that cannot contribute to society.” He revealed that his school administration was trying to hide the Houthi meddling by concealing some of the extremist posters, some of which insult some of the companions of the Prophet Mohammed or which depict graphic images of the victims of the war. He acknowledged however, that the administration is not always successful in shielding the students from such harmful Houthi practices.
“Imagine a classroom of seventh grade students arguing over a historic dispute between sects. What can you possibly expect from this generation except more conflict?” he wondered.
Faten, a 15-year-old student, revealed that she avoids looking at a large poster that is hung on a wall at the Aisha School near Sanaa University, because she “feels terrible psychological pain and depression that prevent her from focusing on her studies.”
The Houthis have forced all schools in Sana’a to hang large banners on their walls depicting the graphic images of child victims of war. The militias claim that the children are victims of the Arab coalition air strikes.
Psychologist Hakim Dabwan said exposing children to such images leaves them with psychological and physical harm, such as a sense of guilt for being helpless to provide assistance, depression or loss of appetite.
“The sectarian incitement that is fueled by the idea of hating the other that the children are exposed to at schools makes them more aggressive with each other and their surrounding environment. Their behavior and thought become difficult to assess,” he said.
Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Mohammed Askar had previously accused the Houthis of recruiting more than 15,000 children for their war effort since September 2014.
*Some names in this report were withheld to avoid reprisals.
*The report was prepared with the support of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) network. Ali Rabih also contributed to the report.