Mansour Al-Akhali (16 years) did not realize that the mark printed on his athletic shirt would bring him all this trouble. On 16 February 2019, his life was threatened when he was assaulted by his classmates in a private school in southern Sana’a. They have put him down, cursed him, and then ripped his shirt apart. “The shirt was not the reason, it was the American flag printed on it,” Mansour recalls.
Deputy Headmaster of a public school comments on the incident: "Just moments before the attack on Mansour, the students were subjected to an emotional and passionate charge against America, Israel and the internationally recognized government of Yemen. They burnt the flags of the two countries and stepped on photographs of Yemeni Government members. And "when they saw the flag on their colleague's shirt, they considered it as a betrayal," explains the school's deputy headmaster, who preferred anonymity.
Three days before that incident, the same school received a circular from the Educational Media Department at Sanaa Municipality; controlled by Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis since 2014. The circular instructed the school to orchestrate students’ protests in the morning line-up. It also ordered the school’s radio to reject "normalization" with the US and asked the staff and students to step on the America and Israeli flags for a week.
A supervisor at another public school complains that the school administration receives "daily" instructions from the Education Office in Sana'a and the Ministry of Education, run by Yahya al-Houthi, the brother of the Houthi leader. The supervisor, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said most of the internal circulars focus on "carrying out activities that serve the Houthi community and have nothing to do with school activities that are supposed to develop students' skills."
These extracurricular activities are rife in most schools under the control of the Houthis, according to this Reporter’s documentation following tours across 20 schools in two different governorates. Following six months of investigation, the Reporter concluded that Ansar Allah, known as Houthis, imposed on schools "sectarian activities," in order to convince students of its doctrine. This threatens the community and forces families to transfer their children to schools in other governorates outside the control of this group. Activities of this group outside the perimeters of the educational syllabus include calls for intolerance, instigating students to carry arms and join the front lines, threatening the lives of young men.
Notwithstanding, the Houthi Ministry of Education denies its control on the educational system in areas under its control or the imposition of hate speech on students.
Engineer Mahioub Al-Qubati (43 years) moved his son, Hussam, from al-Tabari School in old Sana'a to People's School in Taiz, after teachers and students abused him because he refused to chant the slogan of the Houthi group during the morning line-up. The slogan, known as the ‘Scream’ in the morning lineup goes as follows: “death to America….death to Israel …. cursed are the Jews….victory for Islam”.
Al-Qubati states: “They used to say to Hussam that if you do not chant the slogan this means you are with the enemy,” in reference to the Saudi-led Arab alliance supporting the army of Yemeni President Abdurbo Mansour Hadi since the spring of 2015 in the war against the Houthi group.
Unscientific questionnaire - distributed to supervisors and principals in 20 schools in Sana'a and Ibb governorate (193 km south of Sanaa)- found that the Huthis enforced pro-Huthi activities on students for a duration of four years which serve their thinking. Teachers, who preferred to withhold their names, said that the Houthis attracted many teachers and appointed school principals loyal to the group, thus carrying the what they call the "Qur'anic culture," derived from the lectures of the Movement’s founder Hussein al-Houthi. They persuaded many students to chant death for America, Israel and the Jews; slogans used as a cover for sectarian act against Houthi’s adversary in Yemen , according to one teacher.
In analyzing the outcome of the questionnaire, the researcher found that 14 out of 20 respondents confirmed that "most teachers are forced to participate in cultural sessions", while "four of the respondents believe that teachers go to sessions willingly." Two of the 20 mentioned that they were participating to avoid punishment.
A supervisor at a public school says that the Ministry of Education has repeatedly sent a volunteer leader, Abdel Fattah Al-Jabri, to give lectures to the students in the morning line-up and distribute posters and brochures bearing the slogans of the Houthis. "In the beginning," he used to recall the ‘Scream’ after each lecture alone, but over time, several students and teachers started to repeat it after him.
A teacher at Jamal Public School in Tahrir Department in Sana’a confirms this info. He adds that "families belonging to the Hashemite dynasty support the Houthi group and teach its children to repeat the slogan.” There are also students “who are convinced of the ideology of the group,” he adds.
God Almighty said, "O people, be the supporters of Allah." Therefore, Abu Hashem, the leader of the so-called Houthi community’s "cultural body" swore the Quranic verse, addressing more than 600 students at the government's A.K. School on Saturday morning February 23, 2019. In a passionate speech, Abu Hashem urged the pupils to join the war fronts by providing various "types of support.” Over one-hour speech, Abu Hashem cited 17 times "the directives of the master," referring to Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, the group's leader. Whenever the Houthi’s name was mentioned, many students and teachers chanted the "Scream.”
The A.K. school is one of the most important government schools that have fed the Houthi front with fighters, according to the Deputy Headmaster, who says more than 20 students have been killed on the fronts. The Deputy Headmaster - who preferred to withhold his name - estimates that hundreds of fighters are dropouts of schools. "Everyone who takes part in the fighting among the Houthis is a believer in the culture and doctrine of the group," explains the Deputy Headmaster, who lives in the same neighborhood as the school.
He stresses the school administration students’ families contributed to the mobilization of students in the Houthi culture. The neighborhoods of the northern part of Sana'a are among the most important meeting centers of the Houthi sect.
"It was more like kidnapping and not an invitation to attend a cultural session," the principal of a private school in Sana'a sums up his experience of attending a cultural session, organized by the Houthi group to spread its ideology.
The school principal, who was over 50 years old, repeatedly refused invitations by the organizers of the cultural sessions. His refusals prompted them to visit his office. "They entered my office and asked me to accompany them, rejecting any excuses I made. They also reassured me that they would inform my family where I am," he recalls with sadness. After five days of isolation from the outside world, he discovered that his family was not informed about his whereabouts, and they lived in fear and anxiety over his fate.
The principal emphasizes that most of the sessions he attended over the course of one week with 27 other Deputy Headmasters focused on "the right of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib" and his sons (Houthi originates in the descendants of Ali bin Abi Talib, cousin of the Messenger Mohammad). They also urge attendees to support the group with money, manpower, and mobilizing young men to join the fighting alongside the group. They demanded the use of school activities and broadcasting to promote these ideologies and messages and instill loyalty among the students to the Houthi, whom the group believes God has given him spiritual clout over Muslims.
In a Whatsapp message On October 22, 2018, the school district director at that time, Issam Al-Khalid, ordered each school to send a teacher or administrator to attend a cultural session. The message circulated within a WhatsApp broadcast group designated to school administrators, supervisors, and principals in the Revolution district of the capital Sana’a. Sender of the message stated that "every employee should attend these sessions at some time," and asked "to send teachers and administrators to attend cultural sessions and consider it as an official leave." The sender of the broadcast message also threatened "those who do not take this matter seriously with reprimand."
Houthi mobilization sessions are not limited to teachers and administrators. District managers instruct schools to continue fielding students during the half-year and summer holidays to participate in "cultural sessions," focusing on sectarian religious topics. Speakers at those sessions preach the Houthi ideology and the right of the Houthi war, which "targets America, Israel and their allies, and thus promoting the Houthi right through words, deeds and carrying arms."
In a circular following the first semester 2018-2019, director of Sanaa Educational District asked each school in the area to "equip five high school students for a 20-day cultural session."
This systematic intervention turns off investors in private schools. One investor plans to close the school he founded 14 years ago in the Beit Bos district and lay off its cadre of 38 employees as a result of the practices of the Houthi Ministry of Education. The school owner complains about the pressures of the school district forcing the school administration to carry out activities contributing to "transforming students into intolerant individuals that cannot serve the community."
The investor complains of attempts to "creating a generation of devastating psychological and sectarian fanaticism." In the meantime, the school administration seeks to "mitigate the effects of Houthi practices and conceal some posters with extremist slogans such as insulting companions of the Prophet or showing horrific images of war victims." But they are not always able to spare students such activities and publications, he says. Looking at the impact of these activities on the students, their interests and their level of thinking, the investor wonders: "Imagine students at the seventh grade arguing about the historical disagreement between the sects 14 centuries ago?" Then he replies: "What will this generation offer to this country except for further conflict?"
The "celebrations" enforced on the schools range from "Martyr's Week, Al-Samoud, the Prophet's Mawlid Al-Naboui, the birth of Fatima Al-Zahra, the remembrance of the death of the founder of the group, Hussein Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, in September 2004. The Houthi Ministry of Education orders all private and government schools to hold artistic, cultural, speech filled, athletic, and the implementation of visits to the graves of those who died in the war from the group.
The group monitors the extent to which schools are committed to implementing the directives through social supervisors from Houthi elements and their supporters. These supervisors are the only communication channel through which the schools receive directives and orders from the Ministry of Education and the Educational Zone.
Analysis of the questionnaire led to the conclusion that 80% of the population sample confirm that the Houthis use these events and activities to spread their sectarian believes, while 20% of the sample mentioned that the Houthis do not do so.
Between January 19 and 29, 2019, the Houthi Ministry of Education forced government and private schools to revive what it calls the "Martyr's Week" through several activities, most notably the allocation of school radio stations to commemorate the dead, their children and daughters. It also ordered lectures and sports activities, preparing flyers and wall magazines, organizing visits to the families of the dead, aiding them, and presenting models of their tournaments, and visits to their graves.
The Houthi Ministry issued a circular no. (429) on 25 December 2018, concerning the establishment of events marking the passage of four years on what it described as "steadfastness in the face of the Saudi-American aggression."
These include organizing exhibitions of pictures of the group's dead, as well as cultural and sporting events and lectures in all schools, with particular portions to talk about what the group describes as "legendary steadfastness." As well as the organization of educational visits (teachers and administrators) and students of war-wounded in hospitals.
confirm that the Houthis use these events and activities to spread their sectarian believes
20% of the sample mentioned that the Houthis do not do so.
the Houthi Ministry of Education forced government and private schools to revive what it calls the "Martyr's Week"
Student Faten Hammoud (15 years), says she avoids looking at a large painting hanging on the inner wall of the “Aisha” school near Sana’a University because she feels "terrible psychological pain and depression that prevents me from focusing on my lessons."
Ansar Allah group imposed on all schools in Sana’a to put up a paintng of "Bunner", which is two meters high with a meter and a half volume, presenting pictures of body parts of children the group claims were victims of the bombing of the Arab coalition aircraft, according to school supervisors.
Hakim Debwan, who holds a master's degree in psychiatry, asserts that exposing the children to such scenes generates psychological and physical damage, such as a sense of guilt for their inability to provide assistance, depression, fear, poor appetite and headaches. "The sectarian charge stemming from the hatred of the other which the children are exposed to in schools makes them more aggressive in dealing with each other and with their surrounding society. Consequently, it becomes difficult to assess their behavior or ideas," explains Debwan. He believes that "what the Ministry of Education is doing in schools from sectarian and stirring activities directly affect the ability of the student in the educational achievement; therefore, facing enemies becomes the priority of the student instead of education."
Mabrouk Al-Jamai (37 years), says he was surprised when he saw his son Omar (6 years) perform the “scream” at a ceremony organized by the Education Revolution Complex in Hajjah to honor outstanding students in the first half of the current school year. When asked where he learned the “scream," Omar replied, "they taught us at school."
When speaking with the investigator, Al-Jamai confirmed that "Omar and his peers do not understand the meaning of the “scream” (the same scream that was imposed in Iran after the Khomeini revolution in early 1979), but the Houthis' keenness to root it in the psychological structure of the children will create a distinct sectarian generation.” Moreover, al-Jamai also confirmed that we only heard "the scream following the Houthis occupation of the province," pointing out that "it is an intrusive culture on our society."
Nine out of 10 teachers (18 out of 20 respondents) confirmed that the Houthis were exerting pressure on school administrations to carry out such activities. Nine of the ten answered that they had received an invitation to attend Houthi cultural session offered to them by principals and supervisors in schools, while seven of the ten responded to these calls.
Asked whether the group had forced them to participate, four out of 10 said they did not want to attend the session, while three of the 10 mentioned that they have attended "to avoid trouble" with the Houthis.
Teachers who refused to participate were not subjected to any punitive measures, but confirmed that they had seen a change in the way the treatment of school managers and supervisors, such as being excluded from school activities and school discussions. They were also held accountable for any minor shortcomings, even though they work without salaries. One teacher adds that these practices "always worry us."
On the other hand, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of the Houthi Ministry of Education in Sana’a denies supervision of the Houthi group on the educational process in the areas under its control. In a phone discussion to address ARIJ’s questions, Al-Naimi said the activities carried out by the schools were "an interaction with religious events and a revival of the popular cultural heritage." He also denies the use of schools to serve the struggle of its political and religious group, or that the ministry has forced teachers to attend the group's "cultural sessions."
By reviewing the list of government and private schools held throughout Yemen until 2015, it was found that none of the events imposed by the Houthi group existed under Article 23 of the School Regulations of 1997. The activities imposed by the group are not within the perimeters set by the regulation as part of the school activities and does not comply with Article 129, which stipulates that school activities are part of the curriculum to serve the development of students' knowledge and experience. Article 181 of Part V of the final provisions emphasizes the absence of all forms of tribal, sectarian and partisan intolerance.
Saba al-Qabati, a supervisor at a private school in the Bait Bous district, said that 12 of her students in the elementary and secondary schools joined a front for fighting with Ansar Allah. Saba concludes that all the children who joined the fighting front did so because of the school activities imposed by the ministry on the school.
Yemeni Human Rights Minister Mohammed Askar said in a symposium held in Geneva on the sidelines of the 38th session of the Human Rights Council that Houthi has recruited more than 15,000 children since September 2014 and has been involved in the fighting between the group and the government- Alliance States.
The Sana'a Human Rights Organization also accused Houthi and its allies of recruiting hundreds of children. In a report issued in 2018, it said it had recruited 510 children in 2017 among Houthi and its allies to "work at checkpoints, in combat logistics, and for military or other security purposes."
Human Rights Watch also accused Houthi, the government, its forces and other armed groups of using children as soldiers. In its report on the humanitarian situation in Yemen in 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that children accounted for about a third of the fighters in Yemen as of August 2017. Two out of three cases she has documented is within the Houthi's forces.
* The author of the investigation was forced to withhold names of schools and most sources so as not to be held accountable in war zones.
** The investigation was prepared in participation with other colleagues.