Schoolchildren in Sanaa and other parts of Yemen controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) were once again being indoctrinated and groomed as future fighters by being forced to participate in "Martyrs' Day" celebrations.
The annual event, set on an apparently random date designated by the Houthis, is modeled on similar Martyrs' Day celebrations held by Hizbullah and Iran.
Ahead of this year's celebration, which began January 19th and continued with a series of events and activities at schools and government facilities, the Houthis raised money by imposing financial levies on local merchants, observers said.
By aggrandizing their fallen fighters and treating them as heroes, the Houthis hope to motivate youth in the areas under their control to join them.
The programme included mandatory school trips to the grave sites of the militia’s fallen fighters, referred to as "Riyadh al-Shuhada" (The Martyrs' Gardens), Khabar news agency reported January 15th.
These shrines display the portraits of slain Houthis fighters and glorify their sacrifice, as well as glorifying the militia's dead leaders, the agency said.
Local merchants squeezed for cash
The Iran-backed Houthis forced local businessmen and merchants to pay incredibly large sums of money to finance the Martyrs' Day activities, Khabar reported.
The militia's collection of money for this cause was especially irksome for public school teachers, who have not received their salaries from the Houthis in years.
The Houthis "spend millions on such celebrations right before the eyes of starving school teachers who have abstained from teaching because they have not received their benefits and salaries", said Yemeni journalist Munir Talal.
The militia is using the Martyrs' Day celebration as a means to raise money from merchants, and also has been diverting funds from government budgets to cover the expense, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The Houthis see in the Martyrs' Day occasion an opportunity to thrust school-students-turned-fighters into the cauldron of death," he said.
The celebration is a clear emulation of Hizbullah’s Martyrs' Day, he said, which also is designed to glorify fallen fighters and inspire new recruits to join.
"The Houthis replaced most school principals with people affiliated with them from outside the education field," said Amin Mohammed, a former principal at a public school in Sanaa who asked to use a pseudonym.
These new appointees have been put in place to serve the militia's agenda rather than provide Yemeni children with an education, he told Al-Mashareq.
Schools forced to observe celebration
The Ministry of Education in Sanaa, which is headed by Yahya al-Houthi, the brother of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, directed schools "to continue to hold Martyrs' Day activities for more than one week", Mohammed said.
A number of schools were instructed to hold public celebrations, to be attended by Houthi leaders, during which the principals of the schools that follow the militia's directive were honoured, he added.
The Houthis’ refusal to approve the disbursement of a Saudi grant to the teachers or pay them their salaries has stripped public schools of their role, he said.
As a consequence of these actions, he added, an entire generation has been consigned to ignorance, and has been pushed towards the battlefronts.
"The Houthis are obstructing and impeding the functioning of schools by imposing fees and tributes on them under the heading of 'war effort'," said Sanaa schoolteacher Sabria Saleh, also using a pseudonym.
"These practices increase the pressure on community and private schools and thus [adversely] affect education," she told Al-Mashareq.
The Martyrs' Day events were heralded by a proliferation of murals and posters of fallen Houthi fighters at the campus of Sanaa University, provoking indignation among many faculty members.
The university's faculty and academics committee issued a statement denouncing the Houthis’ use of the university's squares to hold sectarian events and rallies to mobilise fighters.
Grooming youth to serve Iran's agenda
In a January 25th social media post, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani described the decision to allow the militia to put up such murals and posters at Sanaa University as "appalling".
"Sadly, instead of these misled youth graduating as doctors, engineers and lawyers to serve as a good foundation for society, the militias have involved them in futile wars against the Yemeni people to serve Iran’s subversive agenda," he said.
In addition to targeting students with their propaganda, the Houthis have forced government employees in the areas under their control to visit cemeteries where fallen Houthi fighters are buried and to place flowers on them.
Telecommunications sector employee Naji Mohsen told Al-Mashareq he had been forced to visit the grave of the head of the Houthi political council Saleh al-Samad, who was slain in April 2018.
"Those who do not comply face financial and administrative punishment," Mohsen said.