Houthis raid Sanaa shops selling women's apparel

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


A clothing shop in Sanaa where women's apparel is sold. The Houthis have raided such stores to confiscate and destroy items that resemble 'Western style' clothing. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

During the run-up to Eid al-Adha, when clothing stores typically do brisk business, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) staged a series of raids on Sanaa shops that sell "Western style" clothing, to the anger of the local population.

Shop owners who spoke with Al-Mashareq said the Houthis attempted to justify the raids by claiming the clothing they were selling violated the instructions of Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi regarding appropriate dress.

The campaign to police women's clothing mirrored the actions of groups like the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), they said, and was conducted at a time when many Muslims purchase new clothes to celebrate the holiday.

The Houthis targeted Sanaa markets including the Old City and al-Salam, al-Zumar, al-Tahrir and Hayel Street, confiscating items of clothing and imposing fines on "violators".


The Houthis have raided stores in Sanaa that sell women's clothes to confiscate and destroy items that resemble 'Western style' clothing. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

In some cases, they closed down the shops completely.

The Houthis confiscated some items of women's clothing "that have been widely available for years, and imposed fines without legal justifications", said Ahmed Hassan, who owns a shop in Sanaa's al-Salam Market.

They also failed to provide the shopkeepers they fined with proof of payment, he told Al-Mashareq.

Revenue is real motive

Some of the Houthi elements conducting the raids claimed the clothing they had confiscated contributed to the "debauchery of women" and was therefore responsible for "causing the delay of victory" in the conflict, he said.

In addition to confiscating clothing, he added, the Houthis seized other products marketed to women, such as lotions.

The Houthis also targeted the posters used to advertise women's clothing, said Abdul Raqeeb Abdo, who works at a women's clothing and accessories store.

They claim these are "immodest", he told Al-Mashareq, even though they have been used for years and market items of clothing that all women buy.

The real aim of the campaign against shops catering to women is to find additional sources of revenue, he said, as the season for clothes sales is under way and is seeing a reasonable turnout, under the circumstances.

The Houthis are tightening their scrutiny of merchants and imposing fines and tributes under various pretexts in search of income, Abdo said.

The militia had previously carried out raids targeting shops that sell women's abayas in search of the belts used with these garments, confiscating and burning them, and fining the vendors.

They even assaulted some women who wore them, claiming the belts showcase a woman's figure, thereby arousing men and "causing military defeats", according to media reports.

Mimicking terror groups

Human rights activist Amal al-Sanaani said the Houthis' targeting of women's clothing stores are an attempt to "constrict livelihoods under justifications and pretexts similar to those used by ISIS".

"The campaigns targeted markets and stores in Sanaa, and resulted in the imposition of arbitrary fines, confiscation and burning of goods," she said in a social media post.

"The Houthis' campaigns against women's clothing markets in Sanaa mimic the behaviour of armed terrorist groups," lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman told Al-Mashareq.

The real reason for these campaigns is to detract attention from the militia's failures to provide services, security or disburse public sector salaries, he said.

"The Houthis are trying to compensate for their failure to fulfill their duties by stoking religious sentiments," he added, noting that the militia is trying to "embellish its image so it appears as a group that protects piety".

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So, let me complete it. The likes of Houthis - of whom we too seem to be suffering from - only know how to attack people's brains. They know how to rule using the stick [baton]. But when it comes to corona, then nothing! I have a question: why is it that those who bring an army to the streets for [something as insignificant of women's religious covering such as wearing] manteau, are so indifferent to the issue of corona-virus, which is imperative for saving people's lives?


There are similar cases in the region. Look no further [than Iran]. I was personally harassed by the Morality Police a few times on the street over my appearance. Since I'm a male, they insulted me more. They threatened to [detain] and whip me, and would say [should I continue dressing the way I do,] tomorrow would look worse than today for me. My online accounts have been hacked over a few hundred times, yet I continue to write in a military (to the point, straightforward) fashion about [the regime's] treatment. If it's not [women's] manteau, they'll find something else to harass people over, like women's hair showing or men's clothes. They belittle members of the public, male or female.