Times are tough in Yemen. There is fighting between the U.S. backed (and now deposed) government and the Iranian backed Zaidi Shi’ite Houthi movement originating in the north of the country. Saudi Arabia has, with nine other Arab countries, sustained a months-long bombing campaign against the Houthis to counter Iranian influence on its southern border. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also been involved in the fighting, bombing Houthi targets on its own.
The Yemeni government has traditionally relied on its modest oil production to supply virtually all of its funding. Amidst the Houthi insurgency, however, oil production has virtually stopped, draining government coffers much faster than they can be filled by support received by the Houthis from Iran.
Having seized the government and declared themselves rulers of the country, the Houthis are spread more thinly than ever. They were already scraping to finance their campaign of violence against the Saudi coalition and Western backed government; now that they are supposed to be running the country, they have found that demands for funds have only gone up.
As a result, they have resorted to some traditional methods of funding themselves and some innovative ones. They continue to receive support from Iran and also to fund themselves through smuggling and illegal commerce. They are also, however, soliciting donations from traditional sources such as Shia charities and wealthy individuals but also, even from their own people.
In recent years, like in many other sectors of life, the internet and mobile technology have revolutionized charitable giving and philanthropy in the West. Crowdsourced funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have hosted campaigns for Western charities, and disaster relief funds are often solicited from individuals on mobile platforms.
Now, the Houthis are using these same methods to fund their insurgency and violent overthrow of the U.S.-backed government. Indeed, even Indiegogo campaigns that appeared to be soliciting traditional Ramadan donations from U.S. and U.K. Muslims to provide food for Yemeni refugees have been accused of actually directing money to the Houthi insurgency. The Harf Safyan region that the aforementioned Indiegogo campaign is very publicly directing funds to is acknowledged as a Houthi leadership stronghold.
Yemen has traditionally found itself on the margins, both as a country that rarely attracts much Western attention at all, and as one of the world’s poorest countries. The Houthi insurgency, with all of the upheaval and violence plaguing the Middle East, has also not attracted the same level of attention as issues in Syria, Egypt, or Benghazi, Libya, and, likewise, it has also seemingly not elicited the major financial support that groups such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda attract. Finding themselves on the margins of the world of terror finance, the Houthis have resorted to unique ways to seek out funding, and in doing so may be changing how terror groups are funded, just as Western charities are changing giving in the U.S. through similar methods. This is clearly a trend that will require future scrutiny.