A new academic curriculum introduced by the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s Sana’a University promotes sectarianism and glorifies the Houthis and their foreign allies in Iran, Lebanon and Syria, according to reports published in Al-Arabiya, Al Watan, and Al-Masdar Online. Quoting unnamed sources from Sana’a University, Al-Arabiya wrote that the Houthis have also made changes to the Islamic cultural studies program, which has been taught at Sana’a University for decades. One academic facilitator at the university reportedly described the Houthis’ intervention in the academic curriculum as “a disaster by all standards and an insult to the minds of academics and students.” The official further warned that the intervention in academic affairs at Sana’a University and other Yemeni universities under Houthi control could undermine the performance of the Yemeni universities and tarnish their image abroad – pointing out that Sana’a University’s membership in Arab academic organizations such as the Association of Arab Universities could be revoked as a result of Houthi actions.

Al-Masdar Online, a Yemeni outlet, said its analysis of the new Houthi curriculum for the Islamic cultural program shows that the course discusses the Yemeni conflict, blaming Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain and Israel for the civil strife in the country. The Arab-Israeli conflict has also been added to the mandatory curriculum, it added.

Comment: Since the Houthi rebels took over the Yemeni capital of Sana’a three years ago, Iran has stepped up its hard power and soft power efforts to expand its influence in the Arab country. While Iran’s transfer of weapons and missile technology to Yemen often make international headlines, the Iranian soft power efforts aimed at promoting the Islamic Republic’s ideological, revolutionary, cultural and political influence in Yemen are largely overlooked.

In January 2017, Yemen’s Ministry of Education stopped student scholarship programs to Iran because the students “are fed destructive ideas devoted to sectarianism and factionalism.” The ministry also stopped recognizing certificates issued by schools under the Houthi leadership. And the following month, the Yemeni government sent a letter to the United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres, in which it protested Iranian interference in the Yemeni affairs and specifically mentioned about the alleged indoctrination of Yemeni students inside Iran.

Moreover, Iran expanded its academic and cultural exchange programs inside Yemen. Iran has reportedly used these programs to recruit Yemenis for its political and military training courses, some of which are jointly run with the Lebanese Hezbollah. The UNICEF said last year that the civil war and destruction in Yemen has prevented more than two million children from attending school, which renders Yemeni youth extremely vulnerable to foreign exploitation and indoctrination.