The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Yemeni capital, signs of hatred toward Americans are everywhere

SANAA, Yemen — Driving around this war-battered capital, you can't help but notice the hate, particularly if you are an American. On  giant billboards, scrawled on walls — it's everywhere.

“America is killing the Yemeni people. They are feeding on our blood,” reads one billboard.

“Boycott American and Israeli products,” reads another.

Perhaps in no other city is anti-Americanism in such full display today.

The capital and much of this Middle Eastern nation are under the control of the Houthis, a northern Shiite rebel group with alleged ties to Iran.

They took advantage of the political and security vacuum that emerged from the 2011 revolution here — part of the Arab Spring uprisings — that toppled longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh. By the fall of 2014, the Houthis had swept southward and occupied Sanaa. They forced Saleh's successor, U.S.- and Western-backed Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to resign last year. Soon after, the anti-American slogans emerged throughout the city.

On one level, the anger is an extension of the Houthis' credos. Their flag reads: "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam."

On another level, the slogans are directed at the United States' involvement in Yemen's civil war. Washington is actively backing a Saudi-led coalition that's seeking to restore Hadi to power. The coalition's airstrikes, largely using U.S. and British-made bombs, have killed or wounded thousands of civilians, according to human rights groups and witnesses.

Some of the signs speak to a widespread mistrust of the West and its reasons for engaging in the Middle East. As in other parts of the Arab world, there's suspicion here that Washington has gone to war over the region's oil and other natural resources.

“The American companies enter a country to steal its wealth and humiliate its people," reads another billboard.

The attitude is another indication of how far Washington's counterterrorism objectives in Yemen have been eroded in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions. For years, successive U.S. administrations worked with Saleh to fight al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, widely seen by U.S. officials as the most lethal in the terrorist network. Known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, the group has staged attacks or attempted attacks on American and European soil in the last several years. Restoring the ability to effectively combat AQAP's ambitions is perhaps the key reason the Obama administration is backing the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen's civil war.

It's no surprise that the most creative attacks on the United States can be found on the walls of the now-shuttered Saudi embassy here. Every inch of the outer wall is covered in colorful graffiti. Here's a sampling:

Read more:

‘Trapped by all the sides’ in Yemen’s largely ignored war