The Houthis are playing politics in the more traditional sense as well. They have, for example, been cooperating with other formerly marginalized groups in Yemen, such as factions of the southern independence movement (Hirak) and the socialist party. They are also seriously considering forming an official political party or coalition through which they can contest elections.
Although political dialogue is preferable to conflict, there is a long way still to go. The Houthis have won limited concessions during the NDC, the most notable of which is an official apology from the government for the Saada wars. The NDC committee tasked with addressing the issue has also agreed on 37 other points, including provisions related to disarmament, the release of prisoners and religious tolerance, but implementation is another matter entirely. In short, a permanent Saada solution remains elusive and the road is becoming rockier.
"Our relationship with the government is very tense," said Jadban in June, just days after government forces shot a number of Houthi protesters in front of the National Security Bureau in Sanaa (official claims that demonstrators were armed have not been independently substantiated). Later that month, a suicide bomber attacked a market in Saada, leaving at least two dead.
More recently, there have been an escalating series of clashes between the Houthis and followers of Sunni Islam (Salafis as well as tribesmen supporting the Islamist Islah party). The re-emergence of sectarian and political conflict is a development that worries many observers. The Houthis are armed with anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons. So are their enemies. And no one has ruled out using force in cases of self-defense, a justification with blurry connotations. Return to open hostilities could have destabilizing ripple effects.
Up till now though, the Houthis' swift post-Arab Spring growth and arrival on the political scene have been accommodated relatively smoothly. But as Yemen's transition continues, the way forward is still uncertain. In part this is because the Houthis have yet to present a political platform that placates their skeptics.
"If the people of Saada want independence, we can take it. But we don't want anything except a modern civil state that rules all Yemenis," proclaimed Abu Mohammed, a resident of Saada and a Houthi supporter, more bluntly echoing the vague stance of the movement's leadership. Others add, in equally nebulous terms, that the group is prepared to cede ground once a capable and tolerant government is in place.
This highlights the point that the Houthi issue does not exist in a vacuum. A solution for them is inextricably linked to debates about the independence of the south, whether Yemen should become a federal state, and how the constitution should be written, among other foundational topics. A fully articulated Houthi position may therefore not emerge until a more basic question is answered. As April Alley of ICG asks, "After moving out of this transition period, how does power settle?"
That remains anyone's guess. Yet while Yemeni politics has long been a delicate balancing act, it's already clear that the Houthis currently carry more weight than ever.