Ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is actively helping the Houthi rebels take over the country as part of his plan to return to power, media reports revealed on Wednesday.
Citing a “trusted source close” to Saleh, a report said a “secret meeting was held several days ago between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis.”
The meeting was reportedly attended by the head of the political relations of the Houthi movement Hussein al-Ezzi, who is in charge of signing deals with other parties, and Arif al-Zouka, a member of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party (GPC).
During the meeting, GPC Secretary-General Sultan al-Barakani was contacted while he was in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi-based online news website al-Weam said in the exclusive report.
The Houthis reportedly asked Saleh to assign some of his aides well-known to Riyadh “to try to deceive the Saudi leadership into believing that developments in Yemen were under control and that the Houthis can be removed from power if the kingdom entrusts him [Saleh] with this role.”
The objective of this plot, according to the report, is to “shake confidence among Houthi opponents –who might be backed by Saudi Arabia – in order to create a situation that is mutually beneficial for both Saleh and the Houthis.”
Five action groups were reportedly formed during the meeting.
The first was tasked with providing misinformation and rumors to “figures implanted within the circle of trust to the kingdom.”
These figures “would not necessarily be conspiring,” the report says. They would simply be feeding the Saudi leadership with falsities to “create a state of doubt and confusion.”
The second group was tasked with “delivering reports and information directly to Saudi decision makers to make them doubt anyone who would cooperate with them against the Houthis.”
The third group is charged with sending groups to take part in anti-Houthi protests while raising al-Qaeda’s black flags. The youths would raise the flags in front of the media to create a popular impression that all the protesters are either supporters or members of the terrorist group.
“This will create a positive picture about the Houthis, portraying them as fighting against al-Qaeda and justify their killing of Sunni tribal leaders who are standing against the rebels’ advance in many parts of the country,” the report said.
The fourth group is tasked with engaging in diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia and other concerned countries to “reassure” them and “win time” as rebels continue to advance in Yemen.
Ali Nasir Qarsha, a tribal leader in the province of Saada, and Houthi leaders Yousef al-Fishi, Daifallah Salman and Hassan al-Saadi were named as belonging to this group in the report.
The fifth group was set up to engage in “fake resistance” against the Houthi rebels in order to cause “financial bleeding” to their sponsors. This group reportedly includes Maj. Gen. Fadl al-Qousi, the Interior Ministry’s under-secretary.
‘Facts on the ground’
London-based Yemeni academic Dr. Mohammad Jumeh said: “Reports about the coordination between former President Saleh and the Houthis came late “because it has been obvious” for some time.
“Even if this report was never published, I have ground facts [proving this coordination],”Jumeh told Al Arabiya News in a phone interview.
“During demonstrations to overthrow the [unity] government, banners of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis were held together,” he said, adding that Saleh’s men in power, especially in the military, are “clearly” facilitating the advance of the rebels in the country.
Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad Nasser Ahmed is an “associate” of the ousted president, Jumeh said.
“The Houthis seized military camps without resistance and they entered Sanaa without war,” Jumeh said, adding that army brigades that decided to fight were left without support by the senior command.
The Yemeni academic noted how “Saleh and the Houthis were smart” at presenting themselves to regional powers as fighters against the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda terrorists.
Jumeh noted, however, that regional powers such as Saudi Arabia have now seen through Saleh’s deception and now altered their views about him.
Manuel Almeida, a researcher and consultant focusing on the Middle East, said he believed there was “circumstantial alignment of interests” between Saleh’s faction and Houthi rebels.
“I think there is a circumstantial alignment of interests between Saleh’s faction seeking to generate instability around the government to recover its influence and the Houthis who have taken advantage of the current instability to press for political gains,” he told Al Arabiya news in an email.
Almeida said that by facilitating the Houthi rebels’ offensive, backers of Saleh in the security apparatus had delivered a “massive blow” to the unity government.
He dismissed however any long-term alliance between Saleh and the Houthis as “unlikely,” recalling the various wars Saleh had waged against the Shiite group when he was in power.
“The Houthis will not put it behind their backs just like that. The fact that Saleh is originally a Zaydi, like the Houthis, I think means nothing,” he added.
Yemeni academic Jumeh said Saleh is on an “adventure” by his current alliance with the Houthis. “Saleh and the Houthis are using each other for different goals.” If the Houthis eventually triumph they would likely turn against Saleh, he said.
In a column published on this website last week, Al Arabiya’s General Manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed explains the history of Saleh’s relationship with the Houthis.
“Saleh invented the Houthis; he turned them into a dangerous political and religious group when originally they were simply a tribal group. He resorted to the excuse of having to religiously educate the Houthis and sent some of them to Iran to be recruited to work against his neighbor, Saudi Arabia,” al-Rashed wrote.
He further explained that Saleh was “still actively” working to sabotage the post-revolution political process “by inciting strife and buying loyalties so as to return to power.”
Almeida said that recent reports that the U.N. Security Council was moving to impose sanctions on Saleh were a strong indication that there is evidence the former president “is working to undermine Yemen’s political transition.”
“It was probably a mistake for the international backers of Yemen’s political transition not to have forced Saleh to leave Yemen for good,” Almeida said.
“But that would not have been something easy to achieve,” Almeida added.