How Saleh’s murder unites the Yemenis

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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If President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed five days ago, the Saudi-led coalition and the legitimate government would have been blamed. However he was killed by the Houthis after he announced the end of his alliance with them. By killing Saleh, the Houthis have practically become rivals to all of Yemen’s components as Saleh was their only patriotic card and their political front before the Yemenis and the world. Saleh dramatically changed the map of war in Yemen when he said in a televised speech that he accepts the reconciliation. His assassination will thus not halt the new change he imposed.

The question now is can the late president manage the battle from his grave and confront the Houthis and ally with the legitimate government? What I mean can his institutions, alliances and men who have been loyal to him and to his instructions and ideas as result of his influence that lasted for four decades go on? What we know is that attempts to cancel Saleh have all failed in the past as even after he was forced to quit due to popular protests, he continued to be a leader. After the assassination attempt against him at al-Nahdayn mosque, everyone thought his role was over. He spent months being treated from burns in a military hospital in Riyadh. He surprised everyone after he returned and resumed governing Sanaa and managing political and military battles. This is why the Houthis finally decided to kill him – not to avenge because he turned against them but because he’s capable of destroying their political project.


Changing the game

A few days ago he altered the map of the war when he ended his alliance with the Houthis and decreased the number of the legitimate government’s enemies to half while areas controlled by the armed opposition shrank. Saleh abandoned the enemies’ camp and joined the allies’. This would have expedited the Houthis’ defeat and ended the main war. However Saleh’s murder aims to reshuffle the deck and suspend the reconciliation project. Since we know that assassinating Saleh aims to thwart the reconciliation, we must work on making it succeed.

What the late president did in the last four days of his life is the most important development since the war began three years ago. It will strengthen operations to push the Houthis and besiege them in their areas north of Yemen, that is if commanders of Saleh’s army that are participating in the fighting decide to join the ranks of the Yemeni army.

If President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed five days ago, the Saudi-led coalition and the legitimate government would have been blamed. However he was killed by the Houthis after he announced the end of his alliance with them

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

In the past days, Saleh tried to liberate Sanaa which has been occupied by the rebels since 2014 when military and security institutions were defeated without any resistance worth mentioning. But what about the extent of the Houthis’ power in Sanaa today? It was said they are the strongest party and that any attempt to get them out would have caused a bloody war between the two sides. It was difficult to figure out the truth but assassinating Saleh proved that the Houthis are an influential power. In the past Sanaa was Saleh’s fort and the Houthis could not enter it and occupy it unless after his approval. However, aver since they entered it, they worked on seizing arms’ warehouses, buying loyalties and planning for the day when they confront their ally Saleh, and perhaps assassinate him and control the capital.

The new reality is decisive and dangerous and requires the entrance of the Yemeni army and the coalition forces to enter Sanaa and work with Saleh’s forces that are in shock. The people in Sanaa and Saleh’s forces have great interest in engaging in a war to restore their city from the Houthis. In a televised speech, the late president called for lifting the siege and opening the airports for military and civil purposes and passages for aid convoys and trade activity. It’s not possible to do so after Saleh’s assassination and the only way to achieve this is to form a new alliance with Saleh’s forces and deter the Houthis in Sanaa.

Sanaa will be rehabilitated faster and it will restore its role as the country’s administrative capital if the reconciled parties agree on how to manage it. Sanaa’s residents, leaders of the General People’s Congress and commanders of Saleh’s forces must realize the importance of change which Saleh adopted and eventually got killed for. They must defend his decision and his project.

What about the savage wolves, i.e. the Houthis? They succeeded in getting rid of Saleh, their new enemy, and obstructing his plan. However they’re done as decision makers in this big war. Their hope to influence the shape of the governing political system is over. The Houthis went from being partners in governance to murderers of Saleh. It’s a crime they cannot justify. After losing Saleh, they’ve become nothing more than Iran’s militias against the Yemenis.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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