Yemen’s longest serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh is no more! If news of his death may have left many to rejoice at the demise of a man they perceived as a tyrant – an opportunist hungry for power and wealth, Yemen’s former strongman nevertheless spoke for a vast demographic, both a power-broker, and bridge in between those parties which might not otherwise have addressed each other, nevermind consider compromising with one another.
Yemen’s longest serving president is no more and Yemen’s arduous road towards political self-determination, peace, and independence might have grown more sinuous and terrible yet.
News broke on Monday of former President Saleh’s death following a tumultuous few days – days which saw conflicting narratives as to the future of Yemen, days which saw both Yemen’s figureheads: Seyed Abdel Malek al-Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh level accusations against one another and in one final blow disappear what had been a tentative alliance.
For all intents and purposes Yemen’s Resistance movement has now shrunk to one faction, one position, one political line: that held by the Houthis.
If Yemen’s political landscape has been streamlined to one powerful consensus, the nation’s future has never appeared murkier, or more fraught with dangers.
Regardless of what people may have thought of former President, beyond the many grave allegations levelled against his regime, and those powers he helped propped over the decades, Saleh nevertheless held in his hands the promise of a political settlement. He may well have been despised by many of his contemporaries, but no one better than Saleh had the ability to architect a bridge in between warring parties.
Tarek Radwan wrote on the now deceased president: “Saleh leaves a complicated legacy. As the only president who ruled over a unified Yemen, his governing style was often characterized by corruption, mismanagement, and factionalism. He reportedly amassed billions in wealth as he pitted his political competitors against each other.”
Whatever his intentions may have been – whether out of greed, or a cunning sense of political survival amid fast-changing dynamics, Saleh still offered a strategic way out of Yemen’s war, Yemen’s famine, Yemen’s humanitarian blackhole … That door has now been closed shut, only to open the war-torn nation to tribal calls of revenge with sectarian undertone.
26 million people now sit ransom to calls of further bloodshed.
“I will lead the battle until the last Houthi is thrown out of Yemen … the blood of my father will be hell ringing in the ears of Iran,” Ahmed Ali Saleh was quoted as saying by Saudi-owned al-Ekhbariya TV. He called for his father’s backers to “take back Yemen from the Iranian Houthi militias”.
There can be no winner to Yemen’s new feud – not when it is played on the back of a humanitarian blockade and vengeful Saudi military campaign that has left the country’s institutions in tatters.
Political victory today will be spelt in the blood of the innocent … a difficult play to back if we consider that an entire generation stands to be claimed by famine, cholera, or diphtheria.
What now? What future awaits Yemen now that another battle line has been drawn in its sands?
While of course a case is to be made to Yemen’s Resistance movement and those men and women who, for three years, have stood through fire and lead to affirm their right to political self-determination and sovereign independence, pragmatism would also dictate to caution against political isolation.
A nation, however righteous and legitimate its cause maybe cannot stand alone against a world coalition, not without allowing for some measure of good-will – whether we like it or not Saleh was that measure of good will. His political traction, and the factions he held to his name could have permitted for negotiations to resume at a time when Saudi Arabia was looking for a way out of Yemen’s quicksand.
Although evidently there is no way of knowing whether Saleh could have made good on his promises for peace, the uncertainty his death leaves behind is more than a little troubling.
With no third party to break Saudi Arabia’s momentum, Yemen may face its toughest night yet.
If Ahmed Saleh’s language is anything to go by, it is rather evident that Yemen, and all Yemenis have now been sold to Saudi Arabia’s irrational sectarian narrative. With Muhammad bin Salman sitting at the wheel of THAT bus, one must recoil in fear of what may yet pass.
The art of conflict resolution we may want to remember is not to be right absolutely or in a vacuum but to mitigate conflicting ambitions to find a palatable solution away from war.
Yemenis have suffered too severely for anyone to be so cavalier as to dismiss the impact Saleh’s death will have on the people. This new crisis is not about the death of a would-be dictator, or even a system, but the unravelling of dynamics which could lead to an escalation in hostility.
As of December 4, Yemen has entered a new phase in its war against Saudi Arabia, a war that could carry the seeds of civil and tribal unrest now that Riyadh has a weapon to level at Yemen by way of ‘political retribution’.
Catherine Shakdam is the Director of Programs of the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.