Al-Sabah Al-Yemeni | follow up |
Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president, has the markings of a man who has managed to survive one of the most politically toxic countries in the region.
A willingness to work with former enemies, an oratory style likening him to the masses and a knack of surrounding himself with the faces of a menacing entourage, were all on display as he addressed a crowd of supporters on Sunday.
His speech in Sana’a had two messages: celebrating 35 years of the foundation of his political party, the General People’s Congress and a threat directed to his “enemies”, including several of his former allies.
Saleh spelled out his warnings not like a deposed autocrat, but “in a brotherly way, from among you, from me to the Yemeni streets,” he said.
His sentences at times prompted the audience to erupt into chants of “in blood to defend Yemen”, while others triggered laughter from a hall full of supporters brandishing khanjars, the traditional dagger worn as an accessory but sharpened nonetheless at times like these.
This was a far cry from the man to whom he was responding. In the first sign that their alliance was breaking, Abdul Malek Al Houthi, the Houthi leader, had a day earlier attempted to criticize Saleh but failed to mention him by name.
In contrast, two minutes into Saleh’s speech he addressed Al Houthi directly. The former president then spent the rest of his 15-minute talk bashing the Houthis’ attempts to supersede his authority and concluded by expressing a willingness to break away from their alliance, which has proved so essential to his survival.
Saleh still had the loyalty of large sections or Yemen’s military, which he threw behind the Houthis as they took control of large sections of the country and marched south towards Aden. By March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition, which included the UAE, intervened in support of Mr Hadi and drove the Houthis from much of the south.
The alliance was a marriage of convenience, one that Saleh used for survival and now views, perhaps prematurely during the 35-year celebration of his party, as no longer necessary.
“I think it is the one thing that we all see coming. This is an alliance of convenience to get rid of common enemies,”.
The falling out between the two sides is likely to progress the political negotiations. While the Houthis publicly say they want an end to the war, the conflict provides scapegoat for the complete deterioration of the Houthis controlled areas.
Saleh, and his party, however might be open to political settlement given certain guarantees.
“He knows people are fed up with the Houthis cruelty and their corruption and he is capitalizing on that,” Ms Dawsari said.
Whether the schism will open the way to a resumption of peace talks, the coming together of Saleh and the Houthis has contributed to Yemen descending into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the region’s recent history.
“Where are the salaries?” Mr Saleh asked on Sunday, as he detailed the Houthis’ economic mismanagement in areas under their control.
Such criticism may have come too late for the Yemeni population suffering through years of devastating conflict.