Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was President of Yemen for decades and once compared governing the country to « dancing on the heads of snakes, » was killed on Monday at the age of 75. His death will instantly transform the political landscape in Yemen, a country that’s been gripped by conflict for three years.
Saleh’s death redraws Yemen’s landscape, sharpens Saudi-Iran rivalry
Saleh was killed amid clashes with his erstwhile allies in Yemen — the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. He had joined forces with the Houthis in 2014, prompting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to launch an offensive against what was never more than a marriage of convenience.
For Saleh, the marriage had recently become inconvenient. On Saturday he declared he was calling on « the brothers in neighboring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded. »
« In return, » he promised, « we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighborliness. »
The Houthis’ political office immediately accused Saleh of staging a coup against « an alliance he never believed in, » and warned that Saudi Arabia and its allies would « pay a heavy price in their own capitals » — not the first time it has threatened attacks in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Clashes between militias loyal to Saleh and Houthi gunmen have worsened an already grave humanitarian situation. More than 100 people have been killed since the fighting began, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross — and two hospitals in Sanaa were « running critically low » of supplies.
The exact circumstances of Saleh’s death are unclear, but it will set off a bitter struggle for control of Sanaa. Saleh’s supporters are led by his nephew Tareq Moahmmed Saleh, the former head of Yemen’s special forces. The Houthis are effective fighters from northern Yemen who survived multiple offensives by Saleh when he was President. But they now face even more enemies, as well as airstrikes by Saudi and UAE forces.
Much will now depend on whether Saleh’s allies around Sanaa are able to evict the Houthis, or whether street-by-street battles cause even more destruction.(cnn)