Saleh hedges his bets

Saleh hedges his bets
Analysis: Opinion over the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen divides as statements by Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress party suggests he is prepared to abandon the Houthi movement.
3 min read
27 March, 2015
Supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh's son Ahmad rallied in Sanaa on March 20 [AFP]

In what may be the first tangible outcome of the Saudi-led 'Decisive Storm' military operation in Yemen, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to be abandoning the Houthi movement. His General People's Congress party (GPC) Thursday announced it was "not part of the conflict", and that "Yemen is part and parcel of the Gulf".


Saleh and his party had been seen as main players in the conflict as allies of the Houthis. But the GPC Thursday issued a statement that could be read in several ways.

     The surprise Saudi operation has prompted Saleh to opt for appeasement.

Rejecting "foreign intervention and the attack on Sanaa, the capital city for all Yemenis", the statement also called on Gulf countries to "resume their direct role with different parties in order to reach peaceful solutions based on their initiative".


But the GPC also went on to say that, "the security of Yemen is part and parcel of the security of its brotherly Gulf countries, and it is unacceptable for any of the two parties to threaten the security and stability of the other".


In reference to Houthi-led operations in Aden, the GPC called for an end to "any military operations in Aden to spare the lives of its citizens and maintain national unity and international peace and security".


Several media outlets had reported the bombing of Saleh’s house and his loyalists’ camps, but no details were provided on damage wrought or casualties numbers. It seems that the surprise Saudi operation has prompted Saleh to opt for appeasement and an implicit repudiation of Houthis, who are now facing an open war against a 10-country alliance. If he continues his unspoken alliance with the Houthis, it will effectively render him a target.


The Islah party (Yemen’s moderate Islamist party), meanwhile, issued a neutral statement that neither welcomed nor rejected the Saudi-led operation. Instead, Islah offered condolences to the families of victims and blamed the failure of Yemen’s own dialogue.


"We express our regret over our country's current situation, which came as a result of the failure of political parties and components to reach political solutions, as some of them insist on using force to resolve their differences," the party announced Thursday.


Al-Islah also called on "all parties to be rational and prioritise national interests, as well as to immediately begin serious and responsible dialogue to stop the bloodshed of Yemeni people".


Popular and political opinion in the country appeared to be split over the intervention. Anti-Houthi parties and figures have generally welcomed the military operation, though some anti-Houthi elements, as well as Houthi supporters, have opposed the operation on principle.


Those who have protested the airstrikes say the negative impacts of any intervention will not affect the Houthis only, but will extend to the entire country, as well as relations among Yemenis themselves and countries participating in the alliance. Most agreed that any foreign intervention was negative in principle, but also blamed the Houthi movement and different political parties.


In the south, unsurprisingly, the operation elicited strong support from loyalists of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, as they managed to advance against Saleh loyalists and Houthis, some of whom withdrew following the strikes on Sanaa.


In Taiz, which saw several anti-Houthi rallies in the past few days, there was a rally supporting the military operation in Yemen.


Decisive Storm marks a major turning point since the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The strikes on the movement’s strongholds in Sanaa and Saada are an existential threat to the group, whose fate depends now on whether the alliance will continue its operations or stop at pressuring the group into withdrawing from Sanaa.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.