Ali Saleh finally gets his revenge in Yemen

Ali Saleh finally gets his revenge in Yemen
3 min read
26 Mar, 2015
Comment: In a re-run of events 21 years ago, Ali Abdullah Saleh has been behind the Houthis' assault on President Hadi and the institutions of the state.
Saleh still has support among the people of Yemen [AFP]

Anyone who knows Yemen at all would have seen this coming.

Ali Abdullah Saleh has returned to the centre of the political stage to retaliate against those who overthrew him nearly four years ago.

The past two days have seen the former president launch his troops on an invasion of the south, in a re-run of the events of 21 years ago.

This time, the assault was against Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the legitimate president - the intention either to drive him out of Aden or to eliminate him altogether.

No accident

Saleh had given fair warning. He told his supporters two weeks ago that he intended to do this. It is no secret that the sequence of events that have since taken place was designed and carried out, from start to finish, by the former president, for three reasons.

The first is that Saleh rejected, through his General People's Congress, any political solution to the crisis. When the United Nations proposed relocating the Yemeni dialogue to Doha, he was the first to oppose the idea, realising that he would have no role in whatever was decided.

Second, Saleh understands the complex political situation in the south in detail. And he has strong pockets of support in parties and tribes there which date back to the unification of south and north in 1990.

     Today, Saleh has revived the same scenario he laid out for the invasion of the South in 1994.

Today, Saleh has revived the same scenario he laid out for the invasion of the South in 1994 against his partner in unity, Ali Salem al-Bid.

Look closely and we see that the internal and external details are almost the same: a weak domestic front in the south on the military level and a lack of an effective Arab and international role to defend it from invasion.

The third reason is that Saleh today still commands the largest professional military force - on land, sea and air - in Yemen, with modern weaponry.

Despite the revolution, and the great changes it brought about, these forces have remained united and still take orders from Saleh and his son, Ahmad, commander of the Saddam-inspired Republican Guard.

Confronting this force are the disorganised and under-equipped southern military brigades, whose weakness also stems from Saleh's discrimination against them after the 1994 Civil War.

Then there is also the militia Hadi himself recently formed, its troops coming from his home region, Abyan.

Ineffective opposition

Southern and northern tribes have recently supported Hadi but they have not been effective on the ground. In the final analysis, these forces combined could only fail against a regular army, aided by the Houthi militias and Iran.

The Houthis are the spearhead, true enough, but we must not be deceived. They are unfamiliar with the terrain of the South and, besides, they do not posses enough military power to control such a vast geographical area where they lack combat experience.

Had they been alone in the battle, they would surely have thought better of embarking on such a military adventure. They had been inclined towards participation at the Doha summit called for by the UN before resorting to a military option. It was reportedly Saleh who convinced them otherwise and facilitated the operation for them.

The 1994 invasion scenario is repeating itself today.

Saleh is trying to turn the tables in Aden, just as he did in Sanaa last September. The domestic and regional calculations of today, however, are different.

Besides, a repeat of what happened then in Sanaa is not guaranteed - in light of a massive uprising and popular mobilisation in the South, as well as regional intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.