Yemen’s rebel alliance rift continues to widen as questions arise about ex-president’s health

Saleh’s party accused the Houthis of “irresponsible terrorist practices, intellectually and politically.”

Declining player. Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (C) is surrounded by guards as he attends a rally in Sana’a, last August. (Reuters)

2017/10/22 Issue: 128 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Saleh Baidhani

Sana'a- A television interview with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh hinted at his de­sire to leave the coun­try as his health remains a focus of public concern.

The former president looked fa­tigued during the short interview. He had undergone an operation at a Sana’a hospital on October 13 after a Russian medical team was flown in to perform it, government sources said.

In the interview, Saleh said he was considering accepting an in­vitation from a Russian think-tank to attend a seminar on Yemen fo­cusing on terrorism and Yemen’s future. Asked whether he would leave Yemen for further medical treatment, Saleh said he would not.

Dismissing the interview as a farce, Yemeni political analyst Faris al-Bel said Saleh convenient­ly forgot to mention the UN travel ban against him and tried to ap­pear to be a decision-maker, con­templating whether to participate in the seminar in Russia.

The appearance was Saleh’s first interview with mainstream Yem­eni media since the operation. Re­ports said Saleh’s health had dete­riorated because of complications from a 2011 assassination attempt.

Questions regarding the former president’s health came at a time the alliance between his General People’s Congress (GPC) and the Iran-allied Houthi rebels seems to be deteriorating.

In 2015, three years after step­ping down as Yemen’s president, Saleh joined forces with his for­mer enemies and together they seized Sana’a, forcing the interna­tionally recognised government to flee. That ignited the current war, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives, UN estimates state.

The former president has, for all practical purposes, been under house arrest since August 24. A Yemeni politician said this was a turning point for Saleh, and that threats to him and his family have made him seriously consider leav­ing Sana’a for the first time since his return in September 2011.

Tensions between the two fac­tions escalated after both held ral­lies that ended in clashes. The al­tercations in Sana’a resulted in the death of Colonel Khaled al-Radhi, a member of Saleh’s inner circle and the GPC’s vice-president of ex­ternal relations. Radhi was killed at a Houthi checkpoint after an argu­ment between his convoy and the rebels escalated into a shoot-out, local reports said.

A few days after Saleh’s TV inter­view, the GPC threatened to end its alliance with the Houthis. In a statement, party Secretary-Gen­eral Arif al-Zouka accused the re­bels of monopolising the decision-making process, while targeting ministers, politicians and journal­ists affiliated with the party.

Zouka described the acts as “ir­responsible terrorist practices, intellectually and politically,” in a message on the Aden al-Ghad newspaper’s website.

“This is unequivocal evidence that you do not have a genuine de­sire to keep the partnership unless you are in full control,” he said in the letter addressed to the militia’s political council.

The situation should not be a surprise considering that the al­liance between the two factions is a marriage of convenience and that there is a long, bloody his­tory between the Houthis and the GPC. The last decade of Saleh’s 34 years as Yemen’s president saw his government constantly at war with the Iran-allied militia.

Saleh Baidhani is an Arab Weekly contributor based in Sana’a.

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