Sana’a: The powerful Al Houthi movement in Yemen has admitted being in contact with the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, but deny receiving any military commands from their ex-archenemy.
The admission comes in the wake of a leaked telephone conversation between Saleh and Abdul Wahed Abu Ras, a top Al Houthi commander.
Ali Al Bukhiti, a spokesperson for the movement, said on Thursday in an article published in Al Oula daily that the former president has contacted him more than 20 times since the movement gained control of the capital on September. Al Bukhiti said that Saleh was giving advice not commands.
“Saleh was telling me some military and political advice. He once contacted me to express his admiration for my interview with Azal TV.”
Broadcasted by Al Jazeera Arabic on January 21, the leaked conversation fueled non-stop debate in Yemen about the role of the former president in the ongoing unrest that shakes the country since his departure in late 2011.
In the conversation, the former president appeared to be giving military and political commands to the Al Houthi commander to take control of seaports, airports and land crossings to prevent former president, Abd Rabbou Masnour Hadi from fleeing the country.
“Control the sea, air and land crossings and do not allow any plane to take off,” Saleh told the Abu Ras.
“Definitely. Do not worry.” Al Houthi commander repeatedly replied.
Many analysts, including some pro-Houthis, think that Saleh intentionally leaked the conversation when the Al Houthis tightened their grip on the presidential palace.
Fathi Bin Lazreg, the editor of Aden-based Al Aden Al Ghad daily, said that Saleh knows for sure that the country is moving towards an election sooner or later, so he leaked the conversation to consolidate the widespread notion that he was controlling the Al Houthis from the shadows.
“Saleh wanted to send a message to the Yemenis: ‘I am controlling those people [Al Houthis]’”.
The current rapprochement between Al Houthis and Saleh has left many observers in the country baffled. Saleh was responsible for waging six bloody wars against the Al Houthis from 2004 to 2010. Saleh once bragged about killing the movement’s founder, Hussain Al Houthi and vowed to purge them from their strongholds in the northern province of Sa’ada.
Because of this secret collusion, the UN imposed sanctions on Saleh and two military commanders of the Al Houthis. The UN accused Saleh and Al Houthis of collectively attempting to undermine the transitional political process in Yemen.
Saleh denied any collaboration with Al Houthis and responded by accusing Jamal Bin Omar, UN Special Envoy to Yemen, of sending misleading reports to the United Nation Security Council.