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Saleh’s revolt could doom Al Houthis in Yemen

Al Houthis lose control of key military posts, ministries and provinces in northern Yemen

Al Mukalla: Yemen’s ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh cashed in on growing popular discontent against Al Houthis to revolt against his former allies. The deadly clashes on Saturday have officially put an end to the uneasy three-year alliance that enabled the Iran-backed militia to take control of Sana’a in late 2014, political and military analysts said. 

With astonishing speed, Saleh’s forces tightened their grip on many key government and military institutions in Sana’a, and killed and arrested hundreds of Al Houthis.

“Saleh has exploited public resentment against Al Houthis to lobby people against them,” Yasser Al Yafae, a political analyst based in Aden, told Gulf News.

For the first time since seizing Sana’a power, Al Houthi militia lost control of key military posts, several ministries and some provinces in northern Yemen.

Powerful tribes that surround the capital, who have long been credited for making or breaking the fate of Sana’a, also threw their weight behind Saleh’s forces and cut off roads to Sana’a.  

Al Houthi defeats in the capital is a signal that the once powerful movement is fading, analysts said. 

Major Mohsen Khasrouf, the chief of Yemen’s Armed Forces Moral Guidance Department, said on Sky News Arabia that there was growing anger against Al Houthis’ corruption, and three years of clashes with government forces and air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have eroded Al Houthi military power. “The successful blows by the national army forces have killed thousands of their militants, including important leaders,” Khasrouf said.

Tension between Saleh and Al Houthis came out into the open in August when Saleh’s supporters announced a massive rally in the capital to mark the anniversary of the General People’s  Congress.

Al Houthis deemed the big gathering a threat to their power, and accused Saleh of stabbing them in the back. Brief clashes erupted in Sana’a and Al Houthis subsequently flexed their muscles by arranging a military parade in Saleh-controlled areas.

Al Houthis also accused Saleh’s miliry relatives of preparing for a war by opening military camps where hundreds of fighters were being trained and sent to the capital, instead of the battlefields. 

Some watchers argue that not all people who battle Al Houthis in Sana’a or other provinces are loyal to ousted president. Some of them are tribesmen or military officials who were sidelined or mistreated by Al Houthis.

“Al Houthis are paying a price for challenging the people. Their aggressive conduct has eroded their grassroots support,” Abdullah Esmail, a political analyst, told Sky News Arabia.

Thousands of activists have been detained or forced to flee the country since the beginning of the Al Houthi coup against the international-recognised president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. They closed media outlets and sentenced some dissidents to death. 

But the last straw, analysts said, was in the past week when Al Houthis announced the doubling of fuel prices in their territories from 200 riyals to almost 400 per a litre. The decision added more hardships to the people who suffer from disease, malnutrition and poverty. 

Unable to go to the streets, people vented their furry against Al Houthis by posting angry posts of social media, calling for revolt against Al Houthis. 

Yemen’s ousted president decided to terminate his alliance with Al Houthis when they were trying to kill his military relatives, like his nephew Tareq Mohammad Abdullah Saleh, the commander of Saleh’s special guard, and his brother Mohammad Mohammd Abdullah Saleh.

Analysts said he waited until public resentment against Al Houthis’s brutal grip of power reached its peak to declare a military revolt against them. On Saturday, shortly after Saleh ordered his supporters to take up arms, hundreds of people were seen protesting against Al Houthis for the first time in three years.  

However, analysts argue that it is too early to say that the current dramatic military changes in the capital would mark the end of Al Houthi grip of power given the rebels’ long military conflicts with different rivals. 

Esmail said the rebels might not pull out of the capital before burning it. “They might turn Sana’a to another [ruined] Taiz or Aden. This is a reckless movement,” Esmail said, adding that the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi’s government should seize the opportunity and support the public revolt against Al Houthis.

As Saleh’s force cleansed government facilities of Al Houthis, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammad Al Jaber, tweeted that Sana’a revolted against the Iran-backed Al Houthi militia in Yemen, sending an early signal that his country approved of the revolt.

Yemen’s vice president, Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, expressed his support for Saleh’s military activities in Sana’a. “We will stand by and will cooperate with any sincere Yemeni citizen to rid the country of this vicious gang,” Al Ahmar said on his official twitter feed. 

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