As Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, formalises his split from Al Houthi rebels, he needs to prove his credibility as a supporter of legitimate government in an inclusive Yemen. Saleh served as president for many years during which time, Yemen slowly spiralled down in a bitter cycle of poor governance, economic failure and increasing violence. He finally stepped aside and for a while appeared to accept Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the new President. However, he never really gave up his ambitions for power and ran a parallel government in Sana’a, before he and his supporters joined Al Houthis in armed conflict with the legitimate government. But his alliance with Al Houthi rebels has become increasingly troubled. It has got so bad that a senior member of Salah’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), has claimed that Al Houthis now have a blacklist of 2,000 journalists and activists of the GPC in order to target them with assassination, imprisonment or forced disappearance.
Secret talks have been going on for some time between Saleh and the Saudis and last week, Saleh proclaimed his willingness “to go to Riyadh, Khamis Mushait, Muscat or elsewhere to start a dialogue and reach an understanding. We have no choice but dialogue”. There is a very long way to go before any genuine reconciliation can happen. Saleh has changed sides so often that he will need to prove to the legitimate government that he can be a constructive part of Yemen’s future. It is a serious problem that Saleh still underlines his opposition to President Hadi and has said that Saudi Arabia would have to find a new leadership. Part of Saleh’s rehabilitation is his move to oppose Al Houthis, whom he now denounces as “extremists”.
In addition, he has told Yemen’s national broadcasting channel to attack Al Houthi aspirations and expose their affiliations with Iran, which Saleh encouraged the channel to report as selling Yemen to Tehran for a cheap price.
Yemen badly needs some stability so the people can recover from the brutal civil war. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands are in desperate trouble and close to starvation. Under the circumstances, Saleh will be doing his country a service if he can find a way to work with Hadi and create an interim administration that will allow Yemen to review its position and find a way forward to a peaceful future.