Whoever Benefits from Saleh's Death, it Will Not be the Yemeni People

Published December 4th, 2017 - 03:27 GMT
Houthi rebel fighters are seen outside of the residence of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
Houthi rebel fighters are seen outside of the residence of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

by Rosie Alfatlawi

After one of the key players in Yemen’s war was reported killed on Monday, opinion was split as to what it could mean for the conflict going forward. There was one thing everyone agreed on: it is a “big deal.”

But with over 10,000 dead and millions on the brink of famine, will Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death really prove decisive or just prolong the stalemate and the suffering of Yemeni civilians?

The former president, who had allied with the Houthis against current President Abdrabbuh Hadi and his Saudi-led backers in 2015, last week split from the rebels. Sanaa descended into violence over the weekend as Saleh loyalists fought their former allies.

The Houthis, whose media announced Saleh’s death, certainly seem to think it is in their favor.

"The interior ministry announces the end of the crisis of militias and the killing of their leader and a number of his criminal supporters," reported the Houthi's official Al-Masirah television.

On social media, some saw this as a blow for the Saudi-led coalition.

Certainly, Saleh’s offer on Saturday to “turn a new page” had been welcomed by the coalition, with Hadi also issuing a statement saying this could “unify everyone against the coup militia.” 

“If this is true [then the] Houthis [have] won the war as Saleh's exit from the anti-Hadi front was the last card in the hands of the Saudis,” tweeted @Russ_Warrior.

@ThePollIndex suggested that the Saudis will now “face a direct threat from the Houthis” after having “tried piggybacking on Saleh to serve their purpose.”

If Saleh’s comments on Saturday had suggested an end to the conflict was in sight, his death seems to indicate the opposite. Anything lengthening the war is unlikely to be in the interests of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

In August, leaked emails had suggested the Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman “wants out” of the war in Yemen. Analysts have called the Saudi intervention a “strategic failure.”

Still, what happens now considerably depends on whose side Saleh’s loyalist forces take.

“Houthis are nothing without Saleh and his loyal forces, who will likely [now] join the coalition or fight the Houthis directly,” @Sa7awi tweeted.

“Killing Saleh might be beginning of the end of Houthis,” he concluded.

“Now that Saleh is dead his entire support base will be thrown into disarray,” added @SunniSaeed.

“So either those who were with Saleh will now disband or join the Houthis. Hopefully it’s the former.”

Given that they had been fighting the Houthis in Sanaa for the best part of a week, it seems unlikely they will return to being allies.

@Ferjani9arwi suggested that the Saudis “would cement [their] alliance with Saleh’s kin [...] now without [the] risk [they] change sides again…”

Indeed, reports of continued battles on the streets of the Yemeni capital following Saleh’s death seem to confirm that.

Whichever of the warring parties gain the upper hand following Saleh’s death, prolonged conflict and intensified fighting will mean that ordinary Yemenis are the real losers.

As @rafsanchez tweeted, "The focus will be on Saleh but don't forget the desperate people in Sanaa caught up in this." 

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