The Houthis killed former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in cold blood only three days after his announcement to cease his alliance with them, an alliance which lasted three years, the age of the dark coup against Yemeni legitimacy. Saleh’s tragic death provided an additional lesson that once again revealed the danger of supporting, embracing and raising killers affiliated with Islamic groups. The conclusion of this lesson indicates that the attempt to benefit from extremists in Arab political life produces only tales of destruction, devastation and treachery, and that tampering with this matter will always have dire consequences. All evidence, old and new, warns against playing with the fire of political Islam and extremist groups, which are pursuing treachery, killing and self-atonement, and make violence the agenda that drives its movements and reactions.
It is regrettable that the killing of the former President of Yemen in such a barbaric way by the Houthi gang has turned into the repetitive lesson about the impossibility of relying upon Islamists of any sect. They can never be trusted, because the very approach of extremism is based on legitimizing the destruction of nations and justifying violence and treason.
The Houthis were certain that Saleh’s revolt against them from within Sana’a would inevitably lead to the rise of resistance and their popularity would increase, especially in the tribal areas surrounding the capital. According to observers of the history of modern Yemen, the Yemeni tribal region always waits for signs of a pending victory, and at the last minute, take the side of the prospective winner, but the Houthis were quick to get rid of Saleh in order to block any major uprising against them that would have, if developed, eliminated their coup. Through information being circulated about the last moments of the life of the former Yemeni President, all stories come to the conclusion that the Houthis were instructed to kill him immediately after his arrest. It seems that it was an Iranian order that relied on taking the utmost precautionary measures to prevent the end of the authority of the Houthis, after talks about returning Sana’a to the embrace of Arabism became a nightmare that alarmed Tehran.
Although the Houthis have accumulated an extensive criminal record during the recent period as a result of their domination of Yemenis in the areas they control, the assassination of Saleh remains the most horrific incident of their time. Although Ali Abdullah Saleh ran a corrupt regime that left Yemen in a state of poverty and chaos, the Houthis now run a more corrupt and criminalized regime that robs and kills Yemenis and spreads backward thinking and ignorance among their ranks.
Saleh’s political experience is similar in many ways to that of the late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, who unleashed political Islamist groups in order to counter currents opposed to his rule, and later falling victim to the very same groups. Ali Abdullah Saleh, however, had a very different history with the snakes of extremism. He once even described the ruling of Yemen as dancing on the heads of snakes, until his fate came to an abrupt end, although he had already survived several assassination attempts, the last in 2011 during the outbreak of protests against his rule. Saleh continued to control the details of the Yemeni scene through the tribal and religious balancing act, and many times used the weapon of political Islam to confront his rivalries. Therefore, all extremist movements in Yemen benefited from his style in playing the balancing game, including the Houthis who first appeared under the name of the “Believing Youth” who used to receive generous support from Saleh’s regime, which needed them to ease the Brotherhood’s infiltration. They rushed after Yemeni unity to participate in political life and increase their ambitions to the limit of Saleh’s anger, so he stood against them; but he never imagined that they would kill him one day and even put difficult conditions on the handing over and burial of his body!
There are some who believe that Saleh’s uprising against the Houthis in his last days has ended his career with a courageous attitude, while others believe that he was forced to this uprising after losing influence in the Yemeni arena, which its historic capital is controlled by putschists that receive their orders from Tehran. Saleh, in that sense, was not able to control their options or to employ them to his advantage. The assassination of another Arab president by an extremist religious group will remain a costly lesson that the support to extremist groups must stop!
Al Mezmaah Studies & Research Centre
11 December 2017