The Curse of Ali Abdullah Saleh: Yemen Is At The Edge Of A Dangerous Precipice
07 April 2015
By By Diana Moukalled
Following the ouster of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, I
visited Yemen twice, with my last visit coming just over three months ago.
During those visits I always noticed his old pictures, still hanging in
Sana'a, though some had been ripped up and damaged, others their colors faded
with age. Months passed following his departure from power, and yet during a
short walk through the Old City in Sana'a you would still be able see those
old pictures, obstinately refusing to go away.
Like the colors in those pictures, Saleh's power may have faded somewhat, but
he remains, as they do, ''stuck on the walls,'' so to speak, for despite
being ousted in 2011 after 33 years in power, his influence remains. I don't
think it would be too much to say that Saleh is the person most responsible
for this current dangerous moment in the country's history.
Saleh remained in Yemen following his ouster in 2011, and the political road
map laid for the country did not stipulate that he be tried in court. So he
stayed, and continued to pursue his activities in the political and security
spheres, as well as appearing regularly in the media, offering stinging
critiques of the political power in the country which filled the vacuum his
departure had created—as though he had not had a hand in the problems that he
was lambasting the new government and president for failing to solve.
In recent leaked audio recordings of Saleh, we can hear him inciting some of
those military and security leaders still loyal to him against the Yemeni
people, whom he also insults during the recordings. We can also hear him
vowing to ''destroy everything beautiful'' in the country. I think the only
appropriate response to such comments would be one of concern and
anger—though also ridicule: for Saleh did not leave much in the country
during his 33 years in power for him to destroy now, whether beautiful or not
(this is nowhere more evident than in the following example: after an attempt
on his life three years ago, Yemen's president was not able to find any
adequate medical care in the country and had to go and seek treatment
abroad). All of this proves that the man did nothing in those three awful
decades in charge of the country except consistently hoard its
wealth—billions of dollars of it, if we are to believe some of the
estimates—for himself, despite his people being among the poorest and
neediest in the world today.
The recent coup in Yemen, staged by the Iran-backed Shi'ite Houthi movement,
could not have taken place without Saleh's assistance and support. We see
proof of this—again—in leaked recordings and in the way some of the country's
army and security services still loyal to him so openly aided the advance of
Houthi militias across Yemen and refused to protect the country's legitimate
and internationally recognized president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This
involvement was at its most obvious, and brazen, when Houthi militias
attacked Aden in the last few days.
Hundreds of thousands died during the six armed conflicts Saleh waged against
the Houthis during his three decades in power, but this did not stop him from
putting his bloody hands in theirs after he had lost power, all in a
desperate bid to gain it back and diminish that of Hadi's, whose authority
was already weak and fragile.
In the end it seems that Saleh's recent actions are nothing but an act of
revenge against the Yemeni people who so bravely overthrew him in 2011. Among
those targeted by him for special treatment are some major tribal families
like the Al Ahmar, who had such an instrumental hand in mobilizing mass
protests against his rule.
Everything that has happened in the country since last year clearly shows him
as seeking to drive the country into the abyss. ''Destroy everything
beautiful,'' he tells those military leaders in the recordings. No more
fitting tribute for the man could be found.
Yemen is at the edge of a dangerous precipice. If the regional players have
any power left to help the situation in the country, they must first and
foremost make sure that when Yemen finally turns a new page, Ali Abdullah
Saleh's name is nowhere to be seen.
Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the
Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked
Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs
on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana
also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and
in Afghanistan, as well as the Isreali "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern
Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained world wide recognition and was named one of
the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in