Ali Abdullah Saleh's call for talks with the Saudi-led coalition is a turning point in the war
The rupture of an unholy alliance in Yemen is necessary to end its suffering
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the man who was defenestrated as Yemeni president in 2011 after more than two decades in power, is a weathervane. From his turns can be inferred the direction of the winds in Yemen. That is why his decision to break ties with the Houthis could signify the beginning of the end of the war in Yemen.
The prosperity that Yemenis yearned for after the revolution that resulted in Mr Saleh’s exit quickly dissolved into a long ordeal when the deposed president entered into an unholy alliance of convenience with the Houthi rebels. Thanks to the support of Mr Saleh’s loyalists, after invading Sadaa, Yemen’s northernmost province, the Iran-backed Houthis militia barrelled their way south, seizing the capital city in 2014 and detaining members of the country’s legitimate and internationally recognised government. Mr Saleh was instrumental in the Houthis’ triumphs but no victory could ever cement the cracks in what was always a self-serving coalition. When Mr Saleh’s supporters defied a ban by the Houthis against large processions with a public rally in August last year, the writing was already on the wall.
The clashes on the streets of Yemen over the last few days between Houthis and Mr Saleh’s supporters were indicative of the Houthis' time running out. That moment finally arrived with Mr Saleh announcing on television that he is willing to ditch the Houthis and talk to the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s internationally recognised government. Together, he said, “we will turn the page”. Yemenis will welcome this development, not because they are enamoured of their former president but because they can finally hope to have law and order restored. The Tehran-backed militia, along with Mr Saleh’s forces, have ransacked and devastated Yemen, wreaked havoc on its economy, let disease run rife and detained, tortured and killed thousands.
After revolution, Yemenis had hoped for a peaceful transition to a unity government. Instead an aggressive occupying force has laid waste to their country for three years; it has failed in every aspect of governance. Such was their chokehold over the nation that ordinary Yemenis were prevented from travelling to Mecca to perform the Hajj. No one will mourn the Houthis’ fall. But in this moment of hope, we must not forget the suffering endured by ordinary Yemenis, millions of whom were left to starve, or the sacrifices of Emirati and Saudi soldiers as they fought to restore governance to Yemen. The Houthis, though weakened, remain an aggressive force, as evidenced by their claim on Sunday to have fired a missile at the UAE. It was the empty, desperate lie of a militia anticipating defeat. But it was also a reminder that the conflict in Yemen is not over until its government is restored.
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