x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Abu Dhabi not on Saleh's list

US still believed to be his preferred destination as sources refute idea of exile in the Emirates

Ali Abdullah Saleh, shown in October in Yemen, is reportedly seeking permission to move to the United States.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, shown in October in Yemen, is reportedly seeking permission to move to the United States.

DUBAI // Ali Abdullah Saleh does not wish to settle in exile in the UAE, despite reports this week that the former Yemeni president was seeking a move to Abu Dhabi with his family.

The Yemeni newspaper Al Wast reported on Wednesday that Mr Saleh wished to move to the capital along with 50 members of his family after signing a peace deal that ended his 33-year rule.

But last night, well-placed sources told The National that Mr Saleh had no interest in moving to the capital.

It was previously reported that he wanted to move to the US - and the sources said that remained his favoured destination. He is currently seeking permission to travel there for medical treatment.

Analysts say it would cause Washington severe difficulties if he were allowed to settle in the US. And wherever he eventually goes, he will come under pressure to ensure that his family and members of his regime abandon all attempts to cling to power.

"When you go on asylum it means you retire from political life, you cannot go on asylum and remain politically active as this will embarrass your host country," said Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, which has an office in Dubai.

"Exile means that you are out of political life, and this is what would be expected of Saleh whether he's in the UAE, the US or anywhere else - that would be a precondition. His family will all have to be out of there because whatever they do is going to reflect back on him, and no one will believe he has nothing to do with his sons' actions."

Yemenis living in the UAE agreed that Saleh should play no further part in politics.

Mazen, 39, who has lived here for two years, said: "It's important that once he leaves he stays away from any political activity wherever he is."

Talal Mohamed, a Yemeni who lives in Dubai, said: "Saleh should not be accepted in any country until he goes to court. Nobody should accept him after all the killing. He should go to court, and if he is found not guilty then he should be free to live wherever he wishes."

Last month, Saleh signed an agreement drafted by the GCC and backed by the UN that involved him stepping down as president in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself and his inner circle.

"It seems that Saleh and his people signed the deal with different objectives from the brokers as well as the opposition," added Mr Kahwaji.

"The opposition agreed to this under the assumption that he would retire from political life and his family would be out. But apparently what's happening now is his side is saying that this is not the case, that he is out but his family and the rest of the regime are in and will be running in elections, and nothing will actually change. This has caused problems for the brokers, particularly the US.

"It would be very problematic for the US to host a person with such a record of crimes within his country against his own people if his sons chose to stay and continue to fight."

Afshin Molavi, a senior adviser at Oxford Analytica, said he too understood that Saleh was interested only in moving to the US.

"There is a robust debate in policy circles in Washington about whether it would be a good idea to accept Saleh into the US for medical treatment," said Mr Molavi, who writes fortnightly for The National's Comment pages.

"The big fear is that if Saleh stays in the US and his side of the civil war continues fighting in the streets, the US could be branded as 'harbouring' Saleh and could be perceived as being on his side in the fighting," he said.

"Of course, this is not true, but that perception makes the Obama administration feel uncomfortable, particularly as they continually speak about being on 'the right side of history' vis à vis the Arab Spring."


* With additional reporting by Ola Salem and Amna Al Haddad