x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saleh's surprise return shows he still calls the shots

The move was a power play, analysts say, showing that Mr Saleh was still the one pulling the strings in Yemen.

SANAA // President Ali Abdullah Saleh's surprise return did not do any favours for Yemenis hoping to see the end to the political crisis that has gripped their country for the past nine months.

The move was a power play, analysts said, showing that Mr Saleh was still the one calling the shots in Yemen.

And, despite a Saudi official saying Mr Saleh returned to oversee elections, few believe he will step down from power anytime soon.

"No one expects Saleh to give a resignation speech. He refused to sign the GCC power transfer proposal because he wants power," said Ali Abdul Jabbar, the director of the Dar Al Ashraf Research Centre in Sanaa.

Mr Saleh's call yesterday for a ceasefire was seen by critics as an effort to stall for more time - another sign he has no intention of stepping down.

One opposition official described Mr Saleh's return as a surprise that no one wanted.

"It's a shame Saleh came back calling for peace in the same week that his forces killed more than 100 innocent protesters," said Ahmed Al Bahri, a leader in the opposition Haq party.

The timing of Mr Saleh's arrival is symbolic, as it comes just days before the anniversary of Yemen's revolution on September 26, 1962 - when the oppressive imamate regime was ended and it led to the founding of the republic.

One adviser of Mr Saleh's ruling party said the president does not want to be recorded in history as having been removed by a popular uprising.

"Being ousted by a revolution stamps failure in a person's history. Saleh will not allow that to happen," the adviser said.

Yemen has been in a political stalemate for months.

Three main factions are jockeying for power - Mr Saleh's family, including his son, Ahmed, who controls the feared Republican Guard; General Ali Moshen, who defected to protect protesters after security forces fired on a rally from rooftops in March; and the Sheikh Sadeq Ahmar, who leads the Hashed tribal confederation.

Two months ago, Sheikh Sadeq vowed that he will never allow Mr Saleh to return back to Yemen as long as he was alive.

Yesterday's development may force him to live up to his promise.

"Saleh's arch enemy has been the Ahmar family. It is more personal and Saleh is proving that he can handle the pressure," said Arwa Al Anesi, a political analyst in Sanaa.

"Ahmar's comments will hurt him [Saleh] politically and socially if he can't react to his promise."

But for the tens of thousands of protesters who have made it a weekly Friday ritual to gather at "Change Square" in Sanaa, Mr Saleh's return is of little consequence.

Youth protest leaders said yesterday they will continue to gather until there is new leadership in Yemen.

"Saleh did not learn a lesson from Ben Ali, Mubarak or Qaddafi," Mr Abdul Jabbar said. "Their end will all be similar though the tactics used were different."