Saleh’s death leaves Yemen in limbo

Sanaa

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The murder of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis on Dec. 4, 2017, as he tried to flee Sanaa, left the country, wracked by a bloody civil war for three years, in limbo.

Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years until 2012, when he was forced to step down after a series of demonstrations in 2011 on the streets of Sanaa by Arab Spring activists calling for more democracy, and because of pressure from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

On Dec. 2, 2017, Saleh stated in a TV interview that he was ready to start negotiating with Saudi Arabia. Despite being a strong ally of the Saudis for more than 30 years, Saleh, in a turnaround in 2014, allied himself with his former enemies the Houthi rebels. These are Zaydis, a Shiite strand of Islam, and make up only 30 percent of the population. They have the support of Iran, which made them instant enemies of the Saudis.

In September 2014, the Houthis took control of Sanaa with the help of forces allied to Saleh, forcing President Abdo Rabbo Hadi to flee to Aden in the south and then to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. This triggered the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition to defeat the Houthis and put Hadi back in control of the country.

Saleh’s interview was the signing of his own death sentence. His disappearance from the scene has left both sides of this civil war in limbo, not knowing what to do next. Last weekend, more than 200 people from the intelligentsia linked to Saleh disappeared from the streets of Sanaa, forcibly taken away by the Houthis, Nasser Wedaddy, an analyst, told me in an interview.

The civil war has destroyed the country, which was already the poorest in the Arab world. It is estimated that almost 14,000 people have already been killed or injured. There are close to a million cases of suspected cholera; three million Yemenis are refugees within their own country, and more than 200,000 have fled to neighboring nations.

And the country is divided into three parts: the northern part and the capital controlled by the Houthis; the region of Aden, in the south controlled by forces loyal to Hadi; and much of the region of Hadramuth in the east, controlled by tribes loyal to Al-Qaeda.

Analysts say there may be a bloodbath in the capital if forces loyal to Saleh decide to avenge their leader’s death. “It will take a lot of tribal patience and control to prevent a bloodbath on the streets of Sanaa and other parts of the North,” said Elana DeLozier, director of strategy at the Emerge85 Lab research center in Abu Dhabi. “The enemies of the Houthis include Saleh’s followers; the coalition; the Ahmars (a powerful tribal family); the Salafists; the Islah party, and the General People’s Congress party; the southern resistance; and al-Qaeda. Houthis have no noticeable domestic alliance beyond some tribal support. And that does not bode well for them,” she explained.

The name of Saleh’s son — Ahmed Ali Saleh, who has so far been living in the UAE — has been cited as a possible successor to his father as Yemeni president. But Weddady and DeLozier do not think this will happen because Ahmed does not have much support in the country, and because the current vice president of the government in exile, Ali Al-Mohsen, has a powerful base of co-religionists in Yemen.

“There is a lot of talk about Ahmed coming to power with the support of the GCC, but there are many flaws in the projected scenarios. First, there is no indication that Ahmed can command the same authority as his father. Second, this scenario does not deal cleanly with the legitimate government of President Hadi and his deputy, Ali Mohsen. This has been ardently manifested against Ahmed taking power. Ahmed’s preparation by his father to take power in the future is among Mohsen’s motives to turn against Saleh in 2011. Finally, the Saudi government made many efforts to support President Hadi’s legitimacy even when it was not politically beneficial or convenient. The Saudis do not want to give the impression that they are installing a government in Sanaa,” DeLozier explained.

“Putting aside the formalities, focusing on Hadi is a mistake. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who in his way is the closest copy of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” said Weddady. “He is a very perceptive man who has considerable tribal and support networks. He has a lot of experience shaping the politics of Yemen. He’s the person I take most seriously now.”

Loyalty counts for little in Yemen. Whoever is your ally one day can easily turn into your enemy from one day to the next. Saleh was the master of this game, being first an ally of the Saudis and Americans; responsible for ordering the death of a Houthi leader in the 1990s; then allying himself with the Houthis in 2014. And this past weekend, he wanted to get back with the Saudis. “Governing Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes,” Saleh once said.

Yemen deserves an immediate ceasefire to evacuate wounded and sick civilians and allow medicines and food to enter and be distributed. The Yemenis are the most friendly and hospitable in the Arab world, but no one would believe it seeing the destruction of the country today. It is a pity that, because of a minority that wants to control the country, Yemen has been destroyed.

Iran’s pack of lies

This column was printed in Arab News on September 17, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

With the Haj pilgrimage just successfully completed in Makkah with no serious injuries this year, without any Iranian pilgrims, and with Saudi Arabia successfully fighting to stop Iranian domination of Syria and Yemen from taking place, the Iranian government has decided once again to lash out at the Kingdom.

In a shocking and sickening opinion piece for the New York Times this week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls on the world to rid the world of “Wahhabism,” using a term that we Saudis have rejected for decades. He falsely claims that Saudi money funds such extremist groups as Daesh and the Nusra Front in Syria. The whole article would be laughable if not for the sinister tone pervading it. Indeed, a British friend of mine was horrified at the piece, telling me that it sounded as if the Iranians were calling for the genocide of all Saudis.

Indeed it is highly ironic that a country that has vowed to export its Islamic Revolution since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, is now accusing Saudis of exporting conflict and death. Everyone is well aware that the Iranians were behind the formation of the Hezbollah guerilla group in Lebanon; and that their support of the Assad regime in Syria has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the civil war there, now in its fifth year.

Zarif brings up the old canard of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US as “proof” that Saudi Arabia is bent on attacking everyone. But the 9/11 Commission report found that no Saudi official gave support to the hijackers. Then he accuses Saudi money of funding extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. The Saudi government has said that some misguided individuals may have donated money to these groups and even fought for them, but that does not mean the government supports them. Far from it. Al-Qaeda and Daesh are deadly enemies of the majority of law-abiding Saudis, with both groups responsible for a string of bloody terror attacks in the country that have claimed many lives.

Zarif claims that the Kingdom is confronting Iran in all of the Middle East in order to contain Iran. That he got right. If there is one country in the region that is fanning the flames of sectarianism it is Iran with its support of Shiite militias in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. He falsely claims that Saudi Arabia pines for the return to the days when Saddam Hussein was live and in power. Saudis are not sentimental for the past, but that does not mean that they will sit quietly and allow Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen run roughshod over Sunni communities.

After all, everyone with a few brain cells realizes that the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 brought in a Shiite-majority government backed by Iran with militias that have killed, intimidated, tortured, extorted, blackmailed, kidnapped and summarily executed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians because of their sect. Even the Saudi ambassador to Baghdad has been the target of threats from Shiite militias in Iraq, who have said they would kill him.

Zarif also brings up the old accusation that the Kingdom has exported an intolerant version of Islam by funding the building of mosques and Islamic centers for Muslim communities around the world. This is patently untrue. Here in Brazil, the Kingdom has helped fund more than 50 mosques since the 1970s, most of them staffed by Egyptian imams. No extremist Muslim groups have popped up here, except for a few terrorist suspects that were arrested in July and who were influenced by Daesh through the Internet and not in local mosques.

It is cynical of Zarif to suggest at the end of his screed that the Kingdom can be part of the solution of tackling radical Islam, as if we need his permission or blessing to fight against the misguided monsters of Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

The Kingdom has never been against the Iranian people, but it will not stand still and allow the Iranian government to run roughshod over Sunni communities throughout the Arab world. Cooler heads need to prevail in Tehran to stop the current clash between the two sides, which may ignite into a conflagration much larger than the current one.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/985506/saudiarabia

Bold steps embolden nation

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, center, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, right, and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, center, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, right, and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s first 100 days in office have been marked by a series of bold decisions that have left Saudis pleasantly surprised at the measures taken after what seemed a long period over the last several years where the Kingdom just seemed to be coasting along on its reputation as the center of the Muslim world.
The unrelenting march of the Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, taking over the capital Sanaa last year and then forcing Yemeni President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia when they bombed his Aden office, moved King Salman to decide to intervene militarily in Yemen along with a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab and Muslim coalition of more than 10 nations. Critical to this decision no doubt was his son Prince Mohammad bin Salman, recently appointed the deputy crown prince, and our current defense minister. Only 30 years old, Prince Mohammad is known for his hard work and determination to get things done, and we are now seeing this in the campaign in Yemen to halt the advance of Houthi troops and reinstate the legitimate government of Hadi.

Our new Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, a youthful 55 years old, brings years of experience as interior minister fighting the scourge of Al-Qaeda, having survived an attack on his life by this nefarious terrorist group. The crown prince while being tough on the terrorists of Al-Qaeda has also realized that many of its members are disaffected youth that have been led astray by the deviant, hateful and bloody ideology spouted by the group, and therefore started a de-radicalization program run by the Ministry of Interior aimed at re-educating captured members of the group and offering them a way back into Saudi society by giving them jobs and marriage possibilities. For sure, some of the program’s participants have relapsed and returned to the folds of Al-Qaeda, but that is to be expected, as no program is 100 percent effective when it comes to ideology and what really stays in a person’s mind and heart.
Other appointments by King Salman to his Cabinet have injected new blood into the highest echelon of the Saudi government, giving a much younger generation of Saudis the chance to have a say in how the country is governed. My good friend Adel Al-Toraifi, who is only 36, is now the culture and information minister. I was very glad to hear of his appointment, remembering our many conversations about Middle East politics over cups of coffee whenever he used to visit Jeddah from Riyadh. Likewise, it was exciting to hear of the appointment of Adel Al-Jubeir as our new minister of foreign affairs, who at 53 is only a few years older than me. I still remember working with him at the end of the 1980s when I helped cover a Saudi exhibition for Arab News in Washington and he was just starting his career at the Saudi Embassy there.
But perhaps most intriguing have been the recent sackings of several officials by the king after they misbehaved in public and their shenanigans were caught on video and quickly posted on social media on the Internet for all to see. In April the then health minister, Ahmed Khatib, was caught on video having a heated argument with a citizen who was complaining that his sick father was getting poor treatment at a private hospital. Khatib could be heard dismissing the man’s complaints. After the clip was posted online there were many angry reactions and King Salman sacked the minister. The crown prince decided to treat the father of the man in the video.
Later in April, King Salman banned Prince Mamdouh bin Abdulrahman from speaking to all media and from taking part in any sports activities after he made racist remarks on a live sports television program against a Saudi sports journalist, denigrating him for being of foreign descent. Online commentators praised the king for his action, saying that it showed that all Saudis should be treated the same and with respect. Indeed, in March King Salman stressed how all Saudis are the same in a speech he gave: “There are no differences among Saudi people or areas,” he said. “We are determined to address the roots of the divergences and the causes of divisions so that we can eliminate the categorization of the society in a way that harms national unity. All Saudis are equal in rights and duties,” he said.
This month the king replaced the head of royal protocol after the official was caught on camera slapping a photojournalist in the face at the airport in Riyadh when he was covering the arrival of Morocco’s King Mohammad VI. Happening just a few meters away from where King Salman was warmly greeting the Moroccan king, Mohammad Al-Tibaishi, the royal protocol official in question, was caught on camera slapping the journalist. While I know that journalists can be quite pushy and aggressive while trying to cover such important events, nothing ever justifies physical violence in such circumstances.
With all of these actions, King Salman is showing immense resolve to show the Kingdom’s determination to defend its strategic and national interests by intervening in Yemen and sacking Saudi officials who disrespect the Saudi people. This has given much pride and hope to the average Saudi citizen, who feels happy that the Saudi leadership is taking charge of our country’s destiny instead of allowing it to be too affected by foreign powers. We are a strong nation that can and should decide its own future. The time has come and all Saudis should rise to the challenge.
We’ve had too many years of complaining and expecting that others will solve our problems. We can do it ourselves, and we should be proud that we are able to do so.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/744761

A tough task ahead in Yemen

A Houthi militiaman sits at a tank near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen.

A Houthi militiaman sits at a tank near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen.

This is my column that was printed in Arab News on January 25, 2015:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

After days of bloody clashes this week between the militias of the Houthi rebels and government forces in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital — which included bombing the presidential palace and laying siege to it, leaving President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi stuck inside for days — Hadi was forced to accede to the demands of Houthis. He granted greater participation to the rebel movement in all military and civilian agencies, and in return the group promised to withdraw from strategic areas of the capital and to release the presidential chief of staff who they had kidnapped on Saturday.

The president also promised to review a draft Constitution that would divide the country into six new administrative regions. The Houthis claimed that they felt aggrieved and disadvantaged in the new plan. Then on Thursday night, with no withdrawal of Houthi forces from key installations in the capital as had been promised, Hadi and his entire Cabinet resigned, saying they were too frustrated to continue.

But we have seen all of this before in September 2014 when the Houthis brutally swept into the capital, killing 300 people and demanding that the Hadi government share power with them. Cornered and scared, and after weeks of clashes, the president agreed and signed an agreement with the Houthis. The rebels took control of various ministries and financial institutions, but continued to remain excluded from other centers of power. In his reluctance in sharing power, Hadi has the support of other Sunni political parties in the country, which do not want to share their power with the Houthis, which as Shiites make up only 30 percent of the population.

The Houthis insist that there was no coup, but when you use heavy weapons against the president’s palace; attack the president’s guards; keep him prisoner in his palace for days, and take control of state TV and radio stations, what should one call it then?
The only person I heard in Yemen have the courage to say it was a coup was the now ex-Minister of Information Nadia Al-Sakkaf in an interview by phone with a CNN correspondent in Sanaa on Tuesday night.

US naval forces intercepted ships with Iranian weapons off of the Yemeni coast in 2012, proving that Iranian military support was being given to the Houthis.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) accused the Houthis of a coup against the legitimate authority in Yemen, and warned that the Gulf countries would “take all necessary measures to protect their security and stability, and their vital interests in Yemen.” They even offered to send a mediator to Sanaa to help in negotiations between Hadi and the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia has been the main source of foreign aid to Yemen for the last few decades, providing generous amounts of oil and other aid. This financial assistance has been almost completely stopped since September 2014 when the Houthis took control of Sanaa.
Hadi has also been a major ally of Washington, an enthusiast of the US drone program that kills targets of the Al-Qaeda. With $1.4 billion in American aid already spent in Yemen since 2009 in economic and military aid, and an additional $232 million scheduled to be disbursed this year, the administration of President Barack Obama is very reluctant to call what is happening in Yemen now a coup because under US law any aid from Washington has to be suspended if there is a military coup in a country. So get ready for verbal acrobatics from American officials in the coming weeks in order to not call a coup “a coup.”

Beyond the threat of Houthis, Yemen also faces a secessionist movement in the south, and the brutality of Al-Qaeda. The audacity of the Houthis and their use of force show that there is not much room to negotiate with them. They want more power, period. Certainly Iran is behind this sudden show of action and courage and it is buying an ugly fight with the Gulf countries and the US.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/694431

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