Questions about whether the split within the Yemen opposition was a permanent one appear to have been answered decisively Monday, when the Houthi Interior Ministry issued a statement announcing that they had killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with his party’s assistant secretary general Yasser Awadi.
The 75-year-old Saleh rose to president of North Yemen’s military-dominated government in 1978, and was the first president of unified Yemen after his conquest of South Yemen in 1990. His later rule was punctuated by violent crackdowns on perceived sedition.
In 2009, for instance, Saleh was facing mounting protests, mostly from the fledgling Houthi movement. Saleh decried this as “sedition,” promising that the nation would buy more weapons to fight the Hothis “instead of building schools.”
By 2012, Saleh was facing near nationwide uprisings in the Arab Spring, and the United States, his long-time ally, backed a scheme whereby he’d be replaced by his top general, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who would be “elected” in a single candidate vote in which “no” was not an option. Hadi was intended to have a two-year term, but has claimed to be president to this day.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen, and sought Saleh’s support, as despite being out of office he retained a lot more loyalty within the military than Hadi did. Saleh initially balked, and the Saudis bombed his house, leading him to endorse the rebellion and align with the Houthis he was fighting not so long before.
In recent months, however, the Houthi-Saleh alliance was increasingly strained, with both sides fighting over power-sharing. After another round of fighting last week, Saleh openly offered talks to the Saudis. The Saudis immediately branded this as Saleh “switching sides” and started bombing Houthi positions in the capital to support Saleh’s forces.
By Monday, however, Houthi forces had caught up with Saleh, and declaring him to be “collaborating” with the Saudi invasion force, he was killed and his body taken on the back of a Houthi military vehicle.
Where this leaves the Houthi split with Saleh’s GPC faction is unclear, though with the deaths of Saleh and his deputy the GPC is clearly in a weakened position. The loss of the GPC as allies, however, also puts the Houthis in a worse position, which may be all the Saudis sought in supporting Saleh in the first place.