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Yemen’s Houthi movement eliminates former president Saleh for ‘treason’ amid Saudi war

By Dave Schneider |
December 5, 2017
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Rally in Yemen's capital city Sanaa hails restoration of stability, demands end to Saudi - U.S. aggression. (FightBack!News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL - On Dec. 4, Yemen’s Houthi movement reported they had killed former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a military operation just outside of Sanaa, the capital. Both Saleh’s own party - the General People’s Congress - and Saudi media confirmed Saleh’s death.

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi called the successful roadside attack on Saleh a “historic, exceptional and great day, in which the conspiracy of betrayal and treason failed, this black day for the forces of the aggression.” Saleh, once part of the resistance against the nearly three year U.S.-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen, switched loyalties on Dec. 2, abandoning his former Houthi allies.

The Saudi-led coalition resumed bombing of Sanaa just hours after confirming Saleh’s death, effectively reimposing a Saudi blockade on the war-torn nation. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a savage war against the Houthis and the people of Yemen, with the backing of the U.S. Their blockade, which was briefly lifted to allow international aid workers to deliver food and medical supplies, has drawn widespread condemnation for effectively sentencing millions of Yemenis to starvation and death.

Saleh and the Houthi movement

Yemen is the poorest country in the Persian Gulf and has fought against foreign domination and colonialism for much of its history. In 1962, Yemen won its independence from Britain but divided into two countries - north and south - just five years later. A revolution in southern Yemen led by socialists and communists gave birth to the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, while the north remained firmly aligned with Western interests. Saleh became president of North Yemen in 1978 and oversaw the reunification of the nation in 1990.

Reunification brought economic and political ruin to the south, which led to a civil war in the early 1990s. But Saleh faced other challenges in the country’s north with the emergence of the Houthi movement. Founded as a liberation theology movement similar to Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Houthis drew widespread support from Yemen’s poor and religious minorities and quickly became a leading force against Saleh’s pro-U.S. government.

Brutal political repression and harsh economic inequality marked Saleh’s 33-year rule. Fearing the traction gained by the Houthis, he ordered a wave of political arrests in June 2004, which culminated in the extrajudicial execution of the movement’s founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. While cracking down on dissidents, Saleh simultaneously cooperated with Washington’s War on Terror - first with the Bush administration and later allowing the Obama administration to conduct drone strikes in his country with impunity.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 eventually spread to Yemen, and a series of mass protests forced Saleh out of power. However, another Saudi/U.S. puppet, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, stepped into the power vacuum and continued Saleh’s repressive, pro-Western policies.

War and the united front

On Sept. 21, 2014, the Houthi movement drove out Hadi’s government and seized power in Sanaa. The popular national democratic revolution struck fear in neighboring Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, which formed a coalition and launched a savage war against the Houthis. As the Houthis mobilized the nation against the Saudi-led coalition, Saleh sensed an opportunity to regain power. He joined the Houthi-led united front and pledged his support for the effort to defeat the Saudi-led attack.

Despite unleashing savage destruction on Yemen, the war effort has not gone well for the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition. In almost three years of fierce bombing, they failed to dislodge the Houthis from their strongholds, instead drawing widespread international condemnation. Already facing giant budget deficits from the global slump in oil prices, the war in Yemen has driven Saudi Arabia further into economic crisis with no end in sight.

As the Houthis’ power grew stronger in the face of war, Saleh became increasingly concerned that victory against the Saudi-led coalition would see the Houthis come to power in a national democratic government, rather than a restoration of his rule. Reports in recent months indicated that Saleh’s forces began conducting back-channel talks with the Saudi-led coalition to negotiate a settlement to the conflict - a settlement that did not include the Houthis in power.

Sic semper tyrannis

The tenuous alliance between Saleh’s forces and the Houthis came to an end on Dec. 2, when the former Yemeni ruler formally switched sides and vowed to destroy the Houthis. In a televised broadcast, Saleh blamed the Houthis for the nation’s problems and called on forces loyal to him to fight his former allies. President Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia at the outset of the war, announced his forces would also join the fight against the Houthis in Saana.

Saleh’s opportunist betrayal drew criticisms from patriotic elements in his own General People’s Congress party. Street battles erupted in Saana between the popularly supported Houthis and small pockets of Saleh’s loyalist forces.

Just two days later, Houthi media reported the death of Saleh in a roadside ambush outside the nation’s capital. In a video posted to social media showing Saleh’s body, Houthi supporters chanted “Your revenge, Sayyidi Hussein,” a reference to the Houthi founder hanged by Saleh in 2004.

With Saleh eliminated, the resistance to the Saudi-led coalition presses forward. The Houthi movement aims to create a democratic, non-sectarian republic, and Saleh’s death rules out the possibility of a return to the status quo. In recent years, elements in southern Yemen have joined the Houthi-led united front, and a successful rocket attack on Riyadh’s international airport - a staging ground for Saudi warplanes - in early November demonstrated the resilience of the insurgency.

Carnage in Yemen

In early November, the Saudi-led coalition announced a comprehensive total blockade of Yemen, closing land, air and sea ports to aid workers and journalists. Yemen imports 90% of its food and medicine, meaning this blockade essentially starves the Yemeni people, who already face firebombs and Saudi-backed death squads waging war in their country.

Aid agencies briefly resumed deliveries of food and medical supplies after Saudi Arabia briefly lifted its blockade of the country. However, the renewed Saudi bombing of Sanaa on Dec. 4 effectively reimposed the same blockade - with all of its ghoulish consequences.

Death and destruction continue to rain down on Yemen since the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition declared war in early 2015. By January 2017, the war had killed over 10,000 civilians and injured 40,000 others, according to a report by the United Nations. This number has almost certainly risen in the last year.

But the carnage in Yemen isn’t confined to military casualties. The war skyrocketed the price of fuel and drove up the already high price of imported food, water and medicine, bringing with it starvation and disease.

UN officials and more than 20 aid organizations say that Yemen will face the world's largest famine in decades as a result of the Saudi-led war and blockade, making it larger than the monstrous famines in South Sudan and Somalia earlier in 2017. Out of Yemen's population of 28 million people, about 20 million "do not know where they're going to get their next meal," said one UN official in November.

The war has taken a particularly high toll on Yemeni children. Every ten minutes, a child in Yemen dies from conditions stemming from war, according to UNICEF. 50,000 will die from famine by the end of 2017, and another 400,000 will require treatment for acute malnutrition, according to the Save the Children charity.

Yemen has suffered the worst outbreak of cholera in well over a century as a direct result of the war. More than 900,000 people have contracted the deadly disease as a result of the nation's devastated water and health care infrastructure. Modern medicine basically eliminated cholera in the 20th century. However, deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure by Saudi warplanes has destroyed wells and plumbing, leading to a staggering 400% increase in the price of water in much of the country. The lack of affordable clean water and the resulting cholera epidemic stand to get much worse as the Saudi blockade continues.

Support from the U.S. and the United Kingdom allows the Saudi-led war on Yemen to continue. Since the beginning in 2015, the U.S. and the U.K. backed the campaign by selling arms, refueling warplanes and providing international diplomatic cover. Most of Saudi Arabia’s arms come from the U.S. and the U.K. Under Trump, U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia increased from previous highs under the Obama administration. Similarly, Britain has seen a 500% increase in arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the course of its three-year war on Yemen, according to a report by the U.K. Independent newspaper. Other imperialist countries, like Sweden, have stepped up arms sales to core partners in the Saudi-led coalition.

The camp of resistance in the Middle East

The Houthi-led united front in Yemen belongs to the camp of resistance in the Middle East. Anchored by the Islamic Republic of Iran, it includes the Syrian Arab Republic, Hezbollah and other patriotic forces in Lebanon, the Palestinian liberation movement, and other progressive groups in the region. Together they form the largest bloc of resistance to the U.S. and its allies - Israel, Saudi Arabia and most of the gulf monarchies, and Turkey.

While comprising a key part of this camp, the Houthis are not foreign puppets of Iran like the Saudis claim. They are a national democratic movement with deep roots among the Yemeni people, heroically fighting to free their nation from foreign domination and slaughter. As outrage grows over the U.S. role in the massacre of Yemen, working people should stand in solidarity with the Houthis and demand the end of arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.