Former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh rallied thousands of his supporters Thursday in the capital, Sana, to mark the 35th anniversary of the founding of his General People’s Congress party. The show of support follows a recent rift with his Houthi rebel allies. Friction with the Houthis threatens to tear apart the alliance that has been battling forces loyal to exiled President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi and a Saudi-led coalition.
The gathering in support of Saleh took place peacefully in the capital’s Midan Saba’een square, despite recent tension between the veteran leader’s party and his Houthi rebel allies who remain the most powerful military force in Yemen.
Saleh alluded to putting the thousands of military men still loyal to him into the conflict that has racked the country since the Houthis arrested internationally-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in 2015, eventually forcing him to flee. The Houthis have been battling a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in March 2015 to support Hadi.
Yemen analyst Hakim Almasmari tells VOA that Thursday’s rally failed to change the political equation in the country and the Houthis continue to hold the advantage for the next round of political dialogue, scheduled for September, under the auspices of the United Nations. Saleh, nevertheless, he believes, remains a force to be reckoned with in the country.
“He is the most popular person in the country when it comes to social support, but when it comes to power on the ground, military power, the Houthis are the most powerful. Militarily, he is very far behind the Houthis.”
A recent disagreement between Saleh and the Houthis erupted after the former president referred to the Houthis as a “two-bit militia,” but in his address to supporters Thursday, he directed most of his criticism to President Hadi and his Saudi allies.
Saleh says his own supporters have made many sacrifices to defend the revolution that brought him to power in 1978 in what was then North Yemen. He says the ongoing war is tearing the country apart, blaming what he calls the “traitorous and treacherous” leadership (under Hadi) outside the country.
The Houthi militia avoided a potential conflict with the former president and his supporters, despite talk in the media of declaring a state of emergency and forbidding political rallies like the one Thursday.
A speech by Houthi leader Abdel Malek al Houthi to his supporters earlier this week, in which he criticized Saleh, suggested a potential conflict was brewing between the two men.
He says his forces have been stabbed in the back by their allies, despite the many sacrifices they have made, at a time when they are fighting to stop the enemy aggression.
Political alliances in Yemen are fickle, and Saleh’s forces have fought the Houthi rebels six times since 2004, before forming an alliance after he fell out with his one-time deputy, Hadi.