The Demise of the Houthis

BY MIKE WHITE

Listening to all the great conspiracy theories that circulate around the Middle East brings immeasurable joy to my life.  One of my all time favorites is that the Republican Party orchestrated Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” in order to push voters toward the more socially conservative George Bush in the election that was to be held seven months later.  

Currently, rumor has it that the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has allied himself with the Houthi militia Ansar Allah.  This alliance is seen by many as a major contributing factor in the Houthis’ successful takeover of Yemen’s capital Sanaa.  The conspiracy is fueled by a leaked phone conversation between Saleh and a high ranking Houthi official Adbul Wahid Abu Ras.  The recording—originally aired by Al-Jazeera—purports to be a conversation in which Ali Abdullah Saleh and the official discuss the necessary steps to solidify Houthi control of the capital.  Although neither of the men mention any military assistance from Saleh, many opponents of the Houthis assume that if the former president is talking with the Houthis he must also be helping them in other aspects of the takeover.  This assumption has gained traction as observers try and explain the ability of Ansar Allah to defeat the Yemeni military as well as one of the country’s major tribes.  Although there are numerous non-conspiratorial, logical explanations for the collapse of the Yemeni army and the Al-Ahmar tribe, if the accusations are true, the Houthis reign in Sanaa will be short lived.  

Ali Adbullah Saleh was president of Yemen for 33 years—a position one does not hold for that length of time unless that person is a master of political intrigue.  He is expert at playing tribes off against each other and in gaining allies to be pawns in his greater game.  He allied himself quickly with the Yemenis returning from Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal—a group who would later make up the bulk of Al-Qaeda’s fighters in Yemen— and used them to fight against the socialist southern Yemenis during the civil war in 1994.  He won over the Hashid tribal federation which is considered the strongest tribal federation in the country, by electing its leader, Abdullah Al-Ahmar, to the position of speaker of the parliament in all four parliaments Al-Ahmar served in.  This was done irrespective of how well Al-Ahmar’s party (Al-Islah) did at the polls. (This was accomplished through President Saleh’s political party, the PGC, which always held a large number of seats in the parliament.)  He was able to gain the support of America through cooperating with the war on terror:  He allowed the military and CIA to kill Al-Qaeda operatives while at the same time maintaining with the terrorist organization the links he established in 1994.

Of all his feats, the fact that he is even talking with the Houthis is probably his greatest.  He waged six wars against the Houthis killing thousands and yet somehow he managed to at least once get a Houthi official to talk with him: a conversation in which one could not detect any hint of animosity between the two parties.  

My advice to the Houthis is to never join an alliance with this man.  If they have already entered into an agreement they need to get out immediately if they truly want to rule Yemen.  Saleh is using the Houthis just as he as used Al-Qaeda, the various tribes, and America.   Ali Abdullah Saleh wants power and the Houthis are just a means to an end.  His days as a politician are not over—at least not from his perspective.  There is no other reason for him to be so involved in the goings-on of Yemen if he was retired.  So to the Houthis I say, he is smarter than you.  He is a scorpion and you are a frog: Don’t let him on your back.  I promise it will not end well.