Saleh’s Yemen: A State Destined for Failure


The Civil War in Yemen (Reuters).

It takes a long time to build stable and strong nations, but it often takes even less time to destroy them. For a long time, Somalia was the prime example of state anarchy, and it seemed improbable that another similar case would emerge. Sadly, more countries would soon make it to the list of failed states: Yemen, which is currently on the brink of collapse, is the latest to join that list.

The current desolation in Yemen began in 1994, four years after the unification of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). The country’s situation has been worsened by events in 2015 when the Saudi coalition started an aerial campaign against Houthi rebels who seized power in September of 2014.   

As part of the deal that helped form the Republic of Yemen in 1990, Ali Abdullah Saleh was to become the President of the new state, and his vice president was to be the former president of the South, Ali Salem Al beidh. The shift of power was leaning more towards the North, and the fruits of the new unified nation ripened in the hands of the Northern government, led by Saleh. The new national faltered, however, when Vice President Beidh announced secession of the South from the North and urged the Southern Yemenis to arm themselves to regain their previous country in the South. The very foundations of the political union of yemen were breaking.

In May of 1994, civil war erupted. By July of the same year there were already estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 casualties. The war left a big scar for many Southerners who has lost their loved ones, leading them to question the validity of a Union in which they were not equally represented. The North would eventually win the war due to public support for Union in the South. The Northern government led by Saleh took the victory for granted, initiating a massive purge that left tens of thousands of Southerners jobless. All ex-Southern fighters were laid off, moreover, preferences for all public posts was given to Northern applicants. Power became even more concentrated as Ali Abdullah Saleh campaigned to put his family members as heads of every powerful position in government. By the start of the Yemeni Revolution in 2011, this  campaign was at its peak, and all army branches and intelligence agencies were headed by a member of Salah’s family. Saleh’s son, Ahmed, controlled the strongest branch, the US forces trained Yemen Republican Guard.

In the years that followed, corruption, of all levels, spread throughout the country. Rigged elections became the norm, and the economic condition of many Yemenis became extremely dire. Yemenis lacked basic infrastructure, energy was never sufficient, illiteracy was rampant, and the healthcare system was inefficient. The opposition had no real power and was allowed to exist only to assure international NGOs and Western media that the state was functioning. As Poverty spread across the country, Saleh and his elites continued growing richer. By the end of his presidency Saleh had accumulated wealth of 60 billion dollars according to United Nations  estimates.

Meanwhile, in the Northern province of Sada’a, an insurgent group known as the Houthis gained momentum. In 2004, the first war broke out between the Houthi rebels and Yemen’s military, killing off the Houthi leader Hussein Badr Al deen Al Houthi, thus ending the insurgency. The group would soon regain strength and go on to fight five more wars until 2009. The wars against Houthi rebels were seen as diversionary conflicts that escalated everytime Salah felt the urge to get foreign aid, especially from neighboring Saudi Arabia, a country that would come to regret its alliance with Saleh.

In 2011, after 33 years of Saleh’s corrupt and oppressive rule, Yemenis came out to the streets and peacefully called for Salah to Step down. Saleh, who was unaccustomed to opposition, initiated a massive crackdown against all protesters in response. The Yemeni uprising proved how brutal and corrupt Saleh could be as thousands died and many more were injured. After a year of peaceful protest and counter crackdowns, Saleh agreed to step down during a Saudi Arabian led mediation process with the Gulf States. Saleh and his administration were granted criminal immunity, and the deal scheduled a peaceful transition of power from Saleh to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Hadi, who continues to serve as the current president of Yemen.

Today, the once Saleh-controlled Yemen is now the site of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. When Saleh gave up power, he looked to destroy all that opposed him– especially those who protested him in 2011. In 2014, Salah allied himself with same Houthi groups he had battled  for years, showing his willingness to destroy the nation he once led in order to stay in power.

On Dec. 4, 2017, Saleh was assassinated by these same Houthi allies. His death signifies an important moment in Yemen’s history. It does not take many people to destroy a nation, and Saleh’s reign was more than enough to destroy Yemen. He is the main reason that today, Yemen is an almost failed state.

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