Ali Abdullah Saleh

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Ali Abdullah Saleh (Arabic: علي عبد الله صالح ‎, ʿAlī ʿAbdullāh Ṣāliḥ; born 21 March 1942) is a Yemeni politician who rose to power following the assassination of President al-Ghashmi. He was elected President of North Yemen (the Yemen Arab Republic) on 17 July 1978 at the age of 36. Following the merger of North Yemen with South Yemen on 22 May 1990, President Saleh was sworn in as the new President. Long considered a moderate President, he oversaw his country's development of deeper ties with Western powers, especially the United-States, in its fight against terrorism. In 2011, in wake of the "Arab Spring" that spread across Yemen, Saleh's time in office became more and more untenable, until eventually he was ousted as President of Yemen in 2012. He was succeeded in office by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

More recently, Saleh has openly allied with the Houthis (Ansar Allah), [4] leading to the Yemeni Civil War, in which an insurgency succeeded in capturing Yemen's capital, Sana'a, causing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee the country.

Early life

Ali Abdullah Saleh was born on 21 March 1942 [6] [7] [8] at Bait el-Ahmar village, [6] from the Sanhan (سنحان) clan, whose territories lie some 20 kilometres southeast of the capital, Sana'a. Saleh belongs to Yemen's largest tribal federation, the Hashid tribe.

Saleh's cousin, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar from the Al Ahmar family of Sanhan is often confused with the same-named leading family of the Hashid tribe, with which the Sanhan clan was ally. The Hashid tribe, in turn, belongs to the larger Yemeni parent group, the Himyar tribe. The clans Sanhan and Khawlan are said to be related.

Rise to power

Saleh joined the North Yemeni Armed Forces in 1958 as an infantry soldier, and was admitted to the North Yemen Military Academy in 1960. [11] Three years later, in 1963, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Armoured Corps. [11] He participated in the Nasserist-inspired Army Coup of 1962, which was instrumental in the removal of King Muhammad al-Badr and the establishment of the Yemen Arab Republic. During the North Yemen Civil War he served in the Tank Corps, attaining the rank of major by 1969. He received further training as a staff officer in the Higher Command and Staff Course in Iraq, between 1970 and 1971, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He became a full colonel in 1976 and was given command of a Mechanised Brigade. In 1977, the President of North Yemen, Ahmed bin Hussein al-Ghashmi, appointed him as military governor of Ta'izz. [6]

After al-Ghashmi was assassinated on 24 June 1978, Colonel Saleh was appointed to be a member of the four-man provisional presidency council and deputy to the general staff commander. [6] [11] On 17 July 1978, Saleh was elected by the Parliament to be the President of the Yemen Arab Republic, while simultaneously holding the positions of chief of staff and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. [11]

Governance in the Middle East and North Africa: A Handbook describes Saleh as being neither from a "sheikhly family" nor a "large or important tribe", but instead rising to power through "his own means", and creating a patronage system with his family at the top. [65] His seven brothers were placed "in key positions", and more recently he has relied on "sons, daughters, sons-in-law and nephews". [65] Beneath the positions occupied by his extended family, the president has "relied heavily on the loyalty" of two tribes, his own Sanhan tribe and the Hamdan San'a tribe of his mentor, the late president Ahmad al-Ghashmi. [65] New York Times Middle Eastern correspondent Robert F. Worth describes Saleh as reaching an understanding with powerful feudal "big sheikhs" to become "part of a Mafia-style spoils system that substituted for governance". [66] Worth accuses Saleh of exceeding the aggrandisement of other Middle Eastern strongmen by managing to "rake off tens of billions of dollars in public funds for himself and his family" despite the extreme poverty of his country. [64]

Career

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Saleh in 1988, as President of North Yemen

On 10 August 1978, Saleh ordered the execution of 30 officers who were charged with being part of a conspiracy against his rule. [6] Saleh was promoted to major general in 1980, elected as the secretary-general of the General People's Congress party on 30 August 1982, and re-elected president of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1983. [11]

The decline of the Soviet Union severely weakened the status of South Yemen, and, in 1990, the North and South agreed to unify after years of negotiations. The South accepted Saleh as President of the unified country, while Ali Salim al-Beidh served as the Vice President and a member of the Presidential Council.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was a long-time ally of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and supported Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After Iraq lost the Gulf War, Yemeni workers were deported from Kuwait by the restored government. [64]

In the late 1980s, Saleh was under considerable international pressure to permit his country's Jewish citizens to travel freely to places abroad. Passports were eventually issued to them, which facilitated unrestricted travel.

In the 1993 parliamentary election, the first held after unification, Saleh's General People's Congress won 122 of 301 seats. [14] :309

On 24 December 1997, Parliament approved Saleh's promotion to the rank of field marshal. [6] [11] He is currently the highest-ranking military officer in Yemen. [6] He became Yemen's first directly-elected president in the 1999 presidential election, winning 96.2% of the vote. [14] :310 The only other candidate, Najeeb Qahtan Al-Sha'abi, was the son of Qahtan Muhammad al-Shaabi, a former president of South Yemen. Though a member of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party, Najeeb ran as an independent. [15]

After the 1999 elections the Parliament passed a law extending presidential terms from five to seven years, extending parliamentary terms from four to six years, and creating a 111-member, presidentially-appointed council of advisors with legislative power. [11] This move prompted Freedom House to downgrade their rating of political freedom in Yemen from 5 to 6. [17]

In July 2005, during the 27th anniversary celebrations of his presidency, Saleh announced that he would "not contest the [presidential] elections" in September 2006. He expressed hope that "all political parties – including the opposition and the General People's Congress – find young leaders to compete in the elections, because we have to train ourselves in the practice of peaceful succession." [18] However, in June 2006, Saleh changed his mind and accepted his party's nomination as the presidential candidate of the GPC, saying that when he initially decided not to contest the elections his aim was "to establish ground for a peaceful transfer of power", and that he was now, however, bowing to the "popular pressure and appeals of the Yemeni people." Political analyst Ali Saif Hasan said that he had been "sure [President Saleh] would run as a presidential candidate. His announcement in July 2005 – that he would not run – was exceptional and unusual." Mohammed al-Rubai, head of the opposition supreme council, said the president's decision "show[ed] that the president wasn't serious in his earlier decision. I wish he hadn't initially announced that he would step down. There was no need for such farce." [15]

In the 2006 presidential election, held on 20 September, Saleh won with 77.2% of the vote. His main rival, Faisal bin Shamlan, received 21.8%. [11] [64] Saleh was sworn in for another term on 27 September. [64]

In December 2005, Saleh stated in a nationally televised broadcast that only his personal intervention had preempted a U.S. occupation of the southern port of Aden after the 2000 USS Cole bombing, stating "By chance, I happened to be down there. If I hadn't been, Aden would have been occupied as there were eight U.S. warships at the entrance to the port." [64] However, transcripts from the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee state that no other warships were in the vicinity at the time.

Consequences of Yemeni Revolution

Protests

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Saleh with George W. Bush

In early 2011, following the Tunisian revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the long-time Tunisian president, opposition parties attempted to do the same in Yemen. Opposition started leading protesters and demanding Saleh to end his three-decade-long rule because of his perceived lack of democratic reform, widespread corruption and the claimed human rights abuses carried out by him and his allies. [67]

On 2 February 2011, facing a major national uprising, Saleh announced that he would not seek re-election in 2013, but would serve out the remainder of his term. [24] In response to government violence against unarmed protesters, eleven MPs of Saleh's party resigned on 23 February. [25] By 5 March, this number had increased to 13, as well as the addition of two deputy ministers. [26]

On 10 March 2011, Saleh announced a referendum on a new constitution, separating the executive and legislative powers. [27] On 18 March, at least 52 people were killed and over 200 injured by government forces when unarmed demonstrators were fired upon in the university square in Sana'a. The president claimed that his security forces weren't at the location, and blamed local residents for the massacre. [28]

On 7 April 2011, a U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks reported plans of Hamid al-Ahmar, Islah Party leader, prominent businessman, and de facto leader of Yemen's largest tribal confederation, claimed that he would organize popular demonstrations throughout Yemen aimed at removing President Saleh from power.

On 23 April 2011, facing massive nationwide protests, Saleh agreed to step down under a 30-day transition plan in which he would receive immunity from criminal prosecution. [33] He stated that he planned to hand power over to his Vice President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as part of the deal. [69]

On 18 May 2011, he agreed to sign a deal with opposition groups, stipulating that he would resign within a month; [34] On 23 May, Saleh refused to sign the agreement, leading to renewed protests and the withdrawal of the Gulf Cooperation Council from mediation efforts in Yemen. [35]

Assassination attempt, aftermath and return

On 3 June 2011, Saleh was injured in a bomb attack on his presidential compound, multiple C4 charges were planted inside the mosque and one exploded when the president and major members of his government were praying. The explosion killed four bodyguards and injured the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, head of the Parliament, governor of Sanaa and many more. The man responsible for speaking at Saleh's public events was reported killed. Saleh suffered burns and shrapnel injuries, but survived, a result that was confirmed by an audio message he sent to state media in which he condemned the attack, but his voice clearly revealed that he was having difficulty in speaking. Government officials tried to downplay the attack by saying he was lightly wounded. The next day he was taken to a military hospital in Saudi Arabia for treatment. [36] According to U.S. government officials, Saleh suffered a collapsed lung and burns on about 40 percent of his body. [37] A Saudi official said that Saleh has undergone two operations: one to remove the shrapnel and a neurosurgery on his neck. [38]

On 4 June 2011, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was appointed as acting President, while Saleh remained the President of Yemen. [39]

On 7 July 2011, Saleh appeared for the first live television appearance since his injury. He appeared badly burned and his arms were both bandaged. In his speech, he welcomed power-sharing but stressed it should be "within the framework of the constitution and in the framework of the law". [40] On 19 September 2011, he was pictured without bandages, meeting King Abdullah. [41]

On 23 September 2011, Yemeni state-television announced that Saleh had returned to the country after three months amid increasing turmoil in a week that saw increased gun battles on the streets of Sana'a and more than 100 deaths. [42]

Saleh said on 8 October 2011, in comments broadcast on Yemeni state television, that he would step down "in the coming days". The opposition expressed skepticism, however, and a government minister said Saleh meant that he would leave power under the framework of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to transition toward democracy. [43]

On 28 September 2012, four members of the political party of Ali Abdullah Saleh were killed and eight were wounded in an ambush near Sanaa.

Power-transfer deal

On 23 November 2011, Saleh flew to Riyadh in neighbouring Saudi Arabia to sign the Gulf Co-operation Council plan for political transition, which he had previously spurned. Upon signing the document, he agreed to legally transfer the office and powers of the presidency to his deputy, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The agreement also led to the formation of a government divided by Saleh's political party (GPC) and the JMP. [71]

Departure to United States

It was reported that Saleh had left Yemen on 22 January 2012 for medical treatment in New York City. He arrived in the United States six days later. [72]

Resignation

Saleh departed the United States for Ethiopia on 24 February 2012 after receiving medical treatment. He returned to Yemen the next day. He arrived at the military airport in Sana'a hours before the oath-taking of his successor Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi which resulted in protests against his return and the inability of the new government to prevent his entry into Yemen. On 27 February 2012, Saleh formally ceded power to his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and stepped down as the President of Yemen, pledging to support efforts to "rebuild" the country still reeling from months of violence.

Post-presidency

In February 2013, Saleh opened a museum documenting his 33 years in power, located in a wing of the Saleh mosque in Sanaa. One of the museum's central display cases exhibits a pair of burnt trousers that Saleh was wearing at the time of his assassination attempt in June 2011. Other displays include fragments of shrapnel that were taken out of his body during his hospital treatment in Saudi Arabia, as well as various gifts given to Saleh by kings, presidents and world leaders over the course of his rule. [48]

Later that year, in October, the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar said that Saleh and his son have the right to run in the next Yemeni presidential election, as the 2011 deal does not cover political incapacitation. [49]

2014–16 Houthi coup

Saleh has been a behind-the-scenes leader of the Houthi takeover in Yemen led by Zaydi Houthi forces. Tribesmen and government forces loyal to Saleh have joined the Houthis in their march to power. [50] On July 28, 2016, Saleh and the Houthi rebels announced a formal alliance to fight the Saudi-led military coalition, to be run by a political council of 10 members – made up of five members from Saleh's General People's Congress, and five from the Houthis. [73]

The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Saleh in 2014, accusing him of threatening peace and obstructing Yemen’s political process, subjecting him to a global travel ban and an asset freeze. [74]

Honours

National honours

    Image
    Vice President Dick Cheney and President Ali Abdullah Saleh discuss joint efforts to fight terrorist activity at a press conference in Sana'a, Yemen, 14 March 2002

Foreign honours

See also

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