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Saleh, Yemen’s great survivor, finally quits power

(AFP) / 23 November 2011

SANAA - Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who on Wednesday resigned as president after almost 10 months of bloody protests calling for him to quit, has ruled through three decades of Middle East turmoil.

Saleh has lived through civil war, rebellion in the north, an Al-Qaeda insurgency in the south and a bomb attack on his palace in June that badly wounded him, only returning home after three months of treatment in Saudi Arabia.

The opposition signed a Gulf Cooperation Council-sponsored transition deal in April but Saleh repeatedly stalled, triggering months of political deadlock that has left the government in a state of chaos and the economy in shambles.

The deal will see him leave office in 30 days, making way for Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

Saleh will now seek medical treatment in New York, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

“If he comes to New York I will be happy to meet him,” the secretary general added, saying he was “encouraged by the positive development of the situation in Yemen.”

The United States long considered Saleh a key ally in the fight against terrorism.

A US diplomatic cable in 2009 released by whistle blower website WikiLeaks spoke of a leader who had grown increasingly autocratic.

It quoted Saleh’s cousin Mohammed al-Qadhi as saying that “since 1994, he decided that he was the only man capable of making decisions in this country.”

“I have tried to tell him that Yemen has serious problems, but he gets angry and shuts me out... He doesn’t listen to anyone.”

Saleh, a stocky 69-year-old with piercing eyes and a moustache, joined the army at an early age and took part in the 1962 coup that replaced the Zaidi imamate with an Arab nationalist republic.

His career has been remarkably long — of his four predecessors, two were assassinated and two went into exile after coups.

After Saleh joined the army, his leadership skills were quickly noticed and he climbed the ladder of power in short order.

Following the June 1978 assassination of president Ahmad al-Ghashmi, Saleh was elected president of North Yemen by a constituent assembly.

He immediately surrounded himself with close aides, notably his brothers, whom he named to key military and security posts.

His son Ahmed commands the Republic Guard, which has been engaged in fierce fighting with opposition forces backed by dissident tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.

In 1990, he successfully steered the country to reunification with the communist south.

He has since survived a succession of crises, including Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 after which Saudi Arabia punished its southern neighbour for siding with Iraq.

Riyadh expelled 700,000 Yemeni expatriate workers, depriving their poor country of remittances that constituted one of its main revenue sources.

In 1994, the south launched a secession bid, sparking a short-lived civil war. Saleh crushed the uprising, sealing the country’s reunification under his unbridled leadership.

The south, where many residents complain of discrimination by Saleh’s regime in the distribution of resources, is still the site of frequent secessionist protests.

Since 2004, Saleh also faced a sporadic rebellion in the northern mountains by members of the Zaidi Shiite minority, a community to which he himself belongs.

The conflict escalated in August 2009 before a fragile truce came into force in February 2010.

Saleh has also had to contend with an insurgency by Al-Qaeda’s local franchise and has come under enormous international pressure to crack down on the group’s militants.

His rule relied on the army and his General People’s Congress, an amalgam of civil servants and local notables, as well as a careful balancing act among rival tribes that still form the backbone of Yemeni society.

His ability to juggle so many different groups for so long in a country as complex as Yemen shows what a master tactician he is.

However, that began to unravel in March with the defection of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, widely considered the strongest man in the country after Saleh.

Following Yemen’s unification, Saleh launched a cautious process of reform, introducing a multi-party system.

He also gave the press a margin of freedom, but in the mainly illiterate society his tight grip on the state broadcast media long allowed him to keep control of Yemenis’ access to information.

He organised parliamentary elections in 1993, 1997 and 2003.

And he won his last seven-year term in September 2006 with 77 percent of the vote, once more outliving his own experiment in democratisation amid widespread charges of fraud.

 
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