Former Yemeni President Declares Country Ready For ‘New Page’ In Relationship With Saudi Arabia

Hani MohammedAP

This Saturday, during a televised speech, the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, called for the neighboring nations to stop the siege against Yemen and allow the flow of food and medicine back into the country, Reuters reports.

He added that if this is done, then a new page would be turned.

“What happened in Yemen is enough,” Saleh declared.

This address comes after Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), engaged in a violent battle against their Houthi allies in the country’s capital, Sana’a. Last Wednesday, the GPC accused the Houthis of storming into a mosque and opening fire, which in turn led to the infighting. At least 16 people have died during the last few days, although the real toll may be higher.

This Saturday, mediation efforts were enacted in an attempt to contain the violence. However, the negotiations failed within a few hours.

In its official press releases, the General People’s Congress accused the Houthis of dragging the country into a civil war, and called for their supporters and the population to “defend their country.” Nevertheless, the military and the security forces were asked to stay neutral.

This incident serves as a reminder of just how volatile and chaotic the situation remains in Yemen.

While the fight rages on, the civilian population’s suffering continues in what has been described as one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The New York Times reports that after the cholera epidemic that has raged for two years, the Yemeni population is now contending with diphtheria.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a public speech in August 2017.
Featured image credit: Hani MohammedAP

The conflict in Yemen started back in 2015, when the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels took power and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to leave the country.

It should be noted that Iran is locked in a cold war against Saudi Arabia. When the Houtis took control of Sana’a, it seemed that Tehran was about to take control of the southern coast of the Arab Peninsula. This would allow the encirclement of Riyadh through the south.

Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of other Arab states to attack Yemen, ostensibly to retake the country from the Houthis and place Hadi back in power.

Blockades were also imposed on Yemen. Together, these factors made what was already the poorest country in the Middle East contend with widespread famine and disease.

Cholera spread through the country throughout 2016-2017, infecting around one million people, The Guardian reports. It is considered the worst outbreak in modern history, with around 4,000 cases reported each day, more than half of which are children.

The growing lack of living conditions now led to an outbreak of diphtheria, a disease that had not been seen in the country for 25 years. Young children are especially vulnerable.

The disease spreads through the air, and if treatment is not made available, it could very quickly become an epidemic. Christian Leindmeier, from the World Health Organization, declared that 1.9 millions vaccines need to be brought into Yemen to avoid worse consequences.

The same organization also warned against the possibility of around 7 million Yemenis starving if conditions do not improve. This could easily become the largest famine in the modern world.

The public health issue further escalated after last month, when the Houthis launched what was apparently an Iranian-made missile into Saudi Arabia. This prompted Riyadh to force a new blockade on Yemen, which prevented humanitarian aid of reaching the territory. International pressure allowed for a partial lift of this blockade, but it may not be enough to deal with the challenges faced by the civilian population.

However, a change of stance may be in order, as the Saudi officials reacted positively to Saleh’s speech, expressing hopes that the country could return to the “Arab fold.”

Saleh came to power in 1978, and was forced out of office in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, after 33 years in power.