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  • Sana Uqba

How Saleh's Yemen gamble cost him his life

After thirty years of dancing on the heads of snakes, one was bound to bite Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh back.

On this historic day for Yemen, the former heavyweight leader was killed on his own turf by his former allies, turned enemies, turned allies, and fatally turned enemies once again, the country’s Houthis rebels.

News of the killing has once again divided public opinion between celebrating the death of a dictator and mourning that of a politician that many believe was able to hold together a fragile and unstable nation for decades.

On one hand the slain politician was backed and praised by millions in Sanaa for allying with his former enemies to stand against what many describe as a Saudi-led aggression on the sovereignty of Yemen.

Further south however, opinions could not be more different - on 4 December a dictator which chained the dreams of southerners and oppressed an entire nation for more than 30 year has finally met his fate.

Three years after a rocky alliance and seemingly frustrated with his partnership with the rebels, Saleh, who is known for his agility and ability in pulling strings across all political factions in Yemen, once again swayed back toward his former allies Saudi Arabia - a nation that he fought with in a war that cost more than 10,000 lives since March 2015.

Although he has previously expressed willingness to dialogue with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other nations involved in the conflict, it was not until earlier this week when Saleh finally announced his opposition to Houthis.

The reasons and logistics surrounding this move remains unclear but some pointed towards the kingdom's recently unveiled policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It is possible that the young prince, who himself masterminded the brutal and controversial war on Houthi rebels in Yemen and has made multiple bold moves that have shaken the kingdom, heeded the calls of Saleh in a fresh attempt to progress in a war that has been at a stalemate for several years.

Yemen remains a fractured nation that has been further broken down by the brutal Saudi-led coalition intervention that has dipped the impoverished state into an even dark abyss.

But the death of the former Yemeni heavyweight highlights yet another blow to the string of failed decisions by the young crown prince and is seen to be another win for the kingdom’s regional rival Iran, who has publicly supported the Houthi rebels in the ongoing war.

Just last month, in a bid to twist the hands of Tehran, Saudi Arabia allegedly forced the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign after slamming Iran's meddling in the region and striking down on its Lebanese ally Hizballah.

The move shook regional politics and speculations surrounding the fate of Hariri in Riyadh increased, forcing the PM to return to Lebanon where he U-turned on the decision to cede power - an embarrassing loss for MbS.

The same seems to have taken place in Yemen, where the Iran-backed rebels now stand puffed and victorious, at least for today, as the group that finally caught the head of the "traitor" Saleh.

As the story develops, it will be interesting to see how the Saudi-led coalition responds to the killing of a leader which many, including the Saudi-led coaliton, believed would have led them to victory over the Houthis just five days earlier.

As the ongoing drama continues to unwind, Yemen remains a fractured nation that has been further broken down by the brutal Saudi-led coalition intervention that has dipped the impoverished state into an even dark abyss. Airstrikes continue to rain on Yemen, rebels continue to wage carnage in the capital, and further south al-Qaeda and Islamic state group militants have regained confidence to target a weakened security force.

After years of calling for the removal of Saleh, it is understandable to see why many will celebrate this historic day, but it is important to keep an eye on the can of worms, or snakes, that will surely open.

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