Statement on the Death of Ali Abdullah Saleh

Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of the Yemen Arab Republic and then the Republic of Yemen from 1978 to 2011, was apparently killed by Houthi forces today in San’a. His death has been confirmed by members of his General People’s Congress (GPC). It follows five days of heavy fighting in San’a between forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthi militias, clashes that have killed over 100 civilians. The Yemen Peace Project calls on all sides to cease hostilities and encourages internal and international parties to renew their commitment to a negotiated end to the civil war instead of responding to the weekend’s events with further military escalation.

During his 33-year presidency, Saleh ruled as a dictator whose violence and corruption are primary causes of the current civil war. He constructed an elaborate patronage network that weakened state institutions in favor of personalized rule and prioritized a pliant elite over genuine democracy, economic development, and broad social welfare. He repeatedly made war on Yemenis and, during the 2011 popular uprising that led to his ouster, his security forces killed peaceful demonstrators. Following the uprising, he worked to undermine the transitional government and aligned himself and his loyalists with the Houthi forces that captured San’a and started the civil war. Prior to their uneasy alliance, Saleh’s government waged six brutal wars against the Houthi movement in the 2000s that, rather than defeating it, further radicalized its members and widened its popular base in Yemen’s northwest.

Saleh’s death, and the further political and military fracturing of Yemen’s north, will likely engender greater violence and a more protracted conflict. In response to Saleh’s death, the Yemen Peace Project calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities in San’a and along the conflict’s frontlines, the opening of all sea and airports, and the free delivery and circulation of humanitarian and commercial goods to and within Yemen. Furthermore, we call on the United States and all other international participants in Yemen’s civil war to do everything in their power to prevent military escalation, which will not lead to any side’s victory, but will kill thousands of civilians. In particular, we urge the Saudi-led coalition not to launch a ground assault on San’a, which would endanger more than two million innocent people, or to attack the port of Hudaydah, access to which is vital for Yemen’s survival.