The assassination of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday by Houthi forces leaves a big vacuum in General People’s Congress which he had formed in 1982 and headed until his death. Questions are raised on who will take the reins. Reports from Arab media say his eldest son Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh could be the right choice to unite and lead his father’s party. Ahmad, 45, is qualified and his father was grooming him to take over from him. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Economics from the American University in Washington and a Master’s degree in military sciences from Jordan. He graduated from the military academy in 2006. He has also served as Yemen’s envoy in the United Arab Emirates from 2013 to 2015. Any disunity in the party will be detrimental at this stage and the decision on the new leader has to be taken at the earliest. In the Arab world, tribal, military and political loyalties matter a lot and Saleh has given his son valuable lessons on this.
Ahmad is unlikely to face challenges as Saleh’s death has already strengthened his party’s unity. In fact, it has turned all Yemeni parties against Houthis with some of them even calling for an alliance with Saleh’s Congress against the Iran-allied Houthis. It seems Saleh can still call the shots from beyond the grave by persuading his supporters to join hands with forces loyal to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Ahmad has vowed to avenge his father’s death. “I will lead the battle until the last Houthi is thrown out of Yemen… the blood of my father will be hell ringing in the ears of Iran,” he was quoted as saying. Houthis killed Saleh because he snapped ties with them to end the protracted war in Yemen and lift the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia. They did not want him to embrace the path of reconciliation. But Yemenis need reconciliation and peace. Thousands of them starving or ailing need food and medical aid. Saleh’s supporters have to move fast.