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Trilateral ferment

Editorial |

The almost relentless ferment in the Arab world has had simultaneous tremors across three nations ~ Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, the last a nuclear power. And given the intensity of the crisis that has erupted since Monday, the convulsion is seemingly intertwined. The civil war in Yemen has taken a dramatic turn with the killing of the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, by the Houthi rebels …backed by Iran. He has been done to death for switching sides and seeking peace with Saudi Arabia.

The desert kingdom, contending with palace intrigues, now confronts a formidable challenge as the Houthis have conveyed an awesome message across the sands, so to speak. The ruler of Yemen for more than 30 years and who was forced to resign in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring, has met his nemesis in the hands of an ethnic group that has been at the receiving end of Saudi Arabia’s brutal offensive.

This must rank as the cruel paradox barely two months ahead of the seventh anniversary of the Arab Spring. The recent Saudi bombing was part of a desperate ~ if ultimately doomed ~ attempt to prevent the Houthis taking complete control of Sana’a, the capital. The outcome has been quite the contrary, and mortally so. Saleh’s death may prompt a furious reaction from Saudi Arabia, which is determined to push back Iranian influence in the country. As his corpse flitted across the screens of the television channels run by the Houthis, it was pretty obvious that the former Head of State had met his nemesis for his flirtation with the palace in Riyadh.

By any reckoning, it has been a studious offensive by the Houthis, almost a war-like operation. Saleh is said to have been followed by the rebels in 20 armoured vehicles. The ultimate action of the persecuted has thus been greeted with a sense of shock and awe by the persecuted ~ a testament to the in-house conspiracies, reprisals and the resultant civil war within the Arab world, most importantly in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Egypt. The violence between the Houthis and Saleh’s forces has led to the death of at least 125 civilians in clashes over the past five days, according to the International Red Cross.

The fresh confrontation comes after the sudden collapse of the political and military alliance between the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Saleh. The two groups had held Sana’a for the past three years in an uneasy alliance, whose inherent fragility has now turned out to be dangerously real. In the aftermath of Saleh’s killing, the region seems headed for a phase that could be as bloody as messy. Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a power struggle in the Middle East, one that has the potential to envelop the whole region in a war. Fears that Saleh’s killing could ignite the powder-keg are substantial.