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Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Fatal Calculation

Could the Man Who Made Modern Yemen Be Its Undoing?

Yemen's then President Ali Abdullah Saleh gestures during a gathering of supporters in Sanaa, February 20, 2011. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Live video and hundreds of news reports have confirmed the death of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, yet many Yemenis refuse to believe that he has really passed from the country’s political scene. Saleh had previously survived assassination attempts, coups, two civil wars, and widespread international pressure to step down, yet always persevered and found his way back to the center of Yemen’s leadership by transforming himself and his alliances. He did so with such frequency that nearly every political entity in the region can be said to have been both his enemy and his ally at some point in his 34-year presidential career.

Saleh’s last gambits were no different. When Yemen spiraled into civil war in 2015, he surprised even the most informed observers by supporting the Iranian-backed Houthis, the same tribesmen whom he had once considered his enemies and who are currently the target of

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