Yemeni-American journalist Yousef Mawry tells the story of how the ex President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed following a “fake news” media campaign which led him to believe that he was stronger than he was.
Ali Abdullah Saleh’s final conflict started after an altercation broke out between Republican Guards loyal to him and Ansarullah (Houthi) fighters outside Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital. According to reports, the Houthis wanted to conduct a security check at the mosque which stands over Sabeen Square – where the Houthis stage their annual Mawlid event.
The Houthis’ request was denied resulting in armed clashes outside the mosque on November 30. According to Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party (GPC), the Houthis wanted to carry out a coup and take over the mosque.
After the brief clashes in Sana’a, word got out on social media and major news networks that the Houthis had suffered a devastating blow at the hands of Saleh forces and were being driven out of the Yemeni capital.
Social media campaigns, trends and anti-Houthi hashtags such as “No Houthi after this day” and “Take back Yemen” spread like wildfire. This was complimented by several videos circulating the Internet showing Saleh supporters attacking Houthi forces in several areas in Sana’a.
However the information that was circulating was false and inaccurate.
Such propaganda led many Yemenis to believe the Houthis were losing and that the Yemeni capital had been “freed”. This tempted those who opposed the Houthis – including Yemen’s Islah Party (Muslim Brotherhood) to jump on the anti-Houthi bandwagon.
The next day (December 1) the Houthi leader gave a televised speech to try to restore stability. In his address, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi called on Ali Abdullah Saleh to end his “aggression” and to come back to the negotiation table so they could solve their differences and end hostilities. The Houthi leader pleaded with Saleh and his party to change their course and to not fall for what he called a Saudi plot to divide Yemenis.
Ali Abdullah Saleh responded to this by calling on all Yemenis to rise up against the Houthis.
“I call on all the Yemeni people in all the cities, all the provinces, all the districts, all the neighborhoods to take a united stand to defend the revolution and the Republic against this group who have been irresponsibly playing the Yemeni people for the past three years,” said Saleh.
The move was viewed as an act of treason by Houthis and their supporters, especially since in the same speech Saleh called for a new chapter to be opened with Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations. Even some members of Saleh’s GPC party disapproved of this as the Houthis and GPC had been allies in the fight against Saudi Arabia and forces loyal to embattled Yemeni President Abdo-Rebo Mansour Hadi for almost three years.
On Saturday December 2, the Houthi leader gave a second televised address urging Ali Abdullah Saleh to end hostilities and accept negotiations.
But Saleh supporters interpreted this to be a sign of weakness from the Houthi leader, and many claimed that Abd-Malik al Houthi was “shaken” and “terrified.”
Drums of War
The drums of war continued to beat louder and louder as clashes intensified in the capital Sana’a. More and more videos of Saleh supporters protesting and attacking Houthis in Sana’a continued to circulate the net.
The impression given by the media was that the Houthis were on their last legs and that victory was destined for Ali Abdullah Saleh – which is probably why he refused negotiations with the Houthis.
So he was effectively fooled by the media or “fake news” into believing he was wining the battle. Saleh probably thought he would soon be crowned as the “saviour of Yemen” with what appeared to be nationwide support.
But as it turned out, he was dead wrong. On the evening of Sunday December 3 Houthi fighters launched operation “The Last Dance” whereby they managed to deliver a crushing blow to Saleh’s forces and stormed Saleh’s compound.
The former Yemeni president, who once said “ruling Yemen is like dancing on top of the heads of snakes,” was declared dead on Monday December 4 by Yemen’s Ministry of Interior.
A video showing Saleh’s battered body being carried in a blanket by Ansarullah fighters chanting “death to America, death to Israel” was released later that day – sending shockwaves across Yemen and the rest of the region.