By: Hind Aleryani
The former head of the Central Security Forces and nephew of former president Ali Saleh is regarded as a unique character on the Yemeni scene. Yahya Saleh can come off as a combination of many characters, including Don Juan and Che Guevara. He often wears t-shirts featuring Che Guevara’s photo, yet he stood in opposition to the revolution which removed his uncle from presidential power.
Yahya shows appreciation for the lifestyle of the late Libyan president Muammar Al-Qaddafi, surrounding himself with female guards from the military police and wearing odd clothes and strange hats. He’s the only Yemeni official who has photos of himself on Facebook wearing cotton t-shirts emblazoned with the red communist star, colorful swimming trunks and red slippers.
Yahya Saleh enjoys great popularity with supporters of the former regime, who often show up in force at any party he hosts. Of them all, the most important party for him is that which marks his birthday.
In 2009, Yahya Saleh called for the establishment of a police academy for women. The idea was implemented, and a female police department established as part of the Central Security Forces.
Following the eruption of Yemen’s Youth Revolution, Saleh received widespread condemnation. It didn’t help that his birthday celebration was held – complete with images of him cutting five cakes all topped with likenesses of Che Guevarra – while the nation experienced a state of economic crisis. To make matters worse, female officers described as a ‘Don Juan’, a description suited to cause problems in what is recognized as a socially conservative society.
Yahya Saleh has been known to support the Palestinian cause through his organization, Kana’an, which was named after his son. He also established the Cultural Development Forum, which involved participation from leftist figures such as Ra’ofa Hassan.
While he had chosen to visit with Che Guevara’s family, he was accused of killing, arresting and torturing Yemeni revolutionary youths.
In an interview given in late 2011, Saleh denied that Central Security Forces soldiers killed revolutionaries, and stated that the opposition had used the bloods of youths to attract attention to its cause from western media and human rights organizations.
“The revolutionaries have weapons and their revolution is not peaceful, as it is supported by Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda,” he said.
Despite his rejection of the revolution, he congratulated 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman – even though “she hates him”, as he said. At the time, Yahya Saleh said that Karman deserved to be Yemen’s president in 2012, as she was the first Yemeni woman to win the Nobel Prize and would be able to keep up with modern times.
“She travelled through many western countries and overcame the barriers of fear in her society’s traditions – especially since she belongs to an Islamic party – which means she is looking ahead to a civil nation,” he stated.
He confirmed that he was the first from the ruling family to congratulate her in 2011. “Although she hates me and severely criticizes the former president and myself, I have never taken this into consideration; I took into consideration that she was the only person to become a prominent figure from Yemeni society,” he said.
This past week, President Hadi dismissed Yahya Saleh from his military leadership position. However, Saleh’s reaction was one of support. He sent a card to Hadi, congratulating him for the brave decisions he had made.