Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s ruling party, will discuss whether to withdraw backing for its leader Ali Abdullah Saleh following his declaration of support for the powerful Houthi rebel group, a leading GPC official told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Speaking via phone, the GPC’s second-in-command Ahmed Ben Dagher said Saleh’s declaration of support for the Houthi movement has shifted the balance within the party, whose members will be holding a meeting in Cairo to determine their stance on the former president.
In footage broadcast on Sunday by a pro-Saleh TV channel, the deposed president was shown announcing his backing for the rebels after Saudi-led coalition forces bombed his residence.
“I was not an ally of Ansar Allah,” he said, using an alternative moniker for the Houthis. “But today I am announcing from this place that Yemenis will be supportive of anyone who defends the nation’s resources,” Saleh said.
A Gulf-sponsored initiative adopted in 2012 in response to mass anti-government demonstrations in Yemen saw Saleh step down as president in favor of his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi while maintaining his position as party leader.
The former president previously denied accusations of links to the Houthis, the Shi’ite group that turned against Hadi in late 2014, and is now the target of an aerial campaign launched by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.
Signs of Saleh’s loosening grip on the GPC began to emerge after several party members reportedly visited Riyadh last week to negotiate participation in reconciliation talks called for by the Kingdom. The Houthis said they would not engage in peace talks until the bombing campaign ceased.
Ben Dagher last week turned against Saleh by demanding the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for Hadi’s restoration as president and the immediate withdrawal of Houthis from Sana’a.
The Cairo meeting will discuss ways to end the political crisis in Yemen, as well as the party’s position on peace talks scheduled to take place later this month in Riyadh, Ben Dagher said.
Preparations for the Riyadh talks are currently underway and arrangements have been made for the participation of 250 Yemeni political figures from across the spectrum, the chairman of the executive committee for the Riyadh talks, Abdullah Jabari, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to Jabari, the GPC will participate in the talks and the party will announce from Cairo its final stance on Saleh.