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President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Mohamed Reza Shah of Iran, Historic Parallels

Until the Arab spring movement and its legion of revolutionaries came to clash with President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, demanding an end to decades of autocracy and repression, the Americans considered Yemen’s autocrat a “bulwark” against terrorism, a strategic ally in the region in the fight against al-Qaeda, the well-known Islamic organization.
When it became clear that Yemenis were determined to depose the aging dictator, no matter the amount of blood his armed forces were willing to shed, the White House started to shift its rhetoric, calling for reforms and a transition to more “democratic institutions.”

The “beautiful friendship” which united the 2 countries started to melt away at the pyre of people’s anger, threatening to damage America’s foothold in the region.
Although many democracy militants have accused the United States of America of siding with dictators for it served their middle-eastern policies, accusing them of protecting and in the case of President Saleh harboring war criminals; one could wonder whether America is not playing a much sinister game of plots and betrayals.
One does not need to go back to far up in the history book to remember another well-known autocrat whose friendship was discarded when he failed to fulfill his purpose. Mohamed Reza Shah of Iran was abandoned by his “American friends” and almost sold back to the Ayatollahs when he failed to live up to the White House foreign policies’ expectations.
Could the Obama’s administration turn against Saleh and hand him over to those who are clamoring for his arrest? Could Yemen’s infamous statesman become the new Shah of Iran in his desperate search for political asylum?
One cannot draw away from the remarkable symmetry in between the two deposed leaders. One ran away for his allegiance to the West angered his people so that he feared they would execute him, another was forced to relinquish the power America’s helped him to master for 3 decades. Both turned to the United States and were denied entry, both insisted, both were eventually allowed.
One was betrayed, one is awaiting his fate.

Mohamed Reza Shah of Iran

The very countries which are claiming to be promoting Democracy and Freedom across the Globe, saying that they will always side with those who seek to emulate western standards, are the very ones who crushed the little hope Iran had at becoming a successful democratic state.
Because Iran’s emancipation stood in the way of their economic interests, the United States and Britain decided to assert the Shah’s absolute power over his people.
When Mohamed Mosadeqq, the founder and leader of the National Front of Iran was elected Prime Minister by the Parliament, he immediately announced the nationalization of Iran Oil industry, shutting out the immensely lucrative Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which at the time was one of Britain main economic pillars.
The British then convinced the Americans of the need to overthrow Mosadeqq and re-establish the Shah of Iran as the only authority in the country, arguing that the move would serve both nations interest in the region.
Iran strategic geo-political position and its vast Oil reserves represented too much of an asset for western hegemony to let something such as democracy get in the way.

After a “coup d’état” known as the “operation Ajax” failed, the Shah was pressured into issuing a decree stating Mosadeqq’s demotion. Subsequently the Shah fled to Iraq, then Italy for he feared for his life. He later came back under the protection of his allies.
2 decades later, the Shah was ousted by his people as his attempts to westernize and secularize Iran had anger the people and the political class to such an extent that they sought his execution.
In exile and ill with cancer the monarch turned to the United States of America for safety only to be denied asylum. After he insisted for he said he needed urgent medical treatment, the Pentagon agreed to allow him in for a limited period of time. It turned out that the visit of the Royal coincided with an attack against the American Embassy in Tehran and the kidnapping of some 400 American nationals.
Caught in the middle of much controversy, shun away by his former friends, a terminally ill Shah sought refuge in Latin America to finally come to die in Egypt where he is buried.

Ali Abdullah Saleh

In the wake of the attack on American soil by al-Qaeda in 2001, President Saleh realized that if he had any chance of surviving the military wave which was threatening to come his way he had to quickly seal an alliance with the Western giant.
The Yemeni-American fight against terrorism was born.
And if Saleh manipulated his new “friends” by playing up their fear in exchange for financial support the alliance cost him dearly on the political front.
As Drones attacks became more frequent and civilian casualties mounted, Yemenis started to speak of treason, accusing the autocrat of allowing foreign forces to enter Yemen air space in exchange for cash.
The seeds of revolt were planted.

And although it took Yemen nearly 2 decades to finally mobilize the needed momentum to rise up against the state apparatus, Saleh’s opponents proved impossible to stop.
Having witnessed first-hand the power of the people in Egypt, the White House decided to operate differently in Yemen, preferring to prepare the autocrat’s exit according to a specific set of terms rather than let the mob overtake the presidential palace and potentially ruin any hope of further cooperation on the al-Qaeda front.

But if Saleh successfully secured his political and financial safety as well as that of his extended family, his troubles might not be over yet.
Just as Yemen is preparing to welcome a new president, Saleh who was victim of a bomb attack in 2011 at the very heart of his presidential compound has since been suffering from ill-health, requiring extensive medical attention.
As the Shah did before him, Saleh asked to be allowed to travel to the United States to undergo some much needed medical treatment, only to be refused. Following weeks of intense negotiations and much political controversy, the White House finally agreed to allow Saleh in, providing that his visit be brief and strictly confined to the hospital.

And as the Shah before him, his countrymen are already gathering, demanding that he’d be deported to the International Criminal Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and his assets frozen for having pillage Yemen’s riches.
Only weeks after Yemen’s parliament granted him immunity, Saleh runs the risk, like the Shah did, of being sold out to his opponents for he no longer serves his purpose and has become somewhat of a liability. And since United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon declared that no immunity would stand in a court of law when it came to war crimes and gross violations to human rights, the White House could in all good conscience leave the autocrat to suffer the fate he deserves.



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.