Citizen Saleh

Gaddafi is dead, Mubarak is in jail, Ben Ali is in exile but Yemen's former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is living comfortably at home – thanks to a vote in parliament which gave him immunity from prosecution – and he has been talking about his new life as "a normal Yemeni citizen".

In an interview with Saudi journalist Faheem al-Hamid, Saleh describes a typical day:

"My program starts at 11am when in my courtyard I hold several meetings with political leaders, partisans, social personalities, tribal chiefs and citizens to offer advice on the situation in Yemen. After these meetings, I go to work in horticulture. I inspect the vegetation I have planted in my house garden. I also water them. 

"At 3pm I enter the health club inside my house where I exercise for three continuous hours. I also do physiotherapy on my hands and fingers [injured in the bomb attack on his palace in 2011] under the supervision of a doctor. After that I watch the news on TV. As a matter of fact various kinds of sport is the backbone of my daily programme. I am also receiving regular medical treatment, meeting citizens and living my life normally."

Allegedly, growing things has been his favourite hobby "since olden times":

"I have cultivated olive trees, tamarind, coffee, palm trees, decorative plants and others. I love horticulture and greenery. Some of the trees have started to bear fruits ... The latest of these trees is the tumb tree which has heavy leaves. I am using it to protect the coffee trees ... the best kinds of doors are made from the wood of the tumb tree."

He also claims to be writing his memoirs, though it's hard to see how he finds the time. Apparently two volumes are already completed and he's working on the third – though he says nothing will be published until after his death.

Naturally (since this was an interview with a Saudi news organisation), Saleh gushes with praise for King Abdullah – "a man of clean heart, an eloquent statesman and a farsighted leader with long-range strategic vision" – and says he will never forget the king's favours.

Predictably too, he complains about the arduous time he had as Yemen's president. "Power is a loss not a gain," he says. Which begs the question of why he clung to it so tenaciously for almost 34 years. Now, though, he is a free man and can "go out to the market" any time he likes. (Does he really do his own shopping, I wonder.)

Anyway, he is out of politics now. Well, not quite. Reluctant as he is, he may be required to help with Yemen's forthcoming National Dialogue. "Some members" of his party have asked him to stick around "to witness the start of the National Dialogue Conference and offer them advice whenever they may need it".

Unfortunately this may lead some readers to conclude that Saleh is an irrepressible bullshitter. And they would probably be right.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 January 2013