Ali Abdullah Saleh, Strongman Who Helped Unite Yemen, and Divide It, Dies at 75

“It is a tragic end for a tragic 33 years of misruling Yemen,” said Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni scholar and chairman of the Sana Center for Strategic Studies. He compared Mr. Saleh to Saddam Hussein and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and said that Yemen, like Iraq and Libya, had descended into chaos in part because of Mr. Saleh’s failure to build durable institutions while in office.

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Gerald M. Feierstein, who met Mr. Saleh frequently as United States ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013, called him “completely untrustworthy.” But he said some Yemenis would favorably compare the relative stability of their country during much of Mr. Saleh’s rule, from 1978 to early 2012, with the current violence and breakdown.

“The positive is that he did kind of hold the place together,” Mr. Feierstein said, showing “a sort of political mastery that moved Yemen forward in some ways,” including on education and health.

But Mr. Saleh, he said, “was a kleptomaniac who stole billions, perhaps tens of billions of dollars, over the years.” He based his rule on a personality cult, Mr. Feierstein said, and so “the government, the judicial system — none of it was able to function after he left office because it was built around him and his family.”

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From right, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and Mr. Saleh at Friday Prayer in 1989 during the Arab Cooperation Council in Alexandria, Egypt.

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Mike Nelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the later years of Mr. Saleh’s rule, his arid, impoverished country of 28 million people attracted outsize attention from the United States as a potential source of terrorist attacks by the Qaeda branch based there, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

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