When he called his opposition secessionist opponents swine flu viruses, President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not know that he was in fact praising them because this means that they can spread very rapidly, and move into any place, no matter how protected or remote it may be, and, on top of this, it is fatal. This is a description of a successful opposition, not a despicable one, as he wanted to say in his mass rally speech.
There are two types of opposition in Yemen: an official opposition that has pledged allegiance to the regime, and that voices its views through Parliament, the registered parties and the authorized newspapers; and a second opposition that is separatist and rebellious against the whole regime, and which is to be found in north Yemen where the fight against the Huthis is taking place. There is an opposition in the south of the country too, which is the one described by the president as a dangerous virus.
Whether the opposition is like a bout of measles or swine flu, simple and temporary or contagious and fatal, what is happening in the south of Yemen cannot be reduced to medical terms, because it represents a situation that would prove to be very dangerous for the country if it is not tackled with various remedies: First, with dialogue, second with the investigation of local complaints, and third through a comprehensive and genuine solution, not a partial, temporary one.
The situation of the regime is very difficult, according to the president himself, who has already warned that the success of the separatists in the south would divide the whole of Yemen into several small warring mini-states. He is right in his assessment and in his warning. The president has given the impression that Yemen is going through a very serious situation, which has prompted him to make such pessimistic utterances.
One does not need to be privy to Yemeni details to realize the danger of the situation there; it suffices for one to look at the geographical neighborhood of Yemen to find out that it is in the vicinity of the disaster-stricken Horn of Africa countries, and of the pirates’ sea; it is also a rallying point for refugees from miserable Somalia, which is in fact divided by civil war.
The emergency situation in Yemen, specifically in the south where separatist calls have been revived, is extremely serious because it can exhaust and weaken the state everywhere in the country. Moreover, if tension escalates from Sada to Aden, and if the country gets embroiled in a fight against the Iran-backed Huthis in the northern mountains, and in an attempt to put an end to rebellion in the southern plains, the situation will worsen, and the army will have to carry out large-scale military operations. As a result, the state will find itself exhausted at a time when it needs every single dollar to spend on basic services.
I do not know whether there is a way out of this situation other than negotiations with the southerners, considering that there are leaders among them, who are committed to the protection of unity and to staying within the framework of the regime. Nonetheless, they have claims that deserve to be heard, if they serve public interest. Their political participation should be widened, and public services should be extended. The aim should be the protection of Yemen as a whole, with an invigoration of relations with a region which, only a few years ago, was an independent state, and which, during the unification, was promised that it would be part of the unified state.
The Yemeni president is expected to take the initiative toward this end, because he is the architect of Yemen’s modern history, and he is the one behind the unity project. So, he is required to protect unity, which means putting forward new ideas, not just enticing opposition leaders inside and outside the country with promises of senior posts.