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Opinion: A Possible Alternative for Yemen | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Yemeni man holds up the national flag during celebrations marking the third anniversary of the Yemeni revolution that toppled former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, at Sanaa University in the capital, on January 15, 2014. The Yemeni revolution came after the Tunisian Revolution and Egyptian Revolution of 2011. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED HUWAIS

On December 23, 2013, Yemeni state media broadcast footage of a meeting during which the a document called the “Solutions and Guarantees Relating to the Southern Issue” was signed. State media announced that this document would bring about salvation and secure a better future for Yemen. Only a few hours later, however, it became clear that the situation had not developed as the advisors had hoped and that the issue would require more than mere temptation to resolve. Remarkably, the UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, was absent. It appears he decided to leave the country just hours before the signing, as if he sensed the damage that had been done to the document he helped develop.

While some of its articles called for the imposition of stronger controls on the country, others appeared to contradict each other, or at best were open to interpretation. Although the General People’s Congress (GPC), the Yemeni Socialist Party and the Nasserites were absent, the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference’s administrators bizarrely insisted on announcing that all parties had signed the document. Some of the attendants were shown kissing each other’s heads, a gesture of respect and admiration in the Arab world. The administrative body’s weakness in terms of politics and legal issues was thus emphasized and highlighted.

The only party that remained true to its orientation was the GPC, which held firm to its reservations. The party sought the help of one of the most important Arab advisors on international law. He voiced many reservations and warned of what he considered to be the document’s fundamental political and legal shortcomings, as well as its poorly drafted text. Days later, we heard that those who originally abstained had agreed to sign, but only after they added their reservations next to their signatures. What is sad is the fact that the signing of this flawed document means, more or less, a happy ending to the Yemeni National Dialogue. But if this is indeed the case, why did the so-called political elite sign the document in the first place? Why did they fail to notice these caveats? On January 7, 2014, another statement was released approving these reservations. The content of this new statement, which has been signed and voted on, will serve to provoke fresh controversy within the committee assigned to draft Yemen’s new constitution. What is even more dangerous is that the people in the South will not accept this.

Those attending the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference at the Mövenpick Hotel have wasted the Yemeni people’s time and money and dashed their hopes and aspirations. However, these same people view themselves as the saviors of the nation and the protectors of its future. Today, Yemenis are facing a terrifying, confused and chaotic scene. Truly confronting the country’s problems cannot take place through creating illusions. That can only be achieved through honesty and clarity, and by informing Yemen’s citizens about the reality of the current situation and the country’s future prospects. Foreign visions should not dominate the scene. And those who imagine that solutions will be readily provided and imposed by the international community are frivolous and have failed to comprehend what happened in neighboring countries, which have been turned into rubble.

Yemen is today facing a scene that even the most pessimistic could not envision: either separation or fragmentation.

We are faced with an utterly futile political arena, while time and effort are being wasted. This will only serve to further complicate and strain the situation, inciting more hatred and enmity and worsening living and security conditions across Yemen, whether in the South or the North. It is irresponsible to purposefully ignore the facts and bury one’s head in the sand while everyone else knows what is taking place publicly and in private. Meanwhile, many boast they represent this or that part of the country, having no qualms about signing papers they know are politically and legally worthless and which do not serve Yemen’s best interests.

I will not talk about what is happening in Saada province, but I do believe that I have a national and moral duty to raise my voice and declare that Yemen’s best interests lie in it returning to the situation before May 21, 1990, one day before Yemen’s reunification. I am not one of those people who dream of the catastrophic situation settling down or improving. It has been two years since the power transfer in Yemen. People continue to be deluded about the prospects of a solution appearing like magic to restore calm in Yemen’s restive South. But this has not happened, nor will it happen. It is enough to look at the number of visits government officials have made to the South and what these visits have produced. In fact, I will add another question about the number of visits members of Al-Hirak have made to the South in order to convince their brothers to support the decisions they are making at the Mövenpick.

When the 1994 civil war in Yemen ended, a few people warned of the fallout unless those holding the levers of power did something. The regime was tirelessly supported by their new Southern partners, who were brought to power instead of the losers of the heinous war that killed thousands and disrupted the psychological and social links between the South and the North.

Following July 7, 1994, those in power failed to notice the destructive impact of what happened, believing instead that money, nepotism and buying allegiances were the appropriate means of placating the South and buying people’s silence. However, indignation grew in the South, particularly among those who, having been removed from their public jobs, lost their sources of livelihood. Later, things continued to deteriorate, and a few people began to raise their voices, warning of how serious the situation was. However, the arrogance of those in power led them to ignore those warnings and continue to claim that all was well. All of the strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations were dismissed as being the work of a minority so small they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Thus, those in power continued to serve their own interests, and things ultimately spiraled out of control.

A few days ago, I saw a former Southern minister on television speaking about the South’s grievances and their legitimate demands of freedom and independence. This change of attitude suggests the serious nature of the current situation, particularly since this minister contributed to the isolation and the forcing of the Southern officers into early retirement. His latest statements no doubt represent a late pang of conscience or a realization of the transformations that have taken place in the South. In both cases, it is an indication of what must now be done.

Those arguing in favor of Yemeni unity today—basing their arguments on international texts—have to turn to what the UN Security Council resolutions has so far publicized regarding the unity of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan. They also have to realize that talk about the return to a federal government with two regions is the minimum that can be accepted in the South. They must accept that and carry it out, lest we come to a situation that pushes Yemen towards complete fragmentation. At that time, no one will have the ability to control the repercussions.

I feel anguish to find myself supporting those calling for the return to the pre-May 21, 1990, borders. But I hope that Yemen’s Southerners are not pushed into denying their kinship with their brothers in the North and their historical and geographic links. Once the situation calms in the future, it will be eminently possible for the coming generations to restore what we have lost thanks to clumsy policies, arrogance and reverence of money and power.