Everybody expected that the transitional period, which the Gulf Initiative for Yemen and its executive mechanisms stipulated should last for two years ending in February 2014, would be an approach to solving Yemen’s problems. Some also expected that the so-called the “Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference” will be an arena for all concerned to put forth serious ideas and realistic views, and find acceptable peaceful ways out.
Those who made the preparations for the conference sessions disregarded the importance of demands from numerous southern leaders who realized that was necessary to encourage actual powers to attend such gatherings. For southern leaders, these gatherings were an opportunity for all concerned to put forth the ideas they viewed as a way out of the catastrophe caused by the war in summer 1994 and the arbitrary acts that happened thereafter. Such acts soured the public mood in the south not just towards those who blindly steered the south towards unity, but also towards the idea of unity itself.
Such fears were prevalent during the meeting I had with a Western ambassador in Sana’a. During that meeting, I warned him of engaging in a dialogue before making every effort to contact and negotiate with actual southern leaders both inside and outside the country. Yet, I wondered at his justification that the parties concerned could proceed in the dialogue even if actual powers were absent and that, during that period, it was possible for them to continue with their good offices to save time, said the diplomat.
This, however, made success contingent upon the ability to strike a balance between principles and blackmail, and the ambassador’s ability to impact upon what is happening in the corridors of the Movinpick Hotel, the venue for many of the conference sessions in conference in Sana’a. A few days after the start of the meetings in the Movenpick, it was apparent that the fears displayed by many about ‘burning stages’ has become an obsession, and a reality that shifted by time into an element of concern and frustration for citizens. In spite of the financial privileges given to participants, reality was more pressing and decisive, and considerable alarm was raised when a southern leader withdrew from the meeting, resigned and even left the country to be dedicate himself to private business. This all did not lead to any reaction, and the situation was handled with ignorance, as usual. The state of continued stubbornness and the reliance on some Western ambassadors as a decisive key element have all proved that emphasis must be laid on internal factors, away from outdated methods of buying people’s loyalties.
The number of issues put forth for discussion by the conference increased, and recommendations, decisions and sit-ins increased as well. However, all of a sudden, decision-makers remembered that all the participants’ efforts and their valuable time would be of no avail unless a solution for the problem of the south is reached in a manner that satisfies southerners and restores to them what they lost in the past two decades. Decision-makers remembered the recommendations issued prior to the Movenpick meetings and the annexes added to them later on, and so committees were formed to put them into effect. An executive list of items with specific dates was compiled, and what remained to be done was ensuring financial allocations to transfer these items into a sensible reality.
Here a question rises: What do the southerners really want? Why are some northerners apprehensive regarding the southern demands?
When the war in summer 1994 was over, the south turned into a field for dividing spoils, while northerners and southerners, shut their eyes to what was happening to their brothers in the south. They even objected to calls for for national reconciliation, the acceleration of the normalization of relations and abstention from taking revenge on their former foes. This way, all the calls were met with ignorance and mockery by those who held illusions fed by their supposed victory, and by their arrogance and power.
The passage of time has led to a state of relaxation in Sana’a, that soon fed into an underestimation of psychological, social and security problems. Reports refer to opponents with terms such as “agents,” “enemies of unity”, “ill-wishers” and other terms used by the regimes that are detached from reality and which live in an ivory tower and are unaware that they have become ostrich-like. Voices in the south have risen to express disdain, display a sense of grievance and demand the minimum levels of equality. The capital Sana’a remained detached from reality, and it continued to abide by its own approach of buying loyalties and spending money on projects that failed to yield any results that could alleviate people’s rage and fury. As a result, the situation shifted from demanding equality and ending injustice into calls for separation and ending occupation.
I believe that it is necessary to deal with occurrences on the ground, rather than wasting time in marginal issues. Everyone must endeavor to avoid sliding into the abyss of committees, lists and schedules. It is everyone’s duty to seriously and responsibly handle the issues, the superficial treatment of which have caused the country’s southern and northern parts to slide into a bottomless abyss.
The talk that was conducted here about what could be “negotiable” is about two issues: One nation in two regions, or one nation in five provinces (two in the south and three in the north).
It is true that the hostile view in the north (especially in the farthest tip of the north) about federation has become somewhat acceptable out of the desire to be buffered against shocks. Yet, the reality which those people must realize is that accepting a federation of two regions would open up doors that were closed by arrogant and high-handed leadership, and reopen doors to cooperation and help people regain their old tranquility and good faith.
In June 1994, I, together with a dear friend, visited a former southern leader in his exile, to urge him to use his then strong ties with the authorities in Sana’a to stop bombarding Aden and its suburbs, and rescue its people. We told him that the core philosophy of any unity is the freedom of transport between different parts of the country in which a citizen has the right to live safely, have an honorable job anywhere within his country without restriction, and ensure that his interests are maintained. Anything other than this would be of no importance to an ordinary citizen, being the cornerstone of any nation. Our host was not enthusiastic about such a discourse, for he considered it a call for pulling Yemen back to the time of separation. Later on, I met that Yemeni leader on several occasions after everyone became horrified at what was happening. To my surprise, he was an advocate of our opinion and he even called for it.
So, will those who are administering the situation outside Movenpick stave off such a difficult situation? Will those who refuse to live without a nation to dominate understand that there is no more time for maneuvers or for selling illusions to the people? Furthermore, those who are harboring a feeling of grievance and fury, and who say that the south is not Yemeni, must also know that this view involves drawing arbitrary distinctions, and the denial of history and geography, and of the deeply-rooted family relations between Yemenis.
The Yemenis will remain unified, even if they lived in two or in even five regions with arbitrary borders, and even if issues return the land to the old situation prior to unity.