Yemen’s Numan: Power Must Return to the Popular Will
By: Jomana Farhat
Published Saturday, September 15, 2012
Late August an assassination attempt was made on the Secretary General of the Yemeni Socialist Party Yasin Said Numan in a series of attacks signifying growing tension ahead of the upcoming national dialogue. Al-Akhbar interviewed Numan to glean information on the country’s tense situation.
Jomana Farhat: There was an assassination attempt against you a few days ago. Who do you think was behind it and which parties would benefit from it?
Yasin Numan: Recently, leaders of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) have been the targets of incitement, have received threats against their lives and have experienced assassination attempts. Then came the attempt against me. More recently, the youth campsite of the party and its supporters was burned down in Change Square.
The wide range of national tasks tackled by YSP recently would have definitely provoked the anti-change forces. The political history of these forces shows their involvement in assassinating their adversaries. Today, those involved in these, and previous, criminal acts, which at the time targeted scores of YSP leaders from the South and elsewhere, use the media to distort the truth and to minimize the threat they pose for purposes that are just as sordid as their practices in previous periods.
JF: Some say that the situation in Yemen today is similar to that just before the 1994 war. How do you evaluate the current situation? Is Yemen on the brink of a new war?
YN: The revolution paved the way for a complete change in Yemen. Yemen cannot go back to the old situation which the people rose up against. Violence, and the obstacles that appear every once in a while, are just desperate attempts by the forces targeted by the calls for change. These forces make good use of what the political process has to offer, such as the opportunity for all to participate in the process of change, which is the basis of the process to reach an accord.
Yemen had all the necessary ingredients for a fiercer and more violent war than any other country. However, the Yemenis decided to establish change based on the aims of the popular revolution, through a political process which avoids war. The problem is that the ex-president still has not fulfilled all the terms of the agreement for relinquishing power. This can be seen by the insistence of his remaining supporters on making him the focal point for everyone who opposes the political process. This creates a situation of perpetual confrontation because their position goes against all the decisions made by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the national unity government. It produces tension, and the conflict involving weapons, explosions, violence and assassinations that the country is experiencing.
We can also see pockets of powers and elites who insist on holding on to what they consider to be their “historical” gains. They refuse to apologize for wars which they exploited to spread their control and influence, especially the 1994 war. Today, the choices are to either make the dialogue succeed or a return to war. But dialogue will only work if the culture of glorifying wars is abandoned, a complete break with it declared and a genuine apology issued.
JF: The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) today face accusations and sharp criticism from the youth in the squares. They accuse them of abandoning the revolution in exchange for power. What is your response? How do you evaluate the performance of the JMP and the relationship between the various forces within it, particularly when there is talk of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Islah) controlling it?
YN: Firstly, no one is above criticism. We at the JMP can say that we have taken historic decisions suitable at the moment. We have done so by engaging in internal democratic debates, characterized by accurate assessments and reasonable readings of the current situation. Look at who is represented in the committee in charge of preparing for the national dialogue. It includes the political parties, youth, women, civil society organizations and the Houthis. The JMP is only represented by three out of twenty five members, which proves that the JMP did not take any steps along the political process until the revolution had fulfilled its main aim, which was to transfer authority on the basis of the call for change that sparked the revolution. As for what is being said about al-Islah controlling the JMP, these are simply old refrains repeated by the enemies of the JMP. The parties belonging to JMP are all on an equal footing within the coalition.
JF: The Dialogue Committee proposed twenty points which were considered preliminary to dialogue. Among them was apologizing to the South and Saada. It is said that President Hadi told the committee that implementing some of these points was beyond his and his government’s ability. Do you not think that this statement gives those who refuse to participate in the dialogue a further excuse to justify their position?
YN: The points suggested by the Dialogue Committee are the minimum that we can begin with if we want to create the right climate for successful dialogue. In his current position, President Hadi faces many pressures from forces that remain intoxicated by power, war and chaos. They are proud of their sins when they are asked to apologize to the people for the harm that befell them during the dirty wars that they planned and carried out in order to impose their influence and domination. The insistence of some people that Yemen should continue to carry the burden of these dirty wars is incomprehensible when we have a popular revolution against all the dirt of the past.
If the issues raised by the South are not dealt with, beginning with a condemnation of the war and all the policies, mistakes and violations of human rights that resulted from it, we would have to rely on an unsettled conscience to determine the future of this country.
JF: Some currents in the Southern Movement, particularly the ex-vice president of Yemen, Ali Salem al-Baid, insist that dialogue has to be between two parties only, the North and the South, and has to be on the basis of disengagement. What is your opinion on this matter?
YN: Everyone now realizes that a just solution to the Southern question is the main link in the political process taking place in the country. What I mean by the just solution is the solution that gives the people in the South the right to political initiative, away from the pressures created by the wrongful policies of the old regime towards the South, or the pressures created by isolationist tribal mobilization by forces which exploit the anger of the people with unpredictable results. Of course, this solution needs a climate of political struggle similar to that of the peaceful movement in its early days, before agendas were imposed on it and began to rebuild it with an element of risk replete with chaos and violence. Ali al-Baid is one of the most honest political leaders of my time, but because of its nature and when there are such fast changing circumstances, politics cannot move in a straight line. It cannot be a series of reactions either, it has to be sufficiently independent of emotions.
JF: The unity of Yemen is under threat now more than at any time before. What is the way to preserve it?
YN: Unity was undermined from day one, when the Sanaa regime refused to establish a national unity state with its own political regime. They insisted on hanging on to the government of the Arab Republic of Yemen, which dominated in the North, and its political and social regime, all reinforced by the 1994 war. Since then, the old regime has worked on making people believe that national unity is just an excuse to spread influence, power and dominion, a clever ruse just like the one used to rule the North through loyalty to the ruler, whereby he very carefully chooses who represents the various regions. When the South rose in an all out revolution to reject that situation, the regime used its entire arsenal of oppression to destroy the South. It tapped into its repository of violence and extremism and spread chaos, distributing weapons randomly, as well as drugs, and enabling the armed groups to occupy large parts of the area so that the South would appear to be unable to protect its political future. And when the South’s popular revolution was successful, the regime proceeded to destroy it by using its supporters who raised extremist slogans about the South in which they tried to trump the peaceful movement, which has always fought and sacrificed for the cause. The aim of all this was to reshuffle the decks and to show the movement in a bad light, as a chaotic phenomenon. Sadly, they were able to penetrate parts of the movement through the very same chink, the culture of hatred.
Today, talk of unity is often combined with talk of disengagement. This opens the door to something even more dangerous if the Yemenis do not regain their balance at this most important moment in their history. They need to seize the opportunity and prepare for the right circumstances to return power to the popular will, so that it has a strong presence when it comes to determining the future. Elite projects have to disappear. The way ahead should be open to the choices made by the people, because only these choices will be able to stand up to the many challenges ahead.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.