Ali Salem al-Beidh, the last president of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s, has in recent years returned to public political activism by taking a leading role in the Southern Peaceful Movement for independence. After being forced into exile following an internal conflict in
You were exiled from
When we look today, we see signs of the upcoming victory. In 1994, when we left
The GCC put forward an initiative to solve the crisis in Sana’a, where there is a power struggle, and they ignored the Southern demands. The gulf countries were not far away from what was happening in Sana’a. We have to continue our struggle, count on ourselves, and mend our souls.
You speak of a blackout against the Southern cause. Who is behind it?
There is a blackout. Even in the GCC initiative, there was a small clause at the end, stressing the unity of
Is there a pro-unification GCC policy?
During the last period, there was a planned media blackout of the Southern cause. There was no news on
How would an independent
We are struggling now to get rid of dozens of Northern occupation brigades. We are also working on strengthening and deepening reconciliation in the South. We have witnessed eras of internal divisions before and after the first independence. But we have good signs of reconciliation and national unity. We extend our hand to all factions without discrimination and regardless of past differences to build a democratic parliamentary and federal
When we ruled The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, before the ominous and treacherous unification, there were no pirates in the Arab sea or
From 1994 till 2009, there were 15 years of political silence in
The re-evaluation is not personal. In both the national and peaceful movements, such reassessments occur. We have good cadres and academics who look back recognizing the need to eliminate the past’s residues, and look forward to a pluralistic and tolerant society. During our independence years, we had one political party, and then after unification, we tried to open the door for political pluralism, but it was too late. After all these years, we are exerting efforts to establish a democratic pluralism, and to open the door for wide participation and tolerance. We do have a true re-assessment of the past, but it is not personal. I and many other leaders of the peaceful movement who live in exile have learned from our experiences; we have great hope that we can offer a better model.
In a nutshell, what were the effects of the North’s domination on the South?
What happened during those two decades led hundreds of thousands of Southerners to demonstrate and demand freedom from this backward and barbaric occupation. Many things happened. Before unification, The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s public sector employed no less than 600 thousand people. Our big government policy was known. Our population was about 5-6 million, while the North had 20 millions people, while their public sector employees did not employ more than 200 thousand. 600 thousand workers became unemployed; they establish what is known as “stay at home party”. They were real and professional cadres; we spent a lot of money on training them. The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was the only Arab country that eliminated illiteracy through an effective program; today, under this occupation, illiteracy rates have risen to 60%.
There is also an intentional sabotage of our Southern culture, stealing our natural wealth, and erasing our history. They even replaced famous names of streets, mostly to commemorate popular martyrs. Saleh’s regime also fostered a culture of revenge between Southern tribes in a divide and rule strategy.
Through unification, Southerners dreamed of going forward and developing, but we were dragged into a miserable heart-breaking situation. They destroyed everything. We were two states, two regimes, and we agreed to unification according to signed plans that were scrapped. Then, no less than 150 Southern cadres were assassinated. This situation led us to signing an agreement in
You and many Southerners stress the cultural differences between the South and North. Can you elaborate on that?
In the South, there is potential for creating and encouraging a civil society. At the time of unification, we, the Southerners, tried to improve our model, as both sides had agreed to take the best elements of the two former regimes. We introduced an economic reform program; it was passed in parliament but not implemented. We demanded that in every town where you have a policeman, there should be a court. Such demands were scrapped. Saleh oversees tribal fiefdoms. In every tribal Sheikh’s house, there is a prison. Outside Sana’a, Ta’izz, and Hodeidah, there is no government. There are ruling tribal sheikhs who run their affairs in coordination with Saleh, usually via his most preferred way, the telephone, rather than institutions.
We have two cultures, two views on the way of life. We found ourselves very different from the North in all walks of life. All the rhetoric on “our
Southern leaders are now divided between pro-independence, like yourself, and the GCC supported federalists. How do you justify this split?
In the South, there are two projects. The first is the federal project whose proponents are unable to hold a single meeting on the streets because of popular rejection. The second is the independence movement represented by us, and the Peaceful Movement.
Is there an organisational/hierarchical link with the Peaceful movement?
Of course. A higher leadership council runs the movement; its president is Hussein Ahmed Baoum who was moved this week from a Yemeni prison to
Another project, in addition to aforementioned two, is the state of Hadramut. Proponents believe that such a state has the potential to become the
Are you committed to peaceful means in your cause?
Yes. There are efforts to drag us into violence, and there might be an on the ground decision to take some action to preserve the peaceful nature of our movement. But this is not my decision to make. Since 2007, we have committed to peaceful protest, and the Arab spring revolutions have followed on the same track. We consider this “Our Southern copyrights”.
The Time asked last year whether the current security gap in the South might lead to an independence declaration, is that on the table?
It is not that easy. There are still security forces, and control tools. We are trying to raise the effectiveness of the peaceful movement and strengthen its ranks. The re-assessment was scheduled for this month, but we had to reschedule to face the upcoming and imposed election of the current Vice President. Voting for one person! This is a novelty in democracy. They have also created problems in the South. Ali Mohsen Ahmar and Ali Saleh, while they are fighting each other in the rest of the country, conspire against us in the South. In
You face a difficult and complex regional situation. But you recently welcomed any regional support to your cause, did you mean
I have said more than once that we will welcome any rapprochement and support. This applies to everyone and not a single side. I wish that there will be support to the people of the South; we are the victims.
What will you give in return?
Nothing. We reject any conditions. The reward is meeting their human responsibility in eliminating grievances and prejudices.
Do you have any relations with Houthi rebels?
They have changed their position, and now support our right to self determination. They will have a future role in the North.
What do you say to Southerners today?
I call for widening the participation in the peaceful movement, reassessing our experience in the past five years, innovation new ways of peaceful resistance and looking after the youth generation. I expect this year to be that of victories.