Dr. Saleh Basurra speaks to the Yemen Times
Sadeq Al-Wesabi (photographer), Mohammed Al-Samei (author)
Dr. Saleh Basurra, a leader in the General Pe
ople’s Congress (GPC) and former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said there is media hype regarding the Southern Movement, and he confirmed there is a problem in the south.
In an interview with the Yemen Times, Basurra proposed that Yemen divide into six regions, with a federal system in which each region has complete authority, including taking advantage of sovereign natural resources.
In this interview, Basurra talks about the upcoming National Dialogue Conference, the Southern Movement and the GPC, among other issues.
Starting with the most urgent issue nowadays, do you think there will be an agreement on the number of participants in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC)?
There will be an agreement on the number of the participants. Then they will be divided according to the eight essential constituents, specified in the Gulf Initiative and President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s decree. Some other constituents weren’t included, but they can be included to the previous eight ones.
Can you give examples of those constituents who weren’t included?
Businessmen, for instance, are highly needed because the conference’s outcome will be of political and economic nature. Therefore, businessmen should participate, but will they participate through civil society organizations or as an independent bloc? Moreover, minorities like Ismailis, Jews and the marginalized people ought to participate, too.
It is said that members of the Preparatory Committee for the National Dialogue aren’t in harmony. Do you think participants in the conference will be in harmony with each other?
Actually, they aren’t in total harmony. I expect that a group of the General People’s Congress (GPC) and its partners, a group of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs), civil society organizations, the youth, the Houthis and the Southern Movement’s representatives will participate in the conference, but they haven’t all attended.
In the first week, I felt they weren’t in harmony, but during the second and third week, they started to come close together.
When people start dialogue, they treat each other as political enemies, but with the passage of time, they understand each other’s views, and this can happen in the conference.
However, attendance of the southerners in the conference is the most important thing because the southern issue and its solutions will be discussed first, and from there it will be decided whether to continue the dialogue or to stop it.
Currently, much fanfare arose regarding the inclusion of early marriage among the issues to be discussed in the conference?
It is fabricated fanfare. I was the head of the committee that prepared issues to be discussed in the conference. We arranged eight or nine points, including “rights and freedoms’ point,” under which we listed general rights such as education, communication, housing and health rights, and special rights such as the rights of the youth, women and children.
We couldn’t include some issues under the rights and freedoms’ point; therefore, we created a new point called “Yemeni special cases,” and listed them under it.
Do you think that these issues will be discussed, though there are more important ones in Yemen?
We organized the issues and put special Yemeni issues such as revenge—which is found only in Yemen—water, qat, carrying weapons, child marriage and environmental protection issues first and foremost.
Amal Al-Basha, the committee’s spokeswomen, mentioned several issues, but critics focused on child marriage, saying that only Yemen has this problem.
We found another solution and decided to widen the topic, including more problems of children.
Many symposiums and workshops were held to discuss these issues but in vain. Do you think they will be solved in the NDC?
If the NDC succeeds, its outcome would turn to be constitutional items and legalizations. So far, the parliament can’t specify an age for legal marriage.
Because of the backward society we are living in and also because of some religious clerks who considered it a violation of Islam’s teachings.
There are other reasons such as poverty and hard circumstances. Some people treat their daughters as goods, marrying them to tourists for a period of time to get money. Moreover, conservative people believe that women have to marry early.
Therefore, they will be discussed in the conference, based on agendas, to change or to end them.
To what degree do you think the NDC will be a success?
I can’t give a specific degree, but I say the first key to make the NDC successful is solving the southern and Sa’ada issues in a way that satisfies all parts.
If the southerners and the Houthis come to the conference with the intention of discussing and solving these issues, then it might happen.
Do all of GPC’s leaders agree that the NDC must succeed, particularly because leaders in the JMPs accuse the GPC of obstructing it?
Each one accuses the other. The JMP accuses the GPC and vice versa, the Houthis accuse the Islah and vice versa and all political parties accuse the Southern Movement. However, the truth will be revealed with the beginning of dialogue.
Everyone is trying to impose his opinions on others before the beginning if dialogue and this is normal. Everyone is trying to accuse the other.
The NDC is internationally supervised, and it is the last opportunity for all Yemenis to construct a civil, modern state—a federal country instead of a central state. People fear the word “federal,” though 60 to 70 percent of countries worldwide are federal.
Do you think there is media exaggeration regarding the southern issue, particularly because there are more important issues?
Yes, there is, but indeed calling for separating the south from the north exists, and it’s of an emotional nature.
How many southerners are demanding separation?
No opinion polls have been done to know how many people are demanding separation, but actually they are many.
They are the youth whose fathers were dismissed from their positions after the 1994 war. Their fathers were general managers, undersecretaries, ministers, colonels and pilots. They don’t focus on what has been achieved in general. They think of unity based on what happened to their fathers. They have different feelings toward unity when they see their fathers selling vegetables and fruits after being dismissed.
You mean the new generation is the most prominent part of those calling for separation?
Seeing a soldier—whose rank was a colonel or a brigadier in the past and whose sons have no jobs—at home all time or forced to work in other fields makes the family fed up. It is a public opinion issue indicating that unity arrived, but in an annoying manner.
But those calling for separation are elderly people who don’t belong to this generation?
They are using this generation as tools to achieve their aims. The new generation didn’t live at the time of the Socialist Party. All they know is the current suffering of their families.
Suffering is also found in Tehama and Taiz, but people got used to it.
But does suffering justify calling for separation?
No, it doesn’t justify it. Taiz was a part of the Republic of Yemen before the unity, but the south was an independent country and then unified. Therefore, they think that their suffering won’t be solved but by regaining their old country.
Do you think separation is the right solution?
No, it is not a solution. Even those who demand separation don’t own constituents to re-construct the southern country. They have no potential and no military. The south is linked to the north.
If they want to separate from the north, the southerners have to negotiate with the north about currency, electricity, phones and oil agreements signed between the north and oil companies. Moreover, they have to start building a new army and begin reorganizing a state, which is difficult.
Why didn’t they dialogue with the north?
I always say that whoever wants an independent country in the south should negotiate with the north. Separation isn’t only a matter of bringing back the drums, which were marking the borders between the south and the north before, but a difficult process.
Those calling for separation must negotiate with the people in the south to see if they want to separate or not. The people in the south wanted to separate in 1994, but now they don’t because they have interests in the north. Countries always change their views and policies according to the political changes both inside and outside.
Will the international community and the Security Council agree to the separation, as happened in Sudan after six years of dialogue? Actually, if the north provided more attractive items, the vote will be for unity and not separation.
It seems that leaders in the Southern Movement will participate in the dialogue not as the south but as an independent country?
Yes, that is right. Even calling for establishing a southern and northern region is a deferred separation.
Some southerners call for separation, and this is an accelerated separation. Others suggested establishing northern and southern regions, and after four years, the south would have the right of self-determination, either to continue or to separate—and this is a deferred separation.
Do you oppose the idea of establishing two regions so that it doesn’t separate in future? And how the GPC sees that?
I have my own view, away from the GPC. I think that establishing two regimes is possible but without self-determination after four years. Federalism is possible in Yemen by dividing the north into three federal regions: Tehama, Taiz and Ibb, and the middle.
Moreover, the north can be divided into three federal regions: Aden, the western region and the eastern region.
Yemen can be divided into six regions, and each one has its rights and its financial sources—based on a rate agreed on in advance—and the rest goes to the state.
What made the southerners call for separation?
Members of the GPC and the JMPs are stubborn, and this makes the southerners more stubborn and more demanding; the officials in Sana’a didn’t present a serious solution for the southern issue.
But the GPC and the JMPs are calling the southerners for dialogue to solve their issue?
They are calling them for dialogue and also to facilitate their separation.
For example, there is the Coordinating Council of Revolutionary Powers in Aden, the members of which belong to one party. It is a policy to find more parties in Aden.
I always tell people in the GPC and the JMP that following the policy of creating more parties isn’t for their good because they won’t be able to negotiate with them.
They say the southern issue is the first issue to be discussed in the National Dialogue?
They have to start doing serious actions to show good will to the southerners. Southern military personnel, who are still able to work, must be reinstated.
Some issues can be solved in a day like issuing a decree releasing all detainees from the Southern Movement, Sa’ada and change squares.
Who are authorized to solve these issues?
First, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the reconciliation government can solve these issues by treating the injured people, ending the looting of land and solving the problem of houses being taken by officials in the state.
Second, give a clear point of view. For example, does the GPC have a clear vision regarding the southern issue instead of saying no federalism? Or does the Islah have a vision, too?
The Socialist Party provided 12 demanding points, which I mentioned before in the “Basora Helal” report in 2007, saying that the people in the north should reasonably come close to the southern issue and don’t think that the situation will remain as it was in 1994. They have to start negotiating with them so that the southerners can start negotiating and considering themselves as Yemenis.
You spoke about looting lands. Who looted them: military officials, sheikhs or political leaders?
Land has been looted by military officials, sheikhs and political leaders, and some land was granted by the state. Even some southerners looted land, and some people took land to invest but they didn’t.
Do you mean that businessmen are among those who looted land?
They pretended to be businessmen constructing investment projects but they didn’t. Instead, they sold the land, as happened in Abyan, Lahj and Hadramout. They bought land for cheap prices.
Who sells land to them?
The state itself.
Do you mean the former regime?
Yes, the former regime, and they have official documents.
So the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh facilitates the looting of land in the south?
Yes, for sure, but the issue isn’t Ali Abdullah Saleh because the Cabinet and appointed ministers are included, too.
Are the factories still working?
Some factories stopped working and their lands are about to be sold at the suitable time.
How many acres have been looted?
Some pieces of land are about 18,000 acres, which is 75,600,000 square meters.
Does a person loot all these square meters?
Yes. Some of them have 18,000 acres, and some others have 5,000 acres.
What is the land used for?
Some was bought ten years ago and aren’t invested in so far.
Is the current regime able to regain the land, particularly after the National Dialogue?
Yes, it can regain them by way of trails. Aden’s land will suffice all Yemenis, and each resident will get 410 square meters to build a house.
Do you think the Southern Movement could separate, particularly because of the latest disagreements between Ali Salem Al-Beidh and Hassan Ba’aom?
They are unjustified disputes between the historical leaders who think they can rule again. They don’t know that whoever leaves office doesn’t come back again because the situation in Yemen will be different and will be based on elections. Some of them are 75 years old, and they aren’t sure that they will achieve what they want because they aren’t known to the new generation.
But thousands of their supporters gather at their festivals.
Yes, now they can gather people, but when the time of state construction comes, they won’t have a place. I hope they will work together to find a solution for the southern issue.
Hassan Ba’aom is scheduled to meet [U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal] Benomar. Do you think Benomar can persuade Ba’aom to participate in the National Dialogue?
Ba’aom, Al-Beidh, Ali Nasser and Haider can be convinced not by Benomar but by some countries.
What countries do you mean?
America, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the United Nations can convince them, threatening them with sanctions against them.
Who funds the Southern Movements’ activities?
Iran and Qatar are accused of funding them and also Al-Beidh had money when he left Yemen.
Does Al-Beidh still have supporters in the south?
He may have supporters in the southwest like Al-Dale’a, Radfan and Yafe’a.
Regarding the disagreements between the Southern Movement and the Islah party in Aden, do you think Islah members are closer to their party or to the southern issue?
Some members of Islah follow their leadership and carry out all their agendas while some members don’t.
Some of them understand the southern issue. Sometimes, Islah brings its supporters from Sana’a and Ibb to have more supporters when organizing rallies. I hope Islah won’t create more problems, which increases hatred between people.
But each party has the right to bring its supporters?
As a political party, Islah ought to attract southern youth instead of bringing people by money.
What is the nature of the current disputes between Islah and some constituents of the Southern Movement?
First, the disputes are because Islah has contradicting views regarding the southern issue. For example, Sheikh Abdulmajeed Al-Zandani, a prominent leader in the Islah party, sent a letter to President Hadi, saying that the unity is a religious obligation, which means that whoever violates it must be executed. He made the unity equal to prayers and fasting, and this isn’t true.
Second, Islah members consider federalism taboo, and one of them said that our grandfathers didn’t follow it and so we shouldn’t.