Unrest in Hadramout : ‘We hold the state accountable’

Published on 31 December 2013 in Interview
Mohammed Al-Hassani (author)

Mohammed Al-Hassani

Brig. Abdulla Al-Nakhibi (left) and Saleh Molla

Brig. Abdulla Al-Nakhibi (left) and Saleh Molla

In early December the convoy of a well-known and influential sheikh from the Al-Hamom tribe in Hadramout was reportedly asked to stop at a security checkpoint at the entrance of Sayoun city in Hadramout governorate for a routine weapons inspection. Soldiers say the sheikh refused to stop. A gun battle ensued, in which seven people, including Sheikh Sad Bin Habrish, were killed.  

Almost immediately following the incident, the Hadramout Tribal Federation, of which Bin Habrish was a member, gave the government a list of demands to meet in order to avoid further confrontations.  They stipulated that state security and military duties be handed over to local forces, the soldiers responsible for Bin Habrish’s death be put on trial and positions at area oil companies be given to locals.  

Although the central government, under the leadership of interim President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, agreed to concede and gradually meet demands, tribal leaders remained skeptical.  

They organized mass rallies on Dec. 20 to demonstrate that they were holding the government accountable. Although, organizers say their intentions were peaceful, violence erupted during the rallies all across governorates in the South, who adopted the “Hadramout uprising” as an expression of dissatisfaction with the central government. The South, who fought a brief civil war with the North in 1994 after the two nations unified in 1990, has long standing grievances with the government. Representatives from the region are still pushing for secession at the ongoing National Dialogue Conference.  

In an interview with the Yemen Times, Saleh Molla, a spokesperson for the Hadramout Tribal Federation, and Brig. Abdulla Al-Nakhibi, the secretary general of a faction of the Southern Movement, speak about what the mass rallies represented in the South and the nation as a whole.    

Let’s begin with Mr. Molla, was the death of Bin Habrish the root cause of the mass rallies?

Molla: The mass rallies are long overdue because of suffering in Hadramout, including marginalization, injustice and assassinations and killings, the most recent of which Bin Habrish was a victim. Tribes in Hadramout met in July with representatives of various political parties and put forward several demands that they asked the state to implement. The state didn’t meet any of these demands.

Why hold rallies now?

Enough is enough! Many [local] military and security cadres in Hadramout have been killed in attacks by bodies associated with the state. Moreover, Bin Habrish’s death infuriated people in Hadramout. He was a leader in the Hadramout Tribal Federation, which represents interests in Hadramout. Mass rallies were organized as a result of all these things.  

Some say that the rallies’ timing was strategic. You went ahead with them although the central government agreed to meet some of your demands [put forward after Bin Habrish’s death].

The state has made many empty promises. We provided a 10-day period for the authority to begin implementing our demands, but it didn’t. For example, President [Abdu Rabu Mansour] Hadi and the defense minister gave orders to replace the commander of the battalion assigned to protect [oil] companies with someone from Hadramout, but the newly appointed commander wasn’t from Hadramout.  Moreover, other military commanders from Hadramout have been replaced by commanders from other governorates.

What happened with the presidential committee sent to Hadramout to negotiate with you regarding the demands?

The committee requested we form committees [to meet with them], but we refused because we believe that establishing committees is only a way to procrastinate the implementation of our demands. We are fed up and told them that we want to see our demands implemented on the ground, not in a committee.

Do you think a 10-day period is enough to meet your demands?

I understand [it’s short], but we wanted to see if the state really intended to meet our demands or not. If we saw signs that the state was serious, we would have provided more time, but we saw nothing.

The state hasn’t shown any seriousness to meet your demands?

Not at all. It only makes promises.

But the state has handed over some police stations, security checkpoints and important institutions to you as a part of your demands?

Some police stations have been handed over due to pressure from residents, but several military locations have been procrastinating as a way to turn our peaceful rallies into violent encounters. Some commanders said they would hand military locations to us, but at the same time, they are willing to set fire to the entire city if they hear any shooting.

Violence erupted during the rallies and shopping centers in Hadramout—owned by Northerners—were set on fire. What is your response to that?

We said the rallies would be peaceful. We are against violence, but some people with certain agendas forced the rallies down a violent path. As for the Northern shopping center owners, some set their own goods on fire to frame us. We have photos to prove that.

How many police stations, military locations and security checkpoints have been handed over to you?

Nothing technically, but we have control of some public administrative facilities. For example, a security checkpoint still exists at the entrance to Sayoun city.  Security personnel there have refused to return to their military barracks. We aren’t calling for secession. We have a few, specific demands, and everything will be resolved when they are met.  

I have names of military locations and security checkpoints that many have confirmed have been handed over to you.

Maybe a military camp was handed over, but this is only after it [got away with] shelling areas and killing residents [for months].

[In September] there were reports that armed local men attacked the military camp and it fought back?

No, the camp started the shelling, and then residents attacked it in retaliation. It doesn’t make sense to stay quiet when people are killed. We hold the state accountable.

Even if the state hands over only one military camp, many think that is a sign of them responding to your demands.

We want the state to meet our demands in terms of evacuating military camps, appointing local security personnel, recruiting local residents for jobs at oil companies and prosecuting those that killed Bin Habrish. We will continue to escalate our rallies and forcibly shutdown oil companies in Hadramout unless the state meets our demands.

Do you have a plan as to how you will deal with the responsibility of security and justice if all military and security checkpoints are handed over to you?

We have qualified military men and can maintain security in Hadramout. If the state is serious about meeting Hadramout’s demands, it would have recruited people from Hadramout for military positions already, but it hasn’t. Even men who were fired [after Yemen’s 1994 Civil War] have yet to be reinstated.

Are there political powers behind the rallies?

No, there is no political power behind the mass anti-government rallies. The Hadramout Tribal Federation called for this rally, and they are the only ones behind it. However, we cannot deny that some political powers such as the Southern Movement [Hirak] participated in the rallies. That being said, the decision to hold the rallies is the business of the Hadramout Tribal Federation. We do not make our decisions with politics in mind.  

Let us shift to Mr. Al-Nakhibi, everybody is speculating about the relationship between the anti-government rallies in Hadramout and the Southern Movement. What is the nature of this relationship and what does it mean for the Southern Issue?

Al-Nakhibi: The rallies in Hadramout are an extension of the ongoing [Southern Movement’s call for secession]. The rallies are a result of the accumulation of past government mistakes and the authority’s lack of seriousness to solve them. If part of the Southern Movement’s problems were solved, and if the National Dialogue Conference [NDC] went according to plan, our brothers in the Southern Movement would not be so fed up. The marginalization of the Southerner continues.   

You think the rallies are part of a larger Southern contingency, not just exclusively pertinent to locals in Hadramout.

Yes, the rallies are not just pertinent to Hadramout alone. Locals in Hadramout have their own legitimate demands, which they want to be met. The government was supposed to fulfill these demands immediately.  

It has been said that the Hadramout anti-government rallies are the new face of the Southern Issue, replacing the Southern Movement. Do you agree with this?

The Southern Movement has its own components, motives, elements and supporters. The mass rallies in Hadramout will not replace it. The anti-government rallies are a part of the Southern Movement.

What was the extent of cooperation and coordination between the organizers of the mass rallies and the Southern Movement?

The Southern Movement feels its objectives and some of its calls have finally been heard because of the rallies.

What do you think about the way the state dealt with the mass rallies?

I think the state was slow to deal with the demands of the Tribal Federation.

Some are saying the rallies are really just disguised as calls for secession. What do you think?

I don’t think this was the intention of the mass rallies in Hadramout. Their demands are legitimate and unique. The state should take action immediately.  

Translated from the Arabic by Khalid Al-Karimi and Bassam Al-Khameri