Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Southern Hirak (2007-2013)

Part 2

By 2013, the Southern Hirak became a movement that no one can ignore, even though the government was trying to do just that. Lives were lost before President Hadi went to visit the South (where he is originally from); his first visit since assuming the presidency. As of February 26, 2013, the majority of Hirak leaders are refusing to participate in the national dialogue which is only a few weeks away.
Image via Hona Hadhramout
The expanding movement in the South first used the title, Al Hirak Al Janoubi Al Silmi (Peaceful Southern Movement), in 2007. Then it was a simple movement with a distinct leadership. Presently, the Southern Hirak has too many leaders to keep track of; however, two main figures stand out; Ali Al-Beidh and Hassan Ba'oum. Ali Salim Al-Beidh is the main leader of Hirak residing outside of Yemen, and Hassan Ba'oum, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, and Nasser Al-Noubah are the main figures inside of Yemen. The problem is that these leaders do not see eye to eye. They all consider themselves the founders of the movement but the truth is some were there before others. 

Also, the leaders inside of Yemen seem a lot more legitimate since the majority of the Hirak leaders outside of Yemen were highly influential in the PDRY and in ROY (Republic of Yemen) until the Civil War of 1994. As though their interest in Hirak is aimed at restoring their glory. 
Much like the Yemeni Revolution of 2011, the Southern Hirak movement is mobilizing the youth. Ironically, none of the principal leaders are actually from that age group. 

In line with the obvious Southern discord, Southern Hirak is not the only group claiming to defend the "Southern Cause". Over the past few years, many new factions were created or evolved from previous movements. 

The problem is that many people can use the term Southern Hirak. While some maintain their peaceful standpoint, there are many radicals who are waiting for the right time to start an armed conflict. 

To understand the diversity of Hirak, one must understand that its members adhere to a wide range convections. At one end are the radicals (which includes the militants) and the other end are the moderates. The radicals are exclusivists; meaning that they reject any person with a Northern last name even if they lived in the South for decades, fought alongside the Southerners or called the South their home. As a matter of fact, some of the Northerners in the South are thought to have been spies and part of Sana'a's regime in the South. They would not accept to engage in dialogue at any cost because secession is the only viable option. In this category, the individuals are dogmatists who view the South under the full occupation of an authoritarian Northern rule. They would like to call the South of Yemen Al Janoub Al-'Arabi (The Arabian South), completely rejecting a Yemeni identity.

Within this radical branch of Hirak are several operating militias (it is also worth noting that the South is witnessing an increase in militias not affiliated with Hirak or the Southern Movement). Keeping in mind that the more radical the group, the bigger the conspiracy theory and the greater the need for armed resistance. 

At the other end of this spectrum are the moderates, who are willing to engage in dialogue. Many of them realized that the South witnessed a dramatic transformation since unity was established. Their life-styles changed, literally, over-night and only got worse after 1994. With Saleh gone, these moderates understand that some Northerners are living in the same appalling conditions as the Southerners, but they fear that South will continue to be ignored. 

The majority of the Southerners identify somewhere between these two divergent views. The Southern Hirak is becoming their cause and the more the world dismisses their grievances and the Yemeni government delays reconciliation, the worse it becomes. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Threatened Unity: Understanding the Southern Hirak

Part 1
Image via Islamopediaonline
The Southern Movement (Al Hirak Al Janoubi) is frequently explained as a Southern separatist movement that started after Yemen's Civil War of 1994 and reinforced in 2007 when the Assembly of the People of Radfan (Jam'iyat Abna'a Radfan) proposed unifying a number of southern separatist movements to strengthen their unified goal of secession. Today, the Southern Movement is a term that fuses heterogeneous Southern factions by their intent to secede. 

The Southern Hirak members believe that they are the victims of a Northern conspiracy since the second half of the 1960s. Although the southern secessioners present their argument as an accumulation of frustrations from the past, in reality, it is a reaction to Yemen's Civil War of 1994. History reveals that many Yemenis, in the North and the South, dreamed about unity prior 1990. Songs from 1977 reveal that Yemenis coveted unity for generations. Song writer Abdulrahman Mouraid wrote;
The ancestors dream, today became certain                         حلم الجدود اليوم اصبح مؤكد
Unity, Hurray and a thousand welcome                                بالوحدة ياهلا وألف سهلا
The Southern Movement is nothing but a consequence of a faulty unification. Saleh's implemented unity became the antithesis of the unity that Yemenis longed for; instead of bringing Yemenis together, it segregated them. Since Yemen's revolution of 2011, this movement has gained momentum, however, experts are reluctant to discuss its impact on Yemen's National Dialogue that is set to take place on March 18, 2013. 

Taking a Closer Look: 
Generally, when we refer to the Southern Hirak, we mean the governorates that belonged to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). Many of those in the West assume that the Hirak (or demands for secession) is a recent phenomenon in Yemen that intensified with the Arab Spring. Unlike many of the Arab Spring countries, the idea of secession in the South of Yemen couldn't handle four years of unity. 

In the diagram below, I trace the most important movements that shaped the Southern Hirak as we know it today. 

As you see, the demands of the Southerners weren't born in a vacuum. Over time, the demands of these separatists evolved and they eventually claimed that they are "occupied" by the North. They protested the "Yemeni identity" as one that was forced on them. 

The year of 2006 was a pivotal year in the Southern Hirak movement. That year, a Southern man named Shamlan ran for presidency against Saleh and lost by a wide margin. Perhaps the Southerners understood that Saleh wasn't planning on changing anything soon. Saleh, being a savvy politician, picked up on that and tactfully made a spectacle of assigning a special committee to investigate the problem of the Southern lands. 

After the Civil War of 1994, some elites and officials treated the South as part of their spoils of victory. For example, prime real estate was confiscated and divided amongst them. Only in 2007, a committee made up of six people including notable members Yehya Al-Shuaibi, Saleh Ba'sourah, and Abdul Qadir Hilal concluded that at least 56 officials own illegal properties in the South. Saleh made sure to publicize that the investigation was taking place, but when he received the 500 page report, it was inexplicably disregarded. 

In Part 2: Understanding the Southern Hirak from 2007- 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ben Omar & Al-Wartalani: Yemen's Revolutionary Architects

Ben Omar with Gen. Ali Muhsen
Image via Yemen Fox

Over night in 2011, Yemen had a new savior; the Moroccan Jamal Ben Omar, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Yemen. He acted as a mediator to facilitate Yemen's peaceful transition and to establish the National Dialogue (ND) that is endorsed by Gulf Corporation Council (GCC). On March 18, Yemen held the Opening Ceremony of the ND as media sources continue to describe Yemen's transition as "unprecedented", the truth is, a similar, yet distinct, situation existed in 1948 in the North of Yemen. 

In 1947, Al-Fadheel Al-Wartalani, an Algerian, came to Yemen under the claim of launching a branch of an Egyptian ground transportation agency, but instead created the blueprint for a coup against Imam Yehya in 1948. He is not the only man from the Maghreb who traveled to Yemen in order to aid in the liberation of Yemenis from their dictator. Al-Wartalani and Ben Omar had roles that evolved from simple mediators to influential decision makers due to a vacuum in Yemeni leadership. 

Operating in Yemen 63 years apart, Ben Omar and Al-Wartalani, poles apart in their politics, have much in common. They are Yemen's revolutionary symbols who behaved on the surface as impartial outsiders. In reality, the were essential mediators and charismatic opportunists. 

Many Yemenis to this day are unaware that Al-Wartalani is a foreigner due to his popularity amongst the Muslim Brotherhood networks. He was sent to Yemen as an envoy by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al Banna, to help launch a chapter in Yemen. Therefore, Al-Wartalani arrived to Yemen via Aden, networked and created strong alliances within the Imam's opposition and was a key participant in the Yemeni coup against him. 

Due to Al-Wartalani's charismatic personality, he was able to give various speeches at Mosques and schools. He began building alliances with influential Yemeni figures like Abdul Rahman Al Iryani, Zayid Al- Moushki, Ahmed Al-Shami, and Hussein Al Kebsi, to name a few. Al-Wartalani's advantage over other foreigners was his Arab ethnicity. The cultural similarity helped him understand Yemen's political circumstances better than the average spectator. 

Al-Wartalani deciphered Yemen's complex coalitions and discovered that Yemen's opposition was unorganized and lacked the presence of a visible leader.  Ironically, his second advantage is that he isn't Yemeni; he is not considered part of any of the clashing political factions in Yemen. Overtime, Al-Wartalani masterminded the National Charter (Al Mithaq Al Watani) and was able to unite Al-Zubairi and Noman with Al-Moushki and Al-Shami. 

Outside of Yemen, Al-Wartalani had contacts with the Saudi Monarchy and tried to gain the support of the Arab League (who never entirely supported him as much as they do with Ben Omar). Ultimately, he transformed himself, with the support of Yemenis, from an international actor to a national actor. 

Front row from the right: Hussein Ben Ali Al-Waisi, Al Fadheel Al Wartlani and Abdullah Al Iryani
Back row from left: Mohammed Al Emad, Mohiye AlDin Al 'Ansi, Ahmed Al Horesh, and Zayed Al Al-Moushki
Last row: Ahmed Abdo Nasher *
In Ahmed Ben Mohammed Al-Shami's Memories, Yemen's Winds of Change/Riyah Al-Taghyeer fee Al-Yaman, he expresses Al-Wartalani's importance in Yemen at that time: 
"In my opinion, the Algerian Jihadi Mr. Al-Fadheel Al Wartalani, is the one who changed the course of history in Yemen during the 4th Century when his feet landed on Yemen's Soil. As if he pressed on a button that turned the wheel of history into a new round of a new direction. The Revolution of 1948 is all Al-Wartalani's construction"
Al-Wartalani's Revolution in Yemen failed. As a consequence  Al-Wartalani and Co. were sentenced to death. While this sentence was carried out on Yemeni citizens, Al-Wartalani was able to flee and eventually settled in Lebanon. He never had to suffer the consequences. 

Yemenis naively welcome outsiders as they are not tainted with political motives like insiders. Outsiders who are looking for influence find in Yemen the ripe circumstances for political manipulation and personal transformation. It is not a secret that Yemen is a tribal and religious country with high rates of illiteracy. Sixty years passed, and Yemen remained almost the same. Tribal expert Nadwa Al-Dawsari explains that it is part of Yemen's culture to seek a "neutral" arbitrator, as we truly believe they are unprejudiced.  

Yemen's revolution of 2011 is the innovative equivalence of the 1948 revolution, in that Yemen is still a political play ground for external agents. Today the GCC and the UN Security Council is akin to 1948's Saudi Arabia and the Arab league. While Saudi Arabia and the Arab League decided to abandon Al-Wartalani's plans, it is unlikely that the GCC reassesses their support for Yemen's transition. 

On February 5,  in an interview to BBC News, Jamal Ben Omar stated 
"Its the first time that politics is being made by the people and not just from backroom deals between political elites". 
Ironically, in 2012, Rathiyah Al-Mutawakil and Majid Al-Mathhaji resigned from the technical committee of the National Dialogue because Ben Omar interfered with the committee's decision making process. He made a "backroom" deal with some members from the technical committee of the National Dialogue and other opposition political figures to decide the mechanisms needed for selecting the participants of the National Dialogue. Not only that, but he announced these decisions to the media himself, bypassing the authority of the technical committee. Journalist Jumanah Farhat questioned Ben Omar's intentions and accused him of arranging fragmentary meetings with controversial politicians. 

Currently, Yemeni politicians who are in opposition with each other agree to communicate solely through Ben Omar, giving him great leverage over Yemen. A recent statement by the president of the Security Council warned Ali Saleh (Former President) and Ali Al-Beedh (Former Vice President and current Southern Hirak leader) of interfering in Yemen's transition. While the Security Council called out spoilers, it displayed favoritism towards those who were not called out, like Ali Muhsen and Hameed Al-Ahmar. Not only that; several confidential sources suspect that Ben Omar will continue to function as Yemen's main leader as long as he continues to manage the entire political process. 

Prior to becoming Yemen's revolutionary protagonists, both, Al-Wartalani and Ben Omar, had a murky past. Both were considered extremists; however on the other end of the spectrum, Al-Wartalani was a conservative (extreme right) and Ben Omar is a liberal (extreme left). Throughout their lives, they struggled with success in their own countries but found glory in Yemen. 

On a final and separate note, activist Atiaf Al-Wazir posted on her facebook that "no one will solve Yemen's problems but the Yemenis themselves". For Yemen's revolution to succeed, it needs to be respected as a grassroots evolution, otherwise we may find ourselves sixty years from now, looking for a new foreign hero. 

*N.d. Photograph. Hajr Al 'lim Wa Ma'aqileh Fee Al Yemen. By Ismail Ben Ali Al-Akwaa. Vol. 4. Lebanon: Dar Al Fikr, 1995. 2397. Print.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pictures from My Country

Weekly segment of photography from Yemen. 

Photography by Raiman Al-Hamdani

Port of Mocha, Taiz. 

A gas Station in Dhamar, Yemen

Poor Bedouin Family in Marib, Yemen

A Village in Haraz, Yemen

Yemeni Bread Maker in a traditional restaurant

A house in Old City of Sana'a at night. Only 3 windows with the light on.

Average Family in Yemen

Flash Flood in Lahj

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Conversation with David Remes: Lawyer of Yemeni Guantanamo Detainees

The subject of Guantanamo Bay is revived every time a prisoner dies. When the outcries lead to nothing, the subject is then unheard of. The last death in Guantanamo was that of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif on September 08, 2012. Adnan, like many other Yemeni detainees, had no charges pressed against him. 

This week Yemeniaty meets with David Remes, a lawyer who defends these detainees pro bono. He shares with us letters handwritten by Adnan Abdul Latif. 

Adnan used to write poetry about his experience in Guantanamo. 
The following is a letter Adnan Latif wrote to his lawyer on December 26, 2010: 
David Remes,Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over.I am happy to express from this darkness and draw a true picture of the condition in which I exist. I am moving towards a dark cave and a dark life in the shadow of a dark prison. This is a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know [anything] except the language of power, oppression and humiliation for whoever enters it. It does not differentiate between a criminal and the innocent, and between the right of the sick or the elderly who is weak and is unable to bear and a man who is still bearing all this from the prison administration that is evil in mercy.Hardship is the only language that is used here. Anybody who is able to die will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no other hope except that. The requirement is to announce the end, and challenge the self love for life and the soul that insists to end it all and leave this life which is no longer anymore called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul.I will not allow any more of this and I will end it. I will send [move] it to a world that is much better than this world. There, the real life will live again that will be filled with complete happiness and be rid of all harassments. There, the environment will clear up, things will calm down and you will be able to relax and you will not see the world of evil people.I am in need of a person who blindfolds his eyes from me [looks the other way] and leaves me in my freedom so that I can choose my end. With all my pains, I say goodbye to you and the cry of death should be enough for you.A world power failed to safeguard peace and human rights and from saving me. I will do whatever I am able to do to rid myself of the imposed death on me at any moment of this prison.156

Friday 5/28/2010
To Attorneys David Remes and Marc Falkoff,
Here I am drowning in my blood and you are still looking for justice and seeking
hearings. Meanwhile they are leading me to death.
Everything has a price except human life. It became cheap. In their view, life became
less than refuse to be thrown in a garbage can. I am being pushed towards death every
moment. The way they deal with me proves to me that they want to get rid of me but in a way that they cannot be accused of causing it.
I don’t think anyone believes me but this is the truth to be found by people who
investigate what is happening to me especially these days. I have been isolated in Alpha
block, camp five, in a cell that resembles a lion’s cage. It has been made especially for me in this way. I am also without the Quran because of several mishandling of it. I was also deprived of praying several times. (My prayers are more important than my life.) They entered my cell during prayer for no reason.
I was hurt badly by the IRF teams. Imagine that one night, from sunset until six in the
morning, they entered my cell fifteen times. During those times, they tied me to a
stretcher and carried me to the clinic in camp five then returned me back to my cell.
They repeated that fifteen times until I lost my mind; they broke my bones and made me bleed. This also happened on the second day when they entered my cell ten times hitting my head against the wall and dragging me on the floor and leaving me there in the middle of the cell which was full of water, urine and feces. I was left in this dirty mixture all day with my hands tied firmly behind my back.
Furthermore, and to make you believe that they want me to die and to kill me; they
prevented me from having anything that can help me live normally. They don’t give me
books, a blanket, soap, medical supplies that I need for my hearing, eye glasses, tooth
paste, medical shoes or a neck pillow. Instead they give me contraband items like a
spoon to hurt myself with it right after all the pressure they exerted on me as I
mentioned in the beginning of this letter. They even gave me a big pair of scissors. It was given to me by the person responsible for camp five. This made me ask for the police. A Chief in the Navy who is specialized in investigating such incidents was called. It is your duty towards me to follow up on the results of this investigation.
A day or two later, they threw some coins after an occurrence of pressure on me. This
made me swallow the coins along with other things. This caused complete blockage of
my throat and death was a step away. I was taken outside the camp to a hospital where
they operated on me for two hours. But instead of extracting the items, or making a
small opening in my throat to get them out, they pushed them down to my stomach. I
was unconscious for five hours after the operation. When I woke up, I was unable to
speak because of what they did in my throat. The items stayed in my stomach hurting
me; these things might lead to my death. I asked them to contact you by phone by they
didn’t approve it.
Here I am in the big hospital of the camp where death is certain. They insist, while I am
in this condition, on looking at my private parts and then letting me urinate and
defecate in my bed while my hands and legs are bound. I am not allowed to go to the
bathroom and not allowed to pray. So, no need for courts or justice. Real justice for me
is to die instead of being tortured. All what happened and what I have mentioned is in
their daily reports and their computers. After the surgery, they stopped feeding me or
letting me eat by orders from the surgeon.
It seems that I might have to send you my body parts and flesh to make you believe me
and to believe to what degree of misery I have reached. I am happy to die just to get
away from a non-extinguishable fire and no-end torture.
Marc and David: In the end, I am a human being.
Adnan Farhan Abdulatif Al-Yemeni
Friday 5/28/2010
Blessed is he who can rescue a human being from his ordeal.
If you could, use this letter and the previous one
and give the judge copies and then
bring me a copy when you come to visit me

[To watch Adnan's burial, watch Laura Poitras' video in the New York Times website or Click here]