Former Yemeni President Ali Nasser Mohammed began his career as a teacher in one of the schools in the district of Mudiyah in the Abyan governorate, south of Yemen. And from the education field, he logged into the world of politics, following the outbreak of the October 14, 1963 revolution, until he ran for the presidency of the Democratic Republic of Yemen (southern part of Yemen) in 1980. His presidency term lasted until January 1986, after the tragic "January 13 events" broke out, he decided to leave Aden for Sana'a, and then to Damascus, where he was active for years through his research and studies center which he established in the Syrian capital.
In this unique interview, President Ali Nasser Mohammed talks to Khuyut about plenty of details about the current situation, referring to historical events and providing his political vision for settlement and discontinuing the war.
Khuyut: At the outset, given the war and grinding conflict that Yemen is witnessing, which has reached dangerous levels that tore the entity of the state and threatens to tear apart the geography of the country; Where does President Ali Nasser Mohamed stand from what is going on? How do you read what is going on in Yemen from what you experienced as a politician, party official and a former president?
President: I do not need to confirm what is obviously visible about the destruction of the state, its institutions and its social fabric, and the collapse of the economy, currency, values and morals as well. This is a well-known and definite result of every war, and the same applies to this war as undeniable fact which is not hidden from anyone. But the most dangerous thing is that the war led to a dangerous vertical and geographical division, so that currently Yemen has more than one president, more than one government, and more than one army, as I said before, each of them claiming sovereignty over part or all of Yemen, while none of them has sovereignty or decision-making, even on the part under each party de facto hands, sovereignty remains for the people alone and for the polls.
We had hoped that everyone would resort to dialogue, to get Yemen out of this catastrophe, which has not been witnessed throughout Yemen's history, of our country and to stop this absurd and destructive war, which is an extension of the conflicts in some Arab countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and others, and from which only the enemies of the Arab nation benefit, especially Israel.
Khuyut You have repeatedly said recently, in your writings and media and press statements, that Yemen is paying the price for its distinguished strategic location throughout history. To what extent do you think what is happening at the moment, of war and conflict, fall within the context of this geographical importance and the centrality of this location for regional and international powers?
President: I have emphasized more than once, as you have indicated, the importance of Yemen’s strategic location in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, Bab al-Mandab, the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, and this is a geostrategic fact, confirmed by the proofs of geography, history and conflict in the past, present and also in the future throughout history since the conquest of the Abyssinians, Persians, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Turks and British.
You own this strategic location that controls the southern gate of the Suez Canal, through which the world’s most important oil exports and trade between East and West pass in a region that produces two-thirds of the world’s oil consumption, and what is happening now falls within the framework of this same vision. In addition to the location, there are the potential wealth, and the ports and islands that occupy a key interest in the strategies of regional and international countries. But our people have been rebellious throughout their history in combating invaders and conquering tyrants.
What happened in 1986, [the events of January 13] is an extension of the conflicts since 1967, until the unification of the country, and we are all responsible for that, and most importantly, we learn from lessons and through the past conflicts.
In addition to the significant strategic location, the Yemeni people have a deep-rooted civilization and history, and they are considered the highest population in the region, and due to their huge wealth that were not invested as result to wars, they are qualified to play a major role that provoke fears. There are those who are trying to weaken this nation and tear their social fabric, regardless of the logical fact and the realization of the countries of the region that the stability of Yemen is a stability of the whole region, and that neighbors should think about integrating Yemen into development and security processes, so that it is included in a comprehensive vision to preserve Arab national security.
Khuyut Why did President Ali Nasser Mohamed prefer to be absent from the public scene since the events of January 1986? were these events behind this nonappearance, and what does the former president, who was one of the poles of that stage, want to say about those fateful events, and can these events be applied to the recent conflict in the southern governorates between the internationally recognized government of President Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council?
President: do you want me to be honest?!
Frankly speaking, there are some players who want to relive past conflicts in the south through employment and investment the current political accounts, to settle scores and achieve gains. These people were disturbed by the process of southern reconciliation and tolerance that took place in 2006 which was launched by the Abna'a Radfan Association in Aden, and the impressive results that resulted from it, the most important of which is the southern popular peaceful movement. The reconciliation has changed the conflict equation and made the fair southern cause at the heart of the issues that should find an impartial solution. It has made the Southern Movement a difficult figure and a tough issue than cannot by neglected in any resolution to the Yemeni crisis locally, regionally, and internationally as demonstrated by the historic events. These individuals are interested in undermining this development in the reconciliation of the southerners, and will do their best to return them to the square of previous conflicts to prevent any rapprochement between southerners, and they may promote any difference of any kind, which is normal in political action, in the square of the events of January, and its distortion in this direction, and these are playing with fire and do not learn from the lessons of history. What happened in 1986 is an extension of the conflicts provoked since 1967, until the reunification of the country, and we are all responsible for that, and most importantly, we shall learn lessons from these conflicts.
I did not hide from the public scene in Yemen after 1986, and although I left the power, but I did not leave the country and the political scene as I have been present in the scene strongly and positively influenced it throughout the years, although many tried by all means, even through assassination attempts, to keep me away from the Yemeni political scene.
Quitting the power does not mean the end of life for me as a politician. Our political activity, cultural and media work haven’t been suspended until today, nor my connection with the homeland and the events taking place in the country, but in the positive direction, not the negative influence through searching for solutions to the crises it is exposed to, including the current war. And in everything I do, I distance myself from being part of its problems, either in the north or in the south. Throughout all meetings with Yemeni political and social forces from different countries in the region as well as representatives of the United Nations and ambassadors of major countries, I affirm that the interest of Yemen and the region and the achievement of security and stability is on the top.
As for the current dispute that are happening today, they are partly an extension of the conflicts experienced by the south and Yemen, and partly because of regional and international interference that fuels local conflicts to perpetuate the war and achieve its goals.
Khuyut What is your assessment of the "Riyadh Agreement", its rationale and the prospects for its implementation?
President: I am with any covenant to stop the war and end the conflict in our country, whether in the south or the north, and we hope that this agreement and others, such as the “Stockholm Agreement” will find its way for execution. It has been more than ten months since the signing of this agreement, and it has not yet implemented.
With regard to the self-determination of the state of the south, it can be dealt with according to the outcomes of the "Cairo Conference", which emphasized a federal state of two regions for a specified period of time, after which a referendum on the right to self-determination shall be held, whether by unity, federalism or disengagement.
We hope that the countries of the [Arab] coalition, the decision-makers in Yemen and the region, will help the Yemeni people to overcome this crisis, and I believe they can do it if they want to; as the signatories to the Cairo agreement are not decision makers.
Khuyut Do you see that the Southern Transitional Council actually represents the south of the country with all its sects and its political and social components? And how do you see what the Council is doing in light of the current situation that Yemen is going through? What is your assessment of its political performance in the areas that have come under its authority?
President: In political work, and in some stages, political components that represent the will of the masses to achieve a goal emerge to the scene. In the current situation, the Southern Transitional Council has emerged as a political power in the south, but it is not the only one in the arena. There are components that do not fall within the framework of the Council, agree or disagree with the council vision and policies or in the nature of its performance, and the Transitional Council itself recognizes the existence of other southern forces and calls for dialogue with them in order to unite the southern efforts and I agree with that.
Khuyut Do you meet with the leaders of the Transitional Council?
President: I met for the first time with the leadership of the Transitional Council in May 2018, and there was a talk about the past, the present and the future, during which I presented them with my national proposed solution, which is based on the outcomes of the Cairo Conference. Additionally, I have suggested that the project and the initiative I presented should serve as a basis for dialogue with them. I have conveyed my no objection to adding anything from their side to the meeting's agenda, and we talked about all options for the sake of the country and the citizen. I do not hide the fact that there was a variance in viewpoints but we agreed to continue the dialogue in order to maintain a constructive relationship with them, and I am still in contact with until today. In fact, I was and still in contact with all political powers in the south and north, and I am not a party to the conflict rather, I stand biased with homeland and the interest of the Yemeni people.
As for the self-determination of the state of the south, it can be dealt with, from my point of view, according to the outcomes of the "Cairo Conference", which emphasized on the establishment of a federal state of two regions for a specified period of time, after which a referendum on the right to self-determination shall be held, whether by unity, federalism or disengagement.
Khuyut: How does President Ali Nasser Mohammed view the Ansar Allah group (Houthis), and what is the perspective and political future he sees for this group? How is your relationship with the group, and Are you in contact with its leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi?
President: I got to know and communicated with some leaders of Ansar Allah group in Damascus, Sana'a and in Berlin when Yahya al-Houthi, brother of Sayyid Abd al-Malik was a refugee there. I also met with a number of them later in Lebanon and the Sultanate of Oman, and all these meetings with Houthis or with other components and political powers in Yemen were public and not secret.
Today, Ansar Allah has been ruling Sana'a and some other areas since 2015. I have emphasized more than once that neither Ansar Allah nor the “Transitional,” “legitimate government,” or “Islah party” can rule alone, and we are not with the exclusion of any component of participation in power which accommodates everyone. Yemen needs a consensual national project of one president, one government and one army, and this is what I have emphasized in the initiative that I presented at the “Valdai Conference” in Moscow, which received the blessing of most of the political forces in Yemen, the United Nations and the Arab League. The most important provisions of this initiative are stopping the war, restoring the state, withdrawing weapons, building a national army and a government of national unity, and the subsequent referendum on self-determination for the people of the south. As for any other unexamined and unrealistic options will not succeed but will harm the security and stability of Yemen and the solidity of the countries in the region.
Khuyut: What impact did the absence of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have on the current political scene? What is the extent of the responsibility that he bears as a president for the longest period of time, "in the south and in the north", with regard to the current situation in the country?
President: President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled - on the heads of snakes, as he always repeated - from 1978 to 2012, and his influence extended until his death, and he ruled for a longer term than all rulers; of Imam Ahmed, Al-Salal, al-Iryani, al-Hamdi and al-Gashmi combined, and we do not deny his contributions to ending the wars between North and South through dialogue in order to initiate the unity steps. We established the Supreme Yemeni Council in 1981, completed the Unity Constitution in the same year, and established joint projects and united curricula for the subjects of history, geography and others on the process towards achieving the Yemeni unity.
In addition, president Saleh has also contributed to achieving Yemeni unity in his own way after going to Aden at the end of 1989, and signed the agreement with the former southern president Ali Salem al-Beidh at the Gold Moor tunnel to achieve the unity of Yemen as it was known. This agreement culminated with the declaration of the unification on May 22, 1990, without conducting a referendum on it - contrary to what the constitution stipulated - and despite that, we and the public have blessed its resurrection, as it is a way out for all the conflicts and wars that Yemen has experienced, the most important of which are the 1972 and 1979 wars, and the conflicts in the central parts of the country. In my view, it is also a victory for the will of the people who were struggling to achieve it.
I believe that the will of the people of the South must be respected; the first time, it was driven to the unity without taking their opinion or asking for a referendum on it, and the second time, they were taken out of the unity without their consent, and both times they paid a heavy price. The price of unity and the price of separation, so why do we not leave them to choice this time and be responsible for their selection?!
We had hoped that the unity agreements would be crowned with prosperity, security, stability and wealth in Yemen and the region, like other peoples in the region and the world, but that was not achieved. Because some local, regional and international powers do not want Yemen to live in stability and prosperity and the establishment of a strong state in the region, given that Yemen enjoys a strategic location as we mentioned above, which led to the 1994 war of secession, which left a deep wound in the body of national and Yemeni unity, in which the victor was defeated. Consequently, thousands of military and civil servants who depended for their livelihood and life on these jobs were dismissed and terminated, and what was called at the time the “Stay at Home Party.” After that, voices rose to demand change and reform and a return to their jobs, as some were calling for reforming the path of unity. However, the regime at that time did not respond to that, which led to the establishment of reconciliation and tolerance movement by the Abnaa Radfan Association in 2006, and then the Southern Peaceful Movement was emerged in 2007, to demand the overthrow of the regime. In Sanaa, a peaceful movement of youth for change was launched, demanding the overthrow of the regime, and this is what happened in 2011, with the exclusion of president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who did not have a national project to build a democratic national state and a peaceful transfer of power through election boxes as some of the GPC party leadership even demanded that he shall reset the meter.
Last year, I presented an initiative to the brothers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and they welcomed and agreed to achieve it within a maximum period of six months. After that, I made some communications and reported its results to the coalition leadership, who their return praised efforts, but then informed me that there is a new different opinion other than our previous agreement with them.
Khuyut: What is the position of Mr. President on the idea of secession as an optimal solution to address the southern issue according to political parties in the south in particular?
President: As I have previously responded in the course of my answer to a previous question, our position was expressed in the “Cairo Conference” project, which adopted the solution of the federal union of two regions, accompanied by a transitional period, followed by a referendum for the people of the south on their right of self-determination, and this includes either to continue in the state of unity or Federalism or the establishment of a state in the south. I do support what the people choose, and their will should be respected. The first time, southerners were led to unity without taking their opinion and or offered a referendum on it. The second time, they were taken out of the unit without their consent. And on both occasions, they paid the price dearly, the price of unity and the price of separation, so why should we not leave them to decide this time and be responsible for their choice?!
Khuyut: Is President Ali Nasser Mohammed still in contact with the Yemeni parties that have been fighting for more than five years, and why do some prominent figures, who have acceptance and respect by all parties, remained just spectators of what is going on, in light of the country's need for various efforts that can be made by Yemeni influential figures to put an end of this conflict?
President: Yes, I am in contact with all Yemeni, regional and international parties in order to reach a consensual political solution in Yemen. We have made great efforts since the outbreak of the war until today in order to put an end to the conflict and blood-shedding, and to achieve security and stability in our dear and wounded country, and in the region in general. We are not watching what is happening, and if there are other people who are watching the conflict, they may become desperate and see no hope. As for me, I still have a glimmer of hope, even if it is small that I will stick to it and count on the benevolent figures in Yemen who are concerned with the interests, security and stability of the Yemeni people.
Khuyut: What can President Ali Nasser Mohammed say, in light of the current situation, to the members of the "Arab coalition", or in particular, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, through your previous experiences in dealing with these members and other countries and their relationship with Yemen?
President: I have regularly spoken since the beginning of the war and before and after it with the brothers in the countries of the [Arab] coalition, and I asked them to stop the war, and to resort to the language of dialogue for the benefit of Yemen and the countries of the region, and we presented them with more than one initiative for a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, the last of which was last year , when I offered an initiative to the brothers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, they welcomed and agreed to implement it within a maximum period of 6 months. After that, I had communications with some Yemeni leaders in the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as with the UN envoy and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Most of them welcomed this initiative, and it was agreed to hold an inclusive Yemeni conference at the League of Arab States, under the auspices of the League's Secretary-General, the UN envoy and the coalition countries. We reported the results of these talks after six months to the leadership of the coalition, and they thanked my efforts, but after that they informed me that there is other opinion from our previous agreement with them.
At that time, I was assured that the decision to stop the war has not yet been taken by those who have the authority to decide, and that the war will be prolonged, and that the war merchants do not want an end to this war, and by the way they are local, regional and international players!
Khuyut: Yemeni people have reached total exhaustion, and the human suffering has surpassed the level of a tragedy that included the entire population of Yemen. Are there specific proposals that President Ali Nasser Mohammed can present, through the “Khuyut” platform, to stop the war with its local, regional and international dimensions? And what does the country need to resume life and save the future generations?
President: We have presented many initiatives for the solution, the last of which was in July of last year , and we have mentioned them in my answer to the previous question.
Khuyut: On the 58th anniversary of the September 26 revolution, 1962, President Ali Nasser Mohammed sent a speech delivered on his behalf in an event held on the occasion in Mudiyah; In this speech, the President mentions where he was on the day when the 26th of September 62 revolution was announced, how the people of Mudiyah received the news of the revolution, and how their struggles continued all the way until the achievement of the October 14, 1963 revolution. In fact, there is more than one question we would like to ask you about this speech, the first of which is:
What are the political messages that President Ali Nasser wanted to convey through this speech? Why was the invocation of the spirit of the revolution confined to the "people of Dathina"?
President: I was contacted by the organizers of the September 26 event, in Mudiyah, and I was asked to deliver a speech on this occasion. I accepted the invitation and sent an audio message to the citizens of “Dhaina” and to our Yemeni people, in which I spoke about my memories when the September 26 revolution was announced, and how we considered the outbreak of the revolution in Sana’a a victory for our struggling people in the south against the British occupation. I referred to happiness of the people; students, teachers, farmers, and employees of Dathena who demonstrated in support of the revolution, and the authorities were unable to stop this protest at that time. Dathina had a special status in the south, so it did not appeal to a sultan, sheikh, or emir, unlike the other protectorates of the south, from Aden to Mahra. For this reason, the British tried to tame it and annex it to the Fadhil Sultanate or the Othaliyah Sultanate, but the people in Duthina rejected that, as the poet Muhammad Ali Fadl Al-Salihi said before the British and local authorities in his poem:
The girl is at home beloved by her father and mother, has not been possessed since the time of Adam and Noah!
It may be a kind of exaggeration about the history of "Duthina" and its ruler in the past, but it was expressing the rejection of the inhabitants of this region to the British occupation, as well as to its annexation to any sultanate or sheikhdom, and it was called at a certain stage "Duthina Republic" for a period of about 5 years.
Khuyut: What is your reading of the conversations and events that recall the time of the sultans that ruled the south before the October 14 revolution, and whose rule faded after independence in 1967?
President: It is very difficult to return to the rule of the sultans, sheikhs, and emirates in the south, nor to the rule of the imamate in the north, and it was overcome by the establishment of the state in the south and then the Yemeni unity. Some of the sultans and sheikhs even participated in the revolution, such as Sultan Mohammad bin Aidarous, Sultan Fadl bin Harhara, Prince Jabal bin Hussein, Sultan Ahmed Abdullah Al-Fadhli and others. Indeed, Abdel Nasser said about Sultan Ahmed Al-Fadhli when he broke away from the 1964 London Conference on the South and moved to Rome and Cairo and met with Abdel Nasser: “Sultan Ahmed Al-Fadhli is stronger than the British colonial minister.” We must admit that the sultans, after their departure from power and some from the south in 1967, did not oppose the regime in Aden until the establishment of unity.
Khuyut: Going back, what did the two revolutions of Yemen (September 26 and October 14), in addition to independence on November 30, represent in the contemporary history of Yemen at the level of the two parts, formerly or later, in achieving Yemeni unity and forming a memory and identity for the country?
President: The outbreak of the September and October revolutions is considered a victory for the will of the Yemeni people, north and south, in the change that our people have been seeking for decades which resulted in achieving unity later. It was also considered a victory for Nasser’s Egypt, as a response to the secession of Syria and Egypt. At that time, some Arab countries, America, Britain and other Western countries were accused of being behind the separation, as they considered the establishment of unity with its wings in Asia and Africa, a threat to them and to Israel. The response was quick, from the point of view of the leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, by moving the battle against British colonialism in Aden and protecting the republican regime in Sanaa from the danger that it was threatening by the countries of the region and America. It was a strategic position for the leader Gamal Abdel Nasser to stand by Yemen, and before that the revolution of the million martyrs in Algeria against the French. The later developments proved the wise position in the 1973 war, when democratic Yemen, Algeria and the rest of the Arab countries sided with Egypt in the October war.
On the occasion of the Yemeni September, October revolutions and November, at the end of this interview, I extend my warmest and most heartfelt congratulations to our great people, especially on the occasion of the 57th anniversary of the glorious October 14 Revolution, which erupted from the majestic mountains of Radfan , and culminated in the victory over the occupation forces and the declaration of independence on 30 November 1967, and the establishment of a national state in the south led by the struggler Qahtan Mohammed al-Shaabi and his fellow fighters, thus announcing the end of the British Empire, on which the sun never sets.
Glory and eternity to the martyrs of the revolution and popular uprisings since the occupation to independence, and long life to all the fighters who participated and experienced the heroic epics of the struggle of our great people of our nation.