“The British were in South Yemen, then part of South Arabia, for 139 years – in Aden and parts of the protectorate. The war for independence from Britain was won in 1967.
There has always been interference in what is now Yemen, particularly by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have always been a key player and have heavily interfered for decades.
They fear a strong government or republic in a country that’s next door to them. So they have always had strong links with the government of north Yemen, a relationship that continues today.
The Saudis used to pay the salaries of military commanders and tribal sheikhs in order to keep control and have a direct relationship with those in charge. They see the movement in the south as a threat because it developed a republic democratic government after the uprising of 1967. The north was, and remains, easier to intervene in – it is more tribal, old fashioned and conservative.
There is a civil war between the Shia Hathi rebels and the Yemeni government, but really it’s Saudi Arabia fighting the rebels. It was a proxy war, but now there have been Saudi troops on Yemeni soil for 70 days, fighting the rebels along the border.
Saudi Arabia is fearful of the possibility that a government elected by the people, and supported by the Shia, will come to power and it will lose political influence.
The US is also involved. It has been supporting the corrupt Yemeni regime to get rid of Al Qaida, which has been operating in Yemen since 1990.
Al Qaida in Yemen comes from what was Salafism – a particularly conservative interpretation of Islam adhered to by the Saudi royal family. The headquarters for this organisation are in Saudi Arabia, not Yemen. The Saudi
Al Qaida merged with the Yemen Al Qaida last year to form AQAP – Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular.
Al Qaida was not against the Yemeni regime but against liberals and socialists – so was allowed to establish itself right under the government’s nose. Salafis fought alongside government troops in the civil war in 1994 against the South when those in the independence movement were called infidels.
The people of South Yemen want independence. There was a peaceful unification with the north in 1990. But one year later the north attacked leaders of the South’s revolutionary movement. In 1994 the north took over the south in a bloody war, eliminating the democratic government and removing the southern officers from the army.
Thousands of people have fled south Yemen and are living as exiles and refugees in neighbouring countries and around the world.
There is now a significant movement calling for independence. We want a peaceful revolution for self-determination – unification is no longer valid and we need the international community to recognise South Yemen as an autonomous state.
The US is now calling on the regime to track Al Qaida down, but the regime is still using diplomacy with Al Qaida. A few years ago there was a deal and many Al Qaida members were released from prison.
Some leaders are very visible to the regime but are being hunted by the US. The Yemeni government wants the support of the West, and in exchange is getting weapons to fight the movement in the south, and to fight along with Saudi Arabia against the Hathis.
It has been easy for the government, Saudi Arabia and now the US to keep people divided.
Fighting Al Qaida is not a priority for the government, but the US is forcing its hand. The fact is that Al Qaida is not very big in Yemen. But the bombings and killings of women and children will turn people towards them and swell their ranks.
The Yemeni government is not in a position to remove Al Qaida from the country. The government is deeply unpopular due to the corruption that has kept it in power for 31 years and because it has waged many civil wars against different groups of civilians.
Al Qaida is well known, but the information the Yemen government is giving the US cannot be trusted. The tactics being used are very dangerous and play into the hands of Al Qaida.
Two weeks ago the government claimed to have killed three Al Qaida militants – but 52 women and children were killed in the same attack. The US’s victims will be women and children.
We have so many occupations now – Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. What will it be like with more?