New southern-based political movement stresses reconciliation, cooperation [Archives:2008/1177/Reportage]

July 31 2008

By: Nadia Al-Sakkaf
Abdulrahman Al-Sakkaf is one of the founding members of a movement called the Democratic Initiative for Change and Construction, which is applying to become a new Yemeni political party.

The movement started with a group of Yemenis from the southern governorates desiring to stress reconciliation and cooperation rather than silence and secession.

Al-Sakkaf, who is originally from Hadramout, sat down to explain the movement and its goals for Yemen's future.

We first want to know about this Democratic Initiative for Change and Construction, so what is it?

The Democratic Initiative for Change and Construction is a burgeoning political party comprised from a broad national line-up representing all societal groups. Its members have a strong belief in freedom – which is based on democracy – equality in citizenship and social justice as necessities to achieving Yemeni peoples' aspirations to develop, prosper and have decent lives.

So, is this a new party movement and if it's independent, does it have members from all parties and governorates?

The Democratic Initiative is an independent political organization comprised of Yemeni youths with experience in various fields, along with some who have attained high leadership positions both in the ruling and opposition parties. Our movement also includes several cultured writers and university professors, in addition to other important Yemenis from the revolution and unification generations in every governorate. These public figures in the movement's leadership include Dr. Murshid Shamsan, Ahmed Al-Shara'abi, Dr. Mohammed Al-Suroori and Dr. Hussein Bilal.

How many members are in the movement?

Our members – both men and women – who have been recruited into the Democratic Initiative number around 40,000 and is continually increasing. Once declared at our constituents conference to be held soon after we complete legal procedures according to the laws of the Parties Affairs Committee, this number will make it the third largest political party in Yemen after the General People's Congress and the Islah parties.

Our movement views democracy as the optimal way for the nation to get out of its successive predicaments and raise Yemeni society to guarantee freedom and equality. Such democracy also can move the wheels of development in order to achieve social, political and economic progress.

Who is funding the movement, when was it formed and why is still in the establishment phase?

Concerning funding, the movement has decided not to rely on anyone – neither national nor foreign – for financial support, the reason being to protect the movement's decisions and initiatives from others' will. Instead, our movement depends on its members' personal efforts. For this reason, financial matters have delayed our finding a permanent residence for the movement, forcing it to hold many of its meetings in hotel conference rooms.

The Yemeni government is supposed to provide whatever the multiparty system requires, as stipulated by the fifth article of the Yemeni Constitution, which states that the regime in the Republic of Yemen is based on a multiparty system.

The Democratic Initiative's introduction notes that Yemen currently is experiencing a conflict-of-interest crisis. Who is this conflict between – the Yemeni government and the opposition?

Talking about the correlation of conflict in order to attain power, our current political situation leads us to recall from our collective national memory the events and methods of Yemeni politics since revolution broke out in September and October 1962. Those events are considered the introduction and reasons for the deterioration of the political situation we're witness today as a result of those practices.

Following this revolution, upon which Yemenis relied to get out from under tyranny and the remnants of backward times, a civil war erupted in North Yemen that continued for many years. However, this conflict wasn't restricted to just the two warring sides – republicans and imamates – rather, there also were conflicts within the republican circle itself.

By the end of this civil war, the conflict for power extended to a series of military coups and this scene in North Yemen witnessed similarities in the south.

All of these events wasted much time and effort, besides the huge damages they inflicted upon the nation and its citizens. Moreover, the revolution's morale began to vanish because the prospective project didn't see the light of day and the revolution's aims weren't achieved.

There were conflicts on both sides of Yemen, with the situation being aggravated and broadened in many forms due to continuous hindering of development projects. These various power conflicts were in the civil war between the two parts of the country.

With Yemeni unification came hope for a change for the better. However, the events since then haven't given much hope, as the same interactions returned in different forms to confirm that this way of dealing with things isn't the right one.

It's right that some within the opposition parties accept the government's stance on issues that don't serve the nation's supreme interests. Nevertheless, this coalition gathering the General People's Congress and the Islah Party to vote for the same presidential candidate, as well as the constitutional amendments in 1999, was reversed upon forming the Joint Meeting Parties.

Generally speaking, political relationships between the ruling and opposition parties are taking the abovementioned path of renewed conflict. This cycle of confusion won't end unless there's a real democracy based on the partnership of all peoples to get through the difficult situation and achieve future aspirations based on legal unanimity, which is one reason for establishing our movement.

Members of the ruling party created the current crisis in Sa'ada; the opposition had nothing to do with this war. In your opinion, what are the sides of conflict in Yemen?

Regarding the Sa'ada events, citizens know that the Houthi movement was no secret to the Yemeni government since it began. It's also clear that this movement has resorted to the memory of history and the geography of Sa'ada – the previous metropolis of the imamates – in order to reestablish long-gone regimes.

During the past four years, confrontations between the two sides have occurred repeatedly. While we don't know what the government will do during this period of truce, what the other side will do during this time is clear.

Some official practices may have had a role in agitating the last war. The picture may become clearer if we consider the explosions and assassinations that occurred prior to the war. Whatever side committed these disgraceful acts bears the responsibility for them and their consequences. Investigating those accountable for renewing this war is the government's task.

The Democratic Initiative desires to create a new Constitution, but what's the problem with the current one? What are its shortcomings, both in general and in detail, and will creating a new one solve these problems?

As we know, since humankind began establishing ways to regulate society, regimes have been formed and developed over the course of time and throughout history. Philosophers worked a lot, particularly during the Golden Age, on the issue of society so that people would have their rights. Thus, this method specifies the form of the regime and the involved authorities, as well as regulates the relationships between those authorities.

Apart from a society's historical roots, its people are the natural source of a regime and its legislation. Therefore, it's necessary for all society members, including political parties, civil organizations and social leaders, to participate in and agree upon its Constitution. The development and construction process then begins to be supported by a unanimous legislative authority, which achieves the people's supreme interest.

When large segments of society don't participate or take part in issues, particularly if the issue concerns them as citizens, there will be rebellion against the regime and legislation is wasted. This is one of the problems with our current Constitution. There are many sensitive issues in this regard, such as the effects of the 1994 Civil War and the incessant fighting in Sa'ada.

Activities in the southern governorates are just one aspect indicating a crisis and a feeling that there's no justice and that others are deliberately marginalized. Thus, the tension now is between the government and the opposition, in addition to the violence that has begun there and includes confrontations between Houthis and the government.

There's a continuous need to save this nation from sliding into the unknown, but this can happen only through constructive dialogue and public partnership, which our initiative calls for, in addition to the government and all other stakeholders dealing with these issues earnestly.

The Democratic Initiative is working to gather all current political parties, but some groups aren't represented by parties, although they are part of our nation. How do you suggest integrating Yemeni peoples' interests within the framework of reconciliation between the political parties?

Our initiative calls on political parties and all others to sit at the national dialogue table and participate objectively because the issue is related to the national and popular fate and applying the agreed-upon results. This doesn't contradict the independence of the political parties, but rather, strengthens their necessary roles.

Our initiative notes that the main bodies concerned are the ruling GPC and the JMP, but this doesn't mean others are excluded. Our initiative places national unity as its first aim, while stressing the participation of all social figures, intellectuals and political parties.

Further, we emphasize the importance of leaders' participation in order to move from the cycle of conflict to dialogue. All will benefit from this historical national project because the people are the owners of this interest because this matter concerns everyone.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that the Democratic Initiative is based on national unity and constructive partnership and it is from this idea that our initiative takes its name.