Rashed Mohammed Thabet to YT: “The internal and external factors played a major role in realizing the unification of Yemen” [Archives:2001/42/Law & Diplomacy]

October 15 2001

Rashed Mohammed Thabet was born in al-Shawefa district in Taiz in 1943. He departed his hometown to Aden while he was just three years old. At that time, Aden used to be the only city in Yemen where education was available. Moreover, his father used to work there as an engineer for a big ship maintenance company. Rashed started working while he was young after completing his secondary school because of some personal matters. Then, he worked as an accountant and a supervisor for the free markets company at Aden Airport.
Rashed Mohammed Thabet started early his struggle against the British colonialists when he was in charge of the Popular Union and then of the military affairs of the resistance forces. After leaving the British jail, he worked in many fields, including journalism, as he used to work for many local newspapers like al-Ayyam and al-Yaqada. Similarly, Rashed was a distinguished lyric writer and poet.
After independence, he assumed several posts like director-general of radio & television, minister of information, minister of supply & immigrants affairs, ambassador to Cairo, office manager for the secretary-general of the YSP, minister of culture and minister of unity affairs up till the reunification of Yemen.
Mr. Rashed narrates some of his memories about many issues and events, which he experienced since his youth, as well as about some figures who took part in removing the Imamate tyrannical regime. Mr. Rashed praised the role of the patriotic people who took part in the realization of our revolutions.
Mr. Rashed remembers the great Yemeni freedom fighter, Mr. Mohammed Ahmed al-Noman, saying that the British authorities expelled Mohammed Ahmed al-Noman when he was taken by the police to the airport, where a mass of people had assembled to bid him farewell. Answering a journalist question about the real reason behind his expulsion from Aden, al-Noman said, “Is it easy for a person whose mouth is full of water to speak.” This situation was similar to what happened to Mohssen al-Ayeni when he was asked to leave Aden where a mass of people, including Sheikh Senan Abu Luhoum, gathered to protest against this decision. Following 26th September Revolution, many people from the South came to northern Yemen to participate in the defense of the newly-born revolution and played a major role in mobilizing the people’s efforts in the North.
At that time, a war started in some regions of Mareb and Bida in addition to contiguous areas with the South. Thus, the leadership at Sana’a along with the other national forces and parties in Aden started thinking of how to resist the Anglo-Sultanate forces and decided to adopt the armed resistance as the principal tool for liberating the South. The 14th October Revolution erupted from Radfan mountains against the British colonizers in Radfan region and the other areas in the South where the British military bases existed.
Then, the national forces started thinking about moving their struggle in the South to the major cities. In fact, I was one of the people who initiated the attacks against the British troops stationed in Aden and these are some of the memories I still remember from the eruption of 26 September and 14 October revolutions.
Rashed Mohammed Thabet lavishly spoke about the 14th of October Revolution against the British occupation of South Yemen, remembering some of the troops which had been formed in Aden after the proclamation of the revolution. “I still remember the names of the first group of fighters, who sparked the first fight against the British forces stationed in the cities of the South, like Mohammed Saleh Mote’a, Ahmed Mohammed Saeed al-Maqatri, Qaid, Abdalla Abdulhakim from al-Odain, Abdurahaman Mohammed Haza’a from al-A’aruq and Abdula Ghaleb from the city of Aden,” Rashed said. All these men were affiliated to the Teachers League in Aden, which used to be chaired by Abdulaziz Abdulwali. The number 1 responsible of the League in al-Mua’ala was Abdulaziz Slam al-Qubati, one of the first patriots who participated in firing the first shots against the British colonialists. Mr. Abdulaziz al-Qubati is one of the forgotten patriots of the revolution who joined the National Guard which rushed to defend the newly-born revolution.
Within the Arab League, I still remember Abubakar Shafiq, Dr. Abdulkarim Ahassan, Ali al-Zaghir al-Duba’ay, al-Shahid Bader al-Shahid, Mahyoub Qasem al-Sharabi, and the martyr Abud. At the beginning, the league was headed by Nor-Eldin Qasem and then by Alwi al-Salam, before Abdulfatah Ismail came along with the Abdulrazaq Shaif and Hussain al-Jabiri.
After that, Mr. Rashed talked about the unification of Yemen which had been achieved on the 22th of May 1990 and said, “The issue of unity is the direct result of the suffering of the Yemeni people prior to the independence when the British colonialists used to discriminate the people who came from the North against the other protectorates in the South, considering them as foreigners. We suffered a lot from this discrimination as we used to dream of getting education in Aden but it was inaccessible for us at the exception of the people who could trick the British authorities by obtaining a birth certificate from Aden authorities. One thing that helped the people coming from the North to get education in Aden was the availability of private schools which hosted the students coming from the North and the other people from the protectorates of the South. Indeed, the protectorates were completely deprived from basic services like education and health care.
As far as the leadership of the Labor Union is concerned, Mr. Rashed said: “Abdullah al-Asnag, Ali Hussain al-Qathi, Abdu Khalil Sulaiman and Mohammed Salim ba Sundwa were the real leaders of the labor movement, which had been calling for the unification of Yemen since 1957. Mr. Mohammed Saeed al-Hakimi, was one of the prominent leaders in the labor movement. Mohammed Ahmed al-Noman and Muhssen al-Ayni played a major role in the foundation of the Labor Union along with Mohammed Salem Bawazir. Similarly, the Arab Nationalists Movement along with the Bath Party had a great effect on the members of the Union.”
Concerning the steps preceding May 22, Mr. Rashed said that this issue was very urgent for the people of Yemen. However, it was hindered by some external circumstances that imposed themselves on the leaderships of the two parts of Yemen. When the pressure got tighter on the two leaderships, they started to think seriously of rapprochement. Furthermore, the international factors played a major role in this regard.
He added, “In 1972, I remember the committee who prepared the documents related to the unification in Cairo as there was a great opportunity for the two leaderships to move ahead with the unification.”
According to Mr. Muhssen al-Ayni, former prime minister, there had been external pressures on the government not to go ahead with the unification, particularly from the shura council at that time. Moreover, the leadership of the shura council demanded the resignation of Muhsen al-Ayni who in turn tried to bridge the gap between the shura council and the government.
Then, Muhssen al-Ayni, who left Cairo to Algeria, submitted his resignation to Abdulrahman al-Iryani. The latter requested Mr. al-Ayni to change his mind and to go to the United Nations in order to attend its round of negotiations and stay there for a while. Abdulrahman al-Iryani could try to calm down the shura council, chaired then by Abdula bin Hussain al-Ahmar who strongly opposed any unification with the South. Yet, Muhssen al-Ayni openly pointed out that Abdula bin Hussain al-Ahmar was against the unification. He came back to Sana’a after taking part at the U.N. talks while the campaign against the unification was in full swing and insisted again on his resignation. He left for Italy sending his letter of resignation in which he said that he could not stay in a situation full of dangers with a risk of conspiracy against him. Actually, this came after al-Ayni signed the Cairo Agreement which had been strongly opposed at that time by the shura council and the tribal leaders who had gone in so far as to consider the signing of the agreement as a high treason. Frankly speaking, Iraq played a crucial role in reaching this agreement through Abdulkhaliq al-Samora’y who was the second person in charge during the rule of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakar. Al-Samora’y paid many visits to Aden and Sana’a in this regard.
Of course, the great role of the Arab League shall not be forgotten. Different committees to prompt the unification were formed. The relations between the two parts used to go up and down until a clear split occurred and led to the second war in 1979. As a result of the different international pressures, the two leaderships in the North and the South and reached an agreement stipulating the realization of unification within a period of 6 months. However, the anti-unification forces in the North and the South worked actively to break any attempt that could lead to re-unifying Yemen and went as far as to threaten the assentiment of President Ali Abdula Saleh and Abdulfatah Ismael if they reached an agreement to reunite Yemen. Abdulfatah Ismael was informed about this by the USSR Intelligence Service (KGB) which also gave him details of the plot against him. A forthcoming meeting between the two president of South and North Yemen scheduled for May 1979 in Sana’a was postponed due to the pressures exerted by the anti-unification forces. Instead of a meeting between the two presidents, it was agreed to hold a meeting between two delegations with lower ranked officials. As a result of this failed meeting, sharp disagreements within the Yemeni Socialist Party over this issue appeared.
A very important thing that should be reminded here is that, in a meeting between ex-USSR head of state Mikhail Gorbachev and president Ali Salem al-Bith during his visit in Moscow, Gorbachev spoke about the crisis in Yemen in particular and said that, “Yemen is located in the Arab peninsula where lots of American interests reside. We do not have any interest there so that you can determine what you want by respecting the will of your people.” By that, Gorbachev advised Ali Salem al-Baith to improve his relation with the regime in the North. Therefore, the leadership in the South got the green light from the USSR to proceed with the unification process. In fact, without this particular international climate, the re-unification of Yemen could have not been achieved in such a peaceful manner.