What citizens say about Yemeni unity [Archives:2006/948/Reportage]

May 22 2006

Hussein Fatehallah, a 40-year-old taxi driver: “Yemen's reunification is a great historic achievement reached by the Yemeni people's will and faith. National unity made available party multiplicity for us to enjoy a democratic margin.

“No one can argue that the country makes very slow steps toward political and administrative reforms, but we are optimistic that we will be like the most developed countries in the future. As Yemenis, we must not aspire to live in absolute democracy like other countries, as this may cause rampant corruption.”

Mohamed Qasem Al-Nuzeili, a trader: “Yemeni unity is a good thing, as citizens benefited from it through developing the main infrastructure, particularly in the southern parts of the country. However, we suffer many negative aspects, such as the spread of corruption, which impacts everyday life.

“Recurring street diggings result from lack of coordination between concerned bodies such as electricity, water, sewage and telecommunications corporations. Additionally, Yemenis suffer the absence of traffic regulations, a fact responsible for the bad moods of traffic police while dealing with any traffic-related issues, coupled with issuing driving licenses to children.”

Adulmajeed Mohamed Ahmad Al-Asnaj, a cook: “All of us in Aden are proud of national unity. After years of separation, we unified to live under the umbrella of peace, brotherhood and love.

“I want to remark regarding the judiciary, which experiences corruption as if we are living in a medieval era where survival is for the fittest and not a place for the weak. South Yemen was better than the north in terms of enjoying fair judiciary and good management.

“We were of the hope that those positive aspects could be pursued in the northern parts of the country following reunification. Regretfully, since national unity was established, we have been suffering poor management and lack of justice. Good management and justice are the primary elements for Yemeni citizens to live in safety and secure their property.”

Basil Saleh Abdullah Al-Zarouqi, a 43-year-old employee at Al-Alamia for Travel and Tourism: “By itself, unity is a great goal accomplished through sacrifice and struggle against British occupation in the formerly separate southern region and against imamate rule in the northern region before unity. Unity is an extraordinary accomplishment and a sublime objective and will remain a great dream in the life of Yemeni people which has come true, regardless of whether there have been some negatives that do not affect the greatness of unity as a goal and its achievements in uniting the nation. Division and fragmentation were factors impeding development and citizens' prosperity.”

As for tourism, Zarouqi says there is no way to compare regarding tourism and its development before and after unity. At the level of internal tourism, the average Yemeni citizen's information about his homeland was deficient because he was aware of only the part where he was living and unacquainted with his people's history and their civilization in other parts of the homeland, for instance, the people's civilization extending from Al-Mahara up to Sa'ada.

The tension that was prevailing between the country's northern and southern regions was an impeding element and factor regarding tourism and development of any aspects of growth at the levels of industry, agriculture and tourism environment. Post-unity tourism began with progress despite political tensions that existed between the two ruling parties.

Unity is for the people, regardless of the interests of this party or that. Despite occasional bickering we hear among the political parties, the people protect unity by itself. Unity must not be subject to compromises. Yemenis are one fabric and one interest, as it must one of the national constants.

Shatha Mohammed Nasser, a lawyer: “Unity is a great and important accomplishment for Yemenis, especially in the face of regional and international groups. Nevertheless, some negatives accompanied it, but that doesn't mean that I'm against unity.

The achievements of unity are good and important, the most significant of which are adopting democracy, which was denied under the rule of the former regimes. Many positives accompanied democracy, among them:

-establishing various political parties (they existed in the south under British occupation)

-forming different organizations and societies and NGOs (they were present under British occupation)

-freedom to travel from one governorate to another

-appointing two women ministers in the formation of the new government (an honor for Yemeni woman)

There were many negatives as well, including:

-the spread of financial and administrative corruption

-receding rights for Yemeni women. Northern Yemeni constitutions didn't grant Yemeni women any rights and they weren't allowed to practice their political rights. The situation was completely different in the south. The former democratic Yemen's 1978 Constitution granted Yemeni women many rights such as practicing political life (elections to People's Council, encouraged marriage, family law, etc.). The Constitution also stipulated equality between men and women in rights and duties, as well as among all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin, religion or language. It granted equal rights to men and women in all areas of political life.

The 1990 Unity Constitution gave northern women the right to be equal with men and also to political participation, which she was deprived of before unity. The 1994 Constitution was amended immediately after the war. Article 31 was added to it, stipulating that women are sisters of men in rights and duties as guaranteed by Islamic law and stipulated by the law. In the 2001 Constitution, Article 31 was kept as is and Article 126 was added. Accordingly, women were appointed as members of the Shoura Council and won two seats.

Women's situation in the post-unity social status law:

Social status law No. 21 in 1992 and its 1997 and 1998 amendments canceled the text of Article 72, which stipulated the right of despotically divorced women to compensation for one year.”

Rashida Al-Qaili, female journalist and media activist: “I find the sweetness of unity in my heart like the sweetness of faith because there isn't a greater achievement in our Arab nations' histories than this unity. By all standards, unity is a great achievement and this is an occasion to be grateful to all of the leaderships in the north and south for coming together and creating this unity. We thank them, regardless of the stances taken afterwards, whether for justifiable reasons or not, because it is an insult to unity itself if any leader tries to brand it with his name and claim sole ownership of it. This is what we criticize of the current president.

I would like to take this opportunity also to call on all citizens of the southern governorates to feel the sweetness of unity because it is worth celebrating, regardless of their bitter experience.

I also call on the political leadership represented by President Saleh, the military forces, security apparatus and bias media to fear God in their attitudes toward unity and stop their actions that divide instead of unite.

It could have been possible that Yemeni unity was achieved in a better and faster way than what was agreed upon between the two presidents who made it happen. Instead, they took advantage of our problems and achievements. Not much of this unity's aspiration was achieved and of course, this is not the fault of unity. There is still a chance to rectify what is wrong. If not, then a day might come when there is nothing to celebrate because the spirits today are divided more than united. It is true that the land became one now, but the spirits of the people are separated because of foolish politics and policies.”

History of the Republic

Although the governments of the PDRY and the YAR declared that they approved a future union in 1972, little progress was made toward unification, and relations were often strained.

In May 1988, the YAR and PDRY governments came to an understanding that considerably reduced tensions including agreement to renew discussions concerning unification, to establish a joint oil exploration area along their undefined border, to demilitarize the border, and to allow Yemenis unrestricted border passage on the basis of only a national identification card.

In November 1989, the leaders of the YAR (Ali Abdullah Saleh) and the PDRY (Ali Salim al-Baidh) agreed on a draft unity constitution originally drawn up in 1981. The Republic of Yemen (ROY) was declared on 22 May 1990 with Saleh becoming President and al-Baidh Vice President. For the first time in centuries, much of Greater Yemen was politically united.

A 30-month transitional period for completing the unification of the two political and economic systems was set. A presidential council was jointly elected by the 26-member YAR advisory council and the 17-member PDRY presidium. The presidential council appointed a Prime Minister, who formed a Cabinet. There was also a 301-seat provisional unified parliament, consisting of 159 members from the north, 111 members from the south, and 31 independent members appointed by the chairman of the council.

A unity constitution was agreed upon in May 1990 and ratified by the populace in May 1991. It affirmed Yemen's commitment to free elections, a multiparty political system, the right to own private property, equality under the law, and respect of basic human rights. Parliamentary elections were held on 27 April 1993. International groups assisted in the organization of the elections and observed actual balloting. The resulting Parliament included 143 GPC, 69 YSP, 63 Islaah (Yemeni grouping for reform, a party composed of various tribal and religious groups), 6 Baathis, 3 Nasserists, 2 Al Haq, and 15 independents. The head of Islaah, Paramount Hashid Sheik Abdallah Bin Husayn Al-Ahmar, is the speaker of Parliament.

Islaah was invited into the ruling coalition, and the presidential council was altered to include one Islaah member. Conflicts within the coalition resulted in the self-imposed exile of Vice President Ali Salim Al-Bidh to Aden beginning in August 1993 and a deterioration in the general security situation as political rivals settled scores and tribal elements took advantage of the unsettled situation.

Haydar Abu Bakr Al-Attas, the former PDRY Prime Minister continued to serve as the ROY Prime Minister, but his government was ineffective due to political infighting. Continuous negotiations between northern and southern leaders resulted in the signing of the document of pledge and accord in Amman, Jordan on 20 February 1994. Despite this, clashes intensified until civil war broke out in early May 1994.

Almost all of the actual fighting in the 1994 civil war occurred in the southern part of the country despite air and missile attacks against cities and major installations in the north. Southerners sought support from neighboring states and received billions of dollars of equipment and financial assistance, mostly from Saudi Arabia, which felt threatened by a united Yemen. The United States strongly supported Yemeni unity, but repeatedly called for a cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table. Various attempts, including by a UN special envoy, were unsuccessful to effect a cease-fire.

Southern leaders declared secession and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY) on 21 May 1994, but the DRY was not recognized by the international community. Ali Nasir Muhammad supporters greatly assisted military operations against the secessionists and Aden was captured on 7 July 1994. Other resistance quickly collapsed and thousands of southern leaders and military went into exile.

Early during the fighting, President Ali Abdallah Salih announced a general amnesty which applied to everyone except a list of 16 persons. Most southerners returned to Yemen after a short exile.

An armed opposition was announced from Saudi Arabia, but no significant incidents within Yemen materialized. The government prepared legal cases against four southern leaders)Ali Salim al-Baidh, Haydar Abu Bakr Al-Attas, Abd Al-Rahman Ali Al-Jifri, and Salih Munassar Al-Siyali ) for misappropriation of official funds. Others on the list of 16 were told informally they could return to take advantageof the amnesty, but most remained outside Yemen. Although many of Ali Nasir Muhammad's followers were appointed to senior governmental positions (including Vice President, Chief of Staff, and Governor of Aden), Ali Nasir Muhammad himself remained abroad in Syria.

In the aftermath of the civil war, YSP leaders within Yemen reorganized the party and elected a new politburo in July 1994. However, the party remained disheartened and without its former influence. Islaah held a party convention in September 1994. The GPC did the same in June 1995.

In 1994, amendments to the unity constitution eliminated the presidential council. President Ali Abdallah Salih was elected by Parliament on 1 October 1994 to a 5-year term. The constitution provides that henceforth the President will be elected by popular vote from at least two candidates selected by the legislature. Yemen held its first direct presidential elections in September 1999, electing President Ali Abdallah Salih to a 5-year term in what were generally considered free and fair elections. Yemen held its second multiparty parliamentary elections in April 1997. Constitutional amendments adopted in the summer of 2000 extended the presidential term by 2 years, thus moving the next presidential elections to 2006. The amendments also extended the parliamentary term of office to a 6-year term, thus moving elections for these seats to 2003. On 20 February 2001, a new constitutional amendment created a bicameral legislature consisting of a Shura Council (111 seats; members appointed by the president) and a House of Representatives (301 seats; members elected by popular vote).

Source: www.wikipedia.org