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Federalism is best for Yemen: Former South Yemen president

Ali Nasir Muhammad says that some of Yemen's problems cannot be overcome without regional guarantees; says two-state federalism is the best 'neutral' solution

Ahram Online , Saturday 16 Nov 2013
Former Southern Yemeni president Ali Nasser Muhammad (R) gestures as he speaks with a Southern Movement representative part of a meeting with United Nations envoy to Yemen on 9 March, 2013 in Dubai (Photo: AFP)

Ali Nasir Muhammad served president of South Yemen from April 1980 to January 1986. He became an opposition figure in the 2011 Yemeni uprising. Now, he calls for secession of the south.

AO: How do you view President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi after having been one of your army chiefs?

Ali Nasir Muhammad: The question should be redirected to the public on how they view their president. I hope he is able to lead what is left of the transitional phase aptly, in such a way that meets the people’s ambitions at this tough stage, especially that he has regional and international support.

AO: If he should ask you to fill another position, would you accept?

ANM: I have mentioned on several occasions, as well as in media and non-media interviews, that power is not the end of life. I climbed from mayor to president of the republic at various times during the 1990s. Until this day, I refuse to engage in a game of political positions between the centres of power, whether as an administrator or as a presidential candidate for the public’s interest. That was at the height of the conflict between different centres of power and political polarisation that took place then.

According to my evaluation of the circumstances that the country was passing through, the parties weren't looking for a solution as much as they were trying to attract polarisation, which does not serve the people but rather their own interests. Today, we stand on a relatively different ground and I would like to say that my current political participation — even after I left my position — is not for the position or prestige, but in order to find a solution, out of patriotism, to the crisis experienced by the country and the people, particularly with regards to the case of the south, and other issues.

AO: How do you rate the performance of interim President Hadi in managing the transitional period in Yemen? How do you evaluate his decisions with regards to restructuring the Yemeni army?

ANM: The transitional period is only the result of a political settlement that has been agreed upon between the well-recognised Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) opposition coalition and the former ruling party, the General People's Congress. The president does not lie outside this political equation, which is backed regionally and internationally.

AO: Is your noticeable silence on political events in Yemen during the transitional phase an indicator of your withdrawal from political life?

ANM: We were never silent; we have spoken before others have, especially before and after the 1994 war that has bequeathed to us its benefits today. This went according to our reading of the present and vision for the future. There was movement in the south as there was in the north, demanding change long before the political powers usurped the youth revolution as happened in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab Spring countries.

As for the transitional period, silence was not our method. We took part in its events, joined the national dialogue, and met with delegations from the Arab League, the EU, the GCC, and others.

AO: What is the best solution for the problem of the south?

ANM: On our part — as reached in the first and second conferences in Cairo and in all our meetings — we approach the issue with neutrality, and our best suggestion is a two-state federalism, which is known to everyone and which we are not imposing on anyone.

AO: How do you view the regional role in managing the transitional crisis, especially the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

ANM: There is keenness to neglect Yemen regionally and internationally. There are problems we cannot overcome without special guarantees, especially with the intractable crisis of confidence between Yemeni parties. Needless to say, the influence of these crises will naturally have an effect of Yemen's neighbours and the Gulf countries, considering Yemen's strategic depth. The people of Yemen need to agree amongst themselves, but they will always be in need of their brothers and friends.

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