Dr. Abdul Galil Shaif, the chairman of FOSY and the former chairman of the Aden Free Zone Public Authority in Yemen Photo provided by the interviewee
The London-based organization Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) a grass roots organization has developed a three-staged road map to end the war in Yemen, where there are numerous political, economic, and security issues at stake, as well as an ongoing unimaginable humanitarian crisis. Nihan Duran interviewed Dr. Abdul Galil Shaif, the chairman of FOSY and the former chairman of the Aden Free Zone Public Authority in Yemen, on the current state of war in Yemen and the way forward to finding a peaceful solution.
Q. Before going into details of the three-stage road map, could you please explain the current state of the war in Yemen?
First, this is not just a war between Yemenis. It is also a proxy war at a regional and international level on Yemeni soil. All the partners in this war are self-imposed, and I think it is now obvious that there is no military solution to this conflict. The only solution is a peaceful resolution, and our immediate objective as Friends of South Yemen, a grassroots, self-financed, and independent organization, is to bring an immediate end to the war through a military ceasefire. Otherwise, it is going to be very difficult to find a peaceful solution as people continue to be displaced and killed.
It is evident that so far, the international community and the diplomatic efforts have failed miserably to materialize or bring a peaceful solution to the war in Yemen. We have 85,000 children who have died in this war among the 250,000 people killed and the millions displaced. Fifteen million people are facing starvation, which could be one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world. The economy has been damaged immensely. GDP in 2015 was 43 billion dollars in 2020 it was 21 billion dollars cut by more than half. While the population has grown from 25 million to 30 million. It is unbelievable in these economic circumstances how the people of Yemen are surviving.
Q. Why do you think previous efforts have failed to bring an end to the war?
Most of the proposals in the past have been short-term. They were only concerned with how to bring about a ceasefire, without any reflection on how to move forward when the fighting has stopped. But in order to find a peaceful solution that will work, we need to understand the different regions, players, and their positions in this war.
The south of Yemen has been liberated from Houthi control in 2015 and there is now a power sharing government mediated by Riyadh between the legitimate government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), and the north has almost been taken over by the Houthis, who are trying to expand their influence and territory. Our main objective is to bring an immediate end to the killing fields in Yemen and to do that, we need to make sure that we do something about what is happening now in Marib.
If the Houthis take over the rich oil region of Marib, it will make the peaceful solution much more difficult and complex to resolve.
Q. Why do the cities of Hudaydah and Marib play such a critical role?
If the Houthis take over the rich oil region of Marib, it will make the peaceful solution much more difficult and complex to resolve. It will also give the Houthis the upper hand militarily politically and economically as they could be on the verge of taking over Marib, the last stronghold of the legitimate government of Hadi, which many depend on for oil and gas resources in that region.
Taking over Marib will strengthen the Houthis and play into their expansionist policies. This could become very dangerous for the south and the Houthis persuing this policy may decide to take over the south again through Shabwa. And, I think, such a development is not in the interest of anybody since if they could, the Houthis would take over the whole of Yemen – as they tried to do in 2015.
Allowing the Houthis to take over the country will be a huge disaster for the whole of Yemen considering that this is a self imposed unelected group that does not want to share power with anyone because they believe they have a God-given right to rule Yemen as they see themselves as descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.
They are also a sectarian group who are creating sectarian divisions that did not previously exist in Yemen. We need to be aware that the more land they take and the influence they have, the stronger they become as a group at the international negotiating table. The intensification of the war and Houthi expansionist policy gives them no motivation to engage in international negotiations.
Q. How do you evaluate the recent development of U.S. President Joe Biden taking the Iran-backed Houthis off the country’s terror list?
I believe that the Houthis are a power and a part of Yemen’s reality that we cannot ignore, and therefore they have every right to be involved in a peaceful, negotiated settlement. I also think that being taken off the list of terrorists by the United States has emboldened them. They have seen this as an opportunity to advance into Marib.
I believe that the peaceful solution is the only way forward, but it needs tough and consistent diplomatic effort. I think that an international intervention at this point is critical. I hope that U.S. President Biden is going to push forward a strong diplomatic effort, as was his campaign promise, because the international interest in that region is huge. That is why I think that the international and regional partners of Yemen have a huge role to play.
Biden seems serious in his efforts, but in order to succeed he needs to do something different than the UN envoy and the other governments involved. The Biden administration needs to introduce a powerful force into Yemen’s politics to make sure that the Houthis, the legitimate government, and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) understand that the United States is serious about bringing a fresh impetus to the peace process. However in order for U.S. diplomacy to be effective the U.S. would need to use all its leverage not just on the regional powers but on the Houthis in particular.
Q. What do you propose in your road map for the peace negotiations in Yemen that was not properly addressed in previous or other current approaches?
I believe, as Friends of South Yemen, we are putting forward a solution that will allow every side, the local and regional players as well as the international community, to win something. Suppressing the other side has not worked. The past six years have demonstrated an international diplomatic failure to stop the war. What we suggest is to bring a political-diplomatic solution with the heavyweights, such as the United States, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, who would play an effective role in influencing the Houthis, the legitimate government, and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) together.
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Yemen might not be a priority for Western countries now, but it will be a priority in the future if extremist elements take over. If geographic areas in Yemen end up ungoverned, Al Qaeda, Daesh (ISIS), and other forms of extremists may fill that vacuum. Therefore, it is in the interest of the international community to bring this war to an end.
We encourage all actors involved to have a look at our proposal seriously because we are confident that our proposal provides a peaceful solution. We also believe that if people have a road map, a vision with regard to their future in Yemen, they will eventually start settling their differences through proposed peaceful solutions.
Q. The first stage of the Road Map (2021-2022) primarily focuses on an immediate ceasefire and a meaningful series of negotiations with the actors involved. A transitional government could be set up for one year paving the way for a two region solution and ensuring the provision of essential servies. What does the second stage of the proposal entail?
After we manage to resolve the issue of ceasefires during the first stage (2021-2022), we can move towards the second stage (2022-2025), which proposes a two-region solution. While President Hadi may continue to be the president of Yemen, the two regions, one in the north, one in the south, will have their own parliaments, political parties, ministries, legislative and judicial powers, budget, internal security forces, and police. A central administration will be responsible for defense, foreign policy, and the allocation of an equitable share of national revenue to the two regions. There should also be national reconciliation within the northerners and the southerners.
Q. What is the key motivation for your proposal to have a two-region solution in Yemen?
If you look at the north, there are different actors and they are all fighting each other. If you look at the south, there are still skirmishes, even though there is the Riyadh Agreement. If we can achieve a reconciliation among the political divisions in the south and north, we would have extremely positive results. I believe that having two national conferences on both sides would lead to much more trust and understanding between the warring factions in each region.
The two-region solution would also give them time to build the country, the institutions, and the infrastructure, which have been destroyed during the war. Yemen is not a poor country; it is poorly governed. Yemen can be in a better situation. It has almost everything that a country requires to become a great nation. It has rich resources of oil, gas, fisheries, beaches, and tourism.
I would rather have two states live in peace side-by-side than have one state fighting within itself which is what we have had since 1990. It does not matter whether we have one state or two states or two regions? What matters is that people begin to understand that there is a potential win-win situation for everybody. That is why the two-region solution is a coherent strategy, which the international community should support with its diplomatic efforts.
Q. The second stage chiefly focuses on the political organization and institutionalization in south and north Yemen. How does this transitional stage relate to the third and final stage (2025–2030) that should determine the future of Yemen?
Ibelieve that once we have the two-region solution running for a couple of years, eventually during the third stage (2025-2030), we could have a national referendum, one in the north and one in the south, where people can decide in each region whether to opt for two independent states (as was the case before 1990) or continue with the two-region solution.
Q. What other challenges or opportunities should we expect with regard to the feasibility of the road map to end the war in Yemen?
The failure to reach an international peaceful settlement in Yemen is a failure of the whole world. Fifteen million people are facing one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world. There is a new generation of young people, who have not been to school for the last six or seven years.
This crushes the ambition of the children in Yemen, who should aspire to be doctors, engineers, or teachers. Instead, today, we have children carrying guns because they think that the war is a solution to their problems. We need to reverse this psychology. We need to make sure that people think we can make peace possible.
We believe that our peaceful solution is a real opportunity for the Houthis, the STC, and the internationally recognized government to get together around the negotiation table and pursue a peaceful solution that will break divisions among them, the people, the region, and the international community.
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Keynotes from “The First Road Map to End Yemen’s War (2021-2030)
The first stage (2021-2022) focuses on a permanent ceasefire and the imposition of sanctions on anyone profiting from the war. Economic development is given precedence over humanitarian aid with an international body supporting the development of the north and south, and ensuring accountability in the use of the Central Bank funds.
The second stage (2022-2025) proposes a two-region solution: one region in the north and the other in the south each with its own parliament, political parties, executive, ministries, legislative and judicial powers, budget, internal security forces, and police. A central administration will be responsible for defense, foreign policy, and the allocation of an equitable share of national revenue to the two regions.
During the third stage (2025-2030) a national referendum, one in the north and one in the south, would be held to decide whether or not to opt for two independent states (as was the case before 1990) or continue with the two-region solution.
Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) was founded in June 2020 to provide information about Yemen in the English language. Such information was lacking after the suspension of the publication of the Yemen Times and the Yemen Observer due to the ongoing war.