x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cleric calls for unity in Yemen as he warns against 'foreign plans'

A religious hardliner warns of foreign plans to divide Yemen and called for unity in addressing the country's problems.

SANA'A // A religious hardliner warned yesterday of foreign plans to divide Yemen and called for unity in addressing the country's problems. Sheikh Abdulmajeed al Zindani, the rector of the religious al Eman University, which is accused by the United States of financing terrorism, was speaking at a meeting for about 800 clerics representing the Islamist Salafist movement. They gathered in Sana'a to debate issues facing the country in light of increasing demands for separation in the south.

"Yemen is today in a critical situation, facing challenges and conspiracies from both inside and outside. Things are moving fast and the people behind this from outside forces have the power to make them run in line with their objectives," said Sheikh al Zindani, without naming the foreign forces operating against Yemen. "Now, we started to hear about another movement in the desert provinces; they want to establish small states whereby they can control the oil resources. Do you believe that such big fleets are in the sea hunting down for ordinary pirates? They are there to control oil and its waterway," he said.

He touched on the controversy in the south, saying: "Injustices and wrongdoings have to be addressed immediately. One of the main injustices is the looting of land in the south, which has generated grudge and grievances." Sheikh al Zindani, who is close to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, added that these issues should be part of a discussion involving all interest groups. Mr Saleh's government is facing an on-and-off insurgency in the north and a secessionist uprising in the south, in addition to economic hardship throughout the country.

"We should address our disputes by dialogue and not war and destruction, [which serve] the plots of the foreign forces. However, we should have guarantees from all forces starting with the president and all active players that they will accept the outcome of such a [proposed] conference. "Splitting Yemen and a civil war will only serve the enemies of Yemen. Similarly, keeping unity and addressing injustices, respect of constitution and law will be a key factor to find our solutions," Sheikh al Zindani said.

Ahmed Hasan al Mualem, a Salafist leader, said he was troubled by calls for uprising. "Revolting against the ruler is prohibited in our doctrine. We are supposed to stand against a call for revolting or disobeying the Muslim ruler even if it comes from an outstanding cleric, let alone those people [referring to the southern movement leaders], who have deviated from our religion and abuse our religion and interests," he said.

The two-day meeting was organised by the al Hikmah al Yamaniah Charitable Society, one of the main Salafist societies in the country. According to Hasan al Hashidi, the media officer of the General Salafi Forum, participants represented more than 35 Salafist institutions. Hamud al Hitar, the minister of justice and religious guidance, welcomed the gathering, considered to be the largest for Islamic groups in the country this year. He described it as demonstration of the provisions of the Quran and the unity principle of Islam.

"We in the government welcome your advice and recommendations. You are doing a good job, but we want you to do more in defending unity and enhancing it through your work in mosques," Mr al Hitar told the participants. "We are living a serious stage where conspiracies are convened against Yemen and its stability and unity. You have to be callers for good and peace, explaining to the people what they should do to defend this unity which is the grace of Allah." According to Abdulellah Haidar, a specialist in al Qa'eda and Islamist movements, the conference was meant to support the ruling regime by providing a religious basis for the unification.

"This gathering is nothing but a response to the government response in influencing the public through religious discourse, putting the unification in a religious context. The regime needs this religious legitimacy for the unification. This is very dangerous and reminds us of 1994 when the Islamists played an important role in fighting against the socialists in the south," he said. For the past three years, the southern part of Yemen has been hit by protests from people complaining about economic and political marginalisation. These demonstrations have turned increasingly violent.

While the government conducted military parades to observe the 19th anniversary of the unification between the north and south on May 22, violent protests demanding separation were taking place in the southern port city of Aden. Four people were killed and more than 30 injured. Naser al Khubaji, one of the main leaders of the southern movement, said the Salafist meeting was irrelevant. "This is their business. But for us, the unification does not exist any more since the 1994 war. We are under occupation now and we are fighting peacefully to end this situation."

malqadhi@thenational.ae