Protests as Moussa visits Yemen

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of southern Yemen yesterday, calling for independence and waving flags of the former southern state which merged with the north in 1990. (Reports: AP

The protests were timed to coincide with a visit to Yemen by Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League. Moussa's visit was intended to show Arab concern about the deteriorating situation in the country but it's unclear what – if anything – the League proposes to do about it. 

The diplomatic language surrounding the talks was extremely bland. 

“The president expressed his openness to any dialogue with all Yemeni political forces inside or outside, provided that it is based on unity and stability of the country,” Moussa told journalists. “Any initiative that tackles the situation in Yemen should be based on that principle to ensure the unity, security and stability of Yemen."

According to Reuters, Moussa even "declined to say if the Arab League would attempt to mediate in either of the two conflicts" [the Houthi rebellion in the north or separatist activism in the south].

On Tuesday, ahead of the visit, Asharq Al-Awsat published a lengthy interview with Amr Moussa. This is the section relating to Yemen:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to convey new ideas during your visit to Yemen to contain the grave effects of the current battles?

[Musa] The situation in Yemen is important for all Arabs, and the stability of Yemen and the emphasis on and guarantee of its unity are fundamental for the Arab entity, even for the Arab survival. It is natural that I discuss this with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and also that I discuss with him the possibilities of Arab action in this field.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How could this situation be ended, especially as Yemen has announced its rejection of internationalization and Arabization?

[Musa] This is neither Arabization nor internationalization; it is sincere efforts to put an end to a worrying and grave situation, to preserve the Yemeni gains achieved by unification, and to establish stability. I will keep any other details until I meet the president and the Yemeni officials.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the Arab dealing be bilateral, especially as Egypt has sent its foreign minister and Minister Omar Suleiman to consult over the containment of the battles in Yemen?

[Musa] This Egyptian move is evidence of the concern felt by the Arabs. Since the beginning of the crisis I have been in touch with the Yemeni officials, and I have received many messages from the brethren in Sanaa. The situation requires us to consider how to conduct an actual action to preserve the Yemeni and Arab interests.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the exchanged messages include indications of the gravity of the battle?

[Musa] I would like to keep the details of the entire issue within the framework of the dossier under discussion; this is what is going to be discussed in Sanaa.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your comment on the reports saying that what is taking place in Yemen is a Saudi-Iranian war?

[Musa] There is a great deal that has been said and published. I do not consider it appropriate to comment on everything that is circulating, but we ought to conduct responsible consultations about the entire situation with all its dimensions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that the capabilities available to the Huthists are tantamount to the capabilities of a state, and exceed the potential of groups?

[Musa] We, indeed, monitor the presence of many capabilities. All this is under surveillance, and continuous monitoring. I do not want to talk about an issue that I will discuss with President Ali Abdullah Saleh during my visit to Yemen on Tuesday. I will restrict myself to this.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 7 October 2009.