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Unity talks with Aden continue, but five-year plan has priority
(Interview with North Yemen's Command Council Chairman Ahmed Hussain al-Ghasmi - 1978)

Editorial note: Like many states in the Middle East, North Yemen has had a turbulent history. In 1977, a military coup d'tat resulted in General Ahmed Hussain al-Ghashmi becoming the Chairman of North Yemen-s Command Council. Ghashmi was served by the US-educated Yemen economist, Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Ghani, who became the country-s Prime minister. Abdel-Ghani developed and published North Yemen-s first five-year economic development plan. Six weeks after this interview, President al Ghashmi was blown up by a parcel bomb delivered to him as a gift by an emissary of the revolutionary junta of South Yemen. The emissary was present when the gift was unwrapped. He died in the resulting explosion along with Hussain al-Ghashmi.

MEED: Since the 1962 revolution, the Yemen Arab Republic has issued laws to break its isolation and to create an open society. What are the major achievements?

Ghashmi: If you had known Yemen before the 26 September revolution, and the extreme backwardness of our economic, social, political and cultural life, you would be convinced that the revolution was inevitable. Before the revolution, the Imam's authority had squeezed the people into a dark, narrow environment and built a fence round it to separate them completely from the enormous progress taking place around them. The people lived in internal isolation too. People did not know each other, because of the lack of the simplest internal communications. The state's relationship with the individual was one of exploitation. It recklessly collected taxes which burdened the people heavily without providing the simplest social services. This is why I tell you that the revolution was, more anything else, a necessity in people's lives.

The revolution's achievements are in - numerable. In my view, the most important were in giving the people the opportunity to benefit from scientific and technological progress, setting up a modem state, and transforming the economic, cultural and social infrastructure. Our economy has leaped forward. We have our first comprehensive five-year plan. We have created opportunities for education to which there has been such a response that the state's resources could not cope with the growing numbers. Socially, fife patterns have changed, and thousands of kilometres of roads have been built to link different parts of the country. Essential services have been introduced into the heart of rural areas. Per caput income has multiplied several times. We now have thousands of trained people, while before the revolution we had very few. In short, I can say that the revolution provided a major change in the quality of life.

MEED: Yemen has been divided into two parts, North and South, but many people consider it to be one country. What are the major reasons for this division?

Ghashmi: Yemen was divided into little states and emirates a long time ago, especially when the state was weak and politically loose. When it was strong, there were several attempts to bring about political unity. Then came the occupation.
The Turks ruled the north, while the British dominated the south. This was in the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. The occupation reinforced Yemen's political differences. But unity of the people remains to the present day, despite political division. I finally believe this division is a major obstacle to us achieving our aims for progress.

MEED: Now that Yemen is divided politically, and maybe culturally as well, what could achieve a lasting unity?

Ghashmi: As I told you before, by nature and practice the Yemeni peoples are united, despite the continued political division. To achieve unity it is necessary to expand and deepen economic, social, cultural and political co-ordination so that we can build the foundations for complete political unity.

MEED: Have you decided on any steps?

Ghashmi: We are focusing attention on continuing efforts to achieve the targets of our first comprehensive five-year plan, which started at the beginning of last year. Our biggest challenge is how far the plan will succeed.

MEED: Is there any dialogue between North and South Yemen?

Ghashmi: Perhaps you are already aware of the efforts by both parts to achieve Yemeni unity. Several committees have been set up to prepare for united educational, economic and constitutional systems, as well as for unity in other areas. The committees work regularly. The leaders of both parts also meet regularly to study the committees' results.

MEED: North Yemen appears to be adopting a moderate policy in its relations with Arab states. How does the Arab- Israeli conflict affect your relations with other Arab states?

Ghashmi: We in North Yemen are keen to support and strengthen Arab unity. We want to keep Arab solidarity and unity. At the Arab level, our foreign policy is based on a true desire to strengthen our relations and co-operation with all Arab states. As for the Arab-Israel conflict, we believe there can be no just and lasting peace in the Middle East without the withdrawal of Israel from all Arab territories occupied in 1967 and the recognition. of the national rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to establish their own state. Only then can we look for a just and lasting peace.

MEED: What is your position on the Arab boycott of Israel?

Ghashmi: Let me tell you frankly that the Arab boycott of Israel came about as a result of aggression on the Arab states after the Zionist movement - in co- operation with imperialist states - had used force and terror to displace the Palestinian people from their own land in 1948. In the past, many nations have used such boycotts against aggressors. As long as Israel refuses to withdraw from the occupied Arab lands and does not recognise the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians, the boycott of Israel becomes an important practice by sovereign states to protect legitimate Arab rights and interests. We do not hold anything against the Jewish people because of their religion or race. We are also Semites. But we oppose the Zionist movement because it is racist, aggressive and imperialist.

Middle East Economic Digest
24 February 1978

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