While lying injured and captured by Houthi rebels, Salem Thabet Al-Awlaqi never gave up hope that his homeland - Southern Yemen, would become free of the Houthi and the forces loyal to ex-President Saleh. He saw the same resolve recently when he visited injured men at the Afia and Ataq hospitals on behalf of South Yemen's President Commander Aidarous Al-Zubaidi. While praising their heroism, he showed how he was a rising star within the independence movement.
Born into a united Yemen, Thabet Al-Awlaqi will have been aware that it was not always so, and in fact, unity is a new concept. What is now called Southern Yemen was sliced off a larger polity by the Sultan of Lahej in 1838 and given to the British to be a base against Indian Ocean pirates who probably, like now, operated out of Somalia across the Gulf of Aden. As the British Empire dissolved after World War 2, Southern Yemen became independent before coming under the sway of Marxist extremists.
From 1967 to 1990, South Yemen tasted independence and had a good relationship with its northern neighbor until the two agreed to merge in 1989. However, it was not always a happy marriage, and soon enough, the Shia Houthi rose in rebellion and later on, those in the south began to protest for their independence. With the aid of nations like Iran and Syria, the Houthi have made inroads into the south and have captured Sana'a. To make matters worse, former President Saleh is backed by Saudi Arabia, while his replacement, Hadi, is also hostile to Al-Zubaidi.
As soon as the Houthi invaded Southern Yemen, Thabet Al-Awlaqi volunteered to fight. He was captured and injured but eventually released in June 2015. His bravery and resolve did not go unrewarded by Al-Zubaidi, who made him a member of the Council of Southern Councilors within the Shabwa Governorate. He also gained a position on the Presidency of the Southern Transitional Council on May 11th, 2017, where he acted as a spokesman for two years.
As part of these councils, he has worked with the Arab League and other Arab nations to find a solution to the problems faced by the Southern Yemenis from Saudi Arabia-backed national Yemeni army, which remains loyal to Saleh. As part of this, he spearheaded talks that led to the Riyadh Agreement, which was signed on November 5th, 2021. As part of the council, he helped sponsor a meeting between the board and the Yemeni army.
Speaking on the meeting, Thabet Al-Awlaqi said "the meeting at the coalition headquarters in Aden aims to end the existing tension" and that he appreciated "the keenness of the leadership of the Arab coalition to direct the battle towards the liberation of Marib, Al-Jawf, Taiz, Sana'a and the rest of the northern cities."
No one can doubt the commitment of Salem Thabet Al-Awlaqi to his people and their prosperous future as an independent nation. The situation in Yemen is complex, with a mixture of factional rivalries, ethnic rivalries, and sectarian rivalries. Still, he is looking for both military and diplomatic solution which offers his people the best chance of peace and freedom.
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