He never settled in any one role, and his views and alliances are never sure. This is Sheikh Tariq Bin Nasser Bin Abdullah al-Fadhli. No matter his trajectory at any given time, he has always been influential and unpredictable.
He was born in 1967 two months before Southern Independence. His father was the last sultan of the al-Fadhli sultanate which was one of sheikhdoms of the former British possession of South Yemen.
At that time, it was known as “Union of South Arabia,” since February 1959.
After South Yemen’s Independence, he left with his mother to Beirut where his father had lived. Then he moved with his family to Saudi Arabia in Al-Taif where he grew up.
He pursued secondary school and high school. When he was 18 years old, his father sent him to the Military Peace Forces School because his father expected him to be active and to learn loyalty through military service.
He collected money from his new job. Like his friends, he liked to travel. Cyprus was the first place where he enjoyed natural charm and beautiful sights.
But there was something hurt his soul, he remembered, as he was walking across the charming beaches of the island. He saw a view that was unfamiliar to his mind. This realization provoked his tribal arrogance, with all its accompanying virtue, shame, and modesty.
About this experience, Al-Fadhli said, “One day I got up early and took a picnic in the city streets. I went to visit a near beach for swimming but I saw a view shaking my feelings and awoke meanings that led me to feel the grace which God had bestowed upon human beings.”
He continued, “I watched men and women in a shameful positions. They were naked without clothes and they were having sex in public like animals. I felt a great shivering through my body. I was afraid and left the place.”
He said, “I came back to my room but the sight was still in my mind. I thought deeply, and asked myself how God has honored human being from all creatures. God has given human being mind and eyes, then why did human beings commit sins like animals?
“This view has affected and influenced me and it was the real point that changed my life; it was a match lighting my way in the dark roads that I lived in before.
“I started thinking about God and his creatures, the metaphysical world and punishment. Then I decided to be a religious and committed man.”
Not long after, al-Fadhli returned back to Saudi Arabia and the view was still in his mind. When he heard about the groups that were going to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, he “didn’t hesitate to follow those groups willing to seek God’s rewards,” in his words.
He heard that many honors and miracles happened in Afghanistan.
“First, I went to Pakistan to learn English, despite my father’s refusal at first, but he was finally forced to agree. I arrived to Peshawar city and enlisted at a training camp.
“It wasn’t allowed for new trainees like me to go directly to the battlefront. One day Sheikh Osama Bin Laden visited the camp before I had finished my training, and he took a group of youths excluding me.”
He continued, “I couldn’t control myself and cried sadly because they didn’t choose me. Suddenly Sheikh Osama came near to me, touching my head after he knew my strong desire to go. He ordered for me to be taken to Afghanistan with the group.
“I was very happy. I arrived to Kabul and joined the commander of the group of Guldadeen Hekmatyar. I participated in many battles, but I was not long after wounded by an explosion of my own bomb.
“After that I came back to Saudi Arabia for treatment”.
A Turning Point
At the beginning of Yemeni Unity in 1990, Sheikh al-Fadhli came back to Yemen. in Political disputes in the South had ended by then, while he knew next to nothing about his home of Zinjibar, which he left when he was three years old.
He was in the bloom of his youth, and was very angry about the southern system which was the cause of the elimination of his father’s sultanate and his family fortune.
Al-Fadhli set up a camp opposed to the socialist party in the south, called the Islamic Jihad group or what is known as “Afghan Yemenis.”
This group planned to execute many operations against western targets. One of these operations was the operation in 1992 against the American Commandos which used Aden as a center for the US military’s presence in Somalia.
Al-Fadhli participated in the separation war in 1994 between the North and South, supporting the loyalists of President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Yemeni Socialist Party Forces.
In that time, it was agreed to grant the Mujahideen weapons and cash in returning for their participation in a war, as well as half of the offices which used to belong to the Socialists in the South.
The Afghan Mujahideen were divided into the opponents and proponents of the government, but Al-Fadhli got special treatment by the State and he became a close friend of the famous and strong man, Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.
Between 1995 and 2007, Sheikh Tariq al-Fadhli received substantial support from the state, and his fame and name spread among people so much that any order or stamp from him on a paper meant the affair was accomplished with utmost haste.
He became powerful and he took by force a lot of lands in Abyan and Zinjibar. He had the moral and material support from the authorities and power centers in Sana’a.
This situation continued until the holding of the he Seventh general Conference in Aden in 2005.
That event marked a big break between him and the State in Sana’a, reflected in his inability to keep his membership in the General Committee because he felt that the State did not still support him, but had transferred its loyalty to Ahmed Al-Misari, the new Abyan governor.
In April 2008, al-Fadhli issued a declaration in many Yemeni newspapers, in which he asserted that he had joined the Southern Movement. This was a major event for the proponents of the Movement, which, then as now, was riven by divisions.
Before that, he declared his resignation from The General People Congress and his retirement the political field. But he pursued many activities and rallies against the state in Sana’a.
He also called day and night to disassemble Yemen’s Unity, and to drive away those whom he called in many of his speech the “occupiers of Southern land.”
The proponents of the Movement greeted Al-Fadhli’s calls. They hoped to make the state in Sana’a yield to their demands. Still though, many were suspicious of his new stance, thinking it was a trick to pull down and annihilate the activity of the Movement.
With the passage of time, al-Fadhli earned their sympathy and he was motivated many to join him and the secessionist ranks. He continued his activities until they reached a climax the next year.
His proponents challenged the State directly by raising the old flag of the South in the streets and roofs of houses, to the extent that a visitor to Zinjibar might think the city had fallen under the control of the state’s opponents.
He raised the American flag on his house, expressing that in case the southern people get back their country, they will protect American interests.
After events of 2009, the conflict and enmity have been increased between the man and the system.
More than 23 people of his proponents were killed during the shelling of his house for the first time since his separation from the State, and his life was in danger, only some of the major leaders in the State refused to kill him and allowed him to choose to live in his home without practicing any political activities.
So he issued a decision to his followers to drop down the flags and not to go out for demonstrations under the pretense that he reached an armistice with the State. Some of his proponents explained that it was an artifice to buy time.
Security forces spread throughout the city. The State recovered people’s confidence while Al-Fadhli lost thousands of his proponents, who came to view him as politically immature and too fickle.
One year after his agreement with the State, he issued a statement calling again for his proponents to go out to streets.
Surprisingly, he burned the American flag, which he had raised before as well as the Socialist Party flag and photos of some of the former Southern leaders like Ali Salim al-Baidh, Haidar Abu Baker Al-Attas, and others.
The next day, he was surprised that hundreds of southern partisans took to the streets refusing his call.
Ambiguity Carries the Day
The last calls of al-Fadhli have been surrounded by ambiguity. The master of tricks had changed again. He was an proponent man with the State, the changed to a bitter enemy.
He changed from peaceful man to an opponent. All these transformations led to many doubts. Some news said, even though it was not confirmed as true or false, that the man has played duplicitously because he still receives the moral and material support from influential people in the State.
The same rumors held that presidential instructions issued in secret had marked a reconciliation with Tariq al-Fadhli, and granted him land rights.
Disregarding the validity of what recently has been said, Sheikh Tariq Al-Fadhli will remain a puzzle even with to his closest friends, and none of them can anticipate his next move. As always, ambiguity carries the day.