Faced with such problems, the attempts to tackle them are correspondingly ambitious. This includes the ongoing National Dialogue, a meeting of Yemen’s various political groups and factions, that aims to re-order the institutional and constitutional basis of the state. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the Yemeni foreign minister, Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, about the progress of the National Dialogue, as well as the recent allegations of Iranian weapons smuggling and the issues facing Yemeni expatriates in other Gulf states.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Are efforts being made to fully implement the provisions of the Gulf Initiative to restore security and stability in Yemen?
Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi: Efforts in Yemen to reach a political solution based on the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and temporary executive powers are ongoing. A great deal has been achieved in implementing the Gulf Initiative. Today we are engaged in the National Dialogue, which will seek to address the coming political and institutional challenges. This dialogue will address the crisis that is facing the nation and it will determine the new form of government through the drafting of a new constitution and general and presidential elections.
The process of peaceful change has been assisted by the nations of the GCC, the permanent members of the Security Council and the EU.
Q: Yemen has a tribal and regional social structure that sets it apart from other nations. Has this structure impeded progress for the Gulf Initiative?
The role of tribalism is limited as the civil state develops and the state works to represent the interests of all its people. In reality, tribalism in Yemen has played a role at every stage of defending the revolution, the republic, and national unity.
It is like the other social elements that are now effectively participating in the National Dialogue. We’d like the media to look at all that is happening within the National Dialogue conference. This is a miracle achieved by the people of Yemen. Differing elements and people from all ends of the political, civil, and tribal spectrum—women, youth, the Southern movement, the Houthis—met and agreed to forge a secure future for their children, far from violence and political isolation. It should be noted here that tribalism today has become an important element in achieving change and calling for a civil state that ensures equality for all citizens before the law.
Q: How do you view the South’s demands for secession? Are these demands open for discussion?
The president has always been clear that all issues are open for discussion within the general framework of the Gulf Initiative and its temporary executive mechanisms that seek to maintain the unity, security and stability of Yemen. The Southern issue is the principal issue in the National Dialogue, and solving this issue will lead to solving the rest of the issues that face us in this transitional period. All participating parties in the National Dialogue are working on addressing tensions that have built up over time, particularly regarding the distribution of wealth.
Q: What has been the effect of Muhammad bin Farid Al-Suraimah’s resignation from the presidency of the National Fialogue? Why did he resign?
The president has made it clear that doors will always be open to those that believe in the importance of dialogue to solve the problems that are facing the nation. In that spirit, businessmen and our dear friend Muhammad bin Farid Al-Suraimah came to work with the National Dialogue. Standing with his Yemeni brothers, Suraimah sought to address all of the ills facing the country, the Southern issue being among the most important of these; however, he has recently withdrawn from working with the conference, as he was well within his rights to do.
Participation is not compulsory and the outcomes of the dialogue are not predetermined. We are all responsible for whatever the dialogue produces. The conference has elected a prominent figure from the south, Yassin Mekawi, as the vice president of the conference.
Q: What role is Iran playing in Yemen? There have been many allegations made about foreign interference in Yemen’s internal affairs. How are you dealing with it?
Yemeni–Iranian relations have seen different stages of development. When the Iranian interference in Yemeni affairs started to increase we preferred to talk to our friends in Tehran. Of course, it is important to work on deepening relations, cooperation, and developing shared interests, but we should be wary of the consequences of interference in Yemeni affairs. Extremist elements pushed the Iranian position towards more intervention, and networks of spies have been revealed to be working for Iran. Rather than any aid, Iran has sent shipments of weapons, explosives and dangerous materials.
I have a message for the Iranian people: What real support has Iran officially presented to Yemen, as they hesitate to aid the unity and stability in Yemen? Finally, a team from the Security Council investigating the weapons shipments implicated Iran in smuggling weapons and explosives to Yemen.
Q: You have mentioned that handing over the Syrian embassy in Sana’a to the Syrian National Coalition is not open for discussion. Why is this?
Actually, the situation is not as simple as your question might make it seem. Yemen recognized the Syrian National Coalition during the last Arab summit in Doha, during which the president welcomed representatives of the Syrian National Council. We in the Republic of Yemen believed that this would help push the different parties, in the regime and the opposition, to the conference table to pull Syria out of this state of total destruction. The parties lack the conviction that the solution to the Syrian crisis cannot come through violence and that the ideal path is dialogue.
All of us are waiting for each of the parties to reach this conviction so that the dialogue can start. The Syrian National Council did not request this and the Yemeni government did not discuss the issue, given that there are hundreds of Yemeni students studying in Syria and getting them out will take a lot of effort and resources. In that regard, the role of the Yemeni embassy in Damascus is vitally important. We in Yemen appreciate what the Syrian people will decide and the change they aspire for.
Q: Al-Qaeda has deeply rooted itself in many Arab nations, including Yemen. In your opinion, what brought this organization and others to Yemen? How can they be stopped?
Successful operations by our security and armed forces have broken up the so-called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula…. The organization is a group of elements from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. They have been active in Yemen as a result of the state’s weakness and its absence in remote areas. Al-Qaeda’s operations widened to the point that during Yemen’s political crisis the organization took control of regions in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwah. However, today its elements are fleeing from the Yemeni army’s pursuit and the vigilance of the security forces. The government is continuing to track down its remnants with the cooperation of the international community and neighboring nations.
The spread of this terrorist organization can be traced back to weak economic growth and long lines of unemployed youths who lack opportunities, hope for a secure future, and a steady income. This makes it a rich environment for extremism and terrorism. Now, after these great military successes, the government must provide a decent life for the youth, speed up development, and rebuild the regions affected by terrorist activities.
Q: After the revolution, has the nature of the Yemeni government truly changed? Have the institutions changed or has there simply been a change in characters and names?
The issue may seem confusing to those who don’t understand the complicated transition process in Yemen. There were those who supported the idea of replacing some figures with others. But let me say to you that Yemen is seeing a deep political transformation that has been led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and the National Reconciliation government. This transformation will lead to the reforming of the nation, the government and its institutions. Yemen is witnessing a fundamental process of transformation whose features are being determined through the National Dialogue and the remaining provisions of the Gulf Initiative. We believe that change should address vital issues in building the nation. We should not start with personal revenge or political isolation.
Q: What must the people and government of Yemen do this year to ensure stability?
At this stage, everyone must do their duty under the Gulf Initiative. We must ensure the success of the National Dialogue and the protection of state institutions, and be ever vigilant against those destructive elements that have no love for the peaceful revolution that is happening in Yemen. They are seeking to undermine the political reconciliation process.
Q: In your personal estimation, how much time is needed for Yemen to achieve political, security and economic stability?
The wheels of change have been set in motion and destructive forces cannot stop them. Efforts continue to focus on implementing the remaining provisions in preparation for general and presidential elections in February 2014. Our society will use all of its efforts to achieve economic growth and development, which will lead to political stability and security. As for how long achieving political and economic stability will take, that depends on the the efforts of the Yemeni people people, their loyalty and their support for their countrymen.
Q: You mentioned that 29 ambassadors will be nominated this May. What are the standards for the candidates?
Currently, diplomatic nominations are being held according to the regulations of the diplomatic corps and professional criteria in order to appoint Yemeni ambassadors to all diplomatic missions and consulates. This is part of an effort to cycle in new members of the diplomatic corps and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by changing the leadership personnel for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs entirely.
Q: In regards to the Yemeni community in Saudi Arabia, the minister of emigrant affairs, Mujahid Al-Kehali, has called for an end to certain taxes on the community. What has the cabinet done in regards to his request? Will the government stop collecting these taxes?
This question might be better suited for the minister of emigrant affairs, as this is his concern. Regarding the taxes imposed in emigrants, which you mentioned, as you know fees are collected for all of the various consular services provided to our citizens in Saudi Arabia and those offered through the embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah. These funds are directed back to specific agencies in Yemen and are regularly supplied to government accounts. Now, we recognize that a tiny percentage of funds necessary to allow the missions and consulates to operate cannot be acquired given the lack of capital for these needs in the foreign ministry budget. Now, measures are being put in place to cancel additional fees on consular services. But the numbers that are being tossed around now are totally unrealistic and based on faulty calculations.
Q: The Yemeni communities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf would like to see their situation improve. What have you done to improve their situation and achieve these goals?
The situation of the Yemeni community, whether living in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf nations, varies in terms of circumstances and opportunities. For instance, in Saudi Arabia the Yemeni community is facing a number of hardships as a result of legal reform in the labor system. The Yemeni government is working on coordinating with the Saudi government to ensure that special treatment that the Yemeni nationals have always enjoyed in the Saudi kingdom remains intact and to ensure that Yemeni interests are not neglected.
Regarding the institutional representation for the Yemeni communities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, they work together with the Yemeni embassies to represent their communities’ interests. The embassies relay any problems and monitor them with the cooperation of the host country. We should remember that many privileges are enjoyed by Yemeni citizens in the Saudi kingdom and Kuwait.