Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat—A fierce debate currently rages in Yemen over whether or not former President Ali Abdullah Saleh should stay in his post as leader of the General People’s Congress party [GPC], a partner in the national accord government. There is also controversy about his stay in the country as the date of the comprehensive national dialogue conference, scheduled for next month, is drawing near. In the following interview, Hussein Hazib, a leading member of the GPC party’s General Committee, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the issue of former President Saleh’s presence in political life and leadership of the GPC party, and allegations about GPC collaboration with Yemen’s Huthis.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Q: Have the nations sponsoring the GCC initiative on Yemen called on former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up his leadership of the GPC?
A: I would like to emphasize that the 10 nations that sponsor the GCC initiative have never broached this issue. They did not even mention it at our recent meeting with them. We notified them of interference by other parties in our party’s internal affairs. They did not make any comment on the issue of Saleh’s position. Reports on this issue are fabrications.
Q: There has been much controversy about former President Saleh’s presence in Yemen. Will he remain in the country? Will he take part in the national dialogue conference?
A: In fact, I am very surprised [at such questions]. Have people forgotten the rules of democratic politics? Like other political parties, the GPC believes that the issue of former President Saleh’s presence in the GPC party’s leadership is exclusively the jurisdiction of the GPC and its leaders. There is no problem over this issue; the problem lies in the interference of others in this issue.
With regard to Saleh’s participation in the comprehensive national dialogue, there is nothing in the provisions of the GCC’s initiative on Yemen, which prevents him from participation in the national dialogue conference. The GPC selected its representatives to the comprehensive national dialogue conference and announced their names. Ali Abdullah Saleh and the GPC’s leaders, like representatives of other political parties, will play their role in the conference and their points of reference will be the leaders of their political parties. We in the GPC have no problem whatsoever over the conference. The GPC is concerned about its leaders, and these are not Ali Abdullah Saleh alone or President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi alone, ours is a collective leadership.
I believe that all leaders of the Joint Meeting Parties [JMP] and of the GPC should refrain from placing obstacles in the way of the comprehensive national dialogue conference. They should go to the conference to settle all issues at the conference and respect this country, which accepted them as creators of the crisis and now as the promoters of a solution. I underline that the basic points of reference of the GPC in any problem or discussion is the GCC initiative and its mechanism of implementation as well the UN Security Council resolutions. Our party will not deviate from these points of reference and will not accept any changes to them.
Q: Do you agree that Former President Saleh was granted immunity in return for stepping down and leaving politics?
A: If there was a provision, or a hint in the documents, in the immunity law, or in the GCC initiative stating that former President Saleh was granted immunity as a quid pro quo for refraining from engaging in political action, we would be ready to expel him from the GPC party tomorrow morning.
There are no such clauses and immunity was not solely granted to Saleh but to all parties. Those who currently rule the country have all benefited from the immunity.
Ali Abdullah Saleh accepted the settlement in order to live in his homeland for the rest of his life, not to leave it. I think that the issue over which there is or there is not disagreement is the GCC initiative and its provisions.
If our political party or its leader Ali Abdullah Saleh shirks the implementation of the GCC initiative or some of its provisions, the world has the right to tell us we made a mistake. But giving up the GCC initiative and its provisions and setting new conditions would be a clear indication that they the (JMP) are bankrupt, beset by internal differences, and do not want the GCC initiative to run its course. They thus place hurdles in the GCC initiative’s progress.
Q:Did the GPC really threaten to withdraw from the national accord government, and if it did, why?
A: The GPC will not withdraw from the national accord government, and did not threaten to withdraw. The reports from media outlets about this are false. The GPC will not withdraw from the government because it knows that managing differences within the government is better than managing them from outside.
However, the GPC may consider changing certain cabinet ministers who represent it in the government. This is possible and President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi may be asked to change certain ministers.
Q: Some people say the GPC party is divided between those who support Saleh’s stay as leader of the GPC, and those who call for the GPC’s deputy leader, President Hadi, to take this role. Is this true?
A: Listen my dear brother, Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi are leaders of the GPC and no division will occur between them. It does not honor any GPC member to stand with Saleh against Hadi or stand with Hadi against Saleh. This does not do honor to them. Since they succeeded in resolving all the issues between them while working together since 1986 up to this day, they will certainly succeed again. For the GPC, division is not allowed, and if anyone seeks to divide us, we will reject them. We have by-laws that govern us. There are people who imagine that our party is like other political parties to which instructions are issued from above and they just oblige and implement their instructions.
Q: What about the fact that the GPC Secretary General, Dr Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, has left Yemen for Cairo, where he lives in seclusion?
A: I do not think that President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, or Abdul-Karim al-Iryani have complained of having any problem with the GPC. Al-Iryani said clearly that he left Yemen for respite from the JMP and their methods, particularly after the JMP slipped a statement into a meeting relating to the preparatory committee for the national dialogue. The JMP statement said that the dialogue committee achieved nothing. [Al-Iryani] submitted a report, on which all agreed, that he achieved all that was required and that what remained was to receive the names of the representatives of some parties to the national dialogue conference.
We do not have serious disagreements, but perhaps there are differences of opinion, which are always settled by a majority of votes or by a member convincing another of his viewpoint.
Q: Why did the UN Security Council delegation members ignore the GPC party during their recent visit to Sanaa?
A:The UN Security Council delegation did not come to Sanaa to meet with political parties. This shows some shortcomings on the part of those who prepared the visit. The UN delegation members met with state institutions. Leaders in the GMP made a statement at a meeting of the UN delegation with national dialogue committee members, who participated in the meeting as members of the committee, not in their capacity as party members. Those who prepared for the UN Security Council delegation’s visit were supposed to prepare for a round table meeting and invite all the parties that signed the GCC initiative. I think that the UN envoy, Jamal Bin-Umar, should have submitted a report making clear what each Yemeni party had achieved. Prime Minister Muhammad Basindwa submitted a report that offended others, and he should take responsibility for it, because the report was absolutely not endorsed by the government.
Q: Reports have emerged of disagreements between the GPC and the JMP. How would you describe the relationship between the two parties in the government?
A: We in the GPC face many wrongs like, for example, exclusion. To avoid upsetting Jamal Bin-Umar and what he represents, and because we are keen on a political settlement, our party overlooks many wrongs. Who, for instance, formulated the transitional justice draft law [over which there are differences in Yemen’s parliament]? Needless to say, the JMP did. They referred it to the government and differences arose over a certain point. It was referred to President Hadi in keeping with the GCC’s initiative. The GPC kept silent about the draft law because it preceded the national dialogue conference and departed from the GCC’s initiative. This draft law and the restructuring of the army are the outcome of national dialogue. Despite this, our party accepted what was decided to avoid the charge of obstructing a political settlement. We obliged although we knew that the JMP wanted to put the cart before the horse. If someone wants to enact a law on reconciliation, those involved should reconcile and agree on everything beforehand. But endorsement of such laws means that a particular party wants to put on record a particular political stance. We in the GPC always put the homeland’s interest above our party’s interest. President Hadi is not to blame, but his attention should be focused on certain issues.
Q: I sense from your answers that you feel that your party is unfairly treated by UN envoy Bin-Umar and by certain international parties?
A: Ask me why. We have had experiences with Bin-Umar and with the ambassadors of the sponsor states. If the GPC is slow in doing something, they raise hell and threaten sanctions. We noticed two things in the past 10 days: First, the JMP hinder the work of the national dialogue committee by delaying the nomination of their representatives to the committee, but no one raised an objection. Second, regarding the decision to restructure the Yemeni army, the party that did not implement the decision held more than one celebration, but again no one said anything. This is why we feel we are unfairly treated; it is a case of double standards. But we always think twice and say that the homeland is larger, and we do not want to add more burdens to President Hadi.
We rise above our concerns and overlook certain issues. This is evidence of double standards. We know what the GPC encountered when it was a little late in submitting some reports.
Q: What is obstructing convening the national dialogue conference?
A: We know that everything is ready and all that is missing are the names of representatives of the political parties taking part. Regarding the Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) and its participation in the conference, the UN Security Council made its stand clear. It said that those in the SMM who do not want to participate in the conference should not obstruct it. I would like to say that it is time that the GPC and the JMP met. It is shameful for the two parties that signed the GCC initiative to create problems and not seek to solve them, or personalize the solution. They should meet before the national dialogue conference and extend their hands to one another. I think there are issues on which we agree, notably the issue of Yemen’s unity and addressing the south Yemen issue. There are no differences between us over these issues. Who will lead the GPC and the JMP if they do not make concessions to one another? They know that Yemenis always reach solutions. If they do not do that, they will go down in the black pages of history. The whole world comes to us and says that it is for Yemeni unity, peace, and dialogue. What we always do is come up with reports and say get this or that official out, and bring this or that in. We want the dialogue and a settlement to bring back [former south Yemen’s presidents] Ali Salim al-Bid, and al-Attas along with their colleagues to their country. It is more appropriate to refrain from evicting officials from the country, primarily Ali Abdullah Saleh, who should only be called to account over the extent he implemented or hindered implementation of the GCC initiative. No solution in Yemen can work if any party feels unfairly treated. Absolutely no one should consider excluding others. Everyone, educated or uneducated, realizes that things would not move forward unless we are in harmony. President Hadi is working on his own on more than one level.
The media is biased the GPC. If the GPC does anything wrong, they raise hell, and if the GPC failed to submit the names of its representatives to the national dialogue committee, they would have requested implementation of measures under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter against it.
Q: As reporters, we report what happens in Yemen. After seven years of wars with the Huthis, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his political party seem to have become their allies. Is this correct?
A: Those people who have allied themselves with the Huthis and have signed an agreement with them are the JMP. This took place in Cairo, but the political parties [involved] have said absolutely nothing about it. In the case of the GPC, I personally do not know of any alliance with the Huthis. Regarding the crowds that participated in the Prophet’s Birthday anniversary, I know that if we invite them, only few would come. They did not even come to perform the Friday prayers with us at Al-Sab’in Square. Those who gathered are Huthis, not GPC members.
Q: Have the Huthis become so powerful that they have a large presence in Sanaa?
A:Smart and well-organized people always succeed and thrive where the state is absent. The Huthis have become an important element in the equation and we have to admit that. We have to admit that the SMM has become an important element in the equation in Yemen also. All that the Huthis have to do is participate in the political process. After all, they are Yemenis. We now expect the Reform Party to ally itself with the Huthis as it allied itself with the Socialist Party, so the Huthis will not cause us a headache in the future. Had we had alliance with the Huthis, we would have announced it.