Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat – Last month, millions of Yemenis turned out to vote in the early presidential elections stipulated by the Gulf initiative. With his ascension to the presidency, many of his countrymen are pinning high hopes on President Abd Rabbuh Mansour al-Hadi to rescue the country from its current political and economic crises. Those that voted for him perceive him as an embodiment of their aspirations for change and the march to a better future. I
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, president Hadi discusses the challenges ahead; including the formation of a new government, Yemeni international relations and the fight against Al-Qaeda.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the priorities of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour al-Hadi in the coming stage?
[Hadi] The priorities of the coming stage are numerous and varied. The consequences of the crisis that erupted in the beginning of 2011 were catastrophic on all levels, but the program of the transitional stage as set forth in the Gulf initiative is the top priority. This program is headed by the issue of national dialogue. In accordance with the Gulf initiative, a conference of comprehensive national dialogue will be held that does not exclude any partisan, political, cultural, and social entity and sector of society from the Al-Mahrah Province until Sa’dah, including the youths that took to the squares demanding change, justice, an end to injustices, and action to establish a system of wise governance without unjustly treated victims or unjust victimizers. This will be accomplished concurrent with or shortly after with action to restructure the armed forces and security forces through a military commission with assistance and expertise from sisterly and friendly countries that will help in restructuring the military and security establishment on patriotic and legal bases distant from personal loyalties or partisan or tribal affiliations and so on. The program is full of huge national tasks whose accomplishment requires intensive efforts by all the sides concerned inside the country and by the supporting sides outside the country in all fields.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The issue of the south represents a real concern during the transitional stage. There is concern that the unity of the country may be exposed to danger thus renewing the conflict [between north and south]. In your opinion, what are the reasons for the exacerbation of this issue? What are the ways to solve it?
[Hadi] We have said and we continue to say that solutions and dialogues include all the sons of Yemen from the north to the south and from the east to the west. The executive mechanism of the Gulf initiative and United Nations Security Council [UNSC] Resolution 2014 devoted a lot to all the outstanding files and how to resolve them in a way that preserves Yemen’s security, stability, and unity. I wish to draw your attention to the fact that all 15 member states voted for the UNSC resolution on the Yemeni crisis. This is a magnificent precedent that we have not seen since the 1950s. Therefore, this had a very important significance. The international unanimity inside the Security Council embodied the determination of the international community and the unity of its decision regarding the security, stability, and unity of Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will be the nature of the relationship between the president of the republic and the prime minister? Can there be any intersection or duality in the nature of the common relations?
[Hadi] The government of national reconciliation is one of national partnership. We consider it a national salvation government. It operates with the spirit of one team and not in the name of the political parties or under their umbrella or works for their interests. I tell you with the full meaning of the word that there is a big feeling of responsibility for and appreciation of the delicate and critical circumstances through which Yemen is passing. This requires overcoming all the concepts that may diminish the patriotism of anyone. I do not conceal from you the fact that Muhammad Salim Ba-Sindwah and I consider ourselves fedayeen. We sincerely and honestly look forward to concluding our political careers with an accomplishment that I wish would be unprecedented in the service of the Yemeni homeland, people, and land. I wish to tell you that we are in total agreement on the articles and general topics of the action program during this stage. There is absolutely no room for disagreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] My last question leads me to ask about the nature of the system in Yemen. Will it be a presidential system or a parliamentary system after the transitional stage?
[Hadi] This is a very good question. We were facing a raging political crisis across the homeland that can frankly be called “a governance crisis”. It was the cause for the events that took place in Yemen in the past period. We are now in the second phase of implementing the Gulf initiative after the first phase ended with the presidential elections that took place on 21 February. With these elections, we have entered the second transitional stage. As I just pointed out, the essence of this stage is the conference for comprehensive national dialogue during which all the political, social, and cultural forces will be engaged in a dialogue. Naturally, this conference will debate the nature of the wise governance system that will take the Yemeni people to the threshold of the coming stage, God willing. The comprehensive national conference will discuss the nature of the political system and whether it will be a presidential or parliamentary system. It will also discuss the nature of the electoral system and whether it will be based on the proportionate list system or the numerical system. The participants in the dialogue will also debate the form of the new state in which the conferees believe.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] According to international reports, the economic situation in the country is on the verge of collapse. What are the specific ways to revive the economy and save the country from this crisis?
[Hadi] It is said that crises and perils do not leave anything standing. The Yemeni crisis that erupted in the beginning of 2011 left behind nothing but multifaceted destruction, disasters, and catastrophes on all levels. It is known that the Yemeni economy is modest and of limited capabilities in the first place. It suffers from fluctuations and perhaps setbacks caused by various factors. Emerging from the critical economic situation from which the country suffers requires the united efforts of the various Yemeni sides inside the country as well as the concerted efforts of Yemen’s brothers and friends abroad to emerge from the current crisis. We rely on developing our own capabilities, encouraging the national capital, and encouraging investment opportunities of all kinds. We will work hard to restore the status of the economic and investment institutions that were subjected to looting and destruction during the period of security chaos the country witnessed. There is also administrative reform and activation of the role of the public sector and injecting it with new blood. We also have intentions to activate the role of the free zone in Aden so it would regain its suitable status as one of the important harbors not only in Yemen but also in the region and the world. We also count on support by the Friends of Yemen group that is scheduled to begin its meetings in Riyadh to review ways to bolster the Yemeni economy in order to emerge from the current conditions. We also count on the support of the donors at the Riyadh conference that will be held this month. It will look into ways to support the Yemeni economy and reform its institutions so it would recuperate and then return to the stage of growth.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Al-Qaeda organization has managed to expand and grow during the past year by exploiting the state of lawlessness and lack of security in the country. Will the confrontation of this organization be bigger during the transitional stage? Will you adopt strategies and specific plans to confront the expansion of Al-Qaeda in Yemen?
[Hadi] We are grateful to God Almighty for endowing Yemen with a sensitive geographic location in the southern Arabian Peninsula and in a vital region that necessitates international cooperation through the partnership in combating terrorism. All that concerns Yemen’s security and stability is a local, regional, and international necessity. Yemen is located in a sensitive and vital region that overlooks navigation waterways that allow the passage of about four million barrels of oil every day to the United States and Europe. This is in addition to the large volume of various forms of trade exchange. You know that Yemen was among the first countries that suffered from the shameful and criminal deeds of terrorism. Yemen has an important asset in combating this terrorist scourge that crosses borders and continents. You can review the various instances of confrontation of this organization over the past year and the beginning of this year in all the regions and provinces, especially in Abyan Province. The Al-Qaeda organization exploited the political and security conditions and many of its leaders and elements from Arab and Islamic countries infiltrated Yemen. Perhaps you followed up on reports that many of its commanders holding various nationalities in the world were killed since Al-Qaeda’s elements come from different countries and regions. Some members of the organization in Yemen come from Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, and other countries. Numerous elements that belong to this organization have come with their various titles and codenames. However, we affirm that we are partners in the international efforts in the war on terrorism. There will be no leniency at all in the relentless and firm confrontation of the various forms, colors, and nationalities of terrorism and extremism. In this regard, we call on the international community not to show any leniency to this dangerous phenomenon that has spread and struck roots because Al-Qaeda exploited the political, security, and living conditions. No doubt, the governance crisis that we just talked about resulted in security defects. In top of all of the above, the country continues to witness difficult economic conditions. All these factors united to give the Al-Qaeda elements the chance to be active in some areas in the country. As an example of how this organization exploited the economic situation is the fact that youths and university graduates could not find employment although they have been waiting for vacancies for years. Meanwhile, their need for employment to build their future life rises. All this leads to an inevitable outcome. These youths or some of them become exposed to polarization by the terrorist groups that try to recruit them to undermine the stability and security of the country. Let me give you a specific example regarding this point in the country. We have about six million youths between the ages of 16 to 28 years. This is an important age bracket and sector. It constitutes an important reservoir for development, work, and production. However, the poverty, the weak economy, and the shortage of capabilities expose some of them to temptations, deviations, and pitfalls masterminded by those that recruit them, as I said, with temptations one of which may be acts of terrorism. You are aware that those with bad intentions who recruit youths exploit these youths’ lack of education and their weak minds, and they fall victim to financial temptations, particularly since they are in big need of money. That is why I urge the international community not to allow such loopholes and gaps that may have painful and upsetting consequences in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Huthists?
[Hadi] The Huthists are sending us messages that confirm their willingness to participate in the national dialogue conference. We in turn encourage them to join the political process. We emphasize that the national dialogue will not exclude anyone; the new Yemeni state is broad enough to all the factions and sectors of Yemeni society. We have to enter the stage of dialogue with honest intentions and sincerity in order to save the country from the crisis from which it has been suffering for more than a year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view Yemen’s relations with Saudi Arabia and with the Gulf countries in general at present and in the future?
[Hadi] Yemeni-Saudi relations are strategic, historic, and exceptional relations. Under the leadership of the custodian of the two holy mosques, the kingdom stood alongside Yemen as it witnessed its darkest moments and circumstances. We do not forget that His Majesty the King is the important sponsor of the Gulf initiative who followed up on it and supported its success since its first moments. His praiseworthy efforts, for which we are thankful, played the most prominent role that led to the signing of the Gulf initiative in Riyadh. The day of signing is rightfully viewed as the beginning of the relaxation in the crisis that raged in the country. His speech during the signing ceremony embodied the kingdom’s deep concern for the security, stability, and sovereignty of Yemen. Of course, in addition to the Saudi role, the brothers in the Arabian Gulf countries also played a major role. The brothers in Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman were determined to bring about the success of the Gulf initiative and help Yemen emerge from its vicious crisis. As for relations in the coming stage, we expect more political, moral, and economic support for Yemen by our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Perhaps the convocation of the “Friends of Yemen Conference” in Riyadh is especially significant showing that our brothers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are aware that Yemen represents their strategic depth as well as their human and geographic extension. We are all, of course, the people of one peninsula and our fraternal religious, cultural, geographic, and human bonds strengthen our cohesion. Moreover, common interests in Yemen’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general make these relations distinctive and special. Finally, I wish to thank the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper for following up on what is happening in Yemen and for its interest in covering the course of events in the country objectively and professionally since the eruption of the crisis at the beginning of 2011 until the accomplishments made to help Yemen emerge from its difficult circumstances, God willing.