Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the Secretary-General of the newly-formed Yemeni Salafist al-Rashad Union party, Sheikh Abdulwahab Al-Homaiqani spoke about the political situation in Yemen, the Salafists political intentions in Yemen and his hope for the future of the party.
The Islamist al-Rashad Union party was formed in March, and has recently been invited to take part in national dialogue that is scheduled to take place later this year. The Salafist party forms the Islamist wing of the Yemeni political scene, along with Yemen’s main Islamist Muslim Brotherhood Al-Islah party. The party gained official recognition in June and reportedly calls for rule based on Islamic Sharia law. Its founders have claimed that the party aims to take part in the political process in Yemen at all levels, including taking part in presidential parliamentary and local elections.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As Salafists, you previously rejected and indeed prohibited any operation in the political sphere; however you have recently formed a political party. Is this in response to the recent political developments in Egypt or did Yemen’s Salafists possess a desire to enter politics prior to the Arab Spring?
[Al-Homaiqani] The Salafists were not isolated from the [political] scene, we had a lot of participation in political affairs, but we can describe this as general political participation. As for special political participation and the launching of a special political project, wading into political discussions with other political forces…this is new in the operations of the Salafist trend in Yemen. The al-Rashad Union party represents the first Salafist party in Yemen which possesses a special political project that it is discussing with other political forces. Our political project has given rise to a social renaissance [in Yemen], protecting our interests and preserving our basic elements. This is precisely what we desire, and we are prepared to work with other political parties and blocs. Our political operation is governed by a special philosophy, namely that this is not based on a principle of political hypocrisy, but rather a principle of clarity and frankness with all parties. This will satisfy us, and will satisfy the parties that we work with, including the parties that are compatible with our views and those that hold different views. This is because our principle is not comprehensively for or against; we may agree with one party on some issues and disagree with it on others. In other words, we are unlike other parties, which will always agree or disagree.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to ally with any political parties or blocs in Yemen?
[Al-Homaiqani] With regards to alliance, we have no objection to this. Our philosophy is that an alliance can be formed with any party regardless of its past. Our party’s institutions are not considering any alliances at this time, and we want to be – at this time – at an equal distance from all parties, however we do not rule out…forming an alliance or coordinating with other parties in the future. This will depend on our party’s circumstances and will be dictated by the political situation in the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As you are aware, there are some fears in the Yemeni street, as well as across the region in general, regarding the Salafist jihadist trend. What message would you like to send to assuage public fears in this regard?
[Al-Homaiqani] What prompted all Islamist movements to violence in many stages – from the Muslim Brotherhood in the past to Al Qaeda today – is the political exclusion and marginalization that has been practiced against them, as well as the war against their ideology. In addition to this, there have been the long-standing policies against such groups, with prison cells being filled with their members….so perhaps this was one of the factors that led them to take up violence. These are just some of the reasons why they took up violence, but there are also ideological, economic and social issues as well. However I am confident that opening the political scene to Islamist trends, and encouraging them to enter the political process, providing them with full citizenship rights…will help them to operate in the light and in the mainstream, and as time goes by they will move away from violence. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “God grants to gentleness what He does not grant to violence.” Therefore there can be no doubt that gentleness is better, however perhaps when this gentleness was blocked for some Islamist trends in previous circumstances and times, this led them to violence. However I am happy to tell you that the Salafist trend will be a political project that puts an end to violence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are fears that a Salafist political party will try to restrict social and individual freedoms. Is this true?
[Al-Homaiqani] I challenge any individual to put forward an example of a state or society with absolute individual freedoms. The individual is restricted in some manner in any country where there is a system of laws. In any such system, an individual has only possesses limited freedoms. Personal freedoms are guaranteed even in Islam. As for the rest of the freedoms that go beyond this because it transgresses against the freedoms of other people or social freedoms, this is decided by a social, political and legal system. All democratic and liberal freedoms are based on a legal system, and this means that there are limits on freedom. There are restrictions on me, and restrictions on everybody else, and the question should be: what restrictions are best for individual freedom? Our dispute now with the liberals is in the nature of the restrictions, because everybody agrees that there are no absolute freedoms, not even in Britain or the US, for even there freedoms are restricted based on a legal system and social and moral factors, and these are things that differ from one society to the next. Therefore the discussion should be about: are the restrictions that are being put in place by the Islamists better than the restrictions being put in place by the liberals and others?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Circumstances changed after the Salafists formed a political party, in comparison to when you were simply a religious trend or organization. In light of this, have you changed your view on women?
[Al-Homaiqani] We are not Islam. Islam is preserved and protected, whilst our practices are subject to Islam. We may strive in a wrong direction, and following this we may strive in a better direction, and there can be no doubt that there are a lot of women’s issues that elicit diverse views from people, and this is something that must be tied to Islamic Sharia law. We have no problem with women joining our party, indeed our party has a special department for women, however we must acknowledge the truth, namely that some countries like the United States that are teaching us about democracy today previously – until the 1960s – prevented black citizens from voting. Therefore there is social development in laws and practices and at the level of society and social entities, not to mention the level of the state. These are all things that must be taken into account, before the Salafists can be judged on our views and our dealings with women. We must take into account the country and society we are talking about, and the stages that they have passed through…therefore the issue must be viewed logically and relatively.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view regarding the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, particularly the escalating terrorist activities, namely suicide bombings and the presence of Al Qaeda?
[Al-Homaiqani] The al-Rashad Union’s position on this is clear, and we oppose any armed violence inside the country, whether we are talking about Al Qaeda, the Huthi rebels or any other armed movement. This is something that we completely and comprehensively reject and condemn, but there are different ways of dealing with this issue. We believe that the manner in which violence is being dealt with in Yemen is subject to political hypocrisy and foreign considerations, namely those who fight in Dammaj, Saada, Aahem and al-Jawf, manning checkpoints and so on, are dealt with in a special manner, namely being involved in the commission to prepare for national dialogue. Whilst at the same time, another party, like Al Qaeda, for example, is being denied negotiations and discussions, and this therefore is an example of political hypocrisy. So long as we are walking the path of dialogue, this must be open to all, whilst if anybody insists on violence…they should be patient and see what they can obtain. I am certain that some of those who joined Al Qaeda – or who have been abducted by them – perhaps experienced injustice in prison and this led them to take this response, therefore if the door to dialogue is open, perhaps they will return to the right path. The security issue in Yemen must be dealt with according to a national perspective and with a general policy that completely eliminates this violence, not a temporary policy that only serves regional and international interests, without considering its impact on our economic, cultural and national situation. Some countries naturally view Abyan province as a theater of war, and are unconsidered if there are huge destruction in order to win certain interests, including elimination opponents. Therefore violence in Yemen must be dealt with according to national concerns, away from foreign considerations or political hypocrisy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about your relations with the Huthi rebels? Is there any sign that the conflict that has raged between the Shiite Huthi rebels and Yemen’s Salafists and others will come to an end?
[Al-Homaiqani] The Huthis are the ones who have imposed themselves on the scene. They are the ones who have besieged Dammaj (the headquarters of the Salafists in Saada) and attacked the village. What state is acting with them? They are a state within a state. A state does not impose its sovereignty, and the text of the constitution states that this armed and terrorist group is outside of the regime, in terms of legitimacy and the law, and then following this the state has granted them legitimacy! According to the constitution, whoever takes up arms, is illegitimate, so what is the legitimacy of the Huthis based on? They are not a political party because it is forbidden for any political party to be an armed movement; they are classified as outlaws. Therefore the state must bear its responsibility and we are calling for the dismissal of the Huthis and for them to leave Yemen. The Huthis and the Salafists have equal citizenship rights, and everybody has the right to express their views and opinions, but these differences must be discussed in an intellectual manner via educational institutions and intellectual discussions…not via bullets, bloodshed and artillery. If the state imposes its stature [on the Huthis], then the Salafists who have been forced to defend themselves would put down their weapons.