Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Hussein al-Ahmar, speaker of the Yemeni House of Representatives and leader of the Reform Party, the second largest party in Yemen, talks to Asharq al-Awsat on the latest domestic and regional issues.
The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) When will the Reform Party’s fourth general congress convene, and what issues will it address?
(Al-Ahmar) The fourth general congress of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party will convene in the second half of the month of Muharram (February), as for the issues it will address, they will be the domestic and international issues of the hour.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What challenges face the Reform Party in this congress?
(Al-Ahmar) The challenges facing the Reform Party are the same organizational challenges that face all parties, but at a Yemeni domestic and internal level, they are the challenges that surface during the election, but we have overcome them. The most important challenge at present is the Palestinian people’s situation and their suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. The Reform Party takes interest in the Palestinian people’s cause because it is the cause of all Arabs and Muslims.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Sixteen years have passed since the Reform Party declared itself a political party, what were the main stops along this journey, and what did the party gain from this experience?
(Al-Ahmar) The Yemeni Congregation for Reform has seen many significant stops that you are well aware of, and it no doubt benefited from the elements of this experience and from the endless hardships, obstacles, and embarrassments that came with these stops. We in the Reform Party are ready to deal with any future difficulties.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the changes the congress will introduce to the Reform Party’s leadership?
(Al-Ahmar) If there is a need for change, well, the Reform Party and its cadres respect democracy, and matters within the party progress in a flexible and democratic manner.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The fourth general congress will mark the end of the current leadership’s era, and there will be a need to elect a new leadership.
(Al-Ahmar) The current leadership of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform has played its role, and the door is again open to elections.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will you push for the election of a new leadership?
(Al-Ahmar) This is what we will do, God willing.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does that not mean that you are headed for the election of a young leadership in the Reform Party?
(Al-Ahmar) There is good within the Reform Party and its youth are decent and full of promise.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Supposing you, Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Hussein al-Ahmar, are asked to run again for the party’s leadership, would that not require an amendment to the internal system?
(Al-Ahmar) This question is too premature.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Following the fierce electoral battle between the regime and the opposition, how would you evaluate your party’s relations with the General People’s Congress Party and the parties in the Joint Meeting?
(Al-Ahmar) Our relations with the General People’s Congress are historic, strong, and unshakable, and our relations with the parties in the Joint Meeting are new relations that were dictated by circumstance and necessity.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you mean by necessity?
(Al-Ahmar) I mean living conditions.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Where do politics fit in?
(Al-Ahmar) The circumstances in Yemen and the Arab world.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think the Reform Party benefited from its relations with the parties in the Joint Meeting?
(Al-Ahmar) We are not in the business of evaluating gains and losses.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some say that the Reform Party’s defeat in the last elections, especially the local ones, was the result of its alliance with the Joint Meeting, what would you say to that?
(Al-Ahmar) I cannot confirm or deny that.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The issue of women’s political participation is one of those issues that are raised in every election, with some arguing that the Reform Party views women as voters, not as candidates; how would you respond to that?
(Al-Ahmar) On the contrary, the Reform Party is more open to women than all the other parties, whether the woman is a voter or a candidate.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you expect a growth in women’s representation in the Reform Party’s future leadership bodies?
(Al-Ahmar) The Reform Party supports the election of women to all its partisan bodies – it is up to the women and their luck.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean women will not be empowered or supported?
(Al-Ahmar) This is what we agreed on, meaning self-reliance for women. If a woman aspires for a leadership position, no one in the Reform Party will stand in her way. The Reform Party will never stand in the way of women.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The issue of regulating weapons in Yemen is one of those issues that surface at times and disappear at others, why do you think this happens?
(Al-Ahmar) There is nothing wrong with the weapons law in Yemen. A law regulating weapons and their possession was issued immediately following the blessed Yemeni union 12 years ago. It is a complete law that regulates the ownership and carrying of arms, but the Interior Ministry did not implement it and instead submitted a new draft law. The Interior Ministry is supposed to implement the original law; afterwards, if there are real reasons for amending this law, then the ministry can submit its amendments to the Council of Representatives for discussion and endorsement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are there hidden aspects to this issue?
(Al-Ahmar) The Interior Ministry and some members of government want to enter homes and search them on the grounds that their inhabitants possess illegal weapons, but the truth is that there is no need for a new weapons law.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There have been certain developments on the Yemeni developmental scene, such as the donors conference that was held in London, where the key donors were GCC countries; do you feel that Yemen has gone from neighbor to partner in these relations?
(Al-Ahmar) This is what happened in the London donors conference, and we all heard about it during the conference and through President Ali Abdullah Salih’s statements and those of some GCC leaders. We in Yemen are in partnership with the GCC countries.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some donor countries are asking for real reforms in Yemen, how valid is this request, and are these reforms different from previous ones?
(Al-Ahmar) These reforms are needed, and we were told by donor countries of their importance. The government is requested to introduce these reforms, and the president already spoke of the need for these reforms, saying that reform is necessary and that these reforms would be more significant. What is most important here is economic reform because it is in the economic sector where corruption and foul play are most found.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you, a major party in Yemen, view the government’s reforms record for the past 10 years?
(Al-Ahmar) We in the Reform Party feel that the government is yet to take the wanted steps, and that the reforms it has made so far are less than what is required.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) It is said that the Palestinian scene is one of the battlegrounds used in conflicts between regional and international powers; what do you think?
(Al-Ahmar) What is happening in Palestine is an Israeli-American-European conspiracy against the Palestinian cause, and these conspirators divided the Palestinians into moderates and extremists the same way they divided Arab countries into moderates and extremists, with the moderates being the capitulators and the extremists being the steadfast.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) A new Hamas offering was announced by Abu-Mazin (PA President Mahmud Abbas) regarding its agreement to govern a Palestinian state set up within the 1967 border and declare a 15-year truce with Israel; how does this make Hamas any different to Fatah?
(Al-Ahmar) I do not understand this 15-year truce offer, but what is happening is a conspiracy against the Hamas Movement and the democracy that was exercised in Palestine.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Given your relationship with Hamas, what would you say in the midst of the international consensus to oppose it?
(Al-Ahmar) The Yemeni people support Hamas and they all have a certain relationship with it. Hamas is right, and the others are wrong.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How can a clash between Hamas and Fatah be avoided?
(Al-Ahmar) We hope this never happens, and we strongly urge Hamas and Fatah leaders to be extremely cautious not to slip into the abyss.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the Lebanese situation and its complications?
(Al-Ahmar) The conspiracy against Lebanon is not unrelated to the conspiracy against Palestine. It was the United States that propelled matters to their current state in Lebanon and Palestine, and it was the United States that turned its allies in Lebanon against their brothers the Syrians and then took their place in Lebanon.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean that the people have no power over what is happening?
(Al-Ahmar) The United States is responsible for the state the Lebanese people are in, and is responsible for their severance of ties with their brothers.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there a way out?
(Al-Ahmar) In Lebanon, the way out is through Arab intervention and continued efforts by Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa to resolve the crisis.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the situation in Iraq, and has the Greater Middle East Initiative failed?
(Al-Ahmar) No one can explain the current situation in Iraq and hence offer the Iraqi people a way out of what has befallen them, and the complications of the Iraqi reality have foiled even the efforts of the loyal to salvage Iraq. Arab countries must pressure the United States into withdrawing from Iraq and leaving it to the protection and desire of the divine — this is the essential step toward the way out.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But many argue that America’s withdrawal would be more dangerous to Iraq than its continued presence.
(Al-Ahmar) What good has come of the American presence in Iraq? The atrocities in Iraq happen before the very eyes of the Americans, and as for America’s Greater or New Middle East Initiative, it failed because the Americans were reckless and underestimated the repercussions of their occupation of Iraq. Matters hence reached their current state, and they will only get worse in the future.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Yemen witnessed a five-year war between the monarchists and the republicans that was followed by reconciliation; can the Iraqis reconcile and overcome their status quo?
(Al-Ahmar) No, it is different with Iraq. What happened in Yemen is different from what is happening in Iraq, and there is no room for comparison. The war that raged in Yemen was not religious or sectarian, but was a political war between the republican system and the defunct monarchy.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is the conflict in Iraq not a political one?
(Al-Ahmar) The conflict in Iraq is political, sectarian, and religious — it encompasses all forms of conflict.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is Yemen concerned with the situation in the horn of Africa?
(Al-Ahmar) Yes, what happens in this sensitive region no doubt concerns Yemen, but what is happening in the horn of Africa is no where near as serious as what is happening in Iraq and Palestine, and the situation there was manufactured by the United States.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about Yemen’s role in the resolution of the Somali issue, and is their an Arab role to be played alongside Yemen’s?
(Al-Ahmar) The Yemeni role in efforts to resolve the Somali issue is an honorable one. The country suited to support the Yemeni role is Egypt, and it can complement the Yemeni effort. Sudan too could have played a similar role, but it is overwhelmed by its own problems that were created by the United States, which is behind all the evil and affliction in the Arab and Islamic world.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You say America is behind all evil, so what do you have to say about the Yemeni-American alliance in the fight against terrorism?
(Al-Ahmar) Yemen is reaping nothing but evil from this coordination and is not benefiting at all. As for the so-called war on Al-Qaeda, well, if such elements pose a threat to Yemen’s security, then we are more experienced than others in dealing with such matters.