Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Yasin Said Numan, secretary general of Yemen’s opposition Socialist Party highlights to Asharq Al-Awsat the main reasons for the Joint Meeting’s agreement with Huthist insurgents, and working towards the survival of Yemen’s unity and the latest regarding the secessionist movement in the south.
Dr Numan is a graduate of the School of Economics and Political Sciences of Cairo University and obtained his Masters and PhD degrees in Economics from Hungary. He was appointed Undersecretary of the Ministry of Industry and later prime minister of the southern part of Yemen until the union was established on 22 May 1990. He was the first parliament speaker in a united Yemen. He is a writer and a novelist and has published two novels. Dr. Numan is the leader of the partner of the General People’s Congress to achieve unity with nine seats in the current parliament. In addition to being the leader of the Socialist Party he is also the leader of the Joint Meeting Parties that is the main force in the Yemeni opposition and that consists of six parties: The Reform Party, the Socialist Party, the Nasirite People’s Unionist Party, the Baath Party, the Union of People’s Forces, and the Al-Haq Party.
The text of the interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on the situation in Yemen 20 years after the restoration of unity?
[Numan] This is an important question but it is difficult for me to voice an opinion in a hurry. I can say that the 20 years since May 1990 to this day have put the Yemenis before an important fact; namely, the determination of their future is not dependent only on emotions and on what has been passed down. Their future is also determined by an understanding of public interests and the ability to manage these interests in a way that achieves balance, co-existence, and recognition of the other. This is a formula that should be ready when reviewing our experience in the past 20 years in order to use it for the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some have said that the unity brought together the two crises of the two regimes in the north and the south and that the crisis of the Yemeni Socialist Party is the result of conflicts the last of which were the events of January 1986. What is your answer?
[Numan] This is a traditional question and a traditional assessment. However, in assessing this formula, we say that when we place the north in confrontation of the south and the south in confrontation of the north and that so and so is worse than his brother we are not assessing who was better and who was worse. Perhaps the Yemenis wished to unite, but they did not have the ability to manage this need correctly. The resources of the unity in general or the two states reverted to one side that became the capital and the state center. This side did not show that it was unionist in a way that would allow us to say that it offered the needed requirements to ensure the success of this unity. Thus, when we talk today about this or that side escaping, as they say, toward unity, I do not think that those that came from Aden were escapees because Sanaa was not that haven to escape to by the others. Therefore, let us analyze the problem and its defects and evaluate it through this true defect. The true defect is that the Yemenis were unable to manage this great accomplishment that was achieved on 22 May 1990.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The parties of the Joint Meeting have formed a coalition with the Huthists by concluding an agreement of principles. What is the significance of the formation of such a coalition in the current circumstances?
[Numan] We in the Joint Meeting Parties have called for a comprehensive national dialogue early on after the dialogue with the General People’s Congress became blocked. We discovered that the problems in the country – wars in Sadah, convulsions in the south, and problems throughout the country – were growing and beyond the ability of the two sides. We discovered that the General People’s Congress did not want to engage in a dialogue except on the subject of elections although we felt that the country had been afire with problems since 2008. That is why we called for a comprehensive national dialogue as the true outlet to resolve the crisis in this country. All the political forces, including the Huthists and the Southern Mobility Movement as well as the opposition abroad would participate in such a dialogue. This is our stand in the Joint Meeting Parties. We would definitely stretch our hand without bounds to anyone that engages us in dialogue and we will continue to contact in order to continue the dialogue with those that do not engage us in dialogue. The Huthists were among the forces with which we established contact. We invited them to a national dialogue based on the principle that this country belongs to all, that wars do not solve problems, and that the true solution lies in a national dialogue among all the political forces, including the General People’s Congress. After the sixth war and after we in the Joint Meeting Parties announced the formation of a preparatory committee for national dialogue as a vision for national salvation, the Huthists responded to our call. We dispatched a team to discuss the general aspects of cooperation on the issue of the national dialogue. We presented the Huthists with four points that all stress that wars do not solve problems, that talk about the rule of equality and justice, and that talk about a national dialogue to solve the crises in the country. This is the formula that we signed with the Huthists since the course that we should take is that toward comprehensive national dialogue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is said that the Joint Meeting parties are taking heart from this alliance with the Huthists because it has turned them into a military fighting force.
[Numan] The parties of the Joint Meeting do not take heart from anyone. The Joint Meeting parties embrace comprehensive national dialogue. Against whom is it taking heart from the Huthists? We in the Joint Meeting parties call for comprehensive national dialogue and the forces that respond to this call are most welcome.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When and where was this agreement signed?
[Numan] The agreement with the Huthists was signed after the sixth war in Sadah was over by a team that was formed by the preparatory committee for national dialogue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You in the Joint Meeting coalition embrace a vision for national salvation. Do you think it is a useful recipe to solve the current problems in Yemen?
[Numan] The vision for national salvation is not a political program; its main aim is to hold more dialogues. The vision for national salvation was presented as part of solutions or diagnosis to hold discussions and engage other political forces in a dialogue. This vision may be sound or a part of it may be sound. What is important in the matter is that the Joint Meeting parties and the preparatory committee exerted efforts and coordinated with the other forces that participated in the consultation meeting. We still have time and the opportunity to engage the rest of the political forces in a dialogue. That is why we had to specify our course in order to show that the national dialogue is the path to save the country from its crises. This vision is put forward for discussion and debate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It was hoped that the February 2009 agreement between you and the ruling party would resolve the crisis in relations between you but the outcome was the opposite.
[Numan] The February agreement is the point of reference for the comprehensive national dialogue. This agreement consisted of three principal points and the preamble that stipulated preparing the political climate, including the release of political detainees, a halt on harassing journalists and shutting down newspapers, and spreading public freedoms so that the dialogues would be held in suitable political climates. The first point in the February agreement provides for dialogue among all the political forces and sides, not only between the Joint Meeting Parties and the General People’s Congress. This was the first point in accordance with which the sides would meet, come to an agreement, and then engage in a dialogue on the development of the political system and the electoral system, including the proportionate list. Immediately after the signing of the agreement, we were supposed to begin to prepare the political climates, the climates of freedom, and to truly prepare the country for comprehensive national dialogues in accordance with the agreement that calls for postponing the parliamentary elections for two years. However, as soon as we finished signing the agreement, the authorities arrested members of the opposition using their organs of suppression, detentions, and trials that targeted the opposition and other political forces. We then said it is high time to implement the first paragraph on how to find a mechanism to unite all the political forces when the sixth war broke out in Sadah and the tanks headed to the south. Political life became immersed in violence. We proposed a cease-fire in Sadah. We suggested finding a solution to the problem in the south and to admitting that there is a crisis in the south or admitting the southern issue. A whole year has passed but we have been unable to reach agreement with the regime on a single point. There has been no preparation of the political climates and no attempt to find a suitable mechanism to invite all the political forces to a dialogue in accordance with the February agreement. The authorities held all the cards. In the end of 2009, we began to correspond with the General People’s Congress that was holding us responsible although it, not the opposition, holds all the cards. One week ago, we agreed with Dr Abdul-Karim al-Iryani on a special implementation mechanism to form the joint committee to pave the way for the dialogue. However, after the agreement was concluded, we were taken by surprise with the reluctance of the General People’s Congress to act on two points. The first point is that it refused to release the political detainees and the journalists and proceeded with the trials. The second point is that it rejected the impartiality of the official media. It is not the job of the official media to attack the opposition. If they want to attack the opposition they should attack it in the party’s mouthpiece and not in the official newspapers and other media outlets because the official media is financed by the public. These days, the official media is solely preoccupied in attacking the opposition. They continue to cling to these two points and they refuse to sign the minutes of the agreement pertaining to starting a mechanism to form the preparatory committee and prepare for the national dialogue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been attributed to the Joint Meeting that it will implement the February agreement unilaterally without the ruling party. How true are such reports?
[Numan] The Joint Meeting did not say so. It said that it clings to the February agreement and that it will proceed to prepare for the national dialogue. We continued to prepare for the national dialogue with other political parties even after the General People’s Congress rejected the dialogue. We did not and will not close the door. However, if it wishes and has other options on how to deal with the opposition, we will proceed with the national dialogue with the political forces that will form a coalition with us. We will emerge with a vision with the political forces that will constitute the basis of peaceful and democratic national struggle. This is our right and no one has the right to stop us. However, we did not say that we will implement the February agreement alone.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on events in the south now that it has turned to armed violence?
[Numan] There is an issue in the south that the state or this authority should have handled with objectivity. The people in the south expressed this issue in a peaceful and democratic way and explained the substance of this issue. Unfortunately, this peaceful expression was met with violence in confronting the demonstrations and the peaceful movement or with arrests and detentions or with encouraging the manifestations of violence deliberately in order to upset the peaceful balance in the Mobility Movement. I believe that this manipulation that was exercised was done without a unionist and national strategic vision by this regime. This led to such a large slide toward violence in the south for which the authorities are to blame. Nevertheless, efforts are being exerted by the people to stop the Mobility Movement peacefully in a way that would express a true vision to deal with the situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To what degree is the Joint Meeting, including the Socialist Party, present in this Mobility?
[Numan] The Southern Mobility movement is an impartial phenomenon and everyone is in it in view of the fact that there is an issue in the south. We in the Socialist Party are present in the Mobility movement but we are present through our political program. We consider our political program in which we believe as part of the political mobility to solve a problem within a national framework. There are other political forces within the Mobility that have other programs These are forces that are talking about the Arab south, disengagement, and so on. We should deal with this subject as a phenomenon in which everyone is present. The authorities should understand the motives of this mobility of this magnitude in order to understand that there is an issue and a problem in this part of the country. Some wish to confiscate the Mobility to serve their slogans. Unfortunately, the authorities are dealing with this phenomenon and trying to manage the dialogue within its general framework. The authorities are accusing the Mobility of being part of Al-Qaeda or of being a secessionist movement or a violent movement. The Mobility is a livelihood issue in the south and it should be recognized that this movement arose for various political and national reasons and motives. The method of solving the dilemma of a merger union should be viewed within this framework.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can this dilemma be resolved, in your opinion?
[Numan] The problem of the merger union is what brought us to the situation we are in. We say that we went through many experiments in Yemen. The experiment of division failed and the experiment of the merger union failed. Is it not necessary now for the political and national forces in Yemen to search for ways to revive a new national settlement based on learning from past experiences to one that saves the homeland from division and fragmentation? That is why we do not focus on one part of the scene. At present, the regime or its trumpets or the profiteers are focusing on one part of the scene. We should look at the whole scene and search for the crux of the problem and the issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You endorse federalism in lieu of the current merger unity, do you not?
[Numan] In the preparatory committee plan for national dialogue, we have three options: The federal option; the option of local rule with full powers; and the option of the Document of Pledge and Agreement. We put forward these three options openly to dialogue before all the political forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why are there several options?
[Numan] We proceeded in this from the fact that this centralized system that has ruled and continues to rule Yemen failed in upholding unity and is unable to produce a unity state. We believe that the transfer to political decentralization not to administrative decentralization is the true carrier of unity that produces an equal national partnership for all the sons of Yemen. This stagnant centralization does not produce a partnership but transforms unity to an annexation. We proceed from this rule in solving the problem: A federation in two parts, a federation in regions. This topic is under discussion by all the political forces, but the principal rule is political decentralization that brings about true national partnership for all the sons of the homeland.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But such a national partnership will not be achieved on the ground if the General People’s Congress does not participate in and endorse such a vision. What is your opinion?
[Numan] To this day, we continue to cling to this vision. We accept all the slander, insults, and threats from the leaders of the General People’s Congress not because we like it but for the interests of the country. Whenever they say come, we would go not because we like them but for the interest of the country. We go to the dialogue in order to preserve the last thin thread between us. But more patronizing is being practiced against us. The situation now shows that some wings of the General People’s Congress are enjoying the situation. They think that the interests generated due to the monopolization of power in the past period will allow them to continue. They should know that this country is not the sole property of anyone. This country belongs to everyone and everyone is responsible for it. Thus, everything in is the property of all its sons. This may be a temporary phase; I think that all the experiments that rule on the basis of ownership have failed. The ruler that assumes the leadership of any country and begins to believe that he is an owner is wrong. He is a mere temporary manager or a temporary leader of this power to which the people selected him or circumstances selected him. Anyone does his job and leaves while the country remains the property of the people. In this case, we are not excluding the General People’s Congress. We consider it a political force that should be present. But instead of extending its arm to others as the one with authority it should become the servant of this authority, not its owner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Southern Mobility is centered in the provinces of Lahj and Al-Dali. How do you explain that?
[Numan] The Mobility is present throughout the south, not just in Lahj and Al-Dali. The problem is that the regime wants the Mobility to stay in Lahj and Al-Dali due to the confrontations that the regime is fabricating. The regime believes that if it is suppressed in Lahj and Al-Dali the Mobility will end. This is a false assumption. The regime should understand that the problem regarding the situation in the south is now present everywhere. It should not promote feelings of hatred in such a fashion and feelings of secession. The practices of the regime in the south promote feelings of hatred and secession. The regime should be aware of the real problem. Instead of practicing oppression and pursuit, it should put forward a political plan to solve the problem and not confine it to Lahj and Al-Dali. There is evidence to this; I live the problem on a daily basis. The problem is all over the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Yemen is in a state of war with Al-Qaeda and the country is beset with several crises. Would it not have been better for the opposition to take positive steps with the ruling party to produce a joint vision to deal with and solve the crises?
[Numan] We are taking steps and making initiatives because we realize these facts and because we know that the country is passing through many crises, such as the wars in Sadah, in the south, terrorism, poverty, and Al-Qaeda. We are aware of all these crises and we are the ones that are taking initiatives, but we want this regime to accept our initiatives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The war with Al-Qaeda has reached clashes in sensitive positions. Do you think that dependence on the security factor in the conflict with the Al-Qaeda organization is crucial in this war?
[Numan] I think that the authority is not transparent enough as it should be. The authorities keep changing their logic every day. They have not settled on a specific logic through which they can convince the public. We all feel the problem, but the way the regime’s media outlets are dealing with it is causing real turbulence regarding this topic. In my opinion, the issue of terrorism is the most dangerous problem facing this country. Unless this phenomenon is handled with sincerity and transparency, the course we are taking will be very dangerous.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the Socialist Party leaders abroad considered an effective and active factor regarding the dialogue that is taking place within the country?
[Numan] The representative of the Yemeni Socialist Party is the general secretariat of the party. Socialist leaderships and so on are broad terms. We still have many elements that are still members of the Socialist Party and living abroad. These leaders did not engage in a dialogue outside the framework of the Socialist Party. There are also others, such as political forces and leaders that were in the Socialist Party and proclaimed their withdrawal from the party. However, all these leaders enjoy a national status and are responsible for themselves. In the Socialist Party, however, the one responsible for its stand and dialogues is the Socialist Party’s general secretariat. The general secretariat is the Socialist Party’s leadership inside the country that speaks in its name and decides its stands in the dialogue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Bid has announced what he calls the “disengagement”. What is your opinion?
[Numan] You should address your question to Al-Bid.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] He lives abroad, but I wish to know the stand of Dr Yasin Said Numan.
[Numan] I talk about what interests me. I am not interested in what others say and in answering them. Ask Al-Bid why he is saying that; I told you about my program.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this not mean that Al-Bid is no longer in the leadership of the Socialist Party abroad?
[Numan] Al-Bid is not now one of the leaders of the Socialist Party abroad; he said so. I told you that only the party’s general secretariat and no one else expresses the stands of the Socialist Party.