London, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Rajeh Badi, Media Adviser to Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa, spoke about the difficult “legacy” inherited by the National Reconciliation government, the restructuring of Yemen’s armed and security forces and the forthcoming Yemeni National Dialogue summit, amongst other issues.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let’s start by talking about the accusations that have been directed against the National Reconciliation government, namely that it has failed to provide adequate security and services to the Yemeni public, particularly in terms of providing electricity service and preventing acts of sabotage. What is your view of this?
[Badi] Firstly, everybody in Yemen knows that the legacy inherited by the National Reconciliation government was a very difficult one. Since the formation of this government more than one year ago until today there has been a genuine open and organized war against Yemen’s vital interests, including electricity pylons and oil pipelines, as well as cutting the roads between governorates and disturbing public peace and security.
The government has confronted this war successfully and effectively, for as soon as electricity pylons or oil pipelines are sabotaged, we see technical teams rushing to repair these. This has been a large additional burden on the government, particularly in terms of funds. However despite this we can realistically say that the situation now – in terms of what you mentioned in your question – has witnessed significant improvement, particularly in comparison to the situation prior to the formation of this government. The situation is, of course, not what the Yemeni government or people hopes for, however there can be no doubt that it is better than it was.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are some who point to a fundamental weakness in the formation of your government, namely the issue of political discord and division that is hindering government operations and harmony. Do you agree in this assessment?
[Badi] Throughout the world, it is natural for national reconciliation or national salvation governments to witness a lack of comprehensive harmony amongst its members; particularly as such governments are formed by political opponents. However this is something that is not overwhelming the [Yemeni] National Reconciliation government by any means. The majority of this governments work is characterized by harmony, and most of the ministers are aware of the gravity of the situation, particularly regarding the future of Yemen if this government and its political leadership fail – God forbid – to implement the remaining articles of the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism to complete transferring power in a peaceful and safe manner. The majority of those in this government are well aware that Yemen must reach February 2014, the date of the next elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The future of Yemen these days is unsettled and unclear, and nobody can be sure what will happen. What is your view of the situation?
[Badi] During transitional periods some problems or dilemmas may take some time to resolve or reach an agreement on. So some people view the time it takes to reach a consensus as unsettling or as being a form of circumventing the issue. As for the uncertainty over this period, I agree with you – to a large extent – that the scene is experiencing a form of uncertainty that is concerning for Yemen, and this is due to some Yemeni forces continuing to possess arms and military equipment, and regional powers continuing to interfere in Yemeni political affairs. This is an unequivocal reality; so many Yemenis are worried about the future of their country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your view, why do you think the issue of restructuring Yemen’s armed and security forces remains unresolved? Do you believe former president Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in control of the army, particularly as his son, Ahmed Saleh, commands the Republican Guards?
[Badi] Restructuring the army is a difficult process, and the Yemeni president has confirmed, on more than one occasion, that this restructuring process has already begun. Military committees have begun operating in this regard, and this is a process that requires more time. The Yemeni army was built and developed in an unprofessional and ineffective manner in the past, in addition to the fact that certain figures’ loyalties were bought and secured by granting dozens and even hundreds of military commissions to their relatives and supporters, as well as by providing them with financial allocations. Military ranks and commissions were used to buy political loyalty, which weakened this important national institute.
Restructuring the army is not as easy as some imagine, and does not take place by firing this military commander or that. This is a process of rebuilding the armed forces based on professional standards and principles. What I want to confirm here is that the restructuring of the army is one of the safety valves for the country over the forthcoming period. This is a pressing necessity and a sincere desire on the part of the political leadership. Therefore, this issue has been resolved, and the Yemeni army remaining divided is something that nobody can accept.
As for the former president’s control of the army, what I can confirm is that Ali Abdullah Saleh no longer has the power that some imagines he does, and anybody who is betting on him – even if we are talking about his son Ahmed Saleh, commander of the Republican Guards – is making a big mistake in their calculations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the role being played by the pro-revolution army in blocking the military restructuring process?
[Badi] The pro-revolutionary army is not blocking the process to restructure the military institution. Some pro-revolution army commanders have been removed from their positions and have not issued any response [to this], but rather complied with the decisions demonstrating military discipline and national spirit. Indeed, they welcomed and applauded these decisions, contrary to some military commanders who made problems following the issuance of decisions removing them from their military positions. I believe that one of the most important demands of the pro-revolution army is to build the military institution on the basis of nationalism and professionalism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can the National Reconciliation government lay claim to defeating Al Qaeda in Yemen, particularly in the southern regions?
[Badi] The battle with armed organizations requires a lot of time and effort, and resolving this is not so easy that any power can emerge victorious against such forces. However the overall military and security situation on the ground, particularly in the southern provinces, is far better than it was. Armed fighters were previously in control of Abyan province, and parts of Shabwa province as well, whilst they were also preparing to attack Aden. However they have now been expelled from these areas and the state has restored its control of these regions after they were completely in the hands of armed fighters for almost a year. What I would like to confirm here is that the government and political leadership have developed a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism. This strategy does not just rely on military solutions to address the scourge of terrorism, but other solutions such as economic, developmental, educational and social solutions. This requires huge capabilities, and we must stand with our friends and allies across the world to ensure the success of this national strategy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the latest regarding the efforts to prepare a National Dialogue conference in Yemen?
[Badi] Last Tuesday the technical committee approved the final report of its work, and this was presented on Wednesday to the president. The technical committee was able to draw up and put forward the rules of procedure for this National Dialogue conference, as well as who will take part in this, and what extent of representation each party will enjoy, not to mention the selection criteria regarding the participation of youth, women and civil organization, in addition to a media strategy, the main topics of dialogue and more.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the greatest obstacles that prevented this summit going ahead in November? Did you support its postponement?
[Badi] In reality, the date put forward was not finalized, particularly as the committee’s work is not easy given the nature of the current stage and the period of time that has passed since its formation. This is the normal time for a committee because it originally expected that all parties would be involved, so it granted a lot of time to allow for this. Therefore, in reality, there was no postponement, and after the technical committee issued its report, the president will begin dialogue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will former President Ali Abdullah Saleh be attending this national dialogue? Would you have any objection to his presence, particularly as questions remain over his human rights record?
[Badi] Saleh will not take part, whilst nobody has issued any credible allegations of human rights violations against him.