Yemen Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi ruled out the possibility that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt might happen in his country, according to an article published by Yemeni state news agency SABA.
While there are no current articles on SABA’s website related to the current demonstrations in Yemen, SABA does have a weekend article that quotes Al-Qirbi as saying that President Ali Abdullah Saleh “does not depend on foreign support” and that his actions “are based on Yemen’s interests”, implying that he is not tied to external demands.
That article in turn was an interview with Al-Qirbi with the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.
According to the SABA article, Al-Qirbi “emphasized the importance of stability in his country, saying that stability is a local, regional, and international need.”
The following is the text of interview with al-Qirbi, as provided by SABA:
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] What are the goals of your European tour?
[Al-Qirbi] The tour comes within the framework of exchanging viewpoints on all regional and international issues and to prepare for the meetings of the Friends of Yemen in Riyadh next month. As you know, there are several European countries, including Britain, France, and Italy that are members of the Friends of Yemen group. We have come to clarify the Yemeni stand on the Riyadh meeting for which Saudi Arabia will call in order to guarantee participation on the highest levels and in order to discuss Yemen’s needs in the fields of development, reforms, and fighting terrorism.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Can you be more specific regarding what Yemen is seeking from the meeting?
[Al-Qirbi] The primary request is for assistance in the issues of economic growth, poverty, and unemployment. These are the main challenges that led to the current phenomenon of terrorism, extremism, and political crises that we are seeing in Yemen. These demands also reflect the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a life of dignity and a better standard of living.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Is there a specific figure of what Yemen is asking for in aid?
[Al-Qirbi] We definitely need aid in the three main issues that are linked to the economy and economic growth. We have a vision of how this objective may be reached in a plan consisting of 25 projects with each of them having a financial cost. The second issue is related to fighting poverty and creating job opportunities. This means providing services and infrastructures in many Yemeni regions. The third issue is related to security and the fight against terrorism and piracy and the protection of the borders. There are countries that are interested in these aspects and others wish to help in a specific aspect. All these facts will be discussed during the meeting of the Friends of Yemen next month. We hope that the participating countries and organizations would be committed in supporting the proposed projects.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Allow me to go back to the previous question: Do you have a figure for the aid for which Yemen aspires at the Riyadh meeting?
[Al-Qirbi] I cannot give you an exact figure now, this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] The Arab world is going through crises in its east and its west. How does Yemen view what is happening? Is Yemen worried that what happened in Tunisia or what is happening in Egypt may happen in Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] In our opinion, what is happening in the Arab world is the result of three related factors. The first factor is the rate of youths in these societies is continuously growing. For instance, the rate of youths in Yemen under the age of 25 is about 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the population. This high percentage of youths does not compare itself, as we used to, with our forefathers that lived through worse conditions. Moreover, the youths are seeing the world and its changes through the information technology revolution that has made everything within reach. Comparing their conditions with the conditions of those around them has become easier. Thus, this has caused some frustration. The governments did not focus on or treat this frustration which has led to the situation we are seeing now.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Will what happened in Tunisia and Egypt happen in Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] We think that the picture in Yemen and the social structure is different for two reasons. First, the opposition in Yemen is engaged in a permanent dialogue with the government on the challenges of the economic situation and how to handle them. Second, perhaps you noticed that the protest demonstrations that took place in Yemen were met with counter demonstrations in support of the government. Moreover, the demonstrations in Yemen are peaceful and opened the door for dialogue and for the president to affirm to the Yemeni people that the fears that may have surfaced after the events in Tunisia and Egypt are different from the situation in Yemen. The president also announced that he does not intent to run in the next elections or to bequeath power.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Do you feel that the Yemeni president and his government enjoy the international backing that you wish to overcome these turbulent conditions and in light of the belief that the United States abandons its friends in during hard times?
[Al-Qirbi] I do not think that the brother president relies on external backing. I believe -and we saw that in the past two weeks -that it was the president who initiated and took decisions that he thinks are in the interest of Yemen ., He placed Yemen’s interests above all other considerations or any reassurances from abroad. What came from abroad was mere confirmation and welcoming of the measures that the president took.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Yemen is a strategic country for several reasons, including terrorism, its geographic location, piracy, and security in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. Yemen’s stability is thus not only an internal affair.
[Al-Qirbi] I definitely think that these facts placed Yemen on the map of international concerns which prompted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call a meeting in London for the Friends of Yemen group last January. Following that, the New York meeting was held in September and then came the invitation to the upcoming meeting in Riyadh. Thus, everyone senses the importance of Yemen, its strategic location, its proximity to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the Horn of Africa, and its control over the most important trade waterways (the Red Sea). All this has put Yemen on the international map. The big powers realize that any instability in Yemen will have negative repercussions not only on Yemen and the region but also on the whole world.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Do you feel in Yemen that you are on the verge of defeating the Al-Qaeda organization in your country?
[Al-Qirbi] I feel that the question is somewhat unfair to us. This question should be addressed to the coalition forces that have been fighting terrorism for seven years but have not managed to destroy it. The problem, as we see it, is not in Yemen’s ability but in the ability of the international community to confront this phenomenon (terrorism). It is an international phenomenon, not a local or regional one as can be seen in the ongoing events. In our opinion, therefore, terrorism should not be dealt with only from a security angle. There is also the economic aspect and the aspect of cultural, religious, and psychological development. Unless we view the phenomenon of terrorism from its various dimensions, including the realization of international justice and the just distribution of the wealth inside and outside, “the treatment will remain deficient”. Look at all the billions that have been spent to combat terrorism! Had a small part of it been directed to what I am talking about, we may have achieved better results.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] In a religious sermon a few days ago, the supreme guide of the Islamic revolution called for the establishment of “Islamic Middle East” and an “Islamic regime” by way of commenting on the events in Egypt. How does Yemen view this development knowing that Yemen’s fears are well known in view of the Houthi rebellion that took place in the north?
[Al-Qirbi] If the supreme guide is talking about an Islamic revolution that relies on destruction and violence, that would be catastrophic to the Muslim world. If he is talking about a revolution based on knowledge, science, democratic freedoms, and the building of societies of justice and social equity, we need such societies. However, we do not need revolutions that rely on violence and changing regimes through violence. Such a revolution will lead to results opposite to what its proponent wishes or plans for.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Do you any information or evidence or indications that the southern mobility movement relies on or enjoys external support?
[Al-Qirbi] Yes, external support is coming from the elements that left Yemen after the secessionist war of 1994. They are Yemeni elements. We have no information about states that provide such support but there are Yemenis residing in a number of states who are providing the support to which I just referred. In our opinion, it is the responsibility of the states concerned to stop this support. In our opinion, none of these states should turn a blind eye to the financing of terrorism.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Have you this from the states concerned?
[Al-Qirbi] We have explained and conveyed our viewpoint. There is no need to name these states.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] President Ali Abdullah Saleh is known to have advised the Arab leaders “Shave your heads before they shave it for you”. Is he about to apply this saying on himself?
[Al-Qirbi] I believe that President Ali Abdullah Saleh interprets events correctly and solves problems wisely proceeding from his concern for Yemen and its unity.
[Al-Sharq al-Awsat] Can we conclude that the leadership is not worried about the future and stability of Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] I do not think any responsible person that understands international transformations can says that there are no worries. The transformations that take place make it incumbent upon a person to be always vigilant in monitoring and evaluating events and taking measures that prevent those that try to exploit the situation in a country to serve their own agendas. We in Yemen proceed from our concern for our relations with all the countries and for the stability of our friends and brothers. At the same time, however, we are determined to have Yemen’s decisions proceed from Yemen’s interests and will. We are determined not to give any side the opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of Yemen.