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|President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh:|
“I continue to defend my dreams from day one in the face of the people who have been studying our defenses but we move on. Our scope is far beyond the level of inconsequential talks which do not have any impact on us. We know what is good for Yemen and the citizens. The grumblings of some people will not derail us from our goal, particularly since we have security and stability and the wheel of development moves forward.”
Al-Jarallah Editor of the Arab Times, Kuwait (YEMEN POST STAFF)
Article Date: December 01, 2008
Q: May I ask if Yemen has felt the impact of the global economic meltdown?
A: Poverty sometimes is a blessing in disguise. Yemen does not have to worry about anything because we do not have sovereign funds to invest abroad and all our wealth is inside the country — the kind of wealth that does not make us lose our sleep or give us a headache. We are secure and the global economic meltdown does not affect us.
Q: But doesn’t the decline in the oil prices affect the Yemeni budget?
A: Oil constitutes a large part of the state budget and the decline in oil prices will affect us, but oil is not the only source of income for Yemen. The recently discovered gas, which we will soon export, will generate income for us. In spite of the decline in our oil production from 400,000 barrels per day to 280,000 bpd, we have been consulting experts on the oil reserve to calculate the level of benefit in addition to the promising gas projects so that we can increase our expenditure on development projects. There are 30 oil exploration companies currently working in Yemen which have guaranteed the existence of large oil reserves although the size is yet to be ascertained.
Q: Do you not think the political turmoil which surrounds you can hinder economic growth and development projects in the country?
A: If you are talking about the opposition — people who have political aspirations or those who have unconstitutional interests, let them say whatever they want. We are moving on the right track. I continue to defend my dreams from day one in the face of the people who have been studying our defenses but we move on. Our scope is far beyond the level of inconsequential talks which do not have any impact on us. We know what is good for Yemen and the citizens. The grumblings of some people will not derail us from our goal, particularly since we have security and stability and the wheel of development moves forward.
Q: Some people make statements within the framework of the available ‘nasty’ freedom and they even attack your personality.
A: Ahmad, my brother, it looks like you have tested it and are asking about the ‘nasty’ freedom. I want to assure you that those kinds of opinions do not affect my decisions, because a majority of the citizens are behind us. They are tired of trivialities promoted by the people in the name of security, stability, jobs, prosperity and growth. Records show we achieved a lot for the Yemeni people.
There were only four colleges in the country. Now public universities outnumber private universities and we have numerous colleges. Thank God Yemen now enjoys strong international relations, which was not the case in the past. Now we have robust regional, Arab and international relations, which have given neighboring countries tranquility and created a suitable environment for bilateral relations that benefit Yemen and the citizens. Yemen is now rich with the abundance of oil and gas discoveries, in addition to several other resources that are putting our economy on a sound footing and healing old wounds. I will repeat you should leave the people alone who cry foul until they reveal their true intentions and objectives. We do not gag their mouths.
Q: Don’t you see the need to act ‘tough’ if need be?
A: No. This will not take place while I am in power. We are committed to the democratic option and fairness for all and that includes those who oppose me and those who support me. Those who dream of taking advantage outside the framework of law and the culture of our society will be met with civilized action. We use the civilized tools of the age while my opponents use shabby expired slogans. We are talking logic they harp on empty futile slogans.
Q: Honestly speaking, were you honest when you said you did not want to run for the last presidential elections?
A: Allah knows that I was honest. I wanted to live a free life away from all troubles, responsibilities and protocols. Taking responsibility in Yemen is not an easy job.
Q: Did you benefit from your post as president or is it the other way around?
A: With all modesty I say the post benefited from me. From day one of my presidency I have been dreaming of bringing stability and security to Yemen and this is what we have achieved. We have been dreaming of seeing a constitutional state governed by laws like other countries which enjoy political stability.
Yemen has witnessed significant oil projects which and this income forms the backbone of the state budget. Yemen has also built the infrastructure during my presidency in addition to uniting the North and the South. This is a historical even which has taken place during my tenure and I am proud of it.
Q: Isn’t it time for you to take rest?
A: I have been thinking on these lines, but the pressure from the people has forced me to look in the other direction. The people don’t want me to ‘quit’.
Q: Does political controversy affect your popularity? Do you now enjoy good popular support?
A: The controversy is the creation of the opposition. However, it is the opposition approved by the democratic process and it is our duty to place facts in front of the people with clear proof and evidence. We don’t say we have the consent of all the people, but we have the consent of the majority and this was proved by the ballot box. This is the democracy and we believe in it. It is a rule of disparity in opinions.
Q: Do you think the democratic track is the best for ruling people?
A: Undoubtedly, democracy is the style of the age and everybody is calling for this form of government. Certainly democracy is best when it is shielded and takes into consideration the heritage and culture of the society where it is applied. Importing democracies from other countries will result in chaos. Democracy should be a blend of culture and heritage and specialty of a particular country.
Q: How have the recent calamities in Hadramawt and Al-Mahara affected the nation and how did you deal with them?
A: Yes, it was a real catastrophe and we received aid from brotherly and friendly states. However, the rains inflicted damage or the infrastructure, public property and animal and agricultural resources. Four thousand homes were destroyed and people left the affected areas leaving behind their properties. The UAE offered to build about 1,000 houses and Saudi Arabia chipped in with $100 million, so did Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Qatar and other brotherly and friendly countries offered aid to alleviate the terrible consequences of the disaster and I and my people thank to them for their kindness.
Q: Can the state compensate those who have lost their homes and rebuild the infrastructure of the rain-hit areas?
A: Sure, as I said it is a disaster but the state is committed to compensate those who suffered the losses. All state departments are working in collusion to find solutions to the consequences of the disaster. We are about to implement the second phase — the reconstruction phase.
Q: Is the Al-Houthi group in Yemen a risk to the security and stability of the country?
A: The group is in an area surround by police and army. From our side, we stopped fighting because we have realized it is guerrilla warfare and should not be encountered with military operations. We are for peace and development not bloodshed of the Yemeni people. We will continue to dedicate our efforts towards development and reconstruction and this is one of the reasons why we have halted military operations in Sa’ada.
Q: Do Houthians receive support from countries in the region such as Iran or from any specific Arabic country?
A: I do not know. But their activities and money in their possession are enough evidence the group is not self-financed. I cannot confirm the Houthi followers are being supported from the outside. But the guerrilla warfare and the finance they receive is definitely from outside.
Q: Don’t you think Yemen needs to change its economic laws?
A: Yes. We are on the way of changing our laws keeping in mind they will not disturb local and foreign investors. We have adopted a ‘One Window’ policy which means an investor can finalize all his paperwork in one visit. It is a convenient method which ends bureaucracy. We shall keep working in developing the investment laws in a manner that the relation between the investor and the departments of the state will be clear and comfortable. We are also serious in developing oil investment laws which are three-pronged — one for oil, one for gas and the third for oil and gas together. As I said, we shall develop the existing laws and make them more suitable at a time when the world is facing financial crisis and I believe this crisis has a positive side because investors will want to invest in a country which is safe for investments.
Q: How do you see religious radicalism in the area?
A: This is a temporary phase because nationalism and Marxism have no place now. What we experience now is religious radicalism. However it is not frightening because we are cooperating with the world to fight terrorism and other undesirable ideologies.
Q: How are your relations with the GCC states?
A: It is at its best and I will deliver a message during the GCC summit which will be held in Muscat next month. I will ask what requirements are needed to accept Yemen as a member in the GCC. We are part of the same geographical area. We had earlier requested for membership but brothers requested from us our qualifications for the request to be approved.
Now, we would like to know the conditions and requirements of such qualifications and we ask our brothers to help us in this qualification similarly as the European Union did with some countries which are qualified and accepted as members in the Union. As I said our relations with all are at its best.
Q: What is the secret of your strength in ruling Yemen which is a ‘Social Mosaic’? I mean social differences of tribes, groups, cultures and parties?
A: Since I took up the responsibility in Yemen, I have been adopting an agenda, and I believe my people have approved it because it is based on achieving stability after years of chaos and military coups. Security and stability are the main objectives because they are in the interest of the people and I feel like all citizens that my objectives are for a stable Yemen based on a state of law and institutions and a civil democratic society where disparity in opinions does not lead to personal disputes.
Q: Do you think the Gulf investments in Yemen are active or they should be more?
A: We have Saudi, UAE, Qatari and Kuwaiti investments through private sectors. Yemen is fertile for investment opportunities and I believe that the consequences of the global financial crises confirm that the surplus in oil revenues will be safer if invested in the Arab region in addition to the fact that the economic integrity among the Arab countries will bring a better outcome to its peoples.
Q: Will you attend the international economic conference to be hosted by Kuwaiti in the beginning of next year?
A: Yes, unless there are unforeseen arrangements. I hope this important event will succeed as it comes during extraordinary economic circumstances resulting from the global financial crisis.
Q: What you have to say about Yemen’s relations with the United States of America?
A: The relations are good and there are no problems. We are cooperating in the area of fighting terrorism which is good for both countries. However the US lays more emphasis on relations with oil exporting countries.
Q: How do you see the current situation in the Red Sea in the face of piracy?
A: This is a kind of terrorism, however, it takes place far from our regional waters and we had earlier advised America and Europe and asked them to do something to bring stability and peace to Somalia to prevent the country from playing into the hands of terrorists.However, our advice was ignored and the consequences are clear now. I have heard that these pirates are former officers from the Somali navy. Something should be done because piracy is a serious development which affects the safety of the international navigation and trade and interests of many countries.