Germany & Yemen: Partnership for the 21st Century [Archives:1998/16/Law & Diplomacy]

April 20 1998

Dr. Peter Schmidt is the director of the Middle East and Maghreb Countries Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany. Ismail Al-Ghabri of Yemen Times visited Dr. Schmidt at his office in Germany, and filed the following interview.
Q: How do you assess the Yemen-German relations
A: I’m very glad to state that especially after the visit of H.E. the President of Yemen, relations between our two countries are very excellent. A state visit like the one we had is a good step to further a long and successful tradition of relations.
After the political change in Yemen, we realize that Yemen is a country that we should turn our attention to. We started an extensive cooperation program which has been funded by the Ministry of Cooperation. We have a lot of projects going on in the water sector and in technical and vocational training.
We are very glad that the former two parts of Yemen could merge and unite. Germany was also a divided country but with patience and hard work we managed to get our countries re-united. We are glad that Yemen could do this too. We will always support Yemen if it comes to defending its unity. Of course there are many differences between our democratic experience and yours. We will be more than glad to offer our assistance to help the two former states to grow together even if this costs a lot of work and money
Q: What kind of assistance did you offer Yemen in 1998?
A: As far as the government program is concerned, I already mentioned that we implement certain programs in which we think that we can make a significant contribution.
Since Yemen is a country that relies on water and is in short supply, we decided to do something in agriculture. We help to execute projects through agencies like The German Development Service. We wish to make use of the technical talent which is so abundant in Yemen by creating jobs in small trade projects. Yemen is a good place for such things because it is a country of agriculture and because it is famous in the whole Arab Peninsula for its skill in trading.
To a large extent, Yemen is a country of settled people. We are making good progress at having agriculture flourish in Yemen. It is a lot of work but Yemen can successfully manage it. It will be better for Yemen to acquire some degree of self-sufficiency.
Q: What do you offer private endeavors?
A: As far as private investments are concerned, the German federal government will not intervene. What we can and will do is create a framework of legal and political conditions in which this investment can flourish. We will try to get agreements on mutual investment projects, as well as getting something under the agreement of double taxation in order to avoid paying taxes in both countries. We will also try to give potential investors political assurances that Yemen is a stable country which is worthy to invest in.
We hope that the delegation of the German-Arab Society headed by our Minister of Economic Affairs, which has been active in Arab affairs for many decades now, will actually lead to closer cooperation and a better understanding of the Yemeni business sector.
Q: Does tourism in Yemen help people understand the country better?
A: In spite of a lot of tourism going on in Yemen, Germans like to come to Yemen – this does not lead automatically to investment and to closer knowledge of Yemen. You see the Yemeni places such as its deserts, beaches, etc, but you don’t see how the people work and what the necessities are. Yemen is on its way to achieving great prosperity. Good steps have already been taken towards the establishment of a working parliamentary democracy. We are very much encouraged and we can only convey this message to our business community in the hope that they will take part in Yemen’s development.
Q: How do you evaluate the progress of democracy in Yemen?
A: Although Yemen has become a modern state, the society is still mixed. The traditions of the south have developed in a way different from the north. There are people who went to Saudi Arabia or to other places in order to earn money, people from Aden are different from Hadhramaut people, etc. There are a lot of traditional differences, so one cannot expect too much too soon.
In the last elections, we and other countries sent observers. We were quite pleased with the organization, the counting of votes and the general correctness of balloting. The elections were good and we are convinced that the government and the people generally did their best. We are very much pleased that apparently political pluralism has been achieved in Yemen.
On other hand, Yemen is a country which has just began its first steps in practicing democracy. It is true that the consultation among the big powers in society, the big sheikhs, and other the influential people are still as important as parliament itself. Of course, we have full faith in the Yemeni government and President to manage the system and eventually in 20 years or so, come to the democracy we have in Germany. But for the moment, I think that here the sheiks are more important than the elected people.
Q: What are the current faults of the democratic system in Yemen?
A: Generally speaking, we are quite satisfied with the situation in Yemen. Of course, we have some points of criticism, which were put to President Saleh when he visited Germany.
We would like Yemen to move from a more authoritarian model into a more democratic, more liberal one where more freedom is granted. The administration should not interfere with the press journalism and the authorities must accept criticism even if it sometimes unjustified.
We hope that the private press and private media would also develop. Another problem is the handling of prisoners in police custody. But this problem has not been recognized. It is a question of people who are in the police service who must be re-educated and re-trained. We are convinced that the government and the President are committed to improving the situation. If they proceed this way, they will have great success.

Q: About 3 months ago, our President called on all parties to ‘close the dossiers of the past and start reconciliation.’ What is your opinion concerning this call?
A: We welcome all the efforts made for a national reconciliation. This is an excellent thing. National reconciliation in Yemen is not easy. You must not forget that you had an orthodox Marxist government in Aden, and in Sanaa you had a completely different system.
Women in the south were quite emancipated. In the end women have had their rights and began to play their role. You have people in exile, who are criticizing the government for human rights violations.
All Yemenis should work to achieve national reconciliation, despite all difficulties they face. Confidence must be rebuilt. So, we hope that the people will come together, with the efforts of the President and the government to achieve national conciliation.
The opposition movement does not mean to really overthrow the republican form of the state. They are airing their criticism of measures taken by individuals. The gaps that exist between the political parties are not so deep that they can not be bridged with patience and efforts. You must work hard to do the right thing.
Concerning national reconciliation, we would not like to interfere because we lack the details which are necessary. You know better yourself and it’s always a bit of presumption if an outsider gives you some advice. We welcome the move, but at last it is your country. If you are successful, we will congratulate you and if not, we will just tell you to try again or you must work harder. In the end, the people of Yemen must find the solution themselves.
Q: In your personal view, how does the German public view the kidnapping incidents of foreign tourists in Yemen?
A: We feel obliged to inform our people quite frankly by giving them hints. But we definitely do not ask them not to go to Yemen. We tell just them that ‘when you go from Sanaa to Wadi Hadhramaut, for example, through the desert you need armed escorts.’ We just tell our people who come to Yemen to be aware of the risks.
It is the problem of the government to convince the Bedouins not to kidnap. It is a problem of two different mentalities in Yemen and is not something bad. They just do what they have been used to doing for the last 1000, 2000 years, this is how we explain it.
A lot of convincing must be done from the side of the government and sheikhs. We cannot tell them what to do. But we are quite convinced that the government will try to change the situation.