No deal between YSL and GPC, Bin Fareed says [Archives:2006/997/Reportage]

November 9 2006

Interviewed by: Mohammed bin Sallam
Mohsen Mohammed Abu Baker Bin Fareed, 60, is secretary-general of the Yemen's Sons League (YSL) party, being involved in politics since 1984. Graduating from Cairo University's Economic and Political Science faculty in 1969, he obtained a master's degree from the United States in the early 1980s. He also is the father of five sons.

The Yemen Times visited his residence, where he stayed with YSL head Abdulrahman Al-Jifri, who apologized for lack of time and referred us to Bin Fareed to answer our questions.

Although he declares his age to be 60, to onlookers, Bin Fareed seems to be in his 40s. His Hadrami accent remains intact, having been unaffected by accents spoken in the Gulf or other Arab countries, where he's spent more than four decades.

Always smiling, Bin Fareed admits that his political trends dominate his dealings with others, as he's very good at debating and has a good command of discussing issues.

The relationship between the YSL and the ruling party, which became firm within no time, was unexpected. Bin Fareed attempted to confirm that there's no deal between his party and the ruling party, and further declared that the YSL is concerned about the nation's welfare.

He also spoke about Yemen's poor state and how things could be better, particularly politically and economically.

Bin Fareed believes Yemen is tending toward an abyss if faithful Yemenis don't hasten to save it, assuring that they are relying on President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has the power and experience – if he wishes – to save Yemen and impose required reforms.

“President Saleh, as we believe, is aware of Yemen's problems. He knows well that Yemen needs real change and realizes that circumstances won't allow Yemen to take past steps,” he stated.

“We believe no more margin for movement exists because the nation has reached a very bad state, imposing upon the one who leads Yemen to tend to reforms – real reforms,” he added.

Since Yemeni unity, the YSL has demanded reforms and a changed ruling system. Furthermore, it differed with the regime. What caused its main leaders, who were living outside Yemen, to return to Sana'a at such a critical time accompanied by the presidential and local elections?

The YSL isn't a new party on Yemen's political field, but I can assure you that it's the first party in Yemen, having been announced officially in Aden in 1951. The national Yemeni movement began at Egypt's Al-Azhar University in early 1940, when league founder Mohammed Al-Jifri met with the late Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Zubairi and Mohammed Al-Nouman, who later formed what was known as the First Yemeni Battalion as a base for a national and unified Yemeni movement.

Under binding circumstances in North Yemen, our brothers were compelled to form the Yemeni Liberals Movement, while the Sons League party was formed in South Yemen, which was under British occupation at that time.

We existed amid a unified Yemen in 1990 and changed our party's name to Yemen's Sons League because our political engagement involved all of Yemen.

As everyone knows, Yemen experienced a different phase during the first four years of unity, followed by civil war, which forced us to leave the country. We remained abroad; however, we longed to return to our homeland because the natural place for political engagement should be from inside, not outside the country.

Forced by circumstances, we remained abroad a long time until President Saleh phoned and asked the YSL to declare its stance on the elections. He further declared that his party was proceeding to request political, economic and social reforms. When you review our attitudes, statements and literature, you'll find that we've called for real reform for years. If President Saleh adopts this reform, we'll be with him.

This wasn't said only today or during the elections, but it's been recorded in our literature for years. It seems the ruling party was busy with other things, thus not comprehending our attitudes.

Our problem, as diagnosed by Al-Jifri, is that, “Everyone looks at himself in the mirror and doesn't see others. Furthermore, everyone reads his own writing and doesn't read others'.”

Some people's surprise at our arrival in Sana'a is unjustified because our attitudes are transparent and known to all.

When President Saleh called the secretary-general asking him about the YSL's stance regarding the elections, I later informed him of our position following discussion of the matter. We believed that President Saleh is the most capable person to lead Yemen to reform because he holds the nation's keys and is qualified for it. He has accumulated experience for a long time, so we declared our stance with him without any condition.

What do you mean by changing the ruling system you formerly declared on numerous occasions?

We have a comprehensive reform program published a year ago in mass media and distributed to all political factions and civil society organizations. Additionally, it's available on our web site with details anyone wants to know.

We had hoped the ruling party and/or other political factions would discuss it with us. If it's good, why don't we agree on it? If not, we can adjust it and if there's a better program, we can cancel ours and all agree on it.

What are the most prominent aspects of your reform program?

We wholeheartedly believe that political reform should initiate true reform, later followed by economic and administrative reforms.

Can you give more details about the identity of your political reform, according to your program?

Regarding the ruling system, the existing system has no clear features, as it's neither completely presidential nor parliamentary. We suggested two choices: either be a completely presidential system wherein, accordingly, the president is held accountable for everything, or be parliamentary.

In our program, we specified the outline of the presidential system, its characteristics and its positive and negative points. The matter wasn't decided decisively because the door to dialogue remains open before all parties with reform projects for Yemen's welfare.

Is your project close to the Document of Pledge and Accord that all political parties agreed upon prior to the 1994 Civil War?

We were the main participants in that treaty, so you'll find many aspects of that agreement in our current program as to local governance, administrative and financial reforms and announcing free zones, a matter suspended for 16 years.

Do you think the timing of your return to Sana'a aims to back Saleh against the opposition?

We're convinced about backing Saleh, while the issue concerning negative effects upon the opposition is left to those who can read Yemeni political trends correctly. We have no enmity with any party and we want to assure that we extend our hands to all, aiming to draw Yemen out of its critical situation. The situation requires collaboration by all as a way out of the dire conditions here in Yemen.

Was there a deal between President Saleh and the YSL?

There's no deal between President Saleh and us. We returned to Sana'a convinced that President Saleh is able to lead Yemen toward reform and our return was unconditional. We're looking for common factors and how we can cooperate with others for Yemen's welfare.

How do you evaluate the recent presidential and local elections?

I believe the elections were very good because it was the first time real competition existed. It added to Yemen's experience and I don't believe its likeness exists in the Arab region.

Regarding negative aspects, there were violations and infringements; however, we know well that the democratic process is a cumulative process with some errors corrected each time. Next time, we'll try not to make such errors again and thereby further boost the experience.

It was supposed that all state apparatuses should remain impartial, including media and public funds, to ensure the elections' fairness and impartiality. In summary, it wasn't a typical experience and not 100 percent impartial; however, it was an advanced Yemeni experience.

Are you actually optimistic that the ruling party will fulfill its promises soon?

I realize the difficulties Yemen faces and its limited resources; however, we must try because frustration isn't the solution. I've heard many pessimistic voices, which isn't new or strange in Yemen. We mustn't surrender but rather hope and work for a better future. We believe that goodness will overcome evil forces in the end.

If exploited well, our nation's potential and resources regarding oil wealth, fish, gas and/or agriculture will cause us to rise to our feet and put Yemen on the right path. We shouldn't simply get frustrated.

The YSL actively participated in dialogues involving all political and social factions, particularly the Document of Pledge and Accord. However, it was unhappy with some parties' dissatisfaction, which resulted in the 1994 Civil War. After 13 years, today you say that you're hopeful about reforms?

Within political engagement, nothing is impossible. Moving forward or lagging behind is normal. Flexibility always should be present. What existed 13 years ago now has been changed because life changes. We said then that the world is like a small village, whereas we now could say that the world has become more like a small room or lobby. The outer world influences us and we influence those around us. If we failed 13 years ago, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try again. Circumstances now are better; everything has changed.

We were bitter due to being unsuccessful; however, we feel more bitterness because Yemen hasn't optimally exploited its resources.

We now stand before a new stage and we have the opportunity to force the president and head of the ruling party to adopt reforms.

What's YSL's economic vision?

In fact, Yemen's economic structure suffers many shortcomings. There's still a fearful shortcoming in the educational system. The education situation has reached a phase about which we shouldn't remain silent. It requires more care and swift reform because it relates to our generations' future, upon whom Yemen depends. The health service situation also is bad and no one accepts it.

As is the case worldwide, Yemen adopts a free and open market, but a free economy can't be controlled only by rules and legislation to ensure investors' rights. Strong evidence of our nation's deteriorating economy is Aden Port, which previously was ranked second or third, but its situation now is unacceptable due to poor management and corruption.

If we compare Aden and Dubai ports, we find that Aden is well-located and just three hours from the international maritime line, whereas Dubai is three days from that line. The situation at Aden Port isn't very good and I don't know about the situation at other Yemeni ports, though the existence of free ports is important for development.

We have undepleted fish wealth; however, the policy of concerned authorities is unclear in this respect. Though this wealth could be a key component in Yemen's economy, it's unfortunately controlled by some in powerful positions.

A third source of wealth is agriculture, which requires real care by concerned authorities. Furthermore, we have the Yemeni workforce, which has proven to be efficient and capable abroad and should be given the opportunity to build their own nation.

It's said that Yemen's investment environment is a tough one. Is this really so and if so, why?

Investment is hindered by corrupt and influential powers that try to impose partnerships on investors and further, no laws or legislation exist.

A range of climates characterizes Yemen's land, so the question is how to cause investors to come and how to invest and protect it against corrupt individuals.

In summary, Yemen lacks the political will and regulations to ensure correct workflow. However, we're about to usher in a new phase, wherein we wish to dispose of past problems and restrictions. We must reform Yemen; otherwise, we'll face the unknown.

I realize the matter and it's natural for the one leading the nation to realize it more because he knows everything about the country, so it's in this person's interest to embark on true reform.

Some say Al-Jifri was promised a high government post in return for backing the GPC. What's your response?

Although we read and heard much about this in newspapers, Allah knows that we made no deal or conditions for our stance; rather, it was made after persuasion. Our discussions with the GPC focused on our reform program; we never addressed posts.

Why did you terminate your relationship with the opposition, particularly the JMP?

The YSL was among the main founders of the national opposition bloc formed following Yemeni reunification. Further, it was a member of the coordination council formed after the 1994 Civil War. The JMP was formed after this council broke apart.

The parties involved in the JMP alliance met together, but no one spoke to us or asked for our opinion. Furthermore, Al-Jifri sent YSL's project with martyr Jarrallah Omar when he met him in London in 1999, calling for the existence of an opposition bloc and requesting opposition parties' opinions about the project. However, we've received no reply since that time.

The JMP alliance is like the ruling party because they try to sideline, marginalize and edge out others' roles. What will they do when/if they reach power?

Do you have any final words?

Al-Jifri was always saying, “Our departure was political, so we can come back only via a political return. This has been set since 1994 and we were always waiting for the opportunity to return to our country. We were knocking at the authorities' doors for dialogue in order to actively and effectively exist in our country. The opportunity came just before the elections and after the president was willing to hear another Yemeni voice, asking for our party's attitude, so it was natural to respond to his request.”