Sheikh Abdullah to the YT: “Revenge problems have never been associated with sheikhs. Rather they are associated with the weakness of the security and judiciary bodies.” [Archives:2001/20/Interview]
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussain Bin Nasser al-Ahmar, Parliament Speaker and Hashed chief sheikh, is one of the most outstanding Yemeni national and historical figures. He was one of the major patriots who struggled for the revolution and the republican system. He was a source for consultation as referred to in Abdulmalek Altayeb’s book titled “al-Thawrah and the nafak al-mudlem”, meaning “The revolution and the Dark Tunnel”.
In Khamer and after the revolution, Sheikh Abdullah headed a conference aiming at rallying all the forces, abolishing the kingdom and pursuing the loyalists. In July 1965, he was appointed as Interior Minister in the government of Ahmad Mohammed No’man. He was also the chairman of the first Legislative Council in Yemen, the National Council. He was elected for the chairmanship of the Shoura Council in 1971. After war of 1994 and until present, he has been Speaker of the Parliament.
Imad al-Saqqaf of Yemen Times held the following interview with him and shed light on sheikhs in Yemen and their role in the country.
Q: What is the role of sheikhs in stabilizing the political regime in Yemen and what was the reaction of the authority?
A: First, thanks to the YT for focusing on the role of sheikhs and tribesmen in the political and social life of Yemen. Sheikhs and tribesmen have been very instrumental in stabilizing the political regime in Yemen. They were the first to call and struggle for change. Their struggle was clear even before 1948 revolt and until the 26 September Revolution in 1962.
After the revolution, sheikhs and tribesmen were the army of the country. They hunt for the vanquished loyalists of the kingdom. They also defended the revolution and the republican regime. Furthermore, sheikhs and tribesmen fought hand in hand with the Egyptian forces to support the revolution. Tribesmen used to break into the forts of loyalists. After they controlled them, they handed these centers to the Egyptian forces to occupy.
Sheikhs played an active role in the 70 Day Siege, beside the military forces which was composed of many tribesmen.
When the war was over with the royalists and things settled down, Yemen entered a new era. We established the first Legislative Council, “The National Council” which composed many social dignitaries, sheikhs, scholars and educated people. I was the chairman of this council. The first achievement of this council was the issuance of the constitution of the country which remained in effect until 1990. The Election Law was another achievement of this constitution according to which the Shoura Council Elections were conducted in 1971. I was the head of this council.
Hence, sheikhs played great roles in moving the wheel of development in achieving stability of the political regime.
Q: Revenge problems, kidnapping incidents and carrying of weapons are associated with tribal sheikhs. Does getting rid of these phenomena require ending the control of sheikhs in Yemen?
A: Revenge problems have never been associated with sheikhs. Rather they are associated with the weakness of the security and judiciary bodies. If a murder is committed, there are no security apparatuses which track down the murderers, catch them, hand them over to the court to be tried. The inefficiency of these security forces causes the victim’s family to take the law into their hands. They keep tracing murderers or any one of their tribe to take their revenge on them. This is obviously wrong. Had the security body been doing its job properly, there wouldn’t be any excuse for revenge problems. Sheikhs are ready to cooperate with the authority to track down murderers and hand them over to the judiciary authorities.
Q: Could you spell out the reason behind your absence from the final session of the parliament to discuss the government program?
A: I apologized for not attending that session. I am against abolishing the scientific institutes. I have been supporting these educational edifice for twenty years, that is before the establishment of Islah and GPC. This edifice is for the good of Yemen and Yemenis.
Q: What is the stance of Islah regarding abolition of scientific institutes? Is it a way to restrict the control of Islah in the public arena?
A: Scientific institutes do not belong to Islah. They belong to Islam and to all the Yemenis. They are also affiliated to the central authority and do not belong to Islah. As for the stance of Islah, we do not need to take any measures to stop this decision. The decision is up to the president and we have nothing to inhibit him.
Islah is a big political party. It has a wide and strong foundation. Hence, eliminating the scientific institutes will never affect the party.
Q: Is the government measure to abolish scientific institutes a prelude to abolishing al-Eyman University?
A: There is no link between the two. Scientific Institutes belong to the government while al-Eyman university is a national university and has no relation with scientific institutes.
Q: Some activists in the civil society organizations see that sheikhs as a stumbling block in the way of developing the civil society and institutions. They stress that we can never achieve a civil society with the existence of tribes. What is your comment?
A: The whole country is composed of tribes. Almost all the people belong to tribes. Moreover, tribes in Yemen are civilized ones. They are willing to modernize within their traditions, customs, and religion. However, they completely reject any forms of false western civilization.
Q: Many politicians see that plurality has restricted the influence of sheikhs. Hence, they turned to the economic and banking activity. How do you see that?
A: Politicians always have different glasses in which to view things. When plurality was adopted, most of the sheikhs joined parties including the GPC, Islah, etc. It was up to sheikhs to choose the party he approved of.
Economic and trade activity is not restricted to a specific class of people. Sheikhs have paid heavily for the revolution and unity and they have the right to take up any field they feel interested in.
Q: How successful are conferences held by sheikhs in collaboration with other groups in society or with the authority? And how active is the second party affiliated with sheikhs?
A: Yemeni tribes have held many conferences like the Amran conference headed by martyr Mohammed Mahmoud al-Zubairi, Khamer Conference which martyr Mohmmed Mahmoud called for, however, was killed before it was held. Then, I headed it.
The Al-Janad conference was also held in Taiz. All of these conferences aimed at supporting the national interest, and to go on the right track of revolution realizing the six aims of the revolution. They were also to save Yemen from getting into useless turmoil due to some reckless officials or foreign intervention. We are proud that these conferences were a success and realized all the objectives they aimed at.