Sultan Al-Atwani, the rotating head of the JMP and the general secretary of Nasserite Organization speaks to the Yemen Times
Concerning opinions about the current Yemeni situation, particularly the view of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs) about the National Dialogue Conference, the southern issue, the government’s performance and President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, Sultan Al-Atwani, the alternating head of the JMP and general secretary of the Nasserite Organization, said those pessimistic about holding the National Dialogue Conference should put aside their pessimism. Problems cannot be resolved but by dialogue.
Yemen Times reporter Mohammed Al-Samei met with Al-Atwani and conducted the following interview.
What has the preparatory committee of the National Dialogue achieved so far?
The National Dialogue is one of the issues included in the Gulf Initiative implementing mechanism. Yemenis should find suitable solutions for this issue and all the other issues that started long ago.
The committee was formed a month ago and started its work in the middle of the month. It has achieved tangible steps, the most important of which are setting the internal regulations for the committee itself, discussing the issues that were transferred to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi concerning paving a way for the dialogue and providing procedures for the president to implement these issues.
Apologizing to the southerners and people of Sa’ada is among the 20 points the committee made. How do the JMPs evaluate it?
This is not new for the JMPs because it was suggested in 1994 to uproot what war left and eliminate the political disputes before the unity in order to create a ground to implement the unity by all senses. However, the political leadership at that time didn’t pay attention to this suggestion, and with the passage of time it spread to all parts of the country.
The JMPs welcomed the 20 points with no exception?
We all agreed to them under the preparatory committee.
Some southern parties refused these points, saying they were supposed to come immediately after the 1994 war.
This speech ought to be directed to the people in charge at that time and not to us in the JMP. Those who say this have participated in that war because they didn’t recognize the meaning of unity and its importance. They weren’t aware of the consequences of ignoring such issues.
We, the JMPs, addressed these issues earlier before establishing the JMPs. In 1996, this issue was addressed to pave a way for the elections and also in 1997 in the dialogue with the ruling party at that time and more seriously also in 2003.
Neither the General People’s Congress nor the JMPs issued an apology so far.
The JMPs isn’t a part of this topic. The parties that participated in the war must apologize to them, whether the GPC or those parts in the JMPs since not all parties in the JMPs participated in the war.
But the parties you’re referring to haven’t apologized so far?
It’s a political apology and needs time.
Some political figures demanded many times for the apology to the south, but is this issue not being delayed?
People agreed to apologize to the south and the people in Sa’ada to end war effects. The delay is because of the current situation in Yemen and because these parties didn’t meet to start an initial dialogue at least.
Do you think that a dialogue will be held soon or will there be obstacles from some political bodies?
We are working on achieving our duties under the preparatory committee within the specified time given in the presidential decree of Sept. 30, which may take more time to compensate after issuing the decree and during Eid.
All members are working to achieve their duties by the time specified to hold the conference in mid-November.
No doubt we will face obstacles, such as establishing a secure ground for the dialogue. I think the president started to implement some steps such unifying the military and its reorganization, though they are not enough.
What are the most prominent obstacles that will face dialogue in the future?
Dialogue is the only way to solve problems that started long ago. Those who are pessimistic about holding the National Dialogue Conference must leave their pessimism aside.
The Technical Committee met several southern political bodies who refused to participate in the dialogue. Maybe people are pessimistic because of that?
It is not necessary the committee meet everyone. Sometimes, there is no disagreement regarding issues presented by those bodies. The idea is how to meet together to discuss these issues and find solutions. As for the Southern Movement, it varies, those who call for separation and disunity.
Rights issues are a foregone conclusion whether there is dialogue or not because these issues aren’t debated. We discuss the state’s construction, basis of state building, the political regime, the issue of distributing the national wealth, equality and justice.
These are the issues that we should debate about, but rights don’t have to be debated since they are connected with citizenship.
What are the most prominent issues the JMP will focus on in the National Dialogue?
The issues that should be discussed are mentioned in the Principles Document stated by the former National Dialogue Committee formed in 2010, which studied the situation. The basis that the implementation mechanism specified, and solving the war reasons in Sa’ada, should also be focused on. There are small issues that shouldn’t be discussed in the National Dialogue.
It is said that the JMPs were marginalized in the list of the preparatory committee of the National Dialogue since it included only three or four members of the JMPs.
That might be right, but we focus on what is beyond that. How can change occur without considering these things? We reported that to President Hadi, but he was busy achieving the terms of the Gulf Initiative in the limited time.
By your evaluation, do you think there are obstacles that hinder the National Dialogue?
There may be obstacles, but the intention to hold it is strong.
Not by all parties?
I speak about the JMPs. We are determined to pave a way to achieve the National Dialogue, and we will try to overcome any obstacles, in cooperation with the president and the government, because there will be bad consequences if it’s not held.
How do you in the JMP evaluate the performance of the reconciliation government?
First, everyone has to take into consideration that the government was appointed under difficult circumstances and a very bad security situation, and it took responsibility in such situations, so what more do we want?
We have criticized the government because it prepared its program as if the situation is very normal while it was supposed to prepare it according to the Gulf Initiative.
Concerning the services it is providing, I think they are better than they were since it was appointed in December 2011.
The government and the prime minister said that, though they intend to improve the situation, there are obstacles set by those from the former regime to obstruct the government’s work.
This is right, and those who criticize the government should stand by its side. They have to know the difficulties the government is facing, such as what the former regime left and the acts aimed to obstruct the work of the government.
But it is said people from the former regime are being used as a peg to hang everything on. The former president said that if a hurricane happened in the U.S., they would attribute it to his regime.
This is silly because they know very well that the transition of power isn’t complete so far. The military forces, the Republican Guards, the Central Security Forces, the Special Forces and all military units are still in the hands of the former regime?
What did you in the JMPs do?
We don’t have a magic wand. We accepted the political solution to save the country from destruction. The GPC is a partner in the government. However, its members in the government don’t take orders from President Hadi and the prime minister but rather from Ali Abdullah Saleh.
You mean the imbalance is in the GPC?
Yes, for sure, because the GPC, as a partner in the government, must interact with the government’s duties. Some GPC members in the government are working together with their partners in the government, but the rest are still loyal to the former president.
When evaluating the ministries held by the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), some criticize the Interior Ministry, Justice Ministry and others. Why?
We criticize the situation as well. The Ministry of Interior happened to be for the JMP, but it was handed over after a long time. The interior minister remained at the Police Officers Club to practice his job. With regard to releasing the detainees, the Interior Ministry is not in control of this matter. The former regime established known and unknown apparatuses. Some of these known apparatuses—the National Security Apparatus and the Political Security Apparatus—are out of control. There are also commonplace jails. The government jails have no detainees as all say. There are also other wanton places inside and outside the capital city. We urged the president, the prime minister, the interior minister, the minister of human rights and general prosecution to reveal the fate of those detained and establish a committee to search for them in unofficial prisons.
If we return to public services, GPC newspapers say they have no connection with exploding the oil pipelines. The reconciliation government accuses them just as an excuse.
We know and the people know who sabotages the electricity infrastructure, attacks the oil pipelines and practices banditry. Everyone knows the group that took advantage of the popular revolution to impose a group punishment. Before the reconciliation government’s installation, there was a group punishment against the Yemeni people. There was no power, no water, no petrol, no services or transportation between the governorates. Today, the reconciliation government has started to remedy these services, but some instigate the tribesmen to assault the electricity infrastructure as a kind of loyalty to the National Security and Ali Abdullah Saleh.
It is really sorrowful that Al-Shabwani declared responsibility for attacking electricity, though they were exposed to the American drone strikes two years ago. Instead of supporting the nation and the peaceful revolution, they go against the reconciliation government. I am not accusing all. But some are hired to launch attacks; others storm the electricity infrastructure and oil pipes demanding previous pay the former regime owes them because of arms bargains. It was agreed that they would be compensated; yet they have not. They have continued practicing such destructive acts in a protest. What made them resort to this? Of course, the former regime and the previous governor of Mareb cut the oil pipelines in Sirwah and other places. We say security forces and the military are the ones who have been determining the perpetrators. Lately, five people were blacklisted.
Can the Interior Ministry capture these five perpetrators and make them stand trial? Why or why not?
I deem this a big inability because a great deal of the security forces is out of control.
What can the government do to solve the problem? The majority of people ascribe the change to the change in services.
This has been stipulated in the Gulf Initiative. The major mission is restoring security, eliminating military clashes and restoring services.
Is there a positive improvement in capital city security?
Personally, I realize there is a positive improvement if compared with last year. Sana'a was divided into four divisions. It was difficult to move from one place to another. To date, some fear moving from one place to another in the capital. I think the security situation is better than it used to be. It is not perfect yet.
Latest occurrences at the Interior and Defense Ministries—Al-Sabeen and the Police Academy bombings—still indicate there is a huge security imbalance.
I didn’t say the imbalances are over. There are still imbalances. Anyway, the security situation is better; imbalances will not end unless security forces and military forces are united under one civilian leadership in a government that is loyal to the people and nation, not to the leader. The leadership should work to stabilize the country.
Facts have proven that the former regime funded many gangs and terrorist groups in Abyan. The terrorist groups controlled Abyan for more than a year. As for the security imbalance in the capital, fact-finding committees have been established to look into the matter. Until now, the results have not been declared, for the majority of the apparatuses in charge are under the control of the former regime.
You followed what happened to the Defense and Interior Ministries; whom do you hold responsible?
I am not guessing. The reinforcement forces broke into the Interior Ministry. They say they met with the forces that attempted to break into the Defense Ministry before they executed the operation, according to the statement by the security committee. They met under the leadership of the Republican Guard. We call for revealing the facts to the entire public.
Some say those killed at Defense Ministry had no cards identifying them as affiliated with the Republican Guard.
We want an obvious investigation so that we can say, “This is right; this is wrong.” All those killed were Yemenis. We are unhappy about that. What caused this grievous situation is the division of the security and army.
Have you received reports about the events of the Interior and Defense ministries?
So far, we have not received information about the investigations. We demand the revelation of the facts. I met with the prime minister days ago. He said the investigations are underway. He said the investigations could reveal the perpetrators. And I said the investigations should be revealed to the public so as to prevent the spread of rumors and suppositions here and there.
What are the real reasons that led to the departure of Dr. Yaseen Saeed Noman and his entire family? Does medical travel require the departure of the whole family? Has Saleh started to chase the JMP?
All should realize that this nation is not Saleh's. This is our nation. We were born in Yemen. We grew up in Yemen. We will live and die in Yemen. The travel of Noman happened to come following the assassination attempt. His wife is sick. She will be, I think, hospitalized in Jordan. He took permission and departed. He authorized Badeeb to act on his behalf in the preparatory committee.
Some people think former President Saleh is still the effective president of the country.
Appearances should not deceive us. All these appearances—Saleh used to seem powerful—are false. We said the full authority will not be transferred to Hadi unless the military and security forces are controlled by the leadership of the Defense and Interior ministries. The division between them ought to be overcome. Saleh still utilizes a part of this power. This must not be denied. However, Saleh's last speech was an attempt to show power; this power is illegitimate. This appearance is false. A time will come when arrogant Saleh and his aides appear no more.
It is said that the Nasserite organization did not sign the Gulf Initiative. Is this true?
It is true that we didn’t sign. But we are committed to implementing the Gulf Initiative with our partners in the coalition parties.
What have you done with regard to the confined Nasserites and the martyrs of 1978?
We still follow the issue of those hidden by the former regime. We have not been able to find their burial place, whether they were killed, executed or confined or if they are still alive. We will not stop following this issue until we find them alive or find their remnants.