Sheikh Abu Lohom talks o the Yemen Times
Mohammed Al-Samei (author), Ashraf Al-Moraqab (photographer)
Sheikh Mohammed Abu Lohom, head of the Justice and Building Party and member of the Technical Committee for the National Dialogue, said he senses there is a need for seriousness and credibility to help establish dialogue between Yemeni political parties.
In an interview with the Yemen Times, he said he most looks forward to seeing the Joint Meetings Parties (JMPs), the General People’s Congress (GPC), Houthis and the youth working together as one team.
Lohom said Southerners have been oppressed and suffered enough, adding that they enthusiastically and honestly participated in the unity with the aim of building a real state.
What has the National Dialogue Committee achieved so far?
We started working two months ago, and new things have happened. The composition of the committee created optimism and enabled us to work harmoniously. On the first day, there was disagreement, but it is natural.
Do you mean harmony between the committee members?
There was disharmony at the beginning, but then the committee members started working as a team. The most important achievement of the committee is the 20 Points that aim to pave a way for dialogue.
Doctor Yaseen Saeed Noman suggested the idea of creating the 20 Points, but several members had comments on them so a committee composed of members from the General People Congress (GPC), the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the Sa’ada governorate and the youth was established and everything was ready in a day. When parties meet together, they agree on many things and disagreements vanish.
But, why have the 20 Points not been implemented yet?
I think the 20 points are the most important challenge for the committee, the President and the government because they are what will make dialogue possible. I hope some points will be implemented soon so as to pass on a positive message to all essential participants in the Dialogue. We want them to take part in it as well so the youth and people in general are assured that the committee is serious and taking effective steps. I’m hopeful that these points will be implemented soon.
Some points don’t need much time to be implemented such as releasing the detainees and apologizing to the southerners. Do they only need good will?
We studied the 20 Points carefully. Therefore, we didn’t demand they be implemented at the same time. Some points can be implemented in a few days, where others need months or even years. What residents are concerned about is that we start to implement some of them so that they see the credibility of the committee, the government and the political leadership.
No point has been achieved so far?
Unfortunately not, but we pledged to start implementing them in the near future.
Is it expected that the Dialogue will face obstacles because none of the 20 Points have been achieved?
I don’t think there will be obstacles as expected because what is important is the dialogue itself. Political parties and ordinary people deem the National Dialogue a way out of the current situation. I feel the parties are honest and serious about starting the dialogue. The good thing is seeing members of the GPC, the JMPs, the youth and the people of Sa’ada working together.
We discussed the points with President Hadi, and he promised to take effective measures, and I hope he will coordinate with the government to start implementing these points and facilitate the dialogue.
Why did you oppose adding members to the National Dialogue Committee?
Some people misunderstand our intentions. For me, I didn’t oppose President Hadi’s decree to add members to the committee. The declaration can’t be refused because the committee was formed based on President Hadi’s judgment. The committee members are qualified, patriotic and nothing can be said about them. I didn’t oppose the decree. Rather, I said we want participants that aren’t involved in the dialogue such as the Southern Movement members.
Do you mean the Southern Movement that calls for separation?
Let’s not pass judgment in advance. I want those who call for separation to join the Dialogue. The Dialogue aims to bring together those who disagree and talk to each other. We insisted the Southern Movement representatives join the Dialogue. Even Southerners, who are members of the committee, said they don’t represent the Southern movement but rather, represent factions in the South. The main goal is that the Southern Movement take part in the dialogue, otherwise nothing will be achieved.
President Hadi said that he personally contacted Southern Movement leaders to convince them join the Dialogue, but they say they won’t negotiate without a separation.
President Hadi told us that, and we hope that we can help the President fulfill his duties. He specified a day for the Southerners to participate in the Dialogue.
Everyone has the right to make demands, and when we meet together, we will resign to some of those demands.
Calling for separation must not affect us, but we should to listen to them. The Dialogue’s purpose is to create face -to-face meetings instead of depending on media. There can never be mediation without dialogue - meeting together is the only solution, and I’m sure then many disagreements will disappear.
This has happened in the National Dialogue Committee - no one expected Islah members to meet and discuss with people from Sa’ada and the GPC.
So the Dialogue is expected to succeed to a great extent due to the harmony between committee members?
The members are harmoniously discussing how change can happen and everyone is in favor of it. Everyone presents their ideas, and everyone is working for the success of the Dialogue, so we have faced no obstacles so far.
It is said that the committee members are only interested in fame, how to dominate the dialogue, and how to present theories.
I feel no ill will towards any of the members. All of them present goodwill even though, they are members of different parties. Let’s not forget that Yemen was about to slide into a civil war, so everyone should present their ideas so the Dialogue can succeed. I’m so optimistic sometimes, but I think the disagreements among the committee members are exaggerated.
Concerning the Justice and Development Party, what made you establish it even though some say Yemen is not currently in need of more parties?
Yemen is still in need of parties to express what people want. Reality will prove this. Before the Arab Spring took place in Arab countries, there were about four to five parties in each country, but after that, the number increased. For instance, currently there are about 50 parties in Egypt. Therefore, Yemen needs more parties.
The idea of the Justice and Building Party was inspired by the revolution and a group of the GPC members formed it. We were sure that working as part of the GPC was not going to work. The Dignity Friday (Jummat Al-karama) encouraged us to step ahead and start establishing the party. So we announced withdrawal from the GPC and joined the revolution.
Were the founders of the Justice and Building Party only from the General People’s Congress?
There were a few from the GPC. But, the majority of them were from the revolutionary youth and from other fractions. As an organization, we made a decision in the course of the revolution that our affiliation with the JBO would help boost the revolution. Once the revolution gained ground and President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi took office, the organization started to have branches and work well nationwide.
Is it fair to say that the defections that happened inside the GPC led to establishing the JBO?
Defections were not the reason. It was the conviction that we wouldn’t be able to contribute anything as long as we continued in the GPC.
Some say the moderates in the GPC defected and established the JBO.
Why not? In my opinion, everyone has the right to establish a party or civil society organization. We are in a new Yemen, with new challenges and new ambitions. Now Yemenis will not assess the parties the way they used to do. The partisanship led to nothing but constant opposition. Sometimes, the two accepted the concessions of one another. Today, we exercise a true democratic life. I hope to see new coalitions. We should have a peaceful transfer of power. If this is missing, democracy is absent. This is our aspiration – a peaceful transfer of power - and it will be realized soon.
It is well-known that you are a social, tribal figure and a founder of a political organization. Will this be reflected in the JBO's performance?
I am surprised. Why do we attempt to not accept these fractions even though such diversities complement each other? These are parts of the Yemeni community that we cannot ignore. The purpose of the different parties is to transform the state into a civil one that includes all fractions of society, which will result in the building of a new Yemen.
How do you evaluate the performance of the reconciliation government?
Now we should look at matters from different angles compared to the pre-revolution reflection. When certain people comment about the performance of the government, the government should not be affected. It is difficult to watch [their performance] and not have comments. The government and the President are here to serve the nation. Yemen needs to correct a lot of misconceptions.
Personally, I have witnessed the government doing such, but it has to make further efforts particularly in the field of services so it can recover the meaning of statehood.
Has the government made any tangible achievements on the ground?
The government has achieved a little, to some extent. Though, I hope to see more accomplishments. We have time and will see further achievements in the coming days. There are donors, but we should not solely focus on them. Investment must be increased rather than just a dependence on donations.
I have followed your previous interviews and statements and believe that you support the Southern issue.
With regard to the South, it has suffered enough. The Southerners were the ones who enthusiastically accepted unity. They were honest and eager to build a real state. Regretfully, the situation deteriorated. The Summer War of 1994 left us all as victims. I left Yemen following that war and remained away about ten years. We should look at the Southern issue realistically and honestly. We should not be narrow-minded.
Why did not you speak out about such issues during the former regime?
When you trace the Southern Movement back to 2007, you find the Southerners were the first to question the situation in Yemen before the advent of the Arab Spring. They were the first to start a peaceful movement. Their demands initially were balanced, fair and reasonable. However, when they found themselves ignored, they started protesting and continue to fight the current situation.
Today we should think about the Southern issue in a different way, it is the cornerstone for resolving all Yemeni issues. No issue will be resolved unless we transparently and honestly deal with the Southern issue.
Did you adopt the Southern issue during the former regime because you were a leading figure in the GPC?
I used to raise the issue, and if you look at my statements, you will see my clear opinion about the Southern issue. I had an opinion not only about the South, but also many other issues in different areas. However, the situation in the South is unique. This is what we should heed. If our brothers in the South are absent from the dialogue table, the dialogue is going to be futile. With whom will we hold discussions? And for what? Thus, the Southern issue is fundamental to progress.
Some in the Southern Movement still refuse to participate in the Dialogue even though it‘s an opportunity to speak.
Even if they have reservation about the Dialogue, we should continue to contact them. I think there is inaction, but we should not feel impatient. We should believe that once we embark on dialogue, the Southern brothers will come. The country belongs to everyone. I am optimistic that the National Dialogue Conference will go ahead.
You have invited the Southerners to the Dialogue, but to date, there is no response to some of the points proposed by the Southern Committee. How will you hold the dialogue?
I understand your point, and this is what we will try to change. We talked with the President, and he promised certain steps will be taken soon. The Dialogue table is incomplete unless the Southern brothers are there.
"Certain steps will be taken soon." When exactly?
We believe that to mean, weeks.
What can be done to help the secessionists accept the Dialogue? Could international pressure or other attractive means work?
There is nothing called international pressure. It is all the local will and desire that will help. We have to listen to the proposals of many, no matter what they say. Otherwise, what does dialogue mean? We should be patient, open-minded and confident that this will bring Yemen prosperity. The type of ruling will be discussed during the dialogue. Personally, whatever our brothers in the South decide, I will side with them.
What type of state you think is suitable for Yemen, unity or federalism?
I think federalism is for the good of Yemen. It doesn’t mean alienation from unity. It is meant to bring unity and help boost the Dialogue participation, the sharing of interest and development of everything.