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[Dehai-WN] Asharq-e.com: A talk with Yemen's Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2012 00:58:58 +0100

A talk with Yemen's Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar


By Mohammed Jumeh


Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, Yemeni businessman and one of
the most prominent opponents of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh,
says that the Yemeni people are beginning to emerge from the tunnel. As he
affirmed that a new page should be opened, Al-Ahmar adds that the other side
continues to bet on returning to power and to the presidency once again. He
says that he will not run for the presidency after the transitional phase.
Regarding the attempt to assassinate former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah
Saleh, Al-Ahmar denied that they have anything to do with that attempt and
accused what he called "the inside" or the collusion of the inside, implying
that parties inside the presidential palace may have perpetrated that
operation. Al-Ahmar denied that his business companies are involved in any
corruption or tax evasion. Regarding the issue of the south, Al-Ahmar said
that the southerners will not opt for disengagement if a state is
established based on justice and equality. Al-Ahmar urged the Huthists to
join political action and give up attempts at expansion which he described
as a mistake if such attempts indicate a deliberate policy on their part.
Following is the text of the interview that Asharq Al-Awsat conducted with
Sheikh Al-Ahmar in his home in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where are we now after the success of the presidential

[Al-Ahmar] I thank Asharq Al-Awsat for its interest in the affairs of Yemen.
Actually, we in Yemen found the right path with the assistance of God
Almighty and are emerging from the dark tunnel. Today, we stand at the
beginning of our march to emerge from this tunnel. We stand at the threshold
of a new era and a fresh page in the history of Yemen.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Through my contacts with various sides in Yemen, I felt a
change in the tone of the other side toward reconciliation. Are you prepared
to change the tone toward reconciliation, particularly since we are on the
verge of conducting the national dialogue?

[Al-Ahmar] Yemen does indeed need to open a fresh page of reconciliation and
brotherhood and to spurn the odious past. I call on all Yemenis to support
and back the new president and the reconciliation government. Anyone who is
serious about this should cut off the connection with the past and prepare
himself to be part of the new Yemen. Let me refer you to the television
channels owned by Ali Abdullah Saleh and his sons: Yemen Today channel,
Al-Aqiq channel, and Azal Channel. I ask you to watch the news broadcasts
and the kind of programming that continue to be aired on the Yemeni
satellite channel, and the Saba channel by some people who are loyal to the
national security apparatus. You will conclude that these people are not
sincere nor are they serious about marching toward reconciliation and
abandoning the past. These people erroneously think that they can change
their colors temporarily. They mistakenly think that the elected President
Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi represents as a transition for the presidency from
father to son. They do not realize that the Yemeni people and their elected
president are aware of such illusions and failed schemes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Saleh is not in power now. He abided by the signing
and the elections. He left the country so that the elections would run
smoothly and he handed over power. Do you not consider this a positive stand
to his credit?

[Al-Ahmar] Last Friday evening, the official Yemeni television channel
announced in its newscast that President of the Republic Ali Abdullah Saleh
is sending congratulations to the heads of state of fraternal countries
hours before the constitutional oath and that he continues to exercise his
presidential powers and that he arrived at dawn in the presidential
aircraft. The man has not accepted the fait accompli. Did you listen to his
statements to the Yemen Today channel when he arrived at Sanaa airport at
dawn on Saturday?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What did he say?

[Al-Ahmar] He said that is a conspiracy. In other words, he returned after
the international and regional plot against Yemen was carried out. The man
does not recognize the faith accompli. Until this moment, he has not
realized the sincerity of what has happened.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is reported internally and abroad that Hamid al-Ahmar
is behind the incident in the presidential mosque. It seems that the
statements made by the director of the office of Sheikh Sadiq confirmed that
you are behind the attempt to assassinate the president of the republic
inside the presidential mosque. How do you comment to that?

[Al-Ahmar] We have heard a lot about this matter; they relied on rejected
matters. Regarding the statements by brother Abdul-Qawiy al-Qaysi, the
director of Sheikh Sadiq's office, I did not hear anything in them that can
be relied upon to prove this accusation. I call for revoking the immunity
law and initiating an investigation into all the crimes that have taken
place in Yemen since the eruption of the peaceful revolution to date.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Including the incident to blow up the presidential mosque?

[Al-Ahmar] Yes, including the incident of the presidential mosque and all
that happened in Al-Hisbah, Taizz, Irhab, the squares for change in Yemen,
the Friday of dignity, and other incidents. We are the ones that are asking
for this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you prepared to hand over yourself to the judiciary to
be tried if you are charged with committing such deeds?

[Al-Ahmar] There is a difference between responding and handing myself over;
I am not a criminal to hand over myself to anyone. I have said that if I am
asked to appear for an investigation, I am ready since no one is above the
law. However, we have to agree over a fair and honest litigation mechanism
and regarding all the issues. We would be grateful to the world and to the
neighbouring countries if we reach the stage of revoking the immunity of
criminals regardless of who these criminals are. Regarding the detonation of
the presidential mosque, who can enter the backyard of a home? Who can
smuggle in such explosives to the presidential compound when Ali Abdullah
Saleh surrounds himself with circles of relatives and those who he has
chosen personally and who have been with him for years? No, this can only
happen from the inside or with the collusion of those who are inside.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have accused former President Saleh of seeking to have
his son Ahmad as president after the present President Abd Rabbo Mansour
Hadi. You are accused with the same charge. In the eyes of your adversaries,
you are accused of preparing Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi for the presidency that
you are planning to take over at the end of the day. The US newspaper The
Washington Post has reported that you have said that if the Yemenis wish
this, then why not?

[Al-Ahmar] And I repeat this statement. It is the right of any Yemeni to
seek public office as long as this is done along sound and correct legal
bases. I say: I aspire to build a state of law and order. After that, anyone
can seek public office as long as we had established a correct and sound
democratic system, helped the Yemeni people emerge from these crises, and
enabled the Yemenis to exercise sound political participation. They can
choose whoever they want. However, I personally promised not to hold any
post during the transitional stage. A few days ago, the BBC correspondent
asked me if I may run in the next elections. My answer to her was what I am
reiterating now; namely, I believe that the priority now should be to keep
the authority in the hands of our brothers from the southern provinces.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even after the transitional stage?

[Al-Ahmar] Yes, even after the two years; this is my belief.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In other words, you will not run for president of the
republic after the transitional period?

[Al-Ahmar] Yes, this is what I believe. If President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi
performs well and wishes to run again, I will support his candidacy in the
coming period.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] People are saying that Hamid al-Ahmar heads a financial
empire that is not subject to taxation accountability. They say that it is
hugely corrupt and involved in communications, oil, and real estate
businesses. How can you answer such reports?

[Al-Ahmar] I say that an authority that bombards a person with all kinds of
artillery and rockets would not ignore any financial or administrative
corruption he may be accused of. This authority wiretaps even the
conversations between this man and his wife. How come they do not have any
documents to prove our corruption? We do not receive bribes behind closed
doors and we do not work from under the table. I am a businessman and my
businesses are clear to everyone. I employ tens of thousands of people and
manage my money out in the open. I can present a financial acquittal
document showing how I made every single riyal from the day I started by
businesses to date, praise be to God. I have no objection if I am asked to
appear before any fair court; they can go over all my accounts.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In 2009, the MTN Telecommunications Company paid $20,000
in taxes and two billion riyals in 2010. However, your company SabaPhone
paid only 300 million riyals. Is this not a case of tax evasion since
Sabaphone is a gigantic company?

[Al-Ahmar] The fact is that Ali Abdullah Saleh wronged us. He tried to
revoke two years of tax exemptions that Sabaphone had obtained. MTN received
nine years of tax exemptions and they wanted to lower it to seven years. We
and MTN rejected this and resorted to international arbitration. But the
local partner of the MTN Company sold his share to the mother company and
his presence on the board became symbolic. The local partner enjoys special
connections with the authorities that asked him to arbitrate a solution
against us between them and the Finance Ministry giving the company one year
and abolishing the second year. They agreed. However, we and the government
are still before the international courts. They reached a compromise with
the MTN Company that was not in its favour but in favour of the local
partner. This is collusion by the local partners against MTN to protect his
personal interests. At any rate, I am not involved in this amicable solution
that MTN took. The case is still being debated in the international courts.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are also rumours about agencies that you took by

[Al-Ahmar] Such as what? Agencies are a moral right that means a contract
between two parties. It is not something that one can steal from off the
streets. International companies will never grant their agencies by force.
Ali Abdullah Saleh asked the Siemens Company for Electricity to cancel my
agency rights when he was visiting Berlin. I am saying this to Asharq
Al-Awsat which is an international newspaper. Siemens can read my words and
if I am not telling the truth they will respond. Ali Abdullah Saleh summoned
the Siemens managers in Berlin and told them if you want to win the bid on
building the first gas production plant in Marib, you have to cancel the
agency you have awarded to Hamid al-Ahmar. They told him that they will not
cancel the agency. So, who wants to take an agency awarded to another by
force? Is it me or Ali Abdullah Saleh? Dear brother, the former regime waged
a fierce smear campaign against me because I opposed it. No other Yemeni
politician has been subjected to such defamation; everyone knows this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the house of Ali Salim al-Bid in Aden and that
of Adnan al-Bid in Sawan? You are accused of taking them while you are now
calling for the rights of the southerners.

[Al-Ahmar] First of all, the house in Aden was bought by Sheikh Abdullah
Bin-Hussein al-Ahmar, may God rest his soul in peace, from the state. It did
not belong to Al-Bid. Ali Salim al-Bid lived in that house as vice
president; it belongs to the state and does not belong to Al-Bid. It was
also built after the unity and not before. We were looking for a plot of
land in Aden on which to build a house there. The former president offered
Al-Bid's house to my father, may God rest his soul in peace, and I advised
him to buy the house. It was appraised and we bought it. We also bought some
neighbouring houses from citizens and we built a wall to separate us from
Ali Abdullah Saleh's guard unit in Al-Maashiq. We also built a mosque and
other annexes. Nevertheless, if the state wishes to cancel the sale and
regain the property, we are prepared to do so; we have no objection. As for
brother Adnan al-Bid, I did not hear that he owns a house in Sanaa. All I
know is that there is a plot of land in Sanaa that belongs to the Public
Endowment Department that Ali al-Bid obtained from some people. We were
offered to buy this land; but when we found out that it belonged to the
Public Endowment Fund and the minister confirmed this and that those who
gave but to Adnan al-Bid did not have such a right. The minister asked us to
protect it and we did for several years after which we handed it over to the
Endowment Fund. This fund then offered to rent it to us and we remained as
there as tenants. Out of respect to Adnan al-Bid, who contacted me, I told
him that out of respect to you, I will not build anything on this plot until
it is proven that it belongs to you or it belongs to the Endowment Fund. I
told Adnan al-Bid if it belongs to you, you may take it with my blessing but
if it belongs to the Endowment Fund we have officially leased it and we do
not claim ownership. Nothing was built on this land to date out of respect
for Dr Adnan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar evaluate Saudi and Gulf
efforts related to the Gulf initiative?

[Al-Ahmar] Actually, our brothers in the Gulf, particularly the Saudi
efforts and gracious sponsorship of His Majesty King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz,
did not stand by as spectators to what was happening in Yemen. After the
Friday of Dignity massacre, they initiated attempts to find a political
solution that responds to the principal Yemeni demand on the former
president to step down and spare Yemen from the tragedies that everyone knew
were coming. We accepted the initiative the day it was presented on us in
its first draft on 3 April 2011. We continued to negotiate - while Ali
Abdullah Saleh opposed it - until we reached the signing stage. We signed it
but Ali Abdullah Saleh did not. He chose to launch the war against our homes
in order to avoid signing it. As for the current situation, we have overcome
it. Through the pages of Asharq Al-Awsat, I address His Majesty the King and
his brothers, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to say that the
Yemeni people appreciate highly your gracious intercession. In an
unprecedented turnout, the Yemeni people came out to implement the main part
of the Gulf initiative by selecting Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the new
president of Yemen. This shows respect for the good will of His Majesty the
King and his brother GCC leaders. I am fully confident that this deference
to the role played by His Majesty the King and his brother Gulf leaders will
be met by a genuine stand in support of the Yemeni by reconstructing the
damage done to the Yemeni people, government, and economy resulting from the
former president's policies and his insistence to remaining in power until
the last moment.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some voices in the Southern Mobility Movement are
demanding a separation between northern and southern Yemen. Do you think
that the formation of a state of justice and equality in Yemen can drive
these voices to withdraw their demands for secession? Or do you think that
the demand for secession will grow with time?

[Al-Ahmar] Many northern and southern Yemenis struggled for the unity of
Yemen. Perhaps this unity was in the discourse of the sons of the south more
than among the sons of the north. With God's assistance, this unity was
accomplished in 1990. After that, certain developments led to the eruption
of the war in 1994. Once again in 1994, the Yemeni people, especially the
sons of the southern provinces, rose to preserve the unity. After 1994, Ali
Abdullah Saleh did a lot of harm to Yemen, the Yemeni people, and the unity.
The Yemenis in the southern provinces rose to ask for their legitimate
rights but Saleh ignored them. Some thought that the best way to get rid of
Ali Abdullah Saleh was through disengagement. More developments took place
that led to the peaceful revolution of the youths in early 2011 and the sons
of Yemen from all the provinces participated in it. The first martyr of the
February revolution fell in Aden. Aden offered scores of martyrs in this
revolution; it was the pioneer. The sons of northern and southern Yemen
ignited the peaceful revolution of the youths. President Ali Nasir Muhammad
called for change in order to avoid dividing Yemen into two parts. The issue
is not rebelling against unity; it was more of a reaction to the
totalitarian family rule. We respect those that call for disengagement but
we also tell them that the decision should be made by all the sons of Yemen,
especially in the southern provinces. But the obstruction of the elections
by force and the collusion of the remnants of the former regime was
shameful. The person that has confidence in himself would open the door to
elections and try to gain the support of the people for his beliefs. We say
that the southern issue is a pivotal one. It should enjoy the highest
interest in it and should take precedence over all other issues. This issue
cannot be resolved with slogans but with action in the field. We have raised
the motto of "change not division". The president of the republic, the prime
minister, and the defense minister are from the southern provinces. The army
will be restructured and the commanders from the Saleh family will leave so
that it will become under the command of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi,
the commander in chief of the armed forces. We will not be content with this
but we should act to have a balanced and fair partnership in the rule and
the wealth between the sons of the southern and northern provinces.
Moreover, the local government law should be reviewed. With God's help, just
as the sons of the southern provinces were active in achieving the unity,
our new president will be more capable and efficient in preserving the
homeland and its accomplishments, headed by the blessed unity. The sons of
the southern provinces will once again demonstrate that they are pioneers in
building a civic, modern, united, strong, and stable state in Yemen.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if the leaders of the [Southern Mobility] Movement
call for a referendum on disengagement?

[Al-Ahmar] There is no such a thing at the moment. But some are demanding a
referendum on a federation.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In fact, they are demanding a referendum on

[Al-Ahmar] Neither I nor anyone else can impose our opinions on this issue.
These days, we are conducting a serious national dialogue to rehabilitate
the national body as a result of Ali Abdullah Saleh's policies. God willing,
the Yemeni people will taste the fruits of the unity of goodwill,
development, justice, and equality. Finally and following the deliberations
and resolutions of the national dialogue and if some demands are made by our
brothers in the southern provinces or in any part of the homeland, such
demands should be viewed fairly.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even if they include disengagement?

[Al-Ahmar] God willing, they will not make such a demand because ending the
injustices, the restoration of rights, and the establishment of a just
institutional state will end such demands.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the situation in Sadah that is now under the
control of the Huthists? Do you believe that they are prepared to restore
Sadah to the control of the government and to participate in the political

[Al-Ahmar] All the statements we are hearing from Al-Huthi's group is that
they look forward to a state of law and order and a civic state. We believe
that their stands in the media indicate that they are prepared to be part of
a civic, modern, and just state under the leadership of the new president.
We should not prejudge or put the cart in front of the horse. We should wait
to see what their stand will be and we should encourage them to take the
right course.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So why are they trying to expand in Hijjah, Al-Jawf, and
other areas?

[Al-Ahmar] I believe that such behaviour, if it is following a systematic
trend, will be a serious mistake. If they are the result of individual
actions in the field, every Yemeni knows that these days we need more
harmony than conflict. These days, the use of arms cannot be the way to gain
rights. We wish that this is the approach of everybody. I believe that we
should deal with goodwill with everybody. If the opposite emerges, the sound
standards in managing the state can resolve any problem.


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Received on Sun Mar 04 2012 - 18:59:15 EST
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