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Political analyst Abdulbari Taher to the Yemen Times Saleh thought he could destroy the revolution through the tribes. However, tribal power.

Abdul-Bari Taher is a prominent political analyst in Yemen and also considered a pioneer in the field of journalism. He helped establish Yemen's Journalists Syndicate and has twice served as the head of the organization. Currently he works as the head of the state-run Public Association for Books.

In an interview with the Yemen Times, Taher expressed his hope for the National Dialogue Conference. He thinks it will propel Yemen out of what he calls a "stagnant situation." With his background in journalism and publishing, Taher also has a lot to say about the role of media in Yemen.

First of all, what do you think about the developments of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC)? The dialogue is a good start. Yemen is at a crossroads: it can [continue] fighting as it is or [it can embrace] the dialogue. The dialogue is inspiring hope in people and provides an exit for the current problems. The past regime ruled the country with epidemics, backwardness, corruption, disintegration and bloody conflicts. Therefore, the dialogue is the way out of this. However, the dialogue must focus on the core issues the revolution seeks to achieve. Unfortunately, the demand for the popular, peaceful revolution has disappeared. The role of the youth, who took to streets in the uprising, has been marginalized and youth engagement is not as it should be. We hope [NDC] members implement the 20 Points that were agreed on. Issues of grievances, mistreatment and unequal citizenship do not need a dialogue, but fair political decisions.

You and many others are optimistic about the National Dialogue. What could taint this optimism? There is strong optimism. Dialogue should spread to the community, streets, institutions, generations and the [national] conscience. When this dialogue serves people's interests and struggle in all areas, it will be fruitful. The conventional powers used to cover up everything. These powers circumvented the September 26 [1962] Revolution, emptied its objectives and turned it into a tribal-clan system. They think they can contain the dialogue and manipulate it for their interests, which is to keep the situation as it is.

Are members of the NDC capable of solving the country's problems? They can set the country up for a different context and change it from a rigid [state] to a moving one. The responsibility of the NDC is to open the door for change and build a state different from Saleh's regime.

But, will these modernist forces be able to take on tribal forces and influences? We should not look at tribes as scarecrows. Ali Abdullah Saleh thought he could destroy the revolution through the tribes. However, tribal powers rejected him. Tribes are ready to be a part of modern society. Tribesmen want schools, roads, factories, development and justice.

You are known for criticizing tribal systems in Yemen. How can tribal powers within the dialogue impact the NDC's progress? The old regime used to capitalize on these powers. Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime put the tribe above the state. The tribesmen's feet rested on the heads of the statesmen. The state lost its prestige and its sense that the state is the body responsible to solve community issues. [During Saleh's regime] the tribe became more important than the state and [tribal leaders] operated outside the system. They became a part of the corruption and tyranny. They enjoy privileges that should not have been given to them.

How can tribesmen contribute to the NDC? They come to the dialogue as representatives of tribes and [other] big parties. But female participants like Bilqis Allahabi, Nabila Al-Zubair, Arwa Abdo Othman, Amat Al-Alim Al-Soswa and Aml Al-Basha are all more important than them. Tribal powers are influenced by the past, weapons and hegemony.

Can these female NDC members stand their ground with [powerful] sheikhs? It is possible if there are strong coalitions and lobbies within the conference. What will the future of the tribes be like [if Yemen adopts a civil state]? Tribes are no longer as extreme as they were in the 1970s. They are now closer to a modern, civil society. In the past, the tribes drew power from military rule.

In your opinion, will those demanding an Islamic state achieve their aim? We are in a country [with a history of Islam]. [Many] are speaking as if we are in an atheist's society where the Muslim minority demands rights because the majority are non-Muslims. Yemenis have been struggling for decades to achieve a state of rule and institutions that are based on a separation of powers. We have not seen this sort of state yet. Yemenis demand a restructure of the state in a way that is agreed upon by Northerners and Southerners.

You may have been following the activists in the Takfeer [blasphemy] campaign recently. What do you think about these campaigns and can they silence people? These campaigns are dangerous. These powers have influence in the media, [political] parties and mosques. They also control school text-books. This is forming public opinion. Takfeer's [hateful] speech against political parties should be outlawed. Religion is for the God and the state is for everyone. We are in an Islamic country and the state represents us in the world. The messenger [the Prophet Mohammed] did not recommend a caliphate [successor] for Muslims. He did not define who should take care of Muslims' affairs since this is everone's duty to build a state of rule in line with people's desires and interests. Who funds these Takfeer-campaigns? There is no doubt that these are jihadist Salafi movements. Unfortunately there is funding for this because there are powers in neighboring countries, who want Yemen to remain [as is]. They think if Yemen becomes a democratic state and revives iself, it will have an impact on them.

Do you mean Saudi Arabia? Exactly.

You are a Tehamis. Why do you think Tehama is escalating their protes right now? The whole of Yemen is oppressed. However, Tehama's greivances are different than other places. The People in Tehama do not feel like citizens. When you read about political participation of Tehamis in the state, you will find out they are [marginalized]. Saleh dealt with the Tehamis as servants, slaves and marginalized people who were denied their rights. Their lands were plundered.

When we talk about the emergence of new political parties, how are these parties contributing to politics in Yemen? The emergence of political parties is a good trend. It is an expression of renewed will and ambition for change. The most important thing is that these parties are not controlled by others. Independent youth must play a key role in the establishment of these parties, [as well as] unions, civil society organizations and effective coalitions. It is very important that they are not being trapped by old powers. Amidst the emergence of these new political parties, do you think the old parties like the [Joint Meeting Parties] JMP and the [General Peoples Congress] GPC will be keen to improve their performances and change their polices soon? This is what we are looking forward to. Unfortunately, these powers have stained the future and were an obstacle for the revolution. They must change. These powers do not support the change that the people look for.

The GPC sustained [a series of] painful blows in 2011 following the resignation of several members. However, it seems the party is recovering. Its leaders say the party will be stronger than ever. What do you think? If the situation remains as is and the country continues to be ruled by tyranny and corruption, the GPC will be the second most powerful, after Islah or it may be the most powerful. The GPC has a lot of power because it was linked to the former regime. If no change in the state takes place, the GPC and the Islah party will remain in authority.

Yemeni migrants working in Saudi Arabia may be expelled due to [an amended] Saudi labor law that forces foreign employees to work for their sponsors only. What is your opinion about the law and how will it affect Yemen's economy? A real national government would be able to stop such procedures. Saudi Arabia should be grateful for Yemenis because they helped establish its infrastructure and contribute to its development. Saudi Arabia shouldn't be the only one blamed for this letdown. Yemen's government [should also be blamed]. The government says it's trying to convince Saudi Arabia to exclude Yemenis from this decree.

Unfortunately, I heard the expatriate minister's statements supporting the Saudi Arabia's decree against Yemenis. It isn't a matter of public relations. The rights of Yemeni expatriates are being neglected.

Some say this decree in particular targets Yemenis.

I agree. This action aims to destroy Yemeni society. Look at the disaster that happened as a result of 1 million Yemenis being deported from Gulf Countries following the second Gulf War.

President [Abdu Rabu Mansour] Hadi said he contacted King Abdulla and was promised that things will get better? Promises aren't enough. [President Hadi,] these are the rights of your citizens, and you have to defend them. It shouldn't be taken for granted by anyone. It's illogical and unacceptable to deprive people who have worked for years in and contributed to the development of Saudi Arabia of their rights.

What do you think about Al-Qaeda's future in Yemen, particularly? Al-Qaeda exists in several places. The [former] regime in Yemen used Al-Qaeda, tribes and the arms trade to blackmail others and turned Yemen into a scarecrow. You have criticized government media. What do you think about media's current performance? Media are still as they were. There is no solution but to abolish the Ministry of Information and establish an elected administration with independent institutions.

Media should be public and it's unjust that it is owned by a certain body or figure. Elections should be held for new leadership. This is a democratic solution that suits the nature of democratic media in a democratic country.

Several newspapers, news websites and channels have recently appeared. What do you think about this media movement? Of course it is a result of the popular revolution. We are facing a problem because more than 13 radio stations, four channels and three daily newspapers are owned by the state. This media should be public and independent.

You are currently in charge of the General Book Authority? What's the situation like? We have a long legacy, but we are trying to restructure the authority.

What do you think will happen in Yemen during the next couple years? I expect the revolution will be seen through, a civil state will be constructed and Yemenis's dreams will come true. But this dream is linked to a collective goal, and all Yemenis should try to achieve this dream. Many people have sacrificed themselves since [the revolution of 1948] for this.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Apr 8, 2013
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