Al-Qaeda has been known to use the desert and mountainous areas for its growth and spread, exploiting religion, illiteracy among people and unemployment among the youth in these under-developed areas. On this subject, the National Yemen had an interview with Sheikh Abdullah Mohammed Al-Shareef, Member of the Local Council in Marib and one of the Sheikhs of the Ashraf of Wadi Abeedah.
Q: Media outlets have argued that most of the Al-Qaeda elements are here in Marib. What’s your opinion on this?
A: First of all, Al-Qaeda’s vision, unfortunately, has become different. What we know is that Al-Qaeda is a bunch of fanatic rebels, and in my opinion, they are unreligious people, and unemployed people who might be under foreign leaderships affiliate to Al-Qaeda.
They pretend to be religious and do things in the name of religion, while in reality they may perform acts of smuggling to fund their illegitimate activities.
They are here, to some extent, and are generally unemployed youths, under eighteen years of age; however, we cannot say that they belong to Al-Qaeda. Yet, they were given the name and became semi-Al-Qaeda.
Q: Are all the Al-Qaeda elements native to the region, or are they originally from outside the governorate, and relocated?
A: Honestly speaking, I don’t know much about them, except that there are specific people from Marib and they are so young. If civil society organizations cooperated and collaborated better with the government, the problem could be eliminated.
But, sometimes things happen beyond our control; for example, someone who lost his job, deserted his family or dropped out of school sometimes has no choice but to join these groups.
There is Al-Qaeda here, but we do not think at all that they pose a threat to the region. We are totally convinced that if we join forces with each other and the regime ‘got straight’ and enforced the law, all of this will disappear, before we talk of the depth of respect to the law and order.
Q: Do you think the so-called Al-Qaeda is on ‘the right path’ as some other leaders in the area have said?
A: No. Never. Neither me, nor anyone else believe that they are on the right path; but the problem lies in their growth. Honestly speaking, the state has exerted great efforts to fight them, but unfortunately, the public efforts did not get together with the official efforts.
Q: Osama Bin Laden is of Yemeni origins and he fights against the west. Are you proud of him?
A: Well, western states must be proud of him because it was their intelligence agencies who manufactured him and dispatched him, along with others, to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.
The leadership of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or the so-called Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, are remnants of what used to be called the Arab Mujahedeen in Afghanistan who fought against the Soviet Union. This is the nature of life – you win some and you lose some.
They were formed by the west and the Arab regimes assisted them because they were Mujahedeen doing Allah’s work. Eventually they turned against them.
Q: What relations do you have with other community figures with the so-called Al-Qaeda here in Marib?
A: We have no relations with them because they avoid society and people. Neither me, nor anyone else mix with them.
Q: Religious institutes exist in Marib. What is your opinion about them?
A: The religious institutes exist to bridge the gap in the official and basic education. These institutes are limited. There are deficiencies. Although traditionally I am a farmer, I consider that all jobs must integrate. If there is no integration, there will be of course be flaws and gaps in what happens.
Education here suffers from a deficiency and because the whole country is overtly religious, however the official government curricula are somewhat lacking in the teaching of religion.
This created a quagmire for those who try to compensate for this deficiency by establishing religious institutes, and many people join them voluntarily dissatisfied with secular curriculum. Politically, they have had little effect so far. However, they might prove to be troublesome with the widening difference in their religious doctrines and practices.
Q: Do you think that this will lead to a religious conflict in the future?
A: The difference is doctrinal and is related to the self-evaluation of the individual or social class.
Q: Which is more prominent in the region, the official / state rule of law or the tribal one?
A: Of course the official rule, but again certain aspects are lacking. Much of the administrative work is not performed as required.
Q: Can the government control the region?
A: I often live by the saying that, “justice is the foundation of rule” and if there is true justice then everything would be … manageable.
By justice I mean legitimate legislation, respecting law and order, justice in human rights, and transparent evaluation of administrative work. Yemen suffers from administrative flaws; other states probably suffer from the same thing to lesser extents – it is a principal problem in governance.
My point of view is that the administrative flaws which occur here are the main causes for differences – differences about legal rights or demands imposed by the need.
Law, and its enforcement, regulates society and organizes the population. When the regime is imbalanced, differences are multiplied and exacerbated.
Q: So what do you feel is best for the region, tribal rule or state sovereignty?
A: Where there are two overlapping, competing power systems, the inferior one will undermine the superior, and the ruling one often becomes apathetic.
Tribal tradition rule is limited, but people often resolve disputes in tribal courts rather than going to civil courts, which are expensive and often viewed as inefficient, alien, and sometimes even corrupt.
The simple thing is tribal rule, in my opinion, runs in parallel with the official rule, with state sovereignty. However, both, have become idle now, and weakened by the other. The tribal statutes do not perform functions required from them because the tribal statute has not developed with the development of crime, punishment and other legal concerns, nor did the judiciary develop due to the administrative defect that I have already mentioned.
Q: Do you think that there are particular agencies that assist in the destabilization of the region and resilience of illiteracy?
A: The whole matter is attributed to the administrative flaws which I’ve talked about. The core of the matter is that there is a muddled sense of distribution in terms of basic services, such as education, economic and civil projects.
Even if this distribution exists, it is conducted without prior plans and without social justice. For example, Marib province is done injustice in regard to education. If we dig into the reasons, we will find that the establishment of schools reached the province late.
State education and health projects only came into the province in the last decade, and built schools and expanded health projects; however, the human development is still very limited and there are central and local administrative shortcomings which plague the situation.
The people of Marib governorate have subsequently been marginalized. It is not in the interest of anyone to have Marib as a backward place. So I see it as a central issue. The center, the center of governance, does not feed the local branches with a fair plan based on studies of need and, indeed, on justice.