Interview: National Dialogue Secretary General awaiting “green light”

National Yemen

From the left, National Yemen editor-in-chief interviews Dr. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, National Dialogue Secretary General

By Fakhri Al-Arashi

Dr. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak was recently named the Secretary General of the planned National Dialogue Conference.

Bin Mubarak has worked as a professor at multiple Yemeni universities and also served as the Director of Sana’a University’s business administration department. He is also the Academic Coordinator for the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation and the Chairman of a local NGO which focuses on training youths and providing them with economic empowerment.

Shortly after his appointment was officially announced, Bin Mubarak sat down with the National Yemen’s Editor-in-Chief to discuss both the challenges and hope which surround the twice-delayed National Dialogue Conference.

Q:  Dr. Ahmed, would you please brief our readers on the National Dialogue platform? 

A:  The dialogue represents a very important phase in a major political process. We know that Yemen has survived two years with huge challenges before efforts for change…the essential idea is to enable comprehensive and real change in the country.

This is something on which Yemenis do not disagree – they fully believe that they deserve better lives and a better system. There was mutual interest in the Gulf initiative and the mechanisms of the political transition.

In this period of time, we are focusing on the dialogue and from there, the results of the dialogue, which will lead to the formation of a constitution in accordance with the wishes and ambitions of all. The dialogue will deliver a constitution then there will be referendum on the constitution, which will form the new Yemen. The constitution and the National Dialogue must solve all of Yemen’s pending issues.

Q:  What if the dialogue is again postponed?

A:  The dialogue has already started; the dialogue began at the Change Squares, during the war and even among individuals in communities. The dialogue is a continuous process which started and which will not end.

Q:  The international community is aware that there are those who wish to hinder the political transition in Yemen, yet we have not heard them named; why is this so?

A:  In his last report to the UN Security Council, Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar named a few individuals, and went on to say that obstacles appeared because of their actions. The idea of change is not to punish certain individuals, but rather to find strong basis for the new Yemen.

Q:  Looking back at your experiences in meeting with prominent leaders from both the south and north, how much have politicians affected people’s responses when it comes to either accepting or rejecting the dialogue? 

A:  Many politicians are part of the problem, yet I also hope that they will be part of the solution. My experience with the Technical Committee was positive when it came to dealing with all party representatives. They were very keen to see success in the dialogue, and most of them did not have political problems. Those who had problems in the past, I found to be positive.

Q:  In your opinion, why does the international community have special concerns when it comes to Yemen’s safety and security?

A:  Yemen has a strategic location which affects the security and stability of the entire world in some way or another. Yemen is on the Red Sea, and on the other side faces Somalia, which has many problems. Al-Qaeda in Yemen is dramatically expanding, with huge quantities of weapons and in the midst of a hard landscape. If the country failed, with all these factors it would definitely cause danger for the whole world.

The former president was very much aware of Yemen’s strategic location; he used it and benefitted from it, but he did not receive good results. The whole world voted to protect Yemen’s safety. I don’t say here that the international community loves Yemen, but there are mutual interests and if the people of Yemen are able to support Yemen’s stability, the country and its people will be the first beneficiaries .

Q:  Does it mean that if the country fails, it will encounter international military interventions or guardianship?

A:  Nowadays, the world has rejected direct guardianship and such direct involvement with nations is not seen as preferable; but there are certain rules in place to protect safety in the world. The United Nations is in place to protect the world’s interests, and it is something which Yemen and the world must defend. Ban Ki-moon’s presence was a form of UN support for a safe Yemen, and the UN Security Council meeting in Sana’a was also a form of support. People on the streets may not see the change, but there is a common interest in change.

Q:  Could you please inform us about the National Dialogue’s total budget and how you will spend it?

A:  The total budget is 39 million US dollars. Between 50 and 55 percent of the total the budget has been approved by the National Dialogue Technical Committee and it has been subjected to multiple revisions. The budget is covered by a fund which is chaired by the UN, the donor countries and a group of ministries. The main idea is to guarantee the money in a transparent way and in accordance with UN standards.

Q:  How long it will take the participants to achieve the National Dialogue’s goals? 

A:  The period is set up to last six months. In the first two to three weeks, participants will gather in Sana’a to discuss issues and priorities for the National Dialogue; from there, groups will be formed and distributed among various governorates and districts for a period of two months. After that, there will be an evaluation meeting, in which the results of debates and dialogues will be discussed. The second and third rounds will see the groups return to the field before arriving back in Sana’a.

Q:  One year is left before the presidential election is scheduled to begin. Do you think there will be elections in 2014?

A:  I think yes, there is a clear will from all parties for elections to be held in 2014. We would like to send a positive message for a peaceful transfer of power.

Q:  Following the transition process, do you believe the youths at Change Squares will still have the right to remain in their tents?

A:  Peoples’ freedom to express themselves in any place is guaranteed by law, but people should think of better methods rather than just ideas for ways to apply pressure.

Q:  There are a certain number of seats reserved for youths and other marginalized groups and I know that they extended the deadline for applications. Political parties have encouraged members to apply for these positions; what steps have been taken to ensure that these seats will go to independents?

A:  Well, actually you’re right. Up until now, we’ve received more than 6,000 applications from the youth. All are applying for these seats and we have to select 40, from this huge number. The decision was made by the Technical Committee that these forty seats for the youth and independents from Change Squares not be youths who are affiliated with parties. We have a good group of independents on the committee.

Of the forty youths, 50 percent will go to the south and 50 percent to the north. In the north, we have four seats which will go to Sana’a. Since there are only four such seats for Sana’a, it will be very easy to find four independents to fill those seats. Since parties are all giving us information, it allows us to be very careful when choosing the independents.

Q:  Keeping in mind their concerns over the past two years, what results can the youth expect from the National Dialogue?  

A:  Well, they should keep the dream. Firstly, because they are the ones who raised the call; they are the ones who determined the nature of the New Yemen we want. Those who can be participants, I think they can do a lot within the National Dialogue. For the first time, we will have 20% from the youth and at least 30% women.

For the first time in the history of Yemen, we will have this kind of new input. My message to the youth is to keep dreaming and not remain in the street and not remain shouting. They have the courage to go back to the street and they can be a good monitor of the whole process.

Q:  When and where is the National Dialogue expected to be held?

A:  Well, as Secretary General, I would like the conference to start tomorrow – but we are waiting for the President to give the green light. The meeting will take palce in Sana’a, Aden and other governorates.