Sheikh Hameed bin Hussain al-Ahmar is one of Yemen’s most prominent businessmen as well as a member of the most powerful tribal leading family in the country. Sheikh Hameed has been for several years president’s Saleh most virulent detractor. A man of strong words, the Sheikh makes little effort to hide his political ambitions, saying that he wants “to build a strong Yemen, a better Yemen”.
And if his family was once an ally of the Saleh regime, enjoying a let’ say presidential preferential treatment for the tribe’ support, it all ended when al-Ahmar’s clan declared itself the guardian of the revolution, vowing to bring down Saleh’s house.
The interview was conducted in Sana’a, a few days ago. This is what the Sheikh had to say:Islam Times: Rumor has it that foreign officials are secretly negotiating a “share of power” in Yemen, hoping to quell rising popular discontent and stifle the al-Qaeda’s threat in the south. What do you say to that?
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “We all know that Yemen is going through a popular uprising of great amplitude. Yemenis are tired to live under a regime which is corrupt and unjust. The regime has always ignored people’s right, distorting the Constitution, using it to further its agenda rather than serve the country. The government failed because it failed to protect Yemen’s most vulnerable, turning the Republic into an autocracy. They [Saleh’s family members] distorted Yemen’s reality. An entire generation is left with no hope for its future because of what they did.
People eventually rose in anger. However, Yemenis demonstrated great restraint as they decided to bring about change peacefully, away from the clashes of arms.
Now thinking that this crisis could be resolved politically, through power sharing is ludicrous.
The crisis is not political, Yemenis are demanding a change in regime, not government.
We [the Joint Meeting Party, the country’s umbrella Opposition] agreed to the GCC brokered proposal because we wanted to spare more bloodshed.
However I personally feel that one cannot take away one nation’s right to seek judiciary reparations when crimes have been committed. To demand to those who bled for freedom and democracy to give up their legal rights is preposterous.”Islam Times: Can you tell us more about your meeting with Jamal bin Omar, the UN envoy?
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “Jamal bin Omar went to great lengths to preserve Yemen and its people’s interests. He used the GCC proposal as a starting point, trying to bridge the gap between the two sides, making personal comments of his own. He worked at convincing president Saleh that he first needed to transfer his powers to vice president Hadi, before new elections could be organized in the country.
He proposed that Hadi in partnership with the Opposition would run the country’s affairs. He also voted in favor of a revision of the Constitution.
However, the regime loyalists are still reluctant, refusing to contemplate any constitutional amendment.
I personally don’t have any issue with Hadi being the country’s leader until the next elections. He is doing a good job so far, and I believe he could meet people’s demands.
The problem lies with Saleh’s family members, who view Yemen as their own personal property, claiming inheritance rights over it.Islam Times: But president Saleh is still clinging to power? What now?
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “There is no other option but to continue on. Yemeni people are willing to pay the price of their freedom, no matter how steep. It would cost us so much more to give up the fight. With the help of God, we will oust the remnants of the regime and build a modern and free Yemen.
We want to build a civil state where laws are respected and uphold. This is what we have been fighting for from the beginning, we will not waver until our goals are reached.
As you know the Opposition has recently announced the creation of a National Yemeni Council for the Revolution, which will coordinate all the forces that support the revolutionary movement and secure the rights of the great people of Yemen.
We are not letting the state’s intimidations and provocations distract us from our goal and no matter how much they cling on to power, we will prevail.”
Islam Times: What do you think of the assassinations attempt carried out against members of the Opposition back in May? [as several tribal leaders and high ranking politicians met in Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar, a rocket was launched against the assembly. Many died or were injured in the blast, provoking outrage in Yemen. Ali Abdullah Saleh was the one who ordered the hit] Furthermore, what made you stop the fighting in Hasaba? [al-Ahmar’s family stronghold in a northern district of Sana’a, the Yemeni capital.]
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “I’ll start my answer by responding to the second part of your question. I want to stress first that it was Saleh and his sons who attacked Hasaba, with no regards to its residents’ safety. As far as I’m concern they [the Saleh] committed mass murder.
They [the Saleh] attacked late Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein’s home [the Sheikh’s father], they assaulted his children [himself and his brothers], they attempted to kill our finest leaders, and in doing so they stroke at the heart of the Opposition.
You have to understand that it is exactly what this regime does. It based its entire system on thievery, corruption murder and lies. Saleh’s arrogance has rendered him blind. He doesn’t even try to cover up his crimes, he doesn’t feel the need to justify his actions anymore as he continues to order the mass killing of his people.
Islam Times: Why did we stop the armed confrontation?
First of all, we only acted on self-defense, protecting our homes and our men. We agreed to a ceasefire under the recommendation of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Bina, because we wanted to spare innocent civilian blood. Since then, we have committed ourselves to uphold the truce, despite the government forces’ constant harassment and provocations.”
Many Yemenis are convinced that Saudi Arabia is trying to abort the revolution. What are your views?
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “There is a belief in the squares [the Sheikh refers here to the revolutionaries gathering places across Yemen] and in many segment of the Yemeni society that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is viewing the revolution negatively.
I believe that this idea is merely the reflection of the mass media’s opinion rather than something derived from true facts. The Saudi gave the media the impression that it was siding with the regime.
The guardian of the Two Holy Mosques [one of the name of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia] is an honest and fair ruler, who despises above all liars and cheats. As a man of religion, the King cannot do anything but side with justice and truth. This is why His Majesty sided with the Libyan rebels against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, this is why is condemning the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
I think Yemeni people wanted to see King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz side against president Saleh in the same way president Obama did with former Egyptian dictator, Husne Mubarak.
Instead, His Majesty pushed for a GCC brokered transition of power agreement, which I think is a positive step forward, and proof that the Saudis are listening to their neighbor’s plight.”Islam Times: Do you think that Yemen will go through a civil war?
Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar: “So far, Ali Saleh has proven that he still wants to bequeath his power to his eldest son, Ahmed. He has for years now set up a system where his family members are allowed to rule without being challenged. Yemen is worse than the worst monarchy to that regard, the monopoly of one family over the resources and riches of an entire nation.
I don’t think that he is ready to give up power; he would rather walk in Gaddafi’s footsteps.
God willing will manage to oust him from power peacefully though.
I cannot understand how Ahmed Saleh is willing to assert his rule over Yemen through murder and destruction.
Now if we are forced to defend ourselves, we will… We want peace but as my brother said [Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar] we are ready for war!”