Sadeq Al-Wesabi (author), Sadeq Al-Wesabi (photographer) Though Karman initially stepped out of the NDC, she is now a part of the Reconciliation Committee.Tawakkol Karman, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, expresses her dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the revolution, but at the same time she isn’t discontent with the transitional period.
In a special interview with the Yemen Times, Karman talked about her participating in the National Dialogue Conference after her first refusing to do so. Also, will she be running for president?
Regarding her accusation against the mayor of Sana’a of embezzling YR 80 billion, she said she will not apologize to him—even if he was found innocent. All government officials should disclose their financial information, she said.
You recently participated in a meeting in New York, with members of the United Nations, speaking about new international development efforts all over the world. Could you tell us about this report, particularly with regard to Yemen?
I am proud to be appointed in this committee that included 25 international individuals. All of them were presidents, prime ministers and ministers. We aimed to put the post-2015 objectives of international development according to the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000. I am also glad about the outcomes of the six-months-long work. The report talked over 12 development goals which all the countries worldwide ought to work on after 2015. There was also a new point added to the development goals, namely ensuring the existence of the good governance and efficacious institutions. We handed in the report to Ban Ki-Moon and the general assembly one week ago. Now these goals are being referred to general detailed programs so that the World countries would fulfill them.
You met with many high-ranking officials in New York. How did they assess the situation in Yemen?
Everyone is proud of the Arab Spring countries. They are proud of Yemen as a success story that should be completed. They are also proud that this nation is peaceful. The peaceful revolution came to prove that Yemen is great, peaceful and capable of accomplishing a social and economic change.
Let’s talk about the National Dialogue Conference. You declared earlier that you would not participate in dialogue. But today you are a member of the Reconciliation Committee. What happened to change your stance?
I took part in the Preparatory Committee of the national dialogue in order to push the electoral process forward. When the National Dialogue Conference kicked off, I announced my withdrawal for several reasons. First, [I wanted to see] the uniting of the army and security, second the exclusion of Saleh from the politics, and third the [empowerment of] the youth, the women and the civil society organizations to effectively partake in the NDC. In fact, the most important term, namely integrating the army and security, is fulfilled. This term is very important. Therefore, when President Hadi fulfilled his promise to me and the nation, I have no justification to continue boycotting the dialogue.
The second reason of your withdrawal was your dissatisfaction with Saleh still participating in politics. But, he’s still very politically active.
It is a pity he’s still active in political life. But the role he plays currently is less effective than the role he used to play. Now, he is a ringleader and a reprehensible figure. He is being dismissed from politics day by day. I call for Saleh’s exit from politics because of one reason: he undermines the transitional peaceful process in a bid to spark disintegration and derail the dialogue
But do you think Saleh’s popularity is still large?
We should look towards the future, not the past. Saleh and the former regime are part of the past. It is over. We should think [instead about] how we can build the country and come up with legal and constitutional legislations that guarantee the goals and the values of the youth who took to the streets sacrificing themselves for. The problem is that Saleh, so far, continues undermining the possibility of the transition towards the future by means of obstructing the political process, and supporting the destructive groups, including the saboteurs of gas, oil, and electricity
But Saleh says that these accusations are “lame excuses” to conceal the inability of the government to defend these facilities.
In general, this is because of the immunity granted to the former regime. They said the immunity was granted to help the country avoid a civil war. This is untrue because there is no peace without justice. Saleh and his aides were granted immunity. Today they obstruct the transitional process in the country. This immunity will be annulled.
Will it be legally and constitutionally annulled?
The immunity violates our constitution. It will be a breach against the coming constitution which will be worded in the coming months. It is also fundamentally a violation against the humanitarian values and the international conventions. It is invalid. Even the resolutions of the Security Council revoked the immunity-related term.
How will you contribute to the Reconciliation Committee?
This committee is very important, it is concerned about healing the rifts that arouse among the working groups in addition to following up the results of dialogue and executing these results. We have a great job to do. I am confident that this committee will refer the outcomes and recommendations of these groups to specific points that will be implemented now or later.
In 2011, during the uprisings, your tent was open for several youths. Are you still in touch with them, particularly after evacuating the squares and winning Nobel Peace Prize? If so where do meet with them?
We shifted our revolution from the tent to the institution. We contact each other through the Revolutionary Youth Council. We pin hope on this council to gather a large number of the Yemeni youths, headed by the revolutionaries in order to completely fulfill the goals of the revolution and protect its gains. The council will unite and mobilize their activities.
This framework is not the only one but it is the broadest and the most significant. I still support it and feel its significance in the coming period.
Are you satisfied with the progress of the transitional period?
No, I’m not satisfied. I know our revolution has several phases. We have now entered into the third phase, where we must fight corruption to formulate legislations and constitution.
You said this is the “anti-corruption phase.” Recently you called Sana’a mayor Abdulqader Helal corrupt. Why did you call on him to reveal his finances publically? Why him in particular?
Not only Helal. We have talked and are currently talking about the essentiality of uncovering the financial disclosures of all officials.
You mentioned certain names?
Helal was the first and we have called on the post-revolution ministers to announce their financial disclosures but unfortunately, we have a problem in this law because it prevents people from knowing such information and this is totally inconsistent with its aim.
We demand that officials’ financial disclosures are made available to people so they can compare the wealth of officials before and after they take office to know the corruption they are involved in. Ultimately each official is guilty unless he is proved innocent.
You mean Helal is still accused although he has provided his financial disclosure?
I don’t want to specify the issue to Helal.
But this issue was the most prominent recently?
Helal only revealed his salary, rent and real-estates but didn’t provide his financial disclosure which includes his assists, internal/external bank accounts and the funds his next of kin have. Anyway, the main idea is people’s right to know the financial disclosure of all government officials; otherwise, we will never combat corruption.
But on what base you said Helal has YR80 billion?
I don’t want to talk about the council for several reasons, one being the law that prevents people from leaking any information and also the imprisonment of whoever discloses such information.
No need to mention names.
Will you demand the financial disclosure of figures affiliated with your part, Islah?
This is what we have done. All state officials on top the revolutionary partners, have to announce their financial disclosures.
When Helal revealed his financial disclosure in the session held in the Supreme National Authority to Combat Corruption (SNACC), some demanded that you announce yours too particularly because some accuse you of receiving money from Qatar and Turkey?
I will be the first to do so but when I become a public official.
But you are a greater public and international figure than the current officials?
This is called concepts’ confusion. I have no problem to announce that but I don’t want to start a wrong concept. The right concept is to hold each public official accountable and not civil figure. Those who don’t want to be held accountable shouldn’t be involved in public jobs. When I’m in charge of a public job, say I’m a thief. I say that each official is a thief unless he proves his innocence.
Will you apologize to Helal if he proved himself innocent?
We don’t have to apologize to any public official. It’s ok if any citizen questioned the integrity of a public official based on evidences he has but if not, it’s not a shame but rather is his duty to doubt the integrity of officials. If we were able to instill the culture of social accountability, the country will be in a good situation.
Speaking about the Nobel Peace Prize, some say you focused more on the external presence after you won it. Why did you remove yourself from the Yemeni scene?
That’s not true. [After winning the Nobel Peace Prize] I was charged with great duties towards people worldwide. But I’m still concerned about Yemen dedicated to serving the revolution here.
All Arab Spring countries say they need me, just as Yemen does. I hope Yemen will reach stability and a constitution and legislations that maintain all struggles we have done so that I can dedicate myself for my global role.
Some doubt your eligibility for the prize.
I don’t want to talk about myself. I have said earlier that the Nobel Prize wasn’t meant to honor me only, but to honor the great people who took to streets peacefully. It’s an honor for women, for the Arab Spring and for Islam.
What about your promise to grant the money you got from the prize to those wounded in the revolution?
I gave it to the Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basendwa when he visited me in my tent in Sana’a’s Change Square but he suggested that I keep it until establishing a special fund to take care for the families of the revolutionaries who died or sustained injuries. This fund isn’t established so far, but President Hadi promised me and gave orders to the government to establish it as soon as possible.
Will we see you as the next president of Yemen?
I don’t seek this role because I find myself with people—women, young people and civil society. I prefer to be observer on the government’s performance and I think I’m more effective in this field. However, circumstances may change in the upcoming stage but till now, I don’t seek presidency.
My ambition is to dispense justice, fight corruption and guarantee freedom of people. My ambition is for people to observe the performance of different public institutions. I hope also that every Yemeni has the right to run for president of Yemen and empower them to be able to fight for fair and free elections.