In the media

Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

17. January 2012

Mohammed al-Maitami

Dr. Mohammed al-Maitami

“We are Tired of the Violence”

The Yemeni economist Mohammed Al-Maitami speaks about tribal warriors, Islamists, separatists, and the future of his country. 

December 2011

profil: Yemen is impoverished and underdeveloped. Do the demonstrators’ demands for democracy even have a chance at being met? 

Al-Maitami: It is true: Yemen is poor, the illiteracy rate is high, and the traditional tribal system remains entrenched; there are fundamentalist tendencies and strong countries next door who have their own agendas. But I am nonetheless optimistic. The people of Yemen—boys and girls, men and women, old and young—took to the streets every day for ten months to demand democracy. The regime tried everything to crush the movement through violent means and to incite Yemen’s diverse tribes and social forces to fight against each other, in order to undermine the revolution. Nothing succeeded. They must consider the fact that Yemen is a weapon-dense country. Sixteen million weapons of all kinds are in the hands of Yemen’s population. But the demonstrators very consciously did not use their weapons, they remained peaceful—this shows the maturity of the movement. 

profil: On December 7, a coalition government was formed: half of the ministers are from the old regime, the other half come from the opposition. And the vice-president under Ali Abdullah Saleh, the dictator who will now relinquish power, will act as his successor. Is this a stable constellation? 

Al-Maitami: The youth on the streets do not want holdovers from the old regime in the new government. They want to see Saleh brought to justice. They continue to demonstrate. The political opposition reached this compromise, however, to prevent the country from descending into civil war. This transitional government of national unity is intended to prepare for the elections to be held in two years. From the opposition’s point of view, this is the best option on the path to a constitutional democracy. 

profil: In most Arab countries there are Islamist majorities. Is the same true for Yemen? 

Al-Maitami: There has been an alliance among all the opposition parties since 2001. Socialists, Nasseris, liberals, and Islamists have worked together for ten years. And in collaboration with the youth in the streets, this united opposition managed to convince Saleh to relinquish power. 

profil: If elections were held now, who would win? 

Al-Maitami: The Islamists. 

profil: And who is more dominant among the Islamists—the rigid fundamentalists of Saudi persuasion, or the moderates, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? 

Al-Maitami: One must consider the political and religious map of Yemen. There are multiple centers of power, all of which act with and against each other: we have salafists and moderate Islamists. The majority of Yemenis are Sunni, but there are also rebellious Shi’a in the North and separatists in the South. Tribes play an important role, as have civil society protesters over the past year. 

profil: And the army? 

Al-Maitami: The army is split. One part sympathizes with the regime, and other part sympathizes with the opposition. But no one can claim hegemony in the current political process. No one center of power is dominating the others. This is a good thing: it creates equality among the powers. That is how democracy works. 

profil: Is Al Qaeda not a problem? 

Al-Maitami: Al Qaeda is weak, their role is severely exaggerated. 

profil: A two-year transition period until parliamentary elections are held is a long time. Do you fear that a new civil war will break out? 

Al-Maitami: That is of course a possibility. But I am optimistic on this front as well. I myself have witnessed three civil wars; dozens of local, armed conflicts; and thousands of violent tribal disputes that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. We, the people of Yemen, are tired of the violence. In one of the cities, the tribes joined forces with the peacefully demonstrating youth, but they left their weapons at home. Even the tribes are tired of the violence. 

profil: Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, the vice president under Saleh, is designated to be the acting president. He is from the old regime. Why does he enjoy such widespread support among the populace? 

Al-Maitami: The regime was more or less a family affair. Saleh ruled the country with his son and his nephew. All others in the government were merely for decoration; they had nothing to say. The people know that. Additionally, Hadi and the new Prime Minister are from the South of Yemen. That sends an important signal to those who viewed Saleh’s rule as a northern occupation of the South. 

Interview: Georg Hoffmann-Ostenhof 

Mohamnmed Al-Maitami, 55, is a Professor of Economics at Sana’a University. He has formed a Crisis Group to deal with Yemen’s most pressing challenges. Al-Maitami was in Vienna last week on invitation of Women without Borders. After ten months of massive demonstrations against the dictatorship, Ali Abdullah Saleh must now step down. Saleh’s Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, created a government of national unity on December 7—a coalition formed of opposition figures and members of the old regime. Parliamentary elections are planned to be held in two years.



« Back to overviewSend a friend Print article