SANA’A, March 26 (Saba)- An interview was aired on Sunday by Dubai-based pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya TV with President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a.
The interview was conducted by Muntaha al-Ramahi.
[Al-Ramahi] Let me begin with the news that was disseminated and discussed today: namely, that a meeting was held over the past few hours at the residence of the vice president. It was attended by US and European envoys. An agreement was reached to the effect that you will hand over power to your vice president within 30 days and then other measures would follow. I am sorry; I should have said 60 days. This period has been specified for the transition of power. How true is this news?
[President Saleh] I am happy to speak to Al-Arabiya, which is a balanced station in its reporting. What you mentioned is baseless. No meeting was held at the house of the vice president today. A meeting was held yesterday and the day before at the house of the vice president. It was attended by the leadership of the Joint JMP, Major General Ali Muhsin, and the US ambassador in order to look into ways and methods by which we can emerge from this crisis. It was agreed that the agenda of the meeting would be: 1. The president's speech in parliament. 2. The president's speech at the National Congress. 3. The plan that was presented by the clerics. 4. The five-point plan presented by the Joint Meeting Parties.
[Al-Ramahi] No meeting was held at any time today, Saturday.
[President Saleh] No meetings were held today. What was reported by news agencies and space channel television stations has no basis of the truth.
[Al-Ramahi] The media cited statements by the foreign minister.
[President Saleh] Our foreign minister denied this. He denied that this was attributed to him. This is not true. However, we are still adhering to dialogue on the points or topics that are being discussed; namely, how to extricate Yemen from this predicament.
[Al-Ramahi] About these meetings which were attended by the US ambassador and the JMP and Major General Ali Muhsin. What did you agree on? What did you discuss? What did you approve?
[President Saleh] The discussion was on how to emerge from this crisis. Naturally, they have conditions. Whenever the state presents an initiative, they raise the ceiling of their demands. They want the authorities to leave and they want power to be handed over immediately. We have no problem concerning the transfer power, but to whom and for whom? They propose the departure of the authorities, immediately - within hours, a day, two days, one month, or 60 days. These are their proposals, their demands, but we are adhering to our vision. We have specific points, mentioned in the president's speech in parliament, the points raised at the National Congress, and the points presented by the clerics. The points presented by the JMP are to a certain extent acceptable. These will be subjected to discussion in order to emerge from the crisis. We in power are not insisting on remaining in authority, but who should we hand over power to? It means to the unknown. They are looking continuously for the unknown. This means, throw it away, or let the people get rid of the authorities.
[Al-Ramahi] This means that the discussion did not refer to who will take over once President Ali Abdullah Saleh decides to quit?
[President Saleh] Not at all, this did not happen.
[Al-Ramahi] No options in this regard were proposed by the Joint JMP, nor General Muhsin...
[President Saleh] The JMP keep raising the ceiling of its demands. Whenever the state offers any initiatives or proposals to emerge from the crisis, the JMP raise the ceiling of its demands. We tell them let us meet and discuss matters in a harmonious and smooth way, and in a calm manner and how to transfer power. We are not hanging on to power but transfer it to whom? To the unknown? Since you are bringing down certain government complexes, besieging the Central Bank buildings, and attacking police, this means that the transfer will be to the unknown, to anarchy. They are tense. They want the authorities to go and they do not care who will take over. This is their aim. They want the regime to fall and they do not mind handing power over to the devil. They demonstrate abnormal and impulsive reactions.
[Al-Ramahi] The US ambassador attended the meetings. Did the Americans not make any comments on this, given that the US position is that the transfer of power should take place in a peaceful manner? Did they make any proposals, present any concepts?
[President Saleh] The Americans, the EUs, and others have no problem on the transfer of power but transfer it to whom? The JMP refuse to refer power to parliament or any side. The important thing for them is that the authorities should leave and the regime should fall. This means the regime falls, the governorates falls, the military camps and the branches.
[Al-Ramahi] What interests have they, if they want the entire state to fall?
[President Saleh] I consider it a form of irritation, impulsive reactions. Theirs are improper reactions, unsound. They are tense and they are going to the unknown. We do not have objections. I say once again that we are not clinging to power. I have been in power for 32 years, a very wide experience, and I want to transfer this experience to the people peacefully and not to anarchy. The people have a real interest in the revolution and in unity. They are the source of authority and the holders of this authority.
[Al-Ramahi] What is your vision about transferring power to the people?
[President Saleh] My vision is this: You, the JMP, come. You are a minority. They stage protests in the streets and elsewhere. They hardly constitute 2.5 per cent out of 25 million. They seek the support of 4,000 protesters. I have 1 million. If they stage a demonstration of 20,000, I can stage a 3 million-man demonstration. How can the minority twist the arm of the majority? This does not happen anywhere in the world. It is unacceptable that a minority of the society should twist the arm of the majority. You should have seen the million person rally in the Al-Sabain Square. That was a referendum on the legitimacy. Do they want to topple the political regime with 5 thousand? This is unacceptable, whether they are 5, 10, 20 thousands or even 1 million.
[Al-Ramahi] The protesters, the opposition, those who come out to demand a change of the regime, toppling it, or removing the president, were not the JMP alone. The JMP might be part of these groups. But there are other groups linked with youths. The JMP may not necessarily be their umbrella.
[President Saleh] We have an understanding with the youths and we are in contact with them. The JMP is riding the wave of the youths. The youths are not with them. On the contrary, the youths are with us. They have demands and we support the demands of the youths, all of these demands, in part and parcel. Their demands are acceptable but they are riding another wave. They have another agenda. They bear grudges against the political system and all the achievements that have been realized on the Yemeni arena - the building of the centralized, modern, and clean state; the state of political pluralism. This is a grudge. They reject political pluralism and democracy. They say that the president himself should transfer his powers through a constitutional declaration and that the president himself should turn against the constitution. This is their culture. Let me say that this group - I am speaking of them as colleagues and brothers - is foolish. Why? The group of socialists called on us to reach immediate unity. We had several options - confederation, federation, or a merger. They said an immediate unity should be carried out and we met this demand and we reached an immediate unity. They had a plan behind their demand for an immediate unity. They had what was called the national front of the so-called north Yemen and what was called the remnants of the Imamate, those who were grumbling against the republican regime. They said: We will go to unity and then we will turn against the legitimacy, the president, or the General People's Congress and its allies. They wanted to turn against them from within. The plot failed.
[Al-Ramahi] That is why they have now begun the stage of demonstrations on the streets.
[President Saleh] No, no, this happened in 1993. Thus the plot failed and they began demonstrations and protests and confusion and interruptions. The anarchy that they created in 1993 led to the war of the summer of 1994. The war broke out and the entire Yemeni people backed the Army and police and completely aborted this plot of secession. Therefore, their fire remained under the ashes, even though we declared an amnesty for them. They remained in a state of hibernation.
[Al-Ramahi] Allow me to ask about the JMP..
[President Saleh] No, let me finish the scenario. The scenario is clear.
[Al-Ramahi] Is it because this is history or does it reflect on current events, according to your vision?
[President Saleh] Yes, but this history reflects on today's events. Then came the wave that has been inundating the whole world, especially in the Arab homeland. Thus they emerged and presented new demands: Secession. The first demand was secession. Now part of them supports secession, part supports change, and part demands the fall of the regime. They have several demands. We agreed to hold dialogue with them, even if they call for secession. They are welcome to the dialogue. What are your demands? They had six specific demands - the retirees, the unemployed, the land, and the housing units; that is, the nationalized houses that existed before the unity. We met these demands. To a certain extent, this plot failed partially and not completely. Then they rode the wave of revolutions and the demands of the young in the Arab homeland that we can see at these times. They immediately rode the wave of the youths. They have their agenda. The young people have demands - employment, justice, change, and eradication of poverty and unemployment.
[Al-Ramahi] You have been engaging them in dialogue for a long time. In fact, of all other Arab countries, the term dialogue has been heard in Yemen all the time, and this has been happening for years. However, the dialogue has not been fruitful, thus forcing the people to take to the streets.
[President Saleh] Let us pause at this point. We are a pluralistic country. We sought to reunify the country on 22 May so we adopted the democratic option and political pluralism. This was within a wave in the world - singing the praises of democracy, freedom, free opinion, respecting human rights, and participation of women. All of us rode this wave and took the side of political pluralism in order to allow the individual to express his opinion. We could not have poverty and, at the same time, suppress people's freedoms. We said perhaps democracy could be an outlet for these poor people to have their say.
[Al-Ramahi] Alleviating the suffering of the people.
[President Saleh] Yes, because the Marxist-socialist project failed and the pan-Arab project failed, the outside world is looking for the Islamic project. The Islamists will be more obedient to the external forces because in their agendas. The agendas of the Islamic movements contain one point: namely, reach the seat of power and cling to it. They have no plans to liberate Palestine from occupation, they do not have a pan-Arab tendency, they do not have the tendency of emancipation. Their only aim is to stick to power. Therefore, now the outside world is looking on...
[Al-Ramahi] I just want to understand what you wants to say. You say that these movements that are on the streets in the various Arab countries are in harmony with external agendas to bring the Islamists to power.
[President Saleh] No doubt about that.
[Al-Ramahi] Does this apply to Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and other Arab countries?
[President Saleh] Yes, the Islamic movements are now riding the wave throughout the Arab world, but the people reject them.
[Al-Ramahi] But they did not try them out.
[President Saleh] They did not try them out because they were completely rejected in advance because they were incapable and the people were afraid of them.
[Al-Ramahi] Do you not think that they should be given a chance before people can reject them?
[President Saleh] They did not try them out because they prejudged them as incapable and the people were afraid of them. Some movements are like al-Qaeda Organization. Where do Al-Qaeda statements come from? They come from these Islamic movements. Where is Bin Ladin from? Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri? These are part of the Islamic movement. People in Egypt are scared and terrified despite the departure of the Egyptian regime and Mubarak. Although there is an interim leadership, represented by the military council, the Egyptian people do not want them to be in power. The same applies to Tunisia. They do not want Ghannouchi or others like him to be in power. People are scared of them. The Yemeni people here are also scared. What is happening in Abyan or Hadramout shows that they are in constant contact with Al-Qaeda.
[Al-Ramahi] In order to understand what is happening in Yemen I want to ask if the Islamic organizations or Muslim Brotherhood are behind what is happening in Yemen.
[President Saleh] Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood movement is in the forefront.
[Al-Ramahi] Are they at the forefront of the revolution or they only rode the wave of the youth revolution?
[President Saleh] They rode the wave of the youth revolution, but the Muslim Brotherhood movement is the basis. As for the socialists, who separated, they followed them. The Nasirites are not large in number. None of the other factions is large in number. The Muslim Brotherhood is the main movement participating in the sit-ins and in the confrontation in the regions. They in the Muslim Brotherhood movement have used all their cards and they no longer have any. They are fighting desperately. They do not accept dialogue. They do not want to reach an understanding. Even their leaders have disappeared from the scene although we have not made any decision to pursue or follow them. This will never happen. We as a political regime will not behave like this because we continue to adhere to dialogue no matter what.
[Al-Ramahi] Dialogue should lead to results. They are holding dialogue with you and you are holding dialogue with them but without any results.
[President Saleh] No, they are not holding dialogue with us. They want dialogue with us only to overthrow the regime.
[Al-Ramahi] They have a goal and they want to achieve it?
[President Saleh] Exactly, they want to overthrow the regime. We want dialogue to ensure a peaceful and democratic change and transition of power.
[Al-Ramahi] Do you not think there should be a clear vision of peaceful change and transfer of power?
[President Saleh] Yes.
[Al-Ramahi] For example, do you object to leaving power before the end of your term?
[President Saleh] I do not have any objection or reservation. I do not cling to power.
[Al-Ramahi] They may ask why this does not happen now in a certain way in order to spare blood.
[President Saleh] No, this will lead to chaos and take the country to the unknown. I am responsible for the security and safety of this country. I must lead the country to the shore of safety. Let them come for talks about the way to transfer power peacefully and smoothly to the people but not to them. Transferring power to them is as far to them as the sun. Power will be transferred to the people, who will choose.
[Al-Ramahi] What if the people choose them?
[President Saleh] That will be welcome. If the people choose them, we will pay allegiance to them. We will welcome any political forces chosen by the people, but this should not be done through a coup or bloodshed. This will then be completely rejected.
[Al-Ramahi] They say that they were staging protests in a peaceful manner for a long time. We know that these protests started several weeks ago, but what happened on bad Friday, 18 March, was the turning point that changed the equation.
[President Saleh] This is true. We denounce and condemn what happened on Friday, and we are not pleased with it. Luckily, the police, the security forces, the army, and the cadres of the General People's Congress were not involved in it. That happened between them [protesters] and resident citizens. They protested in these areas for several weeks. No woman could go to the hospital or to a grocery for shopping. No child could go to school. No patient could go to the hospital. People in these neighborhoods lived in a state of terror.
[Al-Ramahi] How is this neighborhood different from the Tahrir Square? There are people there, too.
[President Saleh] There are no residents in the Tahrir Square. There are restaurants and shops there. We offered to withdraw from the Tahrir Square while they withdraw from their place, and then dialogue would begin and be relayed on television screens. We even offered them the sport stadium. We told them to move to the stadium, which is far from the populated areas, and protest and express their opinion there, and we would allow them to talk to all audio and visual media. They refused and insisted on staying in that neighborhood. This continued until they clashed with the citizens. We regretted clashes with the citizens because pure blood was spilled and we considered the victims our martyrs.
[Al-Ramahi] They say that 52 people were killed by sniper fire mainly in the head and neck.
[President Saleh] My information says about 41.
[Al-Ramahi] Let us suppose they were 41, but the information available...
[President Saleh] Seven to eight of them were not identified.
[Al-Ramahi] They were reportedly hit in the head with sniper fire. Aiming directly at the head and chest cannot be done by ordinary citizens but trained snipers.
[President Saleh] No, it was done by the citizens first because the Yemenis are snipers.
[Al-Ramahi] This means it is dangerous for one to walk in streets.
[President Saleh] All the Yemenis are snipers. They are all trained on the use of arms. What they said was part of the propaganda they fabricated against the central security forces and even the special guard units. They said only the central security or the special guard units can use firearms. Their propaganda reached that level, but our people and the citizens know who fired at them. Some were arrested and they are under investigation. The rest are being pursued in order to bring them to justice.
[Al-Ramahi] But it is clear that even your allies were not convinced of this justification. Splits happened after this incident and these were pivotal to the movement in the street.
[President Saleh] Like what?
[Al-Ramahi] For example, Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar split and Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar also split and joined the revolution. Ambassadors and diplomats also split.
[President Saleh] Yes, a shake happened.
[Al-Ramahi] After the incident?
[President Saleh] Yes, many people were shaken by the incident, and not only Ali Muhsin and Sadiq al-Ahmar. Many others were shaken and rode the wave. Even ambassadors, ministers, and officials rode the wave, but when things calmed down they started to back down and said they only expressed their views and they came up with excuses. Frankly speaking, many were shaken by Friday's incident not out of conviction but weakness.
[Al-Ramahi] Did any of them go back on his position and asked to return to the authority?
[President Saleh] Yes, the ambassadors said they went back on their decision. There were about 16 of them.
[Al-Ramahi] How many dissidents remain?
[President Saleh] The information I received from the Foreign Ministry said four to five out of 16 remain. Some of them, whether military or not, were an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
[Al-Ramahi] Does this means those in the army or parliament who split were members of the Muslim Brotherhood?
[President Saleh] Yes, they were an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. We are aware of this and were not surprised by what happened.
[Al-Ramahi] You said you are ready to step down if Maj Gen Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar also steps down with you at the same time. It was said then that he agreed and said: I have no ambition to assume power and I do not want to become president, and I agree to step down with you.
[President Saleh] I am a constitutional president while he is an ordinary officer. I can issue a decree now dismissing him, but this is not the solution. Also he comes from the same family. I told him by telephone that in order to avoid bloodshed and avoid putting the blame on me and you, I can step down and depart, and let us depart together and save the people. That was said on telephone.
[Al-Ramahi] This mean this conversation between you took place as part of a normal dialogue.
[President Saleh] Normal dialogue.
[Al-Ramahi] This is a very important point that we need to explain because it was reported in the media that agreement was reached between you and him to step down if he does not run for election.
[President Saleh] No, that was a telephone conversation. I told him if we are going to be blamed for any bloodshed, let us get out of power because we do not want Ali Saleh and Ali Muhsin to be the reason for what happens, and we would then discuss a peaceful transfer of power. I am a constitutional president while he is an ordinary employee who can be sacked by a presidential decree. There is no room for comparison.
[Al-Ramahi] He was with you during the talks that were held yesterday and the day before. What was his position? What did he say? Was he biased to the Joint Meeting parties, for example?
[President Saleh] His position was not bad, but he was a bit emotional, and he had many reactions. For example, I called him and asked: If we fulfill the five points...
[Al-Ramahi] The ones the opposition put forward previously?
[President Saleh] Yes. If we fulfill the five points, what will your position be? He said: If they do not abide by that, I will be on your side. Now we blame him and say we agreed to fulfill these five and you were supposed to change you position. He raised the ceiling of his demands. Their demands became his demands. They call for the overthrow and departure of the regime and the dismissal of the president's sons from power. I told him the president's sons are part of the current regime and they are state employees. I said that it is the right of any head of state like the US President or any king to choose his staff when he comes to power in order to rule with him. When he departs, the new regime will bring its own staff. It is unrealistic to say get out with your staff. This is unacceptable.
[Al-Ramahi] This means they want to overthrow the entire regime and not only the president. They want the president to step down, together with his family and relatives.
[President Saleh] Yes, not only the president, but also his family, relatives, the GPC leaders, and the GPC itself. This means uprooting the GPC as the Ba'th Party was uprooted in Iraq. This is one of their demands and it is on their agenda. This was stated by them and it was not concealed. They want to begin with the head of state and gradually move to the sons of the president, the relatives of the president, the leadership of the regime, and then the entire regime - government, party, and state. These are their demands and they did not hide them.
[Al-Ramahi] The international position and even the Arab position on Yemen were different from the position on Egypt, for example. Before President Mubarak said anything, we use d to hear the White House, Gates, Clinton, or Obama say that the president should leave now, but the position on Yemen is different. Is it because it is complex?
[President Saleh] Yemen is a time bomb. If we, together with all sisterly and friendly countries, do not try to heal the rift and engage in political dialogue, a devastating civil war will erupt and disturb the region in general. None should think that I have an agenda or that I have a special relationship with or support for a certain party, faction, or tribe. That would be a miscalculation. Yemen is a time bomb and if the political system in Yemen is disturbed and if no constructive political dialogue is held to spare Yemen sedition, sedition will be long and very difficult. They should learn a lesson from Somalia. The Somalis have not been able to restore stability to their country over the past 20 years. We are a tribal rather than a civilian society and every one sides with his village and tribe. It will thus be a grinding civil war. Therefore, all should appeal to reason and logic and the wise men in every party should make concessions.
[Al-Ramahi] Concessions by all parties?
[President Saleh] All parties.
[Al-Ramahi] We will talk about this in more detail if you allow me.
[President Saleh] All political, tribal, and party forces should make concessions and not insist on their demands, considering them the right ones. No, each side must make concessions in the interest of the country and not the interest of his party. The party is a means and not an end in itself.
[Al-Ramahi] We were talking about the grave situation in Yemen. Some in the Arab world say that if Yemen was the first Arab country to witness such revolt then its warnings about civil war, tribal thinking, and the availability of weapons would probably be understood. People would fear a horrifying Somalia-like scenario. But there was another case in the Arab world: Libya. In Libya they spoke the same language. They warned against civil war and talked about armed people that would fight each others. It is true that the conflict in Libya has still not been resolved, but there is international intervention and air strikes on Libya. People wonder what will happen in Yemen if things remain as they are.
[President Saleh] We as a political leadership are making every possible effort not to shed blood or fire any gunshot. We call on all concerned parties to engage in political dialogue, which is the best way, as there can be no understanding through guns. At the end of the day, if any military confrontation erupts - God forbid - they will still go back to the dialogue table. So let us do it now. Let us sit around the table: present your demands and conditions, and let us have an arbiter. We welcome Saudi-Gulf mediation. Let the mediators hear the two sides and act as a judge. If they do not prefer Saudi, Gulf, or Arab mediation, they can choose. Europeans? Fine. But there should be witnesses to see which party is being intransigent and barricading itself behind chaos, death, bloodshed, instability, and high prices. We in Yemen have high prices and high cost of living, and our exports are limited. This increases the suffering of the people. So through your conditions and intransigence you heighten the suffering of the people. We as a government want to ease the burden on citizens, but by raising the ceiling of your demands, you increase the suffering of citizens: higher food and fuel prices, and so on. You are to blame for this, not me. You are the party creating chaos. Come and sit with me at the negotiating table.
[Al-Ramahi] They might say that the problem will be solved if the president steps down. In that case the protesters will go home.
[President Saleh] I challenge them to solve the problem, even if the president leaves after two hours. If before 22 May [ 1990] Yemen was two parts, it will end up in four parts. They [the opposition] will be able to rule only Sana’a, or two or three governorates. They will not rule Hadramout...
[Al-Ramahi] So the country will be divided into south, Huthists, Al-Qaeda...
[President Saleh, interrupting] The south will not be with them. The north of the north will not be with them. They are senseless. The north of the north will not be with them; it will not be part of the unified Yemeni state. Hadramout will not be part of the unified state. The south of the homeland will not be part of the unified state. They will rule only the triangle, one, two, three, and even this triangle will be loose.
[Al-Ramahi] Allow me to ask this question: We heard similar arguments from Libya, and it seems people no longer accept such intimidations or threats of partition, Al-Qaeda, and so on. People want to see change on the ground, and now.
[President Saleh] We are ready. We must maintain the unity of the homeland, first, and then talk about change. Come talk to us about change and let us choose who will rule Yemen, a unified Yemen, by peaceful means. Let us talk and transfer power. I am not of the type that adheres to power. I am telling you: come to discuss a peaceful handover of power, through dialogue, a smooth transition, and the ballot boxes. They rejected election; they rejected democracy. What they have on their agenda is communique No 1 and a constitutional declaration, not a peaceful transition of power. Who will feel safe? How can I and other Yemenis feel safe that these people will rule fairly and responsibly when they are issuing communiques 1 and 2 and ordering violence? Who will feel safe? People are scared.
[Al-Ramahi] But there must be some way for a peaceful transition of power acceptable to the other side, perhaps within a short period of time, before the end of 2011, since you are saying that you do not want power anyway.
[President Saleh] Yes, yes. For me, power...
[Al-Ramahi] is no longer a dream or...
[President Saleh] Power will not be in my culture. But I will stick to power until I transfer it peacefully. I will stick to power until a peaceful transition takes place, no matter what the price. But force and arm twisting are out of the question.
[Al-Ramahi] You know what happened in Egypt, for example. The Egyptian president was asked to leave immediately. He came under pressure from inside and outside the country. Finally the Army settled the matter and the president left immediately, as the people demanded. This must have influenced the positions of people in Yemen and Libya, who are talking about immediate departure.
[President Saleh] The situation in Yemen is different from the situation in Egypt. Egypt and Yemen have different cultures. Yemen's culture is a tribal culture, while Egypt's culture is more civil.
[Al-Ramahi] You know that the Egyptian president told me in an interview, when I asked him about Tunisia, that Tunisia and Egypt have different cultures and that Egypt is not Tunisia. Now you are saying Yemen is not Egypt.
[President Saleh] Egypt's culture is more civil. It is true that we are an old civilization. We talk about an ancient history. But now we are a tribal, fanatic society.
[Al-Ramahi] Do tribes pose a threat to the country? Shouldn't they be a unifying factor?
[President Saleh] If there is no accord among all the political and party forces then there is a problem. There must be accord. This is why we are concerned about accord and agreement. Yesterday, for example, we called for a Friday of Tolerance. In my speech I called for tolerance. We are ready to forget and forgive.
[Al-Ramahi] Even when you call for a Friday of Tolerance and talk to you supporters, you strongly and harshly criticize your adversaries, so much so that even if they think of backtracking they change their minds. You describe them as corrupt and harshly criticize them.
[President Saleh] Fine. Let us now say the last word, the word that annuls everything that was said before it and all the extremist political discourse of yesterday or the day before - if it is characterized as extremist: If they want to return to the right path, dialogue, and understanding, we invite them to tolerance. Let bygones be bygones. If they have the intention of engaging in dialogue and understanding, we will consider all this to be a thing of the past. Come for tolerance; we have no problem.
[Al-Ramahi] As I told you at the beginning, all today's reports were talking about meetings, activities, and transfer of power. There has been no reaction so far from the opposition to the call for tolerance.
[President Saleh] But we repeat it. Let us go for tolerance and reconciliation and transfer power peacefully whether in two months, four months, at the end of the year, or even after one hour, provided that power is transferred to the people, not to individuals or parties, through the constitutional establishments. This must be clear.
[Al-Ramahi] If you are talking about election, new winners, a new parliament, and a new constitution, this will take two years.
[President Saleh] I will tell you a good joke about the leaders of the Joint Meetings Party. Yesterday they were discussing the situation in the house of the vice president. They said: Let the president transfer power to his deputy, to the prime minister, or to anyone he wants, and also to transfer [remove] his brothers and sons. We said OK. And what is next? They said: We want guarantees from the president that after he leaves he will not be in touch with the people...
[Al-Ramahi] What does that mean?
[President Saleh] It means that I must contact no one. In other words, they want to keep you in a closed room; like a prison room, where you don't speak to anyone. They want guarantees that the president will not speak. This is one of the proposals of these people, headed by a leader of a political party.
[Al-Ramahi] Maybe they mean the president must retire from political work if he decides to step down, so that he may not influence the tribes, for example, and you talked about Yemen's tribal nature.
[President Saleh] Even if I decide to transfer power peacefully I will remain the leader of the party until the party appoints someone else if it decides to replace me. But I will be the party leader, no doubt about it, and I will do to them something worse than what they did [laughs].
[Al-Ramahi] So we are not going to see a repetition of the Egyptian scenario: the president steps down and resigns from the party.
[President Saleh] No, no. I resign from power; I transfer it peacefully. A new power comes, but I am also a party leader. I established the party in 1982.
[Al-Ramahi] That is what frightens them. They say the president is maneuvering, saying he will hand over power but remain the leader of party that will emerge again.
[President Saleh] This is a party. Does anyone abandon his party? Should I abandon my supporters, friends, and leaders? This is not right. Millions of people took to the streets to declare support for me. Shall I abandon them tomorrow? I am not of the type that leaves the country and looks for residence in Jeddah, Paris, or Europe. I will have my residence in my hometown.
[Al-Ramahi] But you said on more than one occasion that you would not run again for president.
[President Saleh] This is true.
[Al-Ramahi] Even if you remain as the leader of the party, you will not run.
[President Saleh] Yes; this is true. I will not run.
[Al-Ramahi] And you said no to hereditary succession of power.
[President Saleh] No to hereditary succession of power. This is a pledge. This is a decision for the people: I will neither run nor pass the rule on to my children. But if I leave power by peaceful means I will leave with my head high, not humiliated.
[Al-Ramahi] This might be my last question, depending on time. I will go back to the issue of tribes. There were splits among tribes, with some tribal chiefs adopting hostile positions. Is there no danger here?
[President Saleh] No, no; this is a minority group from...[changes thought] Let us remain in the climate of tolerance; I do not want to say anything that might provoke anyone. Let us remain in the cycle of tolerance. But the people are the arbiter. And if the media are fair, they should honestly investigate and neutrally cover the sentiments of the Yemeni people. I am sure Al-Arabiya is a sensible, balanced, and good channel that will not engage in agitation like some other channels that add fuel to the fire, sow strife, and act as operation rooms to burn the Arab homeland based on the principle: bring the temple down over everyone's head.
[Al-Ramahi] We heard that security around your palace and residence has been tightened. Is this true?
[President Saleh] True. There is no doubt about it. Not around me, but in the capital in general and the capitals of the governorates. This is a plan agreed-upon with all the political forces to maintain public security. My residence is guarded like the residence of any other citizen.
[Al-Ramahi] Do you seek to obtain any kind of immunity in case you step down? Do you want them to guarantee that you will have immunity so that no one can harm your excellency?
[President Saleh] I am not asking for this. I will immune myself by myself.
[Al-Ramahi] Yemeni President Ali Abdullah President Saleh, thank you very much for this interview.