Press interview with John O'Rourke, Head of Division, Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran (03/02/2013)

Press interview with John O'Rourke, Head of Division, Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran

Below is a press interview with John O'Rourke, Head of Division, Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran conducted by Yemeni journalist Anwar Haidar. The interview was published by several local media outlets.


The EU enjoys good relations with the new emerging civil society organizations, how do you assess your experience with these CSOs? How is the relationship between the EU and the civil society organizations in Yemen?

The Civil Society Organizations are important and energetic agents of change in Yemen. Working with Civil Society Organizations constitutes a substantial part of the EU’s development cooperation with Yemen. The EU Delegation supports Civil Society Organizations in various ways and in different sectors. Going forward the EU will look at the possibilities of strengthening ties with CSO’s working in rural areas. Moreover the EU follows closely the selection process of Youth, Women and Civil Society representatives for the National Dialogue. It is indeed important to have valuable representatives for those groups that do not represent political parties, but instead the vibrant and diverse Yemeni society.

The EU member states enjoy long standing relations with Yemen, yet the volume of assistance provided by the Europe to Yemen is not as it should be. What do you think?

The EU is working on all social and economic fronts: from food insecurity, health and fisheries, to technical assistance, the strengthening of civil society organizations and the focus on human rights. The EU pledged $214 million during the Donors Conference in Riyadh on 4 September 2012. In addition to that, many EU Member States pledged a lot of money. To name just a few, Britain pledged $311 million, Germany $158 million, the Netherlands $100 million and France $ 6.2 million. The total financial support coming from the EU and its Member States ads up to at least 800 million US dollars. I think this shows how serious Europeans are in supporting Yemen and the Yemeni people. But like for the political process, each party has to do its part of the job: the Yemeni authorities are accountable and should fight corruption and serve people's interest. Yemeni citizens have to see progress in their daily lives and achievements on the ground. However, progress has been made since the signing of the GCC initiative. Yemenis have seen some improvements for example in terms of electricity that is much more available than earlier. Of course it is not enough and the Government has to do better and more with the support of the international community.  

Iran overlooks the Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz while Yemen overlooks the Strait of Bab al-Mandabm therefore cooperation and security between Iran and Yemen can lead to more stability and security in the region, what is your take on this?

What do you think of the accusations made against some of Hirak factions that they are getting funds from Iran with a view of splitting the country?

What is your position on Irans support to Houthis and Hirak?

Answer to three questions above:

It is in the long term interest of everybody living in the whole region that Yemen’s future will be one of peace, sustainable growth and opportunities for all Yemenis. The interest of the region is therefore to have a unified and stable Yemen.

Yemeni problems can only have Yemeni solutions. All the Yemeni parties have to participate in the National Dialogue and be fully part of the Yemeni nation-building. Yemen will be stronger in the regional arena if Yemenis are able to work together in the interest of the whole country and of the Yemeni people.

What is your vision for supporting the National Dialogue?

It is clearly my impression that Yemenis yearn for change and a common, brighter future. Many look back at the revolution as a unique moment when Yemenis united and became stronger than ever. The National Dialogue creates the momentum for building national consensus. This dialogue is an historical opportunity to build a modern, democratic and civil state free of corruption. Each Yemeni citizen must feel part of this new Yemen. Therefore, it goes without saying that it continues to be of utmost importance that all Yemeni strands participate in the National Dialogue. Those who are still hesitating to join should know that it is only through participation that their voices and concerns will be properly heard and addressed. The National Dialogue is not only about mechanisms and number of seats. It is much more about investing goodwill from all Yemeni parties and groups in order to define a new social and national pact. Those who are still dragging their feet should not miss the opportunity to join the conference. The conference might start with some trends of Al Hirak not onboard. This will be their responsibility, as each one is free not to join the process, but no one is entitled to undermine the process.

Does EU support a federal Yemen?

It is for nobody but the Yemenis themselves to decide how the future nation-state of Yemen should look like. The question will have to be discussed at the National Dialogue Conference. The Yemenis might need expert-advice during this National Dialogue. If requested, the EU stands ready to provide technical assistance based on best practices and lessons learned.

What is the EU assessment of progress made in implementing the GCC initiative?

Many achievements have been made in a short time and the process continues to move forward. Amongst these are the election of a new President, the beginning of the restructuring of the armed forces and the launch of the investigations into the southern grievances. These are complex and politically challenging endeavors that should be welcomed as they constitute central demands stipulated in the GCC agreement. The work of the National Dialogue preparatory committee is also a particular achievement and an important stepping stone for the remaining part of transitional process. For the first time in Yemen’s history stakeholders from all major strands came together to discuss and agree on how the National Dialogue should be composed and led. All parties are unhappy with the distribution of seats, but it is about what is possible and not what is perfect. What is important is that no group has an upper hand on the process. Dialogue is also about compromise. Moreover, time is short, and the challenges are many. The process has to move forward in order to meet the deadline of elections by February 2014.

Does EU support extending the presidential term of President Hadi or prefer the holding of elections on time?

The GCC deal foresees presidential elections should be held by February 2014. By this time it will be up to the Yemeni people to decide who will be their next President.

What does EU look to spoilers of the transition?

Spoilers are multiple and they are doing their best to undermine the process. They are looking for selfish gains and interests at the cost of all. The spoilers clearly haven’t listened to the demands of the revolution and the majority of Yemenis that are calling for change that will lead to a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future for all. The spoilers should know that the patience of the international community has limits. They are watched and they are wrong if they think that the international community is unable to take actions. In the long run it will be the spoilers that will lose the most from their unconstructive behavior.

Do you think that the emergence of Islamist movements like Houthis, Islamic Brotherhood, Salafism etc. might jeopardise the EU interests in Yemen?

It is in the EU’s overall interest that Yemen, through a truly Yemeni lead process, evolves into an inclusive and democratic nation-state. This should include all actors who, in a constructive, inclusive and democratic way, are willing to take part in the building of a better future for all Yemenis. Tolerance will be a key element in ensuring peaceful coexistence and stability in Yemen.

What do you think of the transitional justice law?

The EU supports a comprehensive and inclusive reconciliation process that aims at addressing the grievances of the past thereby paving the ground for a fresh start for a new Yemen. The EU is following the discussions on the transitional justice law very closely. I know that there is a debate on the period covered by the transitional justice law, but at least we understand that everybody agrees on the necessity to shed light on the dark spots of Yemen’s revolution in 2011.

What is your assessment of the government’s performance?

The task of any transition government will always be difficult. In Yemen’s case, one of the challenges is for GPC and the JMP to work together. Another challenge is for them to reach out to the non- signatory parties of the GCC initiative. We fully support the interim government, but would also stress that this government has to be accountable and deliver despite challenges. Therefore Yemeni citizens are entitled to ask for concrete results on the ground.