Interviewed by: Hakim Almasmari
Yemen Post Staff
Hakim Almasmari: Tell us about your visit to Yemen?
Singapore’s Foreign Minister: Well, this is like a dream that came true. I always wanted to visit Yemen, particularly because of Hadramout. We have five million Hadramis in South East of Asia including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. I have always felt urged to come and see the land of the Arabs. I have close friends in Singapore. This opportunity came when I attended the Indian Ocean Rim Area for Cooperation conference and this is a year where Yemen was offered the chairmanship. Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi is now the chairman of this conference and I feel he can give us more opportunities to bring ourselves closer together. Now that I have been here in Yemen both in Sana’a and Hadramout areas, I feel closer. The affinity is very real and very strong. I believe that there are lots of opportunities we can tip on and build in terms of bringing Yemen and Singapore close together; e.g. next year we will have this exhibition called journey (Al-Rihlah) in Singapore to be organized by the national library. We will bring to life that historical and cultural links between Yemen and Singapore. Yemeni government is now having a yearlong festival of Tarim as an international center of learning and knowledge and the sharing of Yemeni Hadrami people with the rest of the world; I think you will open up a lot more eyes, a lot more minds and a lot more hearts about Yemen and other parts of the world.
HM: You talked about cultural links; how about investments in Yemen?
FM: As far as investments are concerned, I think Singapore is an open mind nation. We are a trading nation. We are looking for opportunities. I think Yemen will have to ask itself what it can offer in terms of stability and in terms of opportunities. I think there is still a lack of information and knowledge about what is happening in Yemen. You do get some bad fame about security, but I think Yemen has a lot to offer. I think one good way is actually to have a seminar in Singapore. Many countries do that. They have seminars in Singapore and they attract people not only from Singapore but from the region to come to the seminar and see what is happening and what is going on and what opportunities there are.
HM: How about training courses for Yemenis in Singapore?
FM: Training is an important part of our international relations. We have what we call the Singapore Cooperation Programs (SCP) where we offer training places for our friends including Yemen. All Indian Ocean countries were offered 5,900 training opportunities and places over the last 12-15 years. I think Yemen needs to define what areas it needs assistance in terms of training. This could be in development, IT, urban planning, capacity building and human resource development. We have an annual program in human resource development and any country interested in this program can get in touch with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is also another opportunity which we provide and it is called the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise and programs are offered at cost recovery basis and not profit making. We also provide programs customized for the countries’ needs. Small countries and medium countries can benefit from these programs, e.g. Gulf countries and African countries. A good example is Rwanda which got Singapore Enterprise Program. I think four of five programs tailored for their needs. Some countries use their own resources, capital and money and some tip resources from international agencies like the United Nations, UNDP or countries that are friendly to them. So they provide their funding resources and we offer our training resources.
HM: As Singapore’s neighbor Malaysia offers Yemen hundreds, if not thousands, of scholarships yearly for students to study there in universities to get experience, can we hope that Singapore will offer Yemenis the same service as Malaysia does in the near future?
FM: I think in terms of education this is one area that is reverse. We do get many Singaporeans coming to study here in Hadramout, but I am not sure about Yemeni students studying in Singapore. I think we need to look at compatibility of systems and we have students from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries coming, but they also have to look at the compatibility of the system whether it can fit in. They have to meet certain minimum standards.
HM: Having a large Hadrami community in Singapore, can you find links between both Yemen and Singapore in order to bridge the links even more, and bring in constructive investments?
FM: I think this is the most obvious bridge between Singapore and Yemen. We can easily look at the historical and cultural family links. I think from family links, there can be investment opportunities. When I was visiting Hadramout, I found that many well-known families in Hadramout have put in money resources to build their own homes or their own families’ homes. There are also endowments where the contributions come to Hadramout for building schools, homes, etc; but I think we can look beyond that. We can look at how best we can attract Hadramis who are from Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia who might be interested in investments or businesses.
HM: Yemenis in Singapore how have they helped the country?
FM: We had a Former Minister Dr. Ahmed Matar who was a Minister for Environment. He was before being a politician a PhD in acoustics. He was a minister in charge of social development and later environment. We have also Dr. Ahmed Mega, who is a member of parliament and he is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee. He is also the Chairman of the Middle East Parliamentary Friendship Association. There are people in politics. In Indonesia, we have two foreign ministers Ali Al-Attas and Alwi Shihab and two ministers of religious affairs: Al-Qurashi Shihab and Saeed Aqel. I think they played an important role. In Malaysia too, we have former foreign minister Saeed Hamid Alba. All of them played an important role. I think many of Hadramis in Singapore are either in business or education services. I think it is quite similar in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as Singapore. They are playing an important role and they are proving to be very effective community leaders. Our Ambassador to Yemen Helmi Taleb is a businessman himself too and before being appointed as the Ambassador to Yemen, he was Yemen’s honorary Consul here. We have also his brother Ameen Taleb who runs a business and lectures in various countries.
HM: Singapore was not given approval to work in Aden Port, what is your comment about that?
FM: In fact, Singapore was in Aden before Dubai Port and it built good relations there. We have built good relations; I do not the details of that project particularly, but I know that Singapore Authority was having plans to expand internationally.
HM: How do you see the future of Yemeni-Singapore relations?
FM: I am optimistic and I think there is still more to be done together. We are looking forward trying to understand how Yemen takes and what issues Yemen will face. We are still yet to understand Yemen better and take advantage of all links that we have in the past, whether historical, cultural, etc.
HM: Any final comments?
FM: I think all I need to say now is that you must come to Singapore and see for yourself and I think you will be able to see for yourself that historical link. We see Yemen as an important part of the area, the Middle East. I think you are going to be an important bridge once you get your p