Interviewed by Fawzi Al-Kuhali
For The Yemen Post
Fawzi Al-Kuhali: let’s start with the recent experience you had, your candidacy for the post of chairwoman of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. What are the taught lessons?
Raufah Hasan: It was a nice experience in itself. It is similar to past events in my political life. I nominated myself during the parliamentary elections of 93. Though the case should be different with Journalists Syndicate, there was a contest between political parties over the post of the chairperson. I nominated myself for the elections of journalist during the 1980s and at that time I won membership to the syndicate’s board. That experience pushed me to nominate myself in March 2009 elections. I thought that the affiliates of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), as a civil society organization, is governed by the occupation and not other considerations: however, I was completely wrong.
FK: But opposition journalists, Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), backed you during the last elections?
RH: Voting for me is a different story. I, myself, denounce the partisan presence within civil society organizations. As to the way in which the journalists behaved during the elections, I think what happened was a reaction by professional journalists, whether party-affiliated or independent and it was an expression for their rejection for the intervention of the political parties. I can claim that the 892 votes I got were the true expression of a brave and free will.
FK: Were you subject to pressures from higher ranking officials to force you to withdraw your candidacy?
RH: I was actually asked to withdraw from the elections and this was published in newspapers. In the beginning, Nasr Taha Mustafa, the former YJS chairman, was delegated by the General People Congress (GPC) to convince me to withdraw. This clearly means this party will not wait until the results come out to see who wins, but rather it works on making other candidates withdraw their candidacy to facilitate the task of its candidate, something that contradicts the core of democracy. I apologized to Mustafa and told him over phone, because I was then abroad, that I will never withdraw.
FK: Have your received similar calls or have you been subject to other sorts of pressure?
RH: Yes, I got a telephone call from Yahya Al-Shauibi, but he did not mention withdrawing the candidacy and offered to meet when I return; however, I avoided him because I knew the message he had wished to convey. I received another call from Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh who later came to my house and told me that GPC Secretary General and Vice-President Abdu Rabu Mansour had requested him to convince me to withdraw.
FK: Are you for granting women a quota in any elections?
RH: Quota has been connected with women for a quite long period of time; however, it has never been realized. YJS, in its different administrative authorities, announced their support for the quota; however, there is always a quota for men. There are also other types of quota like geographical quota – one from southern provinces and one from northern provinces – and partisan quota – the YJS chairman belongs to GPC, its secretary general is socialist and the first deputy belongs to Islah Party.
FK: I mean to say is there justice in quota especially when there are other groups who deserve an elections quota?
RH: The issue of justice is relative. When marginalized people exist, we should give them attention. The quota system could grant them better chances. There is also what is called “Positive Discrimination” – discrimination in favor of certain groups. In elections, when certain people are wronged because of their race, color or geographical areas, there should be certain measures so that such disadvantaged people can assume the different political positions. They should be granted closed constituencies.
FK: Let’s turn to another subject – international organizations – it is noticed that you care too much for trivial subjects – if so to speak – including fixing the marriage age of girls while you ignore bigger issues like poverty, corruption, injustice and other violations which threaten people’s lives. What do you say?
RH: International organizations – starting with the United Nations and ending with small NGOs – have their own agenda and they adopt the national agenda. If people or civil society organizations have their own visions, none will impose anything on them; e.g. Cultural Development Programs Organization has been working on four programs since its inception and nobody imposed its agenda on us.
FK: So the problem is in the local NGOs?
RH: Of course. Yemeni NGOs are still simple and their capacities are limited.
FK: What is your opinion about the previous debate in parliament about fixing marriage age?
RH: I think that one of the biggest problems in which people fall is when they mix social practices with religion. Sociologists and doctors proved that the main reason for high mortality rates among Yemeni women is the early marriage. If the state manages to fix a certain age for a girl’s marriage, we will manage to achieve three goals: reducing mothers’ mortality rates, ensuring that new born children are healthy and allowing girls to continue their education. They can at least finish their secondary school and thus they can teach and raise their children in a proper manner.
FK: But what if a girl reaches 15 years and she desires to get married? Will we ask her to wait for three more years?
RH: If the girl reaches 15, she also doesn’t have the right to elect.
FK: You mean marriage?
RH: No. I mean electing. If she is 15 and there is a good candidate and she wants to vote for him, will the state allow her to do so? They will say then that she is not grown-up yet. So if she is not ripe enough to vote; how can she can be grown enough to have a family? There is a contradiction of thinking here; we here assume a certain age for the political maturity while we do not do so with the physical and mental maturity.
FK: If a 15-year girl was prevented from marriage and later she practices adultery, what will be the solution?
RH: The solution is to raise girls and boys in a proper manner. Girls cannot do something wrong, only when they are not raised properly. Girls who are not raised properly will be deprived, whether they are married or not.
FK: Recently, there have been ongoing debates about executing underage children when committing a killing crime or other serious crimes. Is it irrational to execute a 14-year-old child?
RH: A 14-year child is not ripe, therefore cannot be punished for crimes. He is underage and his penalty should not be equal to that of a grown-up man. It is human beings only – among all animals – who take very long time to reach maturity.
FK: But this will open the door before using underage children to commit serious crimes?
RH: This could happen. But if the sun burns your skin, is it then rational to ask for covering the sun. It is better to cover the skin which is open to the sun. We have to look for the reasons and not the symptoms. The right thing here is to punish the mature man who is behind instigating the child.
FK: What is your comment about the recent development in Islah Party as to introducing a circle for women?
RH: It is not that much and instead of having a sector for women, they just introduced a circle for them. However, it is a positive point. I think that Islah is in its way to become a party like other parties and not to have two shapes: one overt and another covert.
FK: Once yo