SANA’A — Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh said he took over power voluntarily decades ago and handed it over voluntarily — according to a GCC initiative signed in Riyadh last year. He said leaders of the General People’s Congress (GPC) and his supporters asked him not to leave Yemen and be available to provide them with advice during the National Dialogue Conference which is expected to begin soon.
Saleh spoke to Okaz/Saudi Gazette in the courtyard of his home in the political quarters in the heart of Sana’a in the first exclusive interview after relinquishing power last year.
He said he wanted to complete his medical treatment outside Yemen. He added that he was no longer considering a political life which he was involved in since the 1970s.
Asked about his memoirs which he is working on, Saleh said: “I have already completed two volumes and am now working on the third. They include thorny and painful facts. The memoirs will not see the light until after my death.”
Saleh appreciated the stance of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who hosted him during his stay in the Kingdom for medical treatment in 2011. “King Abdullah is a dear and close brother. I will never forget his attitude toward me as long as I live. I shall always be grateful to him,” he said.
He said he is in good health following the serious wounds he had sustained in an explosion that ripped the mosque in the Presidential Palace in 2011. He is living a normal life, spends three hours every day on exercise, watches television and meets with party leaders and citizens to offer advice on the affairs of Yemen.Following is the full text of the interview:
Q: Would you kindly assure us about your health following a series of operations following the explosion?
A: Firstly I welcome Okaz/Saudi Gazette in Yemen which is their second home. I do not think you are visiting the country for the first time. We have met before in 2011 during the peak of the revolution in Yemen.
Thank God my health is good. Praise in this regard be first to Allah and then to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in whose hospitals I had received treatment and undergone several operations under the hands of highly qualified surgeons. I stayed in the Kingdom during my entire recuperation period. It will be unfair and ungrateful if I do not express, on this occasion, my deepest thanks and appreciation to the leadership and the noble people of Saudi Arabia who supported me during my injuries from the explosion and who have also staunchly backed up the people of Yemen.
The Yemeni people will not forget the unequivocal Saudi support to them as long as they live. The Saudis are a generous and noble people. I am saying this out of my long experience.
Q: What about your memoirs? Have you already started preparing them? Can Okaz/Saudi Gazette publish them?
A: I have prepared a number of memoirs and I am now writing my biography. The memoirs will only be published after I have passed away because they contain difficult and painful facts.
Q: The truth is always difficult and painful. Is it not?
A: But my memoirs will be too difficult. They will be published after my death. I have already prepared some of them and I am now working on the last one.
Q: How do you see the future of Yemen?
A: I am the son of Yemen. I was born and raised in this country. I wish all the best for Yemen and its people. I have not thought of anything but the good of the country and its people. No matter how I differed with them, they will remain to be my brothers and compatriots.
Q: No doubt that your relationship with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bears deep meanings and rich experiences when you were in power and especially after you were hurt in the explosion. How do you view the depth of this relation?
A: This question needs a long time and a large amount of newspaper space to answer. In fact my relationship with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques was strong, cordial and very close. King Abdullah is a man of clean heart, an eloquent statesman and a farsighted leader with long-range strategic vision. My relationship with him is personal. I have all respect and esteem for him. I followed his treatment and sent him a congratulatory cable on the success of the surgical operation. I pray to Allah to bless him with good health and long life. He is a safety valve to the nation. Despite his numerous tasks and duties, King Abdullah followed up my health condition while I was in Riyadh.
He had a big and pivotal role in the GCC initiative which was a life vest for Yemen. The Yemeni people will never forget the favors of this unique and hospitable personality. King Abdullah had a big role in reaching the border agreement between Saudi Arabia and Yemen when he was the Crown Prince. The issue lasted for 62 years, six months and six days. By the way the British were surprised twice: the first time was when the border treaty was signed with the Kingdom and the second time when we achieved unity of Yemen.
Q: How do you spend your time now?
A: I do have a tight daily schedule. My program starts at 11 a.m. when in my courtyard I hold several meetings with political leaders, partisans, social personalities, tribal chiefs and citizens to offer advice on the situation in Yemen. After these meetings, I go to work in horticulture. I inspect the vegetation I have planted in my house garden. I also water them. At 3 p.m. I enter the health club inside my house where I exercise for three continuous hours. I also do physiotherapy on my hands and fingers under the supervision of a doctor. After that I watch the news on TV. As a matter of fact various kinds of sport is the backbone of my daily program. I am also receiving regular medical treatment, meeting citizens and living my life normally.
Q: What are the species of trees you plant? Have you already started reaping fruit?
A: Agriculture has been my favorite hobby since olden times. I have cultivated olive trees, tamarind, coffee, palm trees, decorative plants and others. I love horticulture and greenery. Some of the trees have started to bear fruits.
Q: What is the latest types of the trees you have cultivated?
A: The latest of these trees is the Tumb tree which has heavy leaves. I am using it to protect the coffee trees. For your information, the best kinds of doors are made from the wood of the Tumb tree.
Q: Now that you have relinquished power how do you look at the incidents and developments today, away from the pressures of leadership?
A: What you said is true to a large extent. When a ruler is away from power, the pressures on him is reduced. He will be relieved from numerous demands and obligations. I assure you that I am now living freely as a normal Yemeni citizen. I want to be a good citizen. In the past, when I was president, there was too much pressure on me. I also had many commitments, official duties and demands from citizens in addition to the social commitments.
Q: Do you move freely in the city?
A: I am now Ali Abdullah Saleh, an ordinary Yemeni citizen. I am living as a citizen who wants to serve his country. When I go out to the market or public parks, I am an ordinary citizen. This is my country and I have the freedom to move wherever I wanted to go. Recently I visited one of the shopping centers.
Q: What about your trip abroad to complete your medical treatment?
A: I was planning to travel out to complete my medication but some members in the party asked me to stay because they wanted me to witness the start of the National Dialogue Conference and offer them advice whenever they may need it.
Q: How do you judge your experience in power. How do you look at it?
A: Power is a loss not a gain. I took over power voluntarily and gave it up voluntarily also. I am a citizen and I want to live as a good one.