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Interview: Abdul Ghani Al–Iryani

  • Penelope Poulou

INTRODUCTION: Abdul Ghani Al–Iryani served as advisor in Laura Poitras’s documentary “The Oath.” After the movie screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the Yemeni political analyst talked with VOA’s Penelope Poulou about the political climate in Yemen today and expressed his concerns of further radicalization in the region.

PENELOPE POULOU: What is al–Qaeda to the locals (Yemenis) today? What does it signify to them today?

ABDUL GHANI AL–IRYANI: They understand how dangerous al- Qaeda is and how harmful it has been to the interests of the people of Yemen. Tourism has been killed in Yemen because of al – Qaeda. There are many other serious consequences to terrorism catered by al-Qaeda. So, people understand that al – Qaeda is bad news. But they have not yet vilified it and demonized it in the way that the west likes to do. So, people still think that Osama bin Laden – they were told – that he was a hero until just a few years ago. They still view him with some reverence. The better educated people, of course, understand that Osama bin Laden is just a bad terrorist.

PENELOPE POULOU: On the other hand, what I did see in the documentary which I found interesting is that when it came to the younger people he (Osama bin Laden) was a father figure. He was somebody that many young men were lacking in their family. Somebody to support them and be kind to them and give them a purpose.

ABDUL GHANI AL–IRYANI: Like any other leader, Osama bin Laden provides a role model for his followers. And he actually believes in what he stands for. He is completely committed as is Abu Jendal, by the way. They are both completely committed to [what they see as] superiority to their moral standing. And they are not different in that from some ideologues in Washington.

PENELOPE POULOU: Let’s focus in today’s youth (in Yemen.) We see at some point in the documentary that today’s al–Qaeda, the younger people are changing it. Al-Qaeda is getting more politicized today. What does this mean for the future of al–Qaeda as opposed to what it was back in 2001 or before that? Can you throw some light into this?

ABDUL GHANI AL–IRYANI: The new generation, the second generation of al–Qaeda are much more dangerous than the older one. The older one received endorsement at some point of the general public. So, they believed that there was a moral position that they must maintain. The second generation is very angry. They came about because of the invasion of Iraq and they are very angry and they consider everybody to be the enemy including fellow Muslims and fellow Yemenis. And there is no way to deal with them. And I am afraid that as mistakes continue to happen and radicalization goes on further in Yemen that we’ll have more of these people versus the more benign Abu Jendal type.

PENELOPE POULOU: So, Osama bin Laden has lost his ground, then?

ABDUL GHANI AL–IRYANI: No. Although Abu Jendal argues that Osama bin Laden does not approve of the second generation he is still a role model. And you know, even if he didn’t exist, they’d invent him because they need that kind of leadership.

PENELOPE POULOU: Is there any hope that we can stop this? What is the future?

ABDUL GHANI AL–IRYANI: You know, I’m not very hopeful. Because your [the U.S.] 4-year electoral cycle strategy is not working. You need more focus and you need more forward thinking and planning to deal with such a complex issue such as is terrorism, and it is terrorism in Yemen. It terrorizes us much more than it does you. There are calls in Washington, D.C., especially in the Senate, to introduce ground troops to Yemen. This, I tell you, is the greatest threat that Yemen and the region face today, not al–Qaeda. If ground troops are introduced the entire country will be radicalized and we’ll have, instead of a few hundred al–Qaeda operatives today, you’ll have tens of thousands of them.