Without Foreign Intervention, Yemen Can Reach for the Skies

Yemeni Protesters Against Foreign Intervention

Ta’ez Protesters Against US and Saudi Interference in Yemeni Affairs – Rueters


Yemen Common Sense

Issue No. 7

July 8, 2011

By Hassan Al-Haifi

The major obstacle to Yemen’s development and economic and social well being, especially over the last five decades is not to be found in any domestic factor, although many important internal factors have popped up as significant causes of much of the misery of the people of the country and the poor performance of its political, economic and social indicators. In fact, it is almost unavoidable to discern that since the September 26, 1962 Revolution, Yemeni affairs became dominated by greater interaction with foreign regional and even international powers. From the start of the post Revolution (1962) period, it was obvious that Yemen was set to take a place on the international arena and certainly arouse the interest of regional neighbors and the international powers that were trying to solidify their influences here and there to gain points on the competition for greater world influence governed by the ramifications of the Cold War, which followed the end of the Second World War. Although Yemen, as a monarchy, had already established diplomatic relations with most of the major regional and international countries of prominence in that period, it still managed to keep outside influence domestically to a minimum. Of course, this persistence on maintaining a hands off independence did much to keep Yemen out of touch with many of the conflicting forces at play then, politically and of course at the same time kept the country and the Yemeni people out of tune with much of the progress that humankind has achieved, politically, economically and scientifically by the Sixth Decade of the Twentieth Century. Yemen, then had remained self sufficient and able to maintain some freedom from reliance on foreign goods, in many respects, but at the same time deprived itself of much of what have become standard and even required wares and tools for modern life. Even the southern part of the country, then encompassing the Crown Colony of Aden and the so-called Protectorates of Sheikhdoms and Sultanates from Lahj to Al-Mahara, though administered by Great Britain, was still far from having joined the modern world. The September 1962 opened the doors to direct intervention in Yemeni affairs, first by Egypt, which sent an expeditionary force to back up a junta, it had previously helped to set up to replace the monarchy that was ruled by the Imam Mohammed Al-Badr, who had a week earlier taken over as Imam after the passing of his father, the late Imam Ahmed Hamidaldin. With the escape of the young Imam, Saudi Arabia then saw no choice but to prevent any sphere of influence for the Egyptians, then guided by the Pan Arab nationalist agenda adopted by the late President Gamal Abdul Nasser, from getting implanted in its underbelly. With Nasser and the new “Yemen Arab Republic” encouraging a struggle for liberation from British control in the South, a revolt commenced in the South against British colonial and administrative control. Thus Yemen, became the playground of regional and international competitors for greater strategic outreach, and had to exact the heavy price of thousands of dead and wounded in “civil” strife in the North between Republicans, backed by an Egyptian force that reached peak level of 70,000 troops and Royalist tribesmen loyal to the Imam in the northern governorates of North Yemen along the Saudi border, who were also armed, financed and aided diplomatically, by the oil giant neighbor of Saudi Arabia. At that time Saudi Arabia had yet to reach the potential of economic and financial power that lay hidden under its desert sands, although it was already the biggest oil producer and the owner of the world’s biggest reserves of oil. The guerilla war in the South was slowly gaining momentum after the first shot was fired on October 14, 1963 in Radfan about fifty kilometers northeast of Aden, with an urban context manifested by bombings and sporadic attacks against British and local militias of the newly established South Arabian Federation of South Yemeni sultanates, which had been earlier opposed by the Imam of Yemen, who had waged a war against the British also, from time to time, to remind the British that the Imam’s domain included the British controlled South. The British had previously recognized the claims of the Imam to the South as well by allowing the Imam to have viceroys in both Aden and Mukalla, under a Status Quo Agreement reached after World War I, when the Imam sent forces to reassert Yemeni authority over the South after the Ottomans had left Yemen and Yemen became a fully sovereign country in 1918 after having enjoyed nominal independence from Ottoman rule in 1904. During World War I, the British did try to woo the Imam of Yemen to join them in the war against the Ottoman Empire, as they did some of the other despots in the area, including the Sherif Hussein (Great Grandfather of the late King Hussein of Jordan and King Faisal of Iraq) of Mecca, then ruler of the Hejaz (Western strip of Saudi Arabia), promising the “restoration of the Great Arab Civilization”, under the King’s leadership. The Imam Yahya was not as gullible and replied to such woos: “I cannot find logic in fighting against a fellow Moslem on the side of non-Moslems”. Since the Imam had been recognized by the Porte to be the sovereign ruler of Yemen, since 1904, after the Imam had besieiged the Turkish garrison in Sana’a, and reached a viable truce with the Ottomans. Yemen was enjoying more independence than most of the territories under the domain of the Ottomans then, except for the maintenance of foreign relations and defense, with Istanbul (then the capital of Ottoman Turkey) to a certain degree, he was not impressed with the British offer. The Imam also saw siding with non-Moslems against Moslems to be a religious infraction. The last Ottoman Sultan issued a letter of appreciation to the Imam for not betraying the Caliphate (in Istanbul), then recognized as the temporal and spiritual head of all Moslems, as most of the other despots in the area, who did side with the British. The War between the Republican and Royalist Yemenis continued until 1969, when the Egyptians were forced to withdraw from Yemen, earlier after the Six Day War of June 1967, which Egypt lost, mainly because the best third of its military forces was bogged down in a stalemate against fierce tribesmen fighting on the side of the Imam Al-Badr, who managed to hold out in the rugged mountain strongholds of North Yemen, pinning down the Egyptians and the Yemeni Republican troops in the major triangle formed by the Cities of Sana’a, Ta’ez and Hodeida, with a large garrison stationed in the City of Sana’a. During this period of “civil strife” supported by the regional powers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, efforts to reach a settlement did reach several instances of success, which were negotiated by representatives of the Yemeni warring factions. However, the controlling regional powers (Egyptians and Saudis) were not at all pleased at such quick successes, especially as both Yemeni sides had come to the realization that the only way for Yemen to proceed was to assert its independence as a free sovereign state, with the right of the Yemeni people to decide on their own form of Government. However, both agreed also that the future state of Yemen was to be a democracy governed by a constitution and that all foreign interference in Yemeni affairs was rejected. Part II follows tomorrow.

About Hassan Al-Haifi

Columnist, Political Analyst; knowledgeable on Middle East and Islamic Affairs; specialist on economic and financial affairs and development issues.
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