Yemen Common Sense
Issue No. 8
July 9, 2011
By Hassan Al-Haifi
When the Egyptians withdrew from Yemen in 1968, the Royalists, realizing that the Saudis were no longer going to bankroll them and provide them supplies, launched an offensive to try to take Sana’a. Of course, the Saudis did not want the Royalists to win, as the Royalists would not be so subservient to the Saudis, since the Saudis had already engaged the Mutwakelite Kingdom of Yemen in a war in 1934, and that war ended in a truce that would be governed by the Taef Agreement. The agreement set temporary boundaries between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, with the Yemeni towns of Najran and Jaizan remaining with the Saudis along with the current province of Asir. This agreement was renewable every twenty years, in case the two governments were unable to reach a final settlement before the end of the period. The Saudis knew that the Royalists would be more aggressive towards asserting Yemen’s rights. This was shown during the Civil War, as the Saudis tried to push the truce line further south, believing that the Royalists would not try to contest the Saudis as they depended on the Saudis for support and Royalist forces were too busy with the Egyptian and Republican forces. To their surprise, Royalist border guards fired warning shots against Saudis trying to advance their border posts inside Yemeni Royalist held territory and threatened to shoot at the Saudis if they tried to push back the border to the south.
The Saudis lived up to their agreement with the Egyptians and the former stopped supplying the Royalists and had even arranged a rift among the Yemeni royal family members thus weakening their offensive on Sana’a considerably. The Republicans were able to solidify their hold on most of the Yemeni territories. In the meantime, a reconciliation was arranged with the Saudis encouraging most of the royalist leaders to return and take positions within the Republican Government. By then a civilian Government had replaced the military junta that ran the Republic during the Civil War. With the Republic still relatively weak and with very meager resources, the Saudis were quick to seize the opportunity of increasing their influence in Yemen, and began to woo tribal chiefs, military officers and even civilian officials by luring them with periodic stipends. This worked well in producing a broad clientele that would be more than happy to help in advancing Saudi designs for Yemen. On the social side, Saudi religious Wahhabi missionaries were allowed to set up so called Quranic schools, especially in remote and poor areas, on the pretext of helping to fulfill a vacuum in schooling services. Thus the Saudis had over the next seven years extended several tentacles within the political, military, and social fabric of Yemeni society. Saudi support to the Yemeni Governmetn also increased in the form of budget support and some project fianancing. The civilian government, with its growing nationalistic orientation and democratic appeal was not viewed favorably, especially as relations between then North Yemen and the more radical newly independent leftist Governmetn of South Yemen were getting somewhat cozier.
In the history of Republican Yemen, Al-Iryani’s civilian government was the only real close manifestation of a real Republic, in which Yemenis had their first taste of Parliamentary elections. In the beginning the Hamdi coup had the strong support of most of the tribal chiefs, who were already recipients of generous “budgets” from the Saudis. The Republic had much earlier tried to overcome this somewhat disloyal leaning of the tribal chiefs and offered to provide the tribal chiefs with similar monthly allocations, so they would not have to be lured by a hidden sale of their loyalty to foreign powers. Of course the tribal chiefs welcomed this Yemeni Governmetn gesture, and saw found no reason why they cannot take both forms of support. On the other hand Iryani managed to keep the military in line after having defeated at least two attempted military insurrections. In addition, there was greater equality in the application of the law, as even senior military officers were not immune to prosecution. When General Hassan Al-Amri, who was regarded as the hero of the Seventy Days Siege of Sana’a by the Royalists, in a rage of arrogant rage, shot and killed a professional studio photographer, Al-Iryani insisted that he face judicial prosecution and sentencing as ordained by Sharia’a and civil law. The General was quickly flown out of the country before he could get apprehended by the police.
By 1974, the Saudis decided to encourage a military coup against the civilian government of President Qadhi Abdurrahman Al-Iryani and thus the 13th of June Reform Movement coup let by the young and charismatic Colonel Ibrahim Al-Hamdi took over the Government in Sana’a. The Speaker of the Parliament then, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar decided to back the coup and may have even encouraged the coup under Saudi prodding. By that time, the political and social prominence of Sheikh Abdullah has elevated him to be the most influential power broker among the tribal leaders of Yemen, with influential links in domestic tribal circles, government spheres, and even with the Saudi family, going up to the King. He was also an important supporter of Saudi religious missionary work in Yemen and secured for himself a leading position in the religious hierarchy of the developing “Moslem Brotherhood” or “Ikhwan Movement”. While claiming to be related to the MB of Egypt, this assertion was not justified by dogmatic inclination and methodological approach. But Saudi Wahhabi approach allows their followers to try to project themselves as merely extensions of already existing movements, so as not to be discerned as associated with Wahhabi dogmatism, which was then not well received by most mainstream Moslems.
President Al-Hamdi introduced the so called Corrective Movement, in order to overcome some of the corruption that has overtaken the Government bureaucracy, much of which was inherited from the complex bureaucratic framework the Egyptian backing to the Republic had introduced during the early days of the Republic. The Iryani Republic was unable to confront this phenomenon being so busy trying to consolidate Republican control over former Royalist held territories and deal with a possible radical southern threat, although the Parliament then (Consultative Assembly) did take up this issue on a number of occasions and there was considerable public debate on the subject.
In South Yemen, after the British left in November 30, 1967, the adoption of a leftist socialist approach had brought South Yemen into the Soviet sphere and increased that Government’s reliance on the eastern block for most of the Government’s military and economic development support.
Meanwhile the oil boom that was brought on by rapidly rising oil prices of crude oil of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States had opened up lucrative labor markets for the mostly unskilled Yemeni laborers who flocked to these markets, especially in Saudi Arabia. Yemeni labor was attractive for their relatively competitive prices, integrity and adherence to law and order. This export of labor produced a phenomenally dramatic change in the economy of Yemen. It also availed the Government of larger and more diversified sources of revenue. The Republic of Yemen had come out of its poverty shell and began to emerge as a viable formula for a successful state. This posture of potential economic and political viability was also a source of worry for the northern neighbor, especially with the increasing independence Al-Hamdi began to show in managing the affairs of his country, not to mention the greater outreach of Yemen’s foreign policy then. Yemen was becoming noticed in the international community and began to feel less dependent on Riyadh, not to mention the leverage that Yemeni expatriate labor has given Yemen in deciding how to conduct its relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.
Part III follows tomorrow.