Faces & TracesAhmed Mohammed Al-Noman, the politically active and liberal professor [Archives:2008/1136/Culture]

March 10 2008

Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Known as “the professor,” Yemeni politician, diplomat, essayist and writer Ahmed Mohammed Al-Noman was born April 26, 1909 in Taiz governorate's Dhubhan district, where he memorized the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition.

He traveled to the southwest Yemeni city of Zabid in 1924 to study Islamic religion and Arabic language. Returning to Dhubhan in 1931, he began his teaching career at the district's mosque.

While visiting Aden in 1935, Al-Noman came up the idea of establishing a social and cultural club known as the Arab-Islamic Reform Club.

Following his return to Dhubhan, he established a school, equipping it with modern curricula including geography, math and sports. However, then-ruler of Yemen Imam Yahya opposed the school, so Al-Noman was placed under house arrest and, consequently, the school closed when its students scattered.

Al-Noman then went to Egypt in 1936 and enrolled in Al-Azhar University, graduating in 1939. While in Cairo, he met many Free Yemenis, including Mohammed Al-Zubairi, with whom he jointly established a national political movement known as the Yemeni Youth Detachment.

Returning to Yemen in 1940, Al-Noman was appointed education manager of Taiz by Crown Prince Imam Ahmed. Al-Noman met Al-Zubairi again in 1942 in Taiz and together, they attempted to convince Ahmed to take serious steps to reform Yemen's miserable situation, but the crown prince refused, threatening to kill them, which prompted them to escape to Aden.

While in Aden in 1944, the two established the Freemen Party, which later became the Great Yemeni Assembly in 1946. They also began publishing the opposition Voice of Yemen newspaper as the mouthpiece of the newborn party.

Following the outbreak of the 1948 Revolution, a constitutional government was formed and Al-Noman was appointed minister of agriculture. However, while returning to Sana'a from Aden, he was arrested in Dhamar after Crown Prince Imam Ahmed succeeded in seizing power in Sana'a.

Al-Noman was imprisoned in Hajjah's Al-Qahira Prison, where many Free Yemenis were executed; however, he escaped death and instead was imprisoned for two years.

Released in 1950, he was appointed principal of Hajjah schools and educational supervisor of the governorate. In 1955, Al-Noman was appointed a political consultant to Crown Prince Imam Mohammed Al-Badr.

However, due to deteriorating relations between Imam Ahmed and Al-Noman, he escaped in August 1955 to Egypt where Al-Zubairi was living. They resumed their political activities by republishing the Voice of Yemen newspaper opposing Ahmed's policies in Yemen.

Al-Noman remained in Cairo until the outbreak of the 1962 Revolution, which toppled Yemen's thousand-year-old dynasty. Returning to Yemen in mid-October 1962, he was appointed minister of municipal administration in the nation's second republican government that was formed.

Upon his appointment as Yemen's Arab League envoy at the end of October 1962, Al-Noman returned to Cairo before returning to Yemen again in 1964 and being appointed president of the first state council.

Appointed vice prime minister in 1965, he was nominated to form Yemen's seventh government in April, but then resigned from his prime minister post after only three months.

Al-Noman was renamed prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in May 1970 before being appointed a consultant to the republican council in 1972 and then an elected member of that council in 1973.

Because of his opposition to imposed tribal authority upon the government and upon the republican council, and due to the assassination of his eldest son in Beirut in 1974, Al-Noman retired from his work that same year.

He subsequently lived and moved among such Arab countries as Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, eventually choosing to settle in exile in Geneva, Switzerland in 1987.

Al-Noman is considered one of the most active intellectuals and politicians to play a significant role in modern Yemeni history.

In late 1930s Cairo, he published a monthly magazine, The Verdant Yemen. He also penned essays about Yemeni causes in numerous Egyptian and Yemeni newspapers.

Among his educational contributions was establishing the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Bilqis at Aden University in 1961.

Including handwritten and inscribed works, Al-Noman's patrimony exceeds 400 files preserved with his family. American University of Beirut published his recorded memoirs and personal archives posthumously in 2003 in “Memoirs of Ahmed Mohammed Noman: His Cultural and Political Biography.”

Published in the late 1930s, the booklet, “Al-Annah Al-Awla,” (The First Moan) included prosaic articles by the author about Imam Yahya's autocracy and the oppression of the poor by his guards. Another of his works was “The Verdant Yemen”, which he published in the 1930s in Cairo, about past and present Yemen.

Additionally, Al-Noman published a series of newscasts and booklets in the mid-1950s entitled, “Lights on Yemenis' Route,” published and distributed in Aden, Beirut and Cairo.

Al-Noman died Sept. 27, 1996, in Geneva. Throughout his long political struggle in both the government, as well as the opposition, Al-Noman was a true supporter of reforms, enlightenment and development, further adopting a liberal and reasonable approach toward establishing the principles of a civil society and a modern state.