Faces & TRacesMuhammad Mahmoud Al-ZubairiFather of free Yemenis and the cultural consciousness of Yemen [Archives:2007/1082/Culture]

September 3 2007
Photo from archived article: photos/1082/culture2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/1082/culture2_1
Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Al-Zubairi, Muhammad Mahmoud (1919-1965), was a Yemeni poet, intellectual, politician, and revolutionist. He was born in the Old City of Sana'a to a middle class family of judges, as was the profession of his father. When Al-Zubairi was 10, his father died and he was raised by his elder cousin. Having grown up in a Sufic and spiritual environment and studied the Holy Qur'an in Qubbat Al-Mahdi Mosque's Kuttab, he then joined the Scientific School in Sana'a. He would later resign from his study at the Scientific School to instead embark on a psychological journey to the Great Mosque in Sana'a. In 1937, Al-Zubairi left Yemen for Saudi Arabia in an effort to realize one of the pillars of his Islamic faith. He stayed in Mecca for a year and then departed for Cairo, Egypt in 1939 to re-initiate his academic study, joining the College of Sciences' House. In September 1940, Al-Zubairi, along with other Yemeni colleagues, established in Cairo, a national-political movement called the Yemeni Youths Detachment. After he returned to Yemen in 1941, he was affected profoundly by different aspects of civilized advancements in Egypt. He presented to Imam Yahya, the ruler of Yemen, a program to establish the Association of the Propagation of Virtue, however, Imam Yahya vacillated on the execution of the program. Al-Zubairi continued to voice his opposition against the imam's policies, criticizing him in mosques and requesting necessary reforms. This behavior enraged Imam Yahya and consequently facilitated the imprisonment of Al-Zubairi, along with his fellows in the Al-Ahnoom Prison in Hajjah governorate. Al-Zubairi remained in prison for nearly a year and was finally released in 1942. He subsequently departed for Ta'izz, which ironically was the residence of Ahmed ibn Yahya, the heir apparent, who pretended to support Al-Zubairi and his fellows, but eventually changed his attitudes began to expose them to threats, torture and murder. These events encouraged Al-Zubairi to escape and seek refuge in Aden.

In Aden, Al-Zubairi established in 1944 with other free Yemenis the Free Yemeni Movement, however due to national reasons the movement's name was changed to the Great Yemeni Assembly in 1946. He also issued the “Voice of Yemen” newspaper which was the mouthpiece of the new movement. In 1948, the first revolution broke out in Sana'a and Imam Yahya was killed by Abdullah Al-Wazeer. Al-Zubairi returned to Sana'a and was appointed to the position of Minister of Education, however this revolution was short-lived, as Ahmed ibn Yahya, seized power in Sana'a and started executing many free Yemenis that had participated in the unsuccessful revolution against his late father. Al-Zubairi was not in Sana'a during this period as he had escaped danger, departing Yemen for Pakistan and remained there for more than 4 years. After the outbreak of the 1952's revolution in Egypt, Al-Zubairi left Pakistan for Cairo and was elected president of the Yemeni Union in Egypt and reissued the “Voice of Yemen” newspaper. He spent several years traveling between Egypt and Sudan and collected contributions for the support of Union activities. In September 1962, the Yemeni revolution broke out against the imamate and a new republican regime was proclaimed in Yemen. Al-Zubairi was recalled to Sana'a and was re-appointed Minister of Education in the newly formed government. In May 1964, Al-Zubairi was appointed Vice Prime Minister for Education, Information, and National Guidance Affairs and also attained a position on the President's Council.

Al-Zubairi was intensely preoccupied with supporting and preserving the nascent revolution against the threats of conspiracies of monarchists and the ambitions of some tribes. In 1964, Al-Zubairi was the president of Amran Conference for different Yemeni tribes in which its final statement included proposals for the reformation of the state's administrative, financial, and political affairs. Subsequently, in the beginning of 1965, Al-Zubairi founded a new party calling it “Hizbullah”, which had many supporters in Yemen. Al-Zubairi settled down in Barat village (north of Sana'a) continuing to inform people about the principles of his new party and continued to issue the “Voice of Yemen” newspaper as the mouthpiece of the party.

Al-Zubairi, the father of free Yemenis and the revolutionists' poet, is one of the most famous symbols of Yemeni revolution and poetry. He has more than 15 literary and political works with some other handwritten unpublished works. His early talent in poetry was appeared in 1938 when he published a poem in the book entitled “Al-Tajj Al-Muthahhab” (The Gilded Crown) written by Ahmed Al-A'ansi. Most of his literary and poetic works focused on Yemeni people's suffering under the imamate and on other Arabic/Islamic causes such as Palestine and Kashmir. Published works by Al-Zubairi include: “A Pray in the Inferno” (Cairo, 1961), “The Poetry's Revolution” (Cairo, 1962), and Al-Zubairi's book of complete poetic work, published in 2004 by the Ministry of Culture. Also two divans were published posthumously in 1983 entitled “The Voice of the People” and “A Spot in the Darkness”. Among his political books are “The Imamate and its Danger on Yemeni Unity” (Cairo, 1972) and “The Islam as a Religion and a Revolution”. “Ma'asaat Waq Al-Waq” (The Tragedy of Waq Al-Waq) is Al-Zubairi's unique novel which was written and published in Egypt in 1960. The island of Waq Al-Waq is a mythical place derived from “The Thousand and One Nights”, the famous collection of stories. “The Tragedy of Waq Al-Waq” spiritually delves into different aspects of Yemen and Yemeni people's tragedy such as the trinity of poverty, ignorance, and disease, while also explains Al-Zubairi's vision about a national and political alternative as opposed to the imamate.

Many individuals inside and outside Yemen experienced trepidation with respect to Al-Zubairi and his new party. However, he did not obtain the opportunity to explain to the people his true vision as he was assassinated on April 1, 1965, when several bullets penetrated his heart, killing him instantly. Al-Zubairi still represents the cultural consciousness of Yemen in which his life and struggle against the imamate formed a great transformational period in Yemen's history.