First Goal of 26 September Revolution [Archives:1999/01/Law & Diplomacy]

January 4 1999

The first goal of 26 September Revolution is “Liberation from despotism and colonialism and their legacy, the establishment of a just republican regime and the eradication of class differences and privileges.
This year the Yemeni people celebrated the 36th anniversary of the revolution of 26 September 1962. The question which should be raised on this occasion: what has been achieved of the above mentioned aims after 36 years?
Those goals were inspired by the goals of the 23 July 1952 Egyptian revolution. This revolution was carried out by the Free Officers, who established a new republican regime in Egypt headed by President Nasser. The pan-Arabist ideology reached its zenith during the Sixties of this century. Like in many Arab countries, the Yemeni revolution was influenced by the Nasserite ideology.
In this article, I attempt to make a brief analysis of the first goal of the Yemeni 1962 revolution, which espouses the following:
1- Liberation from despotism
This aim was targeting the Royalist (Imam) regime in former North Yemen. This part of the country was ruled by a medieval regime. The Imam (king) kept the country isolated from modernity with the Yemeni population suffering from disease, hunger, and illiteracy.
Few pioneers from among the civil and military elite and intellectuals tried many times to put and end to the Imam’s regime. These attempts were the following:
– Killing Imam Yahya and starting a revolution which declared a “constitutional and parliamentary monarchy” in February 1948 in Sanaa.
– An attempted coup d’tat in 1955 against Imam Ahmed in Taiz.
– An attempt to kill Imam Ahmed in Hodeidah in 1960.
Those attempts aimed to liberate Yemen from despotism by putting an end to the reign of the Hameed-ul-Deen dynasty.
The 26 September Revolution of 1962 was the act which finally overthrew the Imam’s regime. This was the end of despotism in the former North Yemen.
The royalist regime was not abolished in one day. Royalist forces launched a war against the republicans in order to reinstate the Imam. This war lasted for about eight years when other Arab states interfered in Yemen’s internal affairs. Egypt, or the United Arab Republic as it was known then, supported the republican camp. While Saudi Arabia supported the royalist camp.
Finally war was terminated by a political compromise, whereby the republican regime accepted the return of all royalist supporters to settle in the country except for the Imam’s family.
2- Liberation from colonialism
This part of the first goal meant the liberation of south Yemen from British domination. During the Sixties, the Arab nation was greatly influenced by, and was living in, the fervor of pan-Arabism and Nasserism. This ideology influenced the Yemeni Free Officers who started the 26 September Revolution. As pan-Arabists, they considered South Yemen as part of the motherland – North Yemen.
One year after the outbreak of 1962 Revolution in the North Yemen, an armed revolution started on October the 14, 1963 in south Yemen. It aimed to liberate South Yemen from British domination, and achieve unity between the two parts of the country.
The liberation of south Yemen was achieved on 30 November 1967.
3- Eradicating the legacies of despotism and colonialism
The former two parts of Yemen, as part of the Third World, suffered from poverty, disease and illiteracy. The Imam’s regime and British colonial authority were responsible for that situation because they altogether ruled the two Yemens for more than a century.
Other negative effects included the non-existence of democracy in the north, and a limited democracy in the south; which was also abolished since the armed revolution started in the south in 1963.
The last but not least negative effect was the confirmation of the separation of the two Yemen’s by signing different treaties between the British and the Imam, demarcating borders between the two Yemens.
The Republican regime in North Yemen refused the recognize the separation of the two Yemens, and started to support the national movement for the liberation of south Yemen in order to achieve Yemeni unity.
This goal was achieved on the 30 November 1963 when the south became independent. But poverty sickness and illiteracy still exist, though less than during the period of despotism and colonialism in Yemens.
4- Establishing a Just Republican regime
The political movements that were active in the former North Yemen adopted the objective of abolishing the absolute monarchy and establishing a republican regime. The Yemeni national movement first started by trying to make reform within the monarchy, by keeping the same ruling family of Hameed-ul-Deen in power with a functioning parliament “Majlis Al-Shoura” and a government accountable to it.
This political agenda was changed in 1948 when the “Free Yemeni Party” assassinated Imam Yahya. Immediately after this coup d’état, a new regime, also a monarchy with a new ruler from a different family, was set up. It was based on a written constitution, with an appointed parliament “Majlis Al-Shoura” and an accountable government. This new experiment failed after less than one month (February 1948). Inspired by Nasser’s revolution in Egypt in 1952, the Yemeni Free Officers launched their revolution on September 26, 1962. Their main aim was to completely abolish the absolute monarchy of the Hameed-ul-Deen family and establish a republican regime.
Something important worth mentioning here is that this aim specified the “establishment of a just republican regime. This is a commendable choice. A republican regime can be transformed into a dictatorship.
Looking into the Yemeni historical experience in founding a republican regime, shows that it was completely different from the establishment of such a regime in Europe. In fact the republican regime is a secular regime, as opposed to the Imam’s regime which was based on a divine theological basis.
In Yemen the Republican is not secular. It is based on Islamic principals even though the Islamic political history did not know the Republic as a form of government. In all Yemeni constitution adopted by the previous Northern Yemen State, provided that any resident for the Yemen Arab Republic should be Muslim.
The second criterion of a republican regime is to be based on direct election of the president by the people (nation). The implementation of this criterion in North Yemen took a long way and still it is not fully implemented. At the first stage of the revolution, the various powers were base on revolutionary legitimacy. During that stage the president of the republic was appointed by a limited group of officers member of the Revolutionary Command Council. At a second stage, an appointed parliament installed the president. At the third stage (1988), an elected parliament, not recognizing the existence of political parties, elected the president.
After achieving Yemeni unity, the president was elected by an elected parliament. This means that Yemen has a parliamentary regime criteria, but not following the requirements of a presidential regime were the president should be elected through direct elections by the people.
5- Eradicating class differences and privileges
The social structure of the classes that existed in the former North Yemen was quite archaic. There were no modern-society classes such as a capitalist or a working class. This structure was based on a very exclusive system, similar to the caste system in India. This primary reason behind was the rather primitive economy of the country. The Imam strongly followed an isolationist policy.
The 1962 revolution changed this social structure by opening the country to the world. More people were educated in Yemen and abroad.
The public sector in the economy was established, and the private sector was given the opportunity to be active. Capitalist, working and middle classes appeared.
The question of eradicating class differences and privileges was never really raised in practice. The only social groups that lost there privileges were the former rulers, Hameed-ul-Deen family, and other Hashemite families.
Class differences have now become deeper and more entrenched due to the process of transition to a free-market economy, as advocated and recommended by the World Bank.
The fledgling social security system is still not effective. Yemeni people depend much more on family solidarity and support than on government welfare. A lot of money is sent from abroad by émigré family members. Salaries of public employees are low and not sufficient for making a good living.
There is no real social policy followed by the government to reduce class differences and privileges, which are on the increase.
Dr. Salah Haddash,
Yemen Times Managing Editor