Literary CornerFifty Years Amidst Shifting Sands (2-5) [Archives:2005/884/Culture]

October 10 2005

By Abu Al-Kalmah Al-Tayyibah
Author: Mohsin Al-Ainy, Former Prime Minister of Yemen

Language: Arabic & English

Publisher: Dar Al-Nahar, Beirut

Year Published: August 2004

Number of Pages: 384 pages

One of the interesting aspects of the memoirs of Mohsin Al-Ainy is that they provide vivid insights into life in Yemen over a considerable span of time. This covered the pre-Revolutionary period, the period when the Revolution was struggling to implant itself amidst paradoxical circumstances and later on when the Republic became firmly in place. But before going into the nitty gritty of the text, Mr. Al-Ainy, in his preface, explains the motivation for writing the book.

He shrugs of any claims of the book being a history of any political movement or even of developments in Yemen or the rest of the Arab World. He considers the effort as merely an accounting of the author's life story, which by coincidence or otherwise just happened to cross with many of the events that were of significance in the modern history of Yemen. The effort should be viewed as a motivation for future Yemeni generations to delve into the history of the patriotic movement and its prominent personalities as there are very few books that give a vivid and objective record of all that transpired in this period. The author makes note of the fact that he has been spared a lot of misery and agony that many in the patriotic movement faced, although there were some very close calls.

The life story of Mr. Mohsin Al-Ainy begins in the small village of Al-Hamami, some 15 kilometers southeast of Sana'a, where he was born in the 1930s. He was an orphan (along with seven children, later six) as both his parents died before reaching his teens. The early life was one of destituteness and eventually he and his brothers ended up in an orphanage school, set up by Imam Yahya (1904 – 1948) to produce future government clerks.

Mr. Al-Ainy describes the sad plight of Yemenis in that period, who were suffering from starvation, poor health conditions and drought. Mr. Al-Ainy had his first view of political repression as he saw Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Zubeiri and Mohammed Abu Taleb, being taken to prison on mule back for their outspoken criticisms of the Government. The author then describes Sana'a before modernization was introduced into the urban metropolis, which now has a population of some 1.4 million. At the time of his early schooling and up to the Revolution of 1962, the population of Sana'a did not exceed 50,000. He then proceeded on with his educational journey by going to Intermediate School, where some teachers from other Arab states were already being used. At that time the first signs of political activism had begun to appear, and Al-Ainy was drawn into some of the talks that some of the foreign personalities and local activists were giving and began to feel inspired by their calls for an end to tyranny and backwardness.

He then became one of forty students to be sent for studies in Lebanon. On his way to Lebanon, Al-Ainy describes their first encounters with some of the amenities of modern life: western suits, cars, trains, and the sue of knives and forks. There is a great deal of humor in these descriptions. At the same time, Mr. Al-Ainy notes the beginning of the Palestinian tragedy and the start of the disillusionment at the way Arab official bulletins misled the general population with false reports of victories. Al-Ainy got his Elementary School Certificate in a ceremony that was attended by then Lebanese Prime Minister Riadh Al-Solh. In the meantime, back in Yemen, the assassination of Imam Yahya triggered an attempted revolt against the Hamid Al-Din family.

But the coup was soon confronted with opposition from within, by the self proclaimed Crown Prince (and later Imam) Ahmed, and from the rest of the Arab World then, which was not yet ripe for Revolutionary fever. The Imam Ahmed was able to quickly mobilize a large tribal force to avenge his father's death and within a short time Sana'a was besieged, taken and looted. The coup leaders were quickly rounded up and sent to the Hajjah prison, where many were beheaded.

The students were then moved to Egypt, when one of the rebel leaders landed in Beirut (the Algerian Al-Fadheel Al-Wirtalani), which aroused the displeasure of the Imam. In Egypt, students like Mohsin Al-Ainy, began to formulate political, social and cultural aspirations and an interest in political affairs began to take shape. With the exposure to the active cultural enlightenment that was then brewing in Egypt, the Yemeni students began to collectively expose themselves to modern political ideas and organized themselves to take part in political demonstrations in Cairo for such causes as the Algerian Revolution.

Enrolling in Cairo University, Mr. Al-Ainy then began to take prominence as an active member of the Free Yemenis Movement when Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Zubeiri finally landed in Cairo after having been wandering for a safe haven in exile, since he was able to escape from imprisonment for taking part in the 1948 coup. The Egyptian Revolution against King Farouk provided a new venue of political activism by Al-Ainy and his fellow Yemeni students in Egypt.

In 1954, Al-Ainy returned to Yemen, for a visit and soon found himself accompanying the son of Imam Ahmed on his trips abroad. Egyptian interest in Yemen also began at this juncture with the first Egyptian military mission. The wheels of the Egyptian plane that carried the mission, which Al-Ainy also accompanied landed in Hodeida Airport, which was no more than a dirt runway, and its wheels sank in the sand.

The efforts to try to get the plane out provided a light moment in the memoirs, as Al-Ainy described the efforts of many people to rescue the plane with ropes ended up in failure. The plane could only be pulled out by another Egyptian plane that followed later to Hodeida. The 1955 attempted coup against Imam Ahmed soon brought on more challenges to the Free Yemenis Movement and our author's life took on new directions.