Literary CornerFifty Years in Shifting Sands (4/5) [Archives:2005/894/Culture]

November 14 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

The Yemeni Revolution of September 1962 was not a product of genuine Yemeni activity and it was obvious from the start that the involvement of the United Arab Republic (as Egypt was officially known then) was going to be an enduring and costly one for the Egyptians. For the Yemenis, many had truly been anxious for a revolt of some kind, but there were not too many joined thoughts as to how this revolt was to take place. The failures of the previous revolts had not allowed people in the patriotic movement to get themselves organized to reach consensus on how to go about carrying out the overthrow of a die-hard monarchy that was unable to bring Yemen out of its misery and deprivation. Thus when the Egyptians led the way into organizing the Free Yemeni Officers into a viable and organized revolutionary clique, it was somewhat disturbing to many of the erstwhile active leadership among the intellectuals and social dignitaries that have been taking the initiative for well over 20 years or so. Ever since Zubeiri and Al-Shami and Nu'uman started the flight to Aden (which was then under British colonization), the Yemenis have done their best to keep foreign influence from creeping into the movement (although foreign support was not rejected wholeheartedly). As such, the struggle was hard and it is understandable that with the entry of the UAR into the Yemeni scene was bound to have profound effect on securing the success of the Republic. Thus, the leaders of the Free Yemenis outside of Yemen, although not fully partaking in the actual coup that overthrew the monarchy, were relieved that the coup had taken place, even if the Egyptians had taken a good deal of the initiative from them. Nevertheless they welcomed the coup and the announcement that the Imam was “buried in the rubble of his palace”. Actually, the week long reigning Imam Mohammed Al-Badr had managed to escape from his palace and from Sana'a and he and many of the princes in the royal family managed to muster up a relatively stiff effort to overturn the coup, and the Egyptian involvement may have been the overriding factor in saving the Republic in those early days, especially as the fleeing Imam had managed to get support from the other traditional monarchies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran (under the former Shah). Even the British colonists and “protectors” in the South, were not at all pleased with seeing any radical Arab revolutionary niche next to their delicately held foothold in the Arabian Peninsula. As such, the war to maintain the Republic against stubborn Royalist resistance in the Northern rugged territories that were not so easily penetrable by the Republican troops and their Egyptian vanguard troops was going to take a lot of sacrifices.

The successes on the diplomatic front may have been the most reassuring things that kept the morale of the Republicans from ebbing, especially as there had been some disputes within the Republican camp itself. Most of the diplomatic activity was engineered by the author during those important early days of the Revolution. These successes were highlighted by obtaining the support recognition of the United States in December of 1962 and thereafter the United Nations and thus international support for the Royalists was narrowed down considerably. But the Egyptian aroused some mistrust among many of the Republican leaders, some of whom were outspoken in their criticism of the way some of the Egyptian officers behaved in Yemen or by the way the Government in Cairo was imposing its own will on the behavior of the Republic. The book highlighted many sides of this fluid relationship and gave some interesting insight into the dialogues and conversations that spanned the period of the joint war effort. There were even times when the Egyptians under the leadership of President Nasser just about had it with some of the Yemeni leaders on the Republican side, and this culminated in the arrest of several leaders, in the Mid-Sixties, when they were on their way to try to get the Egyptian leadership to allow them to take a greater role in determining the course of the Yemeni Revolution. There were also several interesting light moments presented by the author in which there were some humorous anecdotes exchanged between the Yemeni leaders and the Egyptian leaders, who had not expected the war to stretch too long. A brief example is when the author was showing some concern about the early developments right after the coup. Former President Anwar Sadat (then Speaker of the National Assembly) and the responsible Egyptian leader for the “file on Yemen”, could not help but notice this concern on Al-Ainy's face, so he wanted to reassure him. “Don't worry, we got storm troopers that will be going to Yemen who are trained to eat reptiles, who will assure the Republic of victory. Mohsin Al-Ainy quickly responded to that overconfidence with a not too reassuring note: “We have tribesmen in Yemen, to whom reptiles are delicacy!”

The author during that hectic period held the Foreign Ministry portfolio and played a pivotal role in keeping the Egyptian anger as low keyed as it could get. The nature of Yemenis is xenophobic and this was bound to have a bearing on the relationship with the Egyptians, who were themselves feeling somewhat stretched thin in resources, but in the end the sacrifices of both the Yemeni Republican and the Egyptian unwavering support was key to the preservation of the Republic. When the 1967 broke out between Egypt, Syria and Jordan and Israel, the Egyptians had no choice but to withdraw from Yemen. To the surprise of many, the Republic prevailed and the Royalists could not muster up the strength to overcome the defenses of the steadfast Republican forces. The Seventy Day Siege of Sana'a would become one of the glorious moments in the life of the Republic. But, before that happened, there had to be some house cleaning work that had to be done.