Literary CornerFifty Years in Shifting Sands (5/5) [Archives:2005/896/Culture]

November 21 2005

By Abu Al-Kalmah Al-Tayyibah
As the Egyptians troops Yemen, many thought the end of the Republic was inevitable. Even many in the Republican side protested the leaving of the Egyptians for fear that the Royalists were going to take over Sana'a. But the Egyptians were adamant. They also affirmed their desire to close the “Yemen file” and released all the politicians, officers and social dignitaries that were locked up in the “War Prison” in Cairo. It was then that the late “Professor” Ahmed Mohammed Nu'uman uttered his famous quote when he said: “We came to Cairo to seek the right to speak, only to find ourselves now deprived of the right to take a leak!” With the Egyptians gone, the old heroes of the Yemeni Patriotic Movement found themselves again in the forefront of political life in the country. It was clear to many that the status quo of the Republic as it was kept under the Egyptians could not ensure the survival of the Republic. The “patriots” put together a proposal for reform that was to put the Republic on a sound constitutional footing. Although President Sallal had signed his agreement to the proposal, he and many of the political and military elements that relied on Egyptian backing decided to leave the country. A provisional government was set up during the bloodless coup d'etat of November 5, 1967, until elections for the Consultative Assembly were held. As the military situation became critical with the Royalists surrounding Sana'a, General Hassan Al-Amri took over as Prime Minister and the Republican forces (including tribal forces of Hashid, led by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar, the late Mujahid Abu Shawarib broke the Seventy-Day Siege. With the Republic somewhat saved, Al-Aini took over as Prime Minister in early 1969 and Yemen began a new era, enjoying the most dynamic period of Republican rule. A civilian government held sway and a vocal elected Consultative Assembly was able to end the Royalist onslaught. Actually, the Saudis had pretty much agreed with the Egyptians that both should wash their hands of Yemen in the wake of the 1967 War. Although the Saudis still continued some nominal support to the Royalists, they were also not interested in seeing the Hamid Al-Dins return to power in Sana'a. Thus, the gestures for a peaceful settlement with the Saudis, by the Al-Aini Government were greeted positively. Negotiations led to recognition of the Republic by Saudi Arabia in the Summer of 1970 and a new era of National Reconciliation followed. Many of the Royalists were allowed to return and were peacefully molded back into the mainstream of society (with many re-entering the civil service). All things seemed to be going well for the Al-Aini Government. However, the move to control the use of Qat and the proposed Unity Agreement with the Southern Yemenis, which was consummated after a brief period of border skirmishes made the Al-Aini Government unable to function much. December 30, 1972 saw the takeover of the Government by more conservative forces and Al-Aini went back to his diplomatic activities as Ambassador to London. The Al-Hajri Government held on for a while until the military reestablished its full control of the Government with the coup d'etat of Colonel Ibrahim Al-Hamdi in June 1973. Mohsin Al-Aini returned as Prime Minister for a couple of years, until disputes among the military brass and Al-Hamdi put Al-Aini in a critical situation since Al-Hamdi moved against some of the Abu Luhoum officers (in-laws of Al-Aini). To avoid exasperating the matter, Al-Aini resigned and went back to diplomacy again until the Mid-Nineties.

Of course, there is much more to the book than merely an accounting of the life of one of the most dynamic political personalities that Yemen could produce in this long volatile half century of the transformation of Yemen from a medieval kingdom on one part and a formerly weakly held last bastion of British Imperialism in the South later turned into the most radically oriented Arab bastion of Soviet socialism. Amidst all this dichotomy, a number of other paradoxes and much regional and international maneuvering, Mr. Al-Aini tried to bring to the reader the many challenges that beset many serious minded and sincerely hopeful politicians and social dignitaries to bring Yemen to its deserved place among nations working for the betterment not only of their own situations in the homeland, but for regional cohesion and harmony and international peace. The challenges, as Mr. Al-Aini showed on a number of occasions in this dramatic expose of the metamorphosis of a small strategically located country from an obscure closed state to a country of promise, beset by so many obstacles, can truly be monumental and indeed warrant more in-depth study. In this book, we have a living portrayal of not only the complex politics, so few have been able to reveal in their chronicle of these very same times, but also of the underlying aspirations, hopes and human frustration of bad circumstance, conflicting interests and other forces, for which such hopes and aspirations have no bearing. Yemen is still a promising country and much can be achieved to make its place in the regional scene and the international community more weighty. Many of the themes discussed by Al-Aini can still play a pivotal role in reorienting the country onto a proper course of modern statecraft: national reconciliation, a greater and freer role for civil society, and more genuine participation of the people in the political, social and economic development. That is what I believe Mr. Al-Aini sought to project in his candid autobiography, which should be a source of further academic and historical study and analysis. Third World politics can arouse interest indeed, if only third world intellectuals could come out and speak their minds.