October Revolution and the Day of Independence [Archives:2001/46/Law & Diplomacy]

November 12 2001

Faruq Al-Hakimi
Counselor of Ministry of Culture
The Southern part of Yemen became independent from Britain in the 30th of November 1967 after 129 years of occupation. The fact is that only Aden was a colony while the other parts were called protectorates and used to be ruled by sultans, princes and sheikhs. There was a confederation at the beginning of the 1960s within the colony of Aden and the western and eastern protectorates. This confederation used to have its own army, security forces and a modern government system. Prior to 1967, particularly at the beginning of the fight for independence, this struggle used to be armed tribal uprisings against the British colonialists led by some sultans and sheikhs. But, as a consequence of the British administration’s great progress in laying out Aden’s infrastructure, the city’s port witnessed a boom and the living condition of the inhabitants of Aden evidently improved, leading to the emergence of a mature political movement. It is clear that this civil political movement had prospered owing to this economic development and the democratic climate available at that time. Similarly, most of the workers and employees joined labor unions and popular associations in order to express the demands of the different social segments. Political parties also emerged in that period, carrying out openly their political activities and having their own newspapers. Actually, freedom available at that time, such freedom of expression through newspapers, significantly contributed to the awakening of the national sentiment not only in the South, but in the North as well. The enlightened personalities made great use of this climate by publishing a newspaper, which played a pivotal role in overthrowing the tyrannical Imamate rule in the North and the creation of the former Yemen Arab Republic.
The 26th September Revolution was followed by the proclamation of the Republic in northern Yemen. This was a a consequence of the existing conflict between Britain and the regime of the late president Jamal Abd Al-Nasser of Egypt, since the latter had supported the former Yemen Arab Republic against the royalist forces which tried hard to reinstate the royalist family in the North. Following the crisis of the Suez Canal, the British administration based in Aden, in open conflict with Egypt, supported the royalist forces against the revolutionary forces and the newly-established Republic. As for the Egyptian military authorities based in Yemen at that time, they encouraged the national movement in the South to spark a military revolution against the British presence in the Federation of South Arabia (Aden and the western and eastern protectorates). The military uprising began from Radfan mountainous area on October 14, 1963 and was led by the Pan-Arab Movement, a part of the pan-Arab movement that originated from the American University in Beirut. This revolution was headed by many popular and union organizations as well as tribal groups under the umbrella of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Moreover, another national and political movement, led by the People’s Socialist Party and his leader Abdullah Al-Asnaj, was conducting a peaceful struggle to gain national independence. This party represented the popular and union organizations before the eruption of the Revolution in 14th October 1963.
In the meantime, Britain declared that it was ready to withdraw its forces from South of Yemen in 1967, as the Egyptian authorities had succeeded in combining the National Front with other political parties, such as the People’s Socialist Party as well as some sultans, princes and national personalities, under a single organization called the “Liberation Organization.” The latter itself merged in a new organization named the Front for Liberation of South Yemen headed by Mr. Abdulqawi Makawi formerly prime minister of the so-called government of Aden.
Regrettably, the undemocratic means used for merging these organizations led to huge disagreements amongst the leaders of these organizations. For instance, the National Front declared in its literature, after having split with the Liberation Front, that the merger of the different organizations in a single one had weakened the military struggle against the colonialists. From that point, the National Front started intensifying its military struggle against the British forces based on its own capacities and the support of its affiliates who used to work for the military and police forces in the South. This support gave the National Front a wide popularity, especially among the tribal groups, and further expanded its base amongst the affiliates of the police and military forces of the Federation of South Arabia.
As a consequence of the split, the National Front carried out military struggle independently from the Liberation Front, while the latter continued its anti-British activities with the help of the Egyptian authorities. This led to many confrontations between the two fronts (the National Liberation Front and the Front of Liberation of South Yemen) and ended by the civil war in Aden which started in 1967. At this point of time, the British authorities established contact with the different civil society organizations, social dignitaries, businessmen and leaderships of the security forces in the South, as I was told by these men, in an attempt to work out independence and hand over authority to a reliable national entity able to run efficiently the affairs of the new state. These elements did hesitate to taking over the affairs of the state from the British authorities because of the unstable condition prevalent at that time, particularly following the defeat of June 1967. Finally, the British authorities decided to hand over authority to the National Front for the Liberation of South Yemen led by Qahatan al-Sha’abi and Faisal Abdullatif as the latter used to be the actual field commander of the National Front since its split from the Liberation Front. Actually, this decision was taken by the British authorities after the National Front forces defeated, with the support of the security and military forces of the Federation of South Arabia, the British forces in Aden, particularly in al-Mansura and Sheikh Othman residential quarters. Actually, I was told by a prince of one of the southern emirates that the British authorities exerted pressure on the sheikhs and princes of the South to evacuate their lands in order to hand over all the Britain-administered South Yemen to a single authority after its departure.
Afterwards, representatives of the British government met with leadership of the National Front in Geneva at the end of November 1967. They eventually reached an agreement concerning the independence of South Yemen, which was proclaimed on November 30, 1967 marking the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen headed by Qahatan al-Sha’abi.