The Making of the October 14th Revolution [Archives:1998/45/Focus]
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By Ali Ahmed Al-Salami,
Britain occupied Aden on January 19, 1839, and from there, its influence expanded to cover all Yemen’s southern areas. From the very start, the Yemeni people resisted the occupation and maintained incessant struggle.
The strategic position of Aden had made it a target of foreign ambitions across various eras. The British Governor of Bombay had described Aden in a message on February 27, 1838 to the board chairman of the East India Co. as “priceless”. He wrote, “It can serve as a store for coal in all four seasons of the year and it can be a gathering point for vessels using the Red Sea. In addition to being a strong military base to protect commercial routes from the Arab Gulf to the Red Sea and the coast of Egypt.
“Aden, similar to Gibraltar, if captured becomes difficult to subdue from either land or sea,” the Governor said. He indicated that two countries would block Britain’a ambition in Aden – Czarist Russia and France.
“Both countries wish to wipe out British influence in the east,” he said, noting that “Russia was heading towards British interests through Iran while France was advancing through Egypt.”
Britain’s launch to occupy Aden was met with strong, though spontaneous, resistance in which 139 Yemenis were martyred in defense of their country. Many more were injured.
The first organized resistance came in November 1839 when 4,000 tribesmen grouped themselves and attacked the British forces in Aden, but were forced to retreat after heavy shelling by British artillery. They lost 200 men. Then for over a century, there was a lull.
The Egyptian Revolution of July 23, 1952, was one of the most important events that triggered Arab nationalism.
Aden became a center for spreading national Yemeni and pan-Arab ideology, as political parties and cultural and sports clubs flourished. They were followed by trade unions and finally the labor conference of 1956.
Britain’s formation of the Southern Arab Union was a big effort to derail the ambition of the Yemeni people, who saw it as a scheme to divide Yemen. It was strongly opposed.
When the September 26 Revolution broke out in Sanaa, it changed the momentum of the struggle against colonialists in the south especially with the support of the Egyptian Revolution.
The September Revolution triggered in Aden and other southern regions the outburst of the glorious October Revolution. That is why, in just a year after the September Revolution, the people revolted against the British occupation hence giving birth to the revolution on October 14th, 1963.
The people in the south were filled with nationalist feelings and enthusiasm thus feeding the October Revolution with fervor and patriots.
Soon, increased political activity led to the formation of political parties such as the League of the Sons of Yemen. It called for the establishment of a state in the south. Other organizations included the People’s Socialist Party, the Unionist National Party, the Nation’s Party, the Liberal Democrats, the People’s Congress Party and others.
There were also the pan-Arab nationalists such as the Arab Baath Socialist Party, the National Front and the People’s Democratic Union, which adopted socialism as the basis of its doctrines and ideology.
In addition to the political parties, there was the General Federation of Trades Unions, which grouped all Aden’s trade unions and led the unionist movement.
Most parties were active within Aden only and could not expand their activities outside it. The only exception was the Arab Nationalists’ Movement, which had an underground presence in all southern regions enabling it to organize and lead the October Revolution in 1963.
A summary of the parties that were formed in Aden after 1952
1. The People’s Congress Party was established in 1954 under leadership of Ali Mohammed Luqman, and called for an independent Aden state that would join the Commonwealth.
2. The Unionist Nationalist Party was established in 1954 under chairmanship of Hassan Ali Bayumi and called for Aden’s independence then to form an official union with other southern regions.
3. The League of the Sons of Yemen was established in 1951 and called for an independent state in the south. It was led by Mohammed Ali Al-Jiffry with Shaikhan Abdullah Al-Hibshy as its secretary general.
4. Popular movements such as:
a) The Hadhramaut Unity Movement called for the unification and reform of Hadhramaut. It was led by Shaikhan Abdullah Al-Hibshy and Mihdhar Omar Al-Kaf, but did not succeed in achieving its aims.
b) Al-Awaleq called for administrative reform by replacing foreigners with national cadres. It was led by Ali Bin Mohammed Al-Jiffry, but did not succeed.
c) The Sultan of Lahj movement was led by Sultan Ali Abdulkarim Fadhl against British interference in the sultanate’s affairs. It rejected the consultative treaties imposed by Britain on the colonies.
5. The People’s Socialist Party was founded in July, 1962, led by Abdullah Abdulmajid Al-Asnaj and his deputy Mohammed Salem Ali Abdu. Its slogan was ‘unity, freedom and socialism,’ just like the Baath Party. It called for liberating Yemen from colonialism and reactionsim and for unifying it on a social democratic basis.
6. Tribal movements were formed to fight colonialism in individual areas. These included Al-Robaizi movement in Al-Awaleq, Al-Dammani movement in Abyan and the Sultan Mohammed Al-Afifi in Yafi’ Bani Qassed.
British Colonial Relations with eastern and western protectorates
1. In Aden colony, Britain ruled directly as a colonial power.
2. Britain imposed protection treaties on the sultanates, emirates and sheikhdoms. These were “eternal” treaties restricting the freedoms of the rulers in running their regions. A sultan had no right to make contacts or correspond with other foreign governments without the British authority’s permission in Aden. Moreover, a ruler had no right to rent out, sell or bestow a piece of ‘his’ land to any other state without the prior permission of the British High Commissioner. A sultan also had to pledge adherence to the treaty by him, and by his heirs and successors.
3. Treaties were imposed by Britain on the rulers of the south in order to protect its interest in the region. They certainly were not entered into willingly. Britain then favored protection to direct annexation so as not to arouse nationalistic fervor. It was also too costly to annex these statelets.
Position of the Imam’s regime in the north
1. Britain was quite keen on imposing its protection on southern Yemen so that the Imam in the north would not have any claims on these regions.
2. Britain had agreed with the Ottomans in 1914 to demarcate the border between the Yemen Wilayat (province) and the nine regions in the south.
3. Following WWI, the Imam refused to recognize the 1914 agreement. This was countered by a British rejection to annul the agreement.
4. The Imam rejected Britain’s attempts in 1919 and 1926 to reach an understanding, and persisted with his claims in the south.
5. When all failed, Britain used its bombers on two occasions against the north – in 1927 and 1928. Sectarian sentiments were also fully exploited by the British. 6. Britain later succeeded in signing a treaty with the Imam in February, 1934, by which north-south border and security matters were stabilized.
The above treaty had the following main clauses:
— Britain fully recognized the north’s independence.
— The treaty’s third article stated: ‘Settling the issue of Yemeni borders is to be postponed until negotiations are carried out before the treaty expired. The settlement will be reached in a friendly manner and in full concourse by both sides. The two signatories agree to preserve the prevailing status quo on the border. They pledge, with all means at their disposal, to prevent any military incursions or interference by their followers into each other’s territories and affairs.’
* The treaty is valid for 40 years.
* The British presence in south Yemen must never be interfered with.
* Disputed southern regions are to remain under British authority throughout the treaty’s duration and until such time when a satisfactory settlement is reached.
7. The Imam’s relations with Britain continued on the same line following the signing of the 1934 treaty; Britain consolidating its gains in the south and the Imam retreating.
8. An agreement was signed by the Imam and Britain in 1951, forming a joint border committee to study the disputed areas. It was agreed to keep the status quo until the committee finished its work.
9. The borderline remained basically as it was.
10. By signing the 1934 treaty, the Imam had recognized British colonial presence. His son, Imam Ahmed, honored the status quo for Britain’s advantage.
Arab Nationalists Movement
The October 14, 1963, Revolution was started by the Arab Nationalists’ Movement through the formation of the National Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). Cooperation with the Egyptian forces present in north Yemen was quite evident.
1. The Movement strongly believed in armed struggle to liberate the south. Men and arms were secured accordingly.
2. The Movement also believed in liberating the north from the Imam’s theological regime before the liberation of the south.
3. Secret organizational cells were formed all over the south during 1959-1964 (the true launch period of the revolution).
4. Arab Nationalists Movement was the real leader of FLOSY.
5. FLOSY was able to successfully lead the armed struggle against colonialism due to two major factors:
— its general secretariat’s regular contacts and meetings with President Nasser of Egypt, who provided ample support;
— its sound underground organizational structure and wide popular base, which took five years to fully establish.
6. Led by FLOSY, people in the south revolted against the British. War was declared in all regions.
7. Sanaa, Taiz, Al-Baidha, Qa’ataba and Ibb became centers for recruitment and other support for the revolution. Revolutionaries in the north provided great logistic support for their brethren in the south.
8. After two years of incessant armed struggle, FLOSY opened up to other movements. FLOSY and the Liberation Organization merged on January 13, 1966, to consolidate national unity.
9. On December 12, 1966, a splinter group was formed by some former FLOSY men, under the pretext that the movement was infiltrated by colonial and reactionary figures.
10. Britain was very disconcerted by Egypt’s support for the revolution in the south. President Nasser saw the struggle in southern Yemen as a “fight against the last British bastion in the Arab east.”
11. Britain tried to exploit some disputes within the national movement to divide it.
12. The Army of South cooperated with FLOSY, but it was opposed to the Liberation Front. 13. On November 7th, 1967, the Army of the South fully recognized FLOSY, preparing for it to assume power upon the declaration of independence on November 30, 1967.