Britain’s role in Yemen: does it need to change?

Britain has a long interest in Yemen; its near century and a half occupation of Aden was important to the British Empire, but particularly Aden was vital in Britain’s lucrative control of the Indian Raj. Britain changed Yemen’s history, and some of those changes still reverberate in the current conflict. For that reason alone, the British government has a responsibility now to Yemeni people; to ensure that any involvement by the international community does not cause Yemeni suffering; to help Yemenis work together to find a meaningful peace; and to provide significant humanitarian aid to ease suffering.

The boundaries of most states in the Middle East were drawn up by colonial powers, and often bear little resemblance to the way the land was used and divided amongst its residents. That was not true of Yemen; although the boundaries between North and South Yemen were decided by the Ottomans and the British in the nineteenth century, the geographic area in the south-west corner of Arabia has existed as the land of Yemen since long before Islamic times; it is referred to many times in the Holy Qur’an. The final boundaries between Saudi and Yemen were only settled in 2000. Yemen’s location is strategic; it sits in the centre of Africa, Europe and Asia, and borders the sea routes between those land masses. Aden has a natural harbour that has been used by seafarers for millennia: it was known to belong to the Kingdom of Aswan that ruled Yemen between seventh and fifth century BC.

When the British India Company settled in Aden in 1839, the Ottomans had already had an interest in Yemen for three hundred years, although they had found the hostile tribes of North Yemen difficult to win over and had not successfully controlled them. The Zaidi Imamate had ruled Yemen for hundreds of years, and saw Aden as within its domain, although it had largely been used by a colony of Indian Ocean sea pirates since the 1700s. The British were looking for a coaling station to fuel its steam ships travelling between Suez and Bombay. After tetchy negotiations with the local sheikh failed, eventually the British took Aden by force, in spite of the Imam’s objections. A mix of bribes and demonstrations of force by the British kept Aden in British control, although hostile tribes were always causing problems. The area was known as the Aden Settlement, part of the Indian Raj.

When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the increase in shipping made Aden into a prosperous port, one of the busiest in the world. The territory was re-organised as a separate Crown Colony of the United Kingdom from 1937, the hinterland becoming a British Protectorate. The British offered little to Yemenis themselves at that time, although some were employed the conditions were tough and they lived in a shanty town in Crater, with only rudimentary medical and educational services. World War Two brought a surge to the fortunes of Aden, with a dramatic rise in its population to over 80,000, only one third were Aden-born Arabs, with others drawn from all over Yemen, plus Indians, Jews and Somalis.

After the war Britain began to lose the lands of its empire, but Aden was a jewel that was worth keeping. The airport at Khormakser was the busiest RAF airport in the world, and only New York and Liverpool received more ships than Aden port. As the local population grew more restive under British occupation, concessions were made in order to try to keep it under British control. The colony acquired a parliament in 1947, and by 1955 some of the members were elected. Permission to establish a trades union was granted in 1942 and 20,000 union members were registered by 1956. There was a large rise in the numbers of school places offered.   After much struggling, Britain managed to get the cosmopolitan Adeni population to join with the Hadramauti tribesmen of east Yemen to form a new Federation of South Arabia

But inevitably, Yemenis became interested in Egypt and the pan-Arabism and anti-Imperialist movement of Nasser. Not only was this a threat to the British, but also to the Imamate in North Yemen, whose relationship with Britain had become more hostile in the 1950s and 60s. Eventually in 1962, with the aid of the Egyptians the Imamate of North Yemen was overthrown and North Yemen became a republic. I have a Yemeni friend who recalls her happy sixties’ childhood in Aden; she does not describe any feelings of oppression due to the British occupation. She recalled that one day when she returned from school, she was having fun singing to herself and playing; she forgot the time and was very late home. The impression from this story is that it was considered normal for small girls to walk home from school alone, demonstrating the perception of safety within the Arab community. Even though Aden was under occupation, her father was able to operate a successful business and also owned property within the city. Similarly, I have heard accounts of British children living in Aden at this time, and their memories of Yemen were invariably positive; for example, the son of a British officer told me that he used to cycle home from Steamer Point to Khormakser late in the evening without ever considering he might encounter problems. So despite the political unrest and occasional uprisings, in the main Aden provided a stable home for its citizens, whatever their origins.

However, the revolution in the north had stirred the desire for independence in the south, and behind the scenes there were ominous developments. Two rival groups, FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of South Yemen) and NLF (National Liberation Front) formed; both of them sought independence, and an armed struggle ensued between these groups as well as attacks on the British. FLOSY was considered to be less violent and had more educated people within its ranks, whereas the NLF was a Marxist paramilitary organisation that grew out of the trades unions. Things got bad enough for the British to suspend the government and impose direct colonial rule in 1965. This however did not stop the downward spiral, and finally the British were forced to leave in November 1967. As FLOSY was considered to be the most popular party, any negotiations that the British had concerning handover of powers tended to be with that group; however, a few months before the British left, the NLF had dramatically risen in popularity, and seized control.

Post-colonisation the South rapidly descended into economic chaos, although this was not caused by the ruling party. The British bases had been a valuable part of the Adeni economy, and because of financial troubles in UK at that time, an operating base was not left in Aden after their departure, leaving a hole in the finances of the fledgling state. And to make matters worse, the closure of the Suez Canal by Egypt after the Six Day War severely affected the traffic calling in to the port. South Yemen, which became known as the PDRY (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) affiliated with the Soviet Union in 1968 and became the Middle East’s only Marxist state. As part of that process, property was seized and nationalised. Rich landowners and sheikhs fled to Saudi Arabia.

Could Britain have done anything to make the move to independence easier? Britain’s occupation had in many ways provided benefits to the Yemeni community particularly in the last few decades, but it had interrupted the indigenous systems of ruling, and taken away opportunities for self-determination. Part of that was the British ignorance of the ruling systems that had functioned effectively in the Arabian Peninsula before their arrival; the only system of rule they considered was the British system, with them taking on all responsibility for controlling ‘the natives’. What I see is that the rivalries between Yemeni groups with different aspirations that emerged before independence had no proper political channels for dialogue, because Britain had not allowed an effective system of political representation for local populations, apart from a few seats in parliament. So when differences arose, they were addressed through violence.

As in Palestine, trying to control the rivalries between groups took up so much time that there were no opportunities to hand over properly, and like in Palestine, when the British eventually left they did so in a hurry, leaving the warring factions behind them.

Yemen did not join the Commonwealth, and so unfortunately ties between the two countries did not continue. That is a pity; I was at first surprised by the warmth felt towards Britain by Yemenis, especially those from Aden. The mementos of British rule remained; the statue of Queen Victoria still undamaged placed in a small green park near the old port; the rows of army barracks, now turned into homes for local people; the many grand Victorian buildings from Empire days, in need of restoration but still exuding an aura of power and stability. The church, in a style found in many English villages, still stood strong; it had been damaged by the North during the civil war, but lovingly restored to its former state. The British graves left there were carefully tended. Many Adeni people told me that they considered Aden’s finest hour was when it was ruled by Britain.

I was shocked at the suddenness of the air bombardment by the Saudi Coalition. And I was more shocked when the Britain government stood by; allowing the devastating attacks on Yemen to continue without protest. As Yemeni civilians died, and as their country was bought to its knees in a few short weeks by a savage bombing, the defense secretary Philip Hammond stated that the British government would do everything to support the attacks, short of combat. I believe our shared history means Britain has a moral responsibility to be more active in promoting peace between the warring factions.

The UK government has been active in selling planes to Saudi Arabia. Many people believe the British government restricts sales to repressive regimes; this was true but was changed quietly without parliamentary approval in 2014 and the government now sells to anyone unless there is risk the weapons might be used in violation of the law. Before this change, UK deals include a £4.4 billion in the Salam ‘peace’ project in 2007, for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, and a £1.6 billion BAE contract in 2012 to train the Saudi air force and provide 22 BAE Hawk jets. Government spokespersons have excused this, stating that if we didn’t do so, others would.

Saudi Arabia has no UN mandate for aerial bombardment of Yemen; they have bombed areas where civilians likely to be found; markets, a displaced person camp, schools and hospitals. They have also damaged infrastructure such as water tanks putting lives at risk, and the Saudi led blockade has put the civilian population at risk. Additionally, Oxfam has pointed to the use of illegal weapons by the Saudi coalition. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, UK made war planes are playing a central role in Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen. In July 2015, after reports of extensive civilian deaths and severe damage to infrastructure and historic buildings, it was reported that Paveway IV bombs, made by Raytheon, were diverted from the RAF to Saudi for use in Yemen. Experts have estimated that even if hostilities cease now, it will take a hundred years for Yemen to recover. It is time for the British government to make a stand and promote peace in Yemen. This conflict cannot be resolved by war. The Middle East has enough weapons, and what Yemen urgently needs is humanitarian aid.

What now for Aden?

aden airport recaptured

There was dramatic news last night of a change in Aden as twitter was alive with messages, with many Arab news websites carrying stories of the recapture of the airport.  This was grandly named “the Operation Golden Arrow for the Liberation of Aden”.  Those from the south are delighted.

I haven’t been able to find any commentary on this latest news in Yemen this morning, so here goes, my view. This has to be hopeful news in the short term for the Adeni people who have suffered under double siege by Houthi militias and Saudi Arabia – and also suffered from multi-pronged attacks, with heavy militia activity plus aerial bombardment from the Saudi led coalition – there is now hope of assistance arriving in Aden, and the fighting may be less intense. I had a lot of messages on Twitter yesterday evening and some with speculation – for example, I even had pictures of military machines entering Aden port but this morning I read that it is still an area of intense fighting, and also I read stories of Saleh fleeing, but can’t find confirmation of that this morning either. It will be easier to deliver humanitarian aid with the airport open; those now with control over the airport will presumably want to win friends by making this possible. These changes mean that much needed cash might also be available in Aden – the banking system in Aden had closed down and institutions like MoneyGram were no longer functioning making the economic situation impossible for Adeni people under siege. The World Heath Organisation also managed to bring in a shipment of medical supplies on Saturday, the hospitals in Aden had virtually no supplies left before that arrived. So good news in the short term.

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Aden celebrates as Houthi militias are driven from the airport

In the longer term, Aden has suffered more infrastructure damage than most cities in Yemen, virtually all businesses have closed down, all institutions have closed and many irreversibly damaged, most hospitals have closed (and the few still functioning closed to everything except emergencies due to direct effects of conflict). International organisations have left; there is no certainty that they will return soon. It is extremely unlikely that Southerners will get the independence from the North that they desired from soon after the unification in 1990, when they believed that the North had stitched them up and they had a very poor deal, and they believed with much justification that the North did not keep to any of the promises they made. ??ex ??President Hadi, the one who apparently agreed to Saudi air strikes in his quest to keep control is said to be in control of this recapture of Aden – at least, that’s what his masters in Saudi Arabia tell us. So with his appearance, Southern hopes of independence are indeed challenged. And the war is not over yet. Sana’a has been wracked with bombs overnight – they were promised – or maybe the right word is threatened – two hundred would fall on Sana’a in the last 24 hours. And Aden now will inevitably fall under Saudi influence, it’s more open, tolerant society, its enthusiasm for education, all under threat.

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As excited Adenis celebrate, their desired independence is still a distant dream

Fighting continues in most of Yemen including Aden, whilst most ordinary life in Yemen has stopped, the infrastructure damaged so severely that it will take several generations before life as before is nearly possible.  There will be recriminations, newly fostered hatreds, and power struggles in Aden – and Yemen as a whole even after fighting stops –  Yemen and Aden are still  a long way from peace. We should not get carried away and think this is the beginning of the end, for Aden or elsewhere in this troubled land.   The coalition fighting the Houthis in the south west consists of groups with very different agendas – the Al Hirak secessionists, the Islah militias, Al Qaeda militias, Da’esh militias, the troops still loyal to Hadi, amongst them the forces of Brigadier General Ali Muhsin Al Ahmer, himself a Salafist with a radical Islamic agenda, and of course, Saudi Arabia. To say nothing of Western interests, including United States and Britain.  If they are indeed victorious in the south west, the next stage will be when they all have to decide whose agenda is going to be put into action, and that will be far from easy.  And we can’t presume that the Houthi fighters, if fully defeated, will just go away and leave Aden alone. Everyone will want a reward for their own costs in this bloody and expensive war.  Their divisions may well be irreconcilable.

Packing your life in a suitcase, and leaving Yemen

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Sameera and her eldest daughter Ghosoon, in happier times on holiday in UK.

Big day – early this morning UK time, Sameera and her daughters packed up their lifetime in a suitcase, and left Yemen for Malaysia. What a loss to Yemen, but it is their only chance of her children completing their university studies that were permanently terminated due to the war, and their only chance of remaining safe as all parts of Yemen are increasingly at risk. This is Sameera and her eldest daughter Ghosoon when they came to visit me in UK 2 years ago. Safe journey to all, and I am sure that your different future will hold many wonders and you will continue to be a credit to the world. Thank you for your friendship, my wonderful, amazing sister Sameera.

Saudi Arabia at war

Originally posted on Yemen News Today:

By Dr Judith Brown

Saudi Arabia at war.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is the Red Sea, to the east is the Gulf of Arabia and a short border with Kuwait and Qatar, to the south-east is the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and Yemen is to the south-west of KSA. To the north, it has land boundaries with Jordan and Iraq.

map saudi arabia

Source of wealth.

KSA has large reserves of oil, believed to be about 40% of the world’s reserves, and is currently the world’s largest producer of crude oil. Whilst oil dropped significantly in price in 2014, Saudi Arabia can use its windfall of reserves saved from when the oil price as higher to finance its current spending (

Weapons procurement.

KSA has been purchasing weapons for many decades, many from US and Europe, but the rate…

View original 1,277 more words

Yemen’s middle classes – stupified, insecure – and running out of hope and money

“…when I go to work there is nothing to do.  I feel I ought to do something, but I can’t motivate myself to start doing anything….”   “…I can’t think, plan or act, all I do is sit around waiting for what tomorrow will bring…” “…my children’s school has closed, but they won’t do any schoolwork at home…”  “…I seem to have lost the will to do anything…”  The suddenness of the change from peace to brutal, deadly war in Yemen has put the whole population into a state of stupefied shock.

Yemen’s millions of underclasses were struggling to survive long before the war, with very little to lose and very little hope of gain. In 2014 54% of Yemenis lived below the poverty line; unemployment was 40%, with youth unemployment set at 60%.   An estimated 58% of Yemen’s population – or 14.7 million people – were already in crisis, with food insecurity, child malnutrition, and suffering rights violations such as exploitation and displacement.  Over 13 million did not have access to safe water supplies, and over 8.6 million were without basic health care. 500,000 people were already internally displaced or returnees (ie., Yemenis who were forced to leave another country where they had been residing and/or working).  The 2014 Human Response Plan for Yemen, issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, attributed the large proportion of the population living at crisis point to endemic poverty, long-standing under-development, poor governance, environmental stress, demographic pressures, continued political instability and conflict.  The lives of Yemen’s chronic poor maybe less comfortable due to the escalation of the conflict, they will undoubtedly have moments of terror, and a larger proportion may be displaced and food insecure.  A small proportion of them may be injured or killed.  But in the main, their previously miserable and insecure lives continue, but rather more miserably, and much less securely.

Yemen’s poor – even before the war they had little to lose, and little hope of gain.

The wealth gap is as large in Yemen as elsewhere in the world. There are areas in Yemen with ornate mansions that rival any in the wealthy cities and states of the Middle East.  Just as anywhere else in the world, the rich have more choices; to leave or stay; and if they decide to stay, they can afford to pay the black-market prices for everyday comforts and for extra security at home and at work.  But the middle classes who have worked to buy their homes, who have studied to educate themselves and their children; they are the ones who have lost most. In some cases, they have seen everything they own, everything they worked for over many decades, destroyed.  They have lost their homes, their businesses or their employment, and they and their children have had their only chance of education severely disrupted or terminated due to the conflict.  The war has for them been a cataclysmic event; a life changing tsunami.

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Yemeni doctors – there is much need, but with hospitals destroyed and closed due to lack of medical equipment, they are under-employed and many are not being paid

Statements reflect their inability to control anything.   This was directly addressed by R (translator, Sana’a): “You can’t defeat this war nor control it; you just have to submit yourself to it…”  More commonly, people express their helplessness in describing situations. A British Yemeni with her family in under siege in Aden described her powerlessness: “We are still trying to get my granddaughter out (of Aden)…but it is the bus to Sana’a that is so risky…” Another friend (S, doctor) who had already fled from Aden and is now displaced in Hadramaut expressed similar feelings: “My friends in Aden are trapped there…the only thing I can do is pray for them…”   A (teacher, Sana’a) stated “…the bombs are getting closer to our house now, we are all frightened, there is nothing we can do except pray…”  Many also describe their powerlessness relating to their economic circumstances, many persons who are still employed in the public sector are still being paid at the moment, but most express concern as their workplaces are no longer functioning, and their only remaining source of income might cease.  Those who are unemployed recognise that there is no hope for employment in the foreseeable future.  A (engineer, Dhamar) “There is no point in seeking work in Yemen; there is none.”   A future with no income and no savings looms in front of them; they are inside a trap of war with no ability to respond to any real threat to themselves and their family.

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Yemeni schools and universities – closed all over Yemen. Many are housing displaced people, others have been destroyed or damaged. Most teachers are not working.

People describe even their inability to control the simplest things in life that are normally taken for granted. (R. translator, Sana’a) “When you are using water to bathe, or do the laundry, you are always worried that the water will end before you finish.” (A, teacher, Sana’a) “Food is very expensive and we are using up our savings, but we have no choice.”  G (Dental Student, Aden), who was due to take her final examinations this year “I will never be able to finish my degree and become a dentist.” R. (translator, Sana’a) “… I worry about them (two boys, fourteen and ten) and their futures…we don’t know when they will go back to school…”  F (student, Aden) “…we managed to find some vegetables, but when the militias saw us, they wouldn’t let us take them through…”

The loss of assets has affected the middle class disproportionately. In Aden, Lahj and Taiz in the south-west, and Saada in the north-west most people who owned their homes have lost them, either by destruction, or by being forced to flee with no hope of return. Parts of many other cities have also been destroyed. In a society that has no retirement income, sharing your home with grown up children provides security in old age; instead of facing a comfortable retirement surrounded by their family, when their home disappears and their children are forced to scatter, the future in retirement becomes bleak. If people have savings, they are worried about the viability of banks and they do not know whether to risk leaving the money there, or whether to risk leaving large amounts of cash in their home that could be destroyed without warning.

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The loss of your home means a loss of your retirement security
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The oil industry used to be a source of employment for engineers in Yemen. But currently there are no opportunities for engineers.

The lack of electricity, combined with the restriction to indoor living and the cessation of work and school has created monotony and boredom.  Initially when there was limited electricity every few days people rushed to charge their phones so that they had some means of calling for help in emergencies, or responding to emergency calls of others. In many places now there is no electricity at all. People who had home generators found problems in purchasing diesel to run them; in Sana’a people queued for five days for five litres of diesel (A, teacher).  Some managed to buy a solar panel which is sufficient to run a wireless router and a few low voltage gadgets (R, translator, Sana’a).  Others charge their phones by going to local shops to pay for charging services (A, engineer, Dhamar).

Most people do not have sufficient electricity to access television programmes.  “During Ramadhan, there are usually really good programmes on the TV, soap operas, that sort of thing, but this year there is no electricity so nothing to distract us…without things to do it makes everyone miserable.” (R, translator, Sana’a).  Some people still use the radio for their source of news (A, teacher, Sana’a). Not surprisingly, bombing raids and rocket attacks have become a source of frightening entertainment for young people, especially young men; most days, I get a horrifying supply of photos of last night’s raids.  When interviewing one Sana’a resident one evening, in the space of 45 minutes we counted six bombs, plus my interviewee described the sound of anti-aircraft fire over the roof of the house.  There are often rumours that the raid tonight is going to be near your home (R, translator, Sana’a) which adds to stress.  When the bombs are released, there is a whooshing sound, and during that moment people say their heart stops as they wait to see whether it will hit their home (H, activist, Sana’a).  Others report frightening episodes: “…when my wife was in labour in the hospital, six rockets hit the building next door…”  (A, engineer, Dhamar). This affects the ability to sleep;  (A, translator, Sana’a) “… when you are fully submitted then you can finally sleep, but you don’t know if you will wake up again or not. Whether you will be in the next group of blown up houses and corpses.”

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Repeated bomb blasts near to people’s homes make it difficult to sleep

Not surprisingly, the stress results in difficulties with relationships in many families. Whilst many report an increase in petty arguments, others report more serious quarrels.  (A, teacher, Sana’a)  “We are lucky in our family, we don’t belong to political parties; the war has split some families.  But when we talk about the war, the conversations can become very heated”. Sometimes the issues are related to whether to move overseas and claim asylum, or whether to stay in Yemen. “My father says it will be alright if we stay, but I don’t think there is any future for us in Yemen now. He was so angry, shouting at us.” (G., student, Tarim).

Almost everyone is considering whether to travel overseas.  “I’m going to Oman to be a refugee; I hope to find work there in my speciality.” (A. Engineer, Dhamar).  “Do you know if I could find a job overseas before I leave Yemen? I don’t want to be a refugee.” (A, teacher, Sana’a) “Someone I know went to Kuala Lumpur, he got a job quickly, and he doesn’t have my language skills; I am planning to go there.” (G. Student, Tarim).  For the people who own their home, this is a challenging choice, as the legal system in Yemen is corrupt and there is no guarantee that the current owner can regain his asset if he returns.   For those who still have a salary, going overseas will mean they will lose that income, with no certainty of work in their new home.  These two issues distract some from travelling; “I will stay here in my home, to live or die, whatever happens,”, but it is less common to have already made a definite decision to stay put.

Refugees who flee Yemen will almost all be from the middle classes; those with enough money to travel overseas. Unlike Syria, it has no border where it is easy to cross into another country to claim asylum. The financial cost inhibits some from travelling. “…we have no water left in our village, we are being forced to leave.  But where can we go, there are 26 of us…” (housewife, Hodeida).  It costs $300US for a visa for each person wishing to travel through Oman, plus the cost of airfare to the next destination, plus money for rent and food until a job is found.  The alternative is catching a boat to cross the Gulf of Aden to reach Somalia or Djibouti, more dangerous and still expensive.  Currently shocked at the suddenness of the change in their circumstances, and still mourning their many losses, choosing to move seems to help middle class Yemenis regain something of their old ambitions and drive.  These are the cream of Yemeni society, the ones who have suffered most, and the ones who have lost all hope of a future in Yemen; they see a new start somewhere else as their only chance to have a successful life.

The Strange Relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni tribes.

Saudi is the only country in the world named after a family – the Sauds, from the Nejd region in the middle of Arabia.  They were motivated by religious Wahhabi zeal and from 1902 the Saudi tribes started to capture much of the Arabian peninsula, which Abdulaziz Al-Saud declared to be a kingdom in 1932; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  After the discovery of oil, the tribes were rapidly pulled into the modern day. A comfortable life afforded by wealth from its large oil reserves softened the tribes who became used to a very different way of life.  Instead of fighting for power, for over 80 years Saudi maintained its position by use of its wealth to buy friends and influence, and relied on a pact with USA to defend the kingdom against any dangers.

king abdulaziz al saud
King Abdulaziz Al Saud

Historically, the wealth in Arabia had been generated in the south west of the peninsula, in the areas that became known as North Yemen plus the Aden area; mountainous, with a higher rainfall and able to grow crops especially coffee that generated a high income, Yemen also controlled land trade routes of valuable commodities such as frankincense, whilst the ports of Aden and Mocha controlled the trade routes between Asia, Africa and Europe.  They were the most sophisticated and cultured people in the peninsula, with comparatively large urban conurbations and distinctive architecture.

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Stunning and sophisticated architecture of Yemen

The area was guarded by the mountain tribes that originated from the north of Yemen, who were notorious warriors who knew the mountain terrain and were able to defend their position for a millennium; adventurers such as the Ottomans found it impossible to control them. The largest of these was the Hashids, and the other important large tribe was the Bakils whose ancestral home was in Saada near to the Saudi border.  Yemen was ruled for one thousand years by an Imamate, whose ruler was drawn from the Bakil tribe; in recent decades was known as the Mutawakkilite kingdom.  The last 150 years of the Imamate were spent trying to recapture Aden which was occupied by the British since 1839, developing Aden as a Crown Colony.

Imam Ahmed bin Yahya
Imam Ahmed bin Yayha 1891-1962

The autocratic, unpredictable and conservative Imam Ahmed died in 1962 and his son Muhammed Al Badr was briefly crowned, but within days he was overthrown by revolutionaries who wanted a more forward looking  Yemen, assisted by Egyptian forces.  Yemen was declared a republic, but the unseated Imam was supported by Saudi Arabia who feared a vibrant democracy developing on its doorstep.  Al Badr was given asylum in Saudi Arabia, and for a half a decade they supported the deposed Imam and his tribe in the quest to return to power.  Egypt lost thousands of soldiers trying to hold the peace in Yemen, only to find that being bogged down in Yemen tribal warfare probably cost them the six day war against Israel. Al Badr eventually settled in UK and died from natural causes at a grand old age.  The British were forced to relinquish Aden in 1967, and South Yemen became a communist state.  The ruling sheikhs were deprived of their assets and fled to Saudi Arabia, where they smouldered resentfully after their loss of status and wealth.Eventually an uneasy peace settled between Saudi Arabia, the northern tribes and the Yemeni President. However, Saudi provided weapons and financial support to the Hashids and Bakils, which meant they remained a thorn in the side of the Yemen government.

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Yemeni tribes often had more weapons than the Yemeni army, supplied by Saudi Arabia.

When US wanted volunteers to fight in Afghanistan to overthrow the communists there, two Yemeni groups immediately volunteered as mujahedeen.  One was the deposed rich from the South who were living in exile  in Saudi; they thirsted for revenge against any communist state. From the same background as Bin Laden, they soon moved into positions of command, the most well-known being Tariq Al Fadhli whose father was Sultan of Abyan, near Aden, who organised the first jihadi movements in Yemen on his return. The other group was from the Bakil and Hashid tribes, natural warriors who were used to fighting in mountain terrain. When they returned, they believed that they had caused the downfall of the Soviet empire.  Many were given civil service jobs on their return, jobs which most did not even do, but they drew a regular salary which bloated the already inefficient civil service of North Yemen.

President Ali Saleh of YAR (North Yemen)
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President Ali Al Bidh of PDRY (South Yemen)

After the fall of the Soviets, the two Yemens both had problems, and they decided to unify in 1990.  It was a hurried and not well planned merger, President Saleh of the north knew that Saudi Arabia preferred two warring countries and he forced things to move too quickly to avoid giving Saudi chance to interfere; the South suffered financially after the loss of Soviet support and were forced into full unity rather than a federation, their preferred choice.  The South believed that their better form of government, superior health and education would win them voters in the southern highlands, and also in the coastal plain along the Red Sea called theTihama.

It was not to be; an emerging Islah party (Muslim Brotherhood) reportedly funded by Saudi Arabia took a large proportion of the vote they had counted on. Additionally, a few months after unification, the largest oil reserves in Yemen were discovered in Hadramaut.  The Southern leaders found themselves side-lined in government and the posts they were given were only tokens. Pension payments to retirees in the South were withheld. The real power lay with Saleh’s party, corruption and inefficiencies remained, the oil spoils were divided amongst Saleh and his northern friends, who took the long standing view that they did the protection and in consequence they had a right to take anything in the south that they wanted – and they did.  They took property and business assets, whilst the corrupt legal system offered the Southerners no redress.

Tribesmen were infuriated by the use of the mocking term ‘Dahbashi’

Southern resentment boiled over in 1994. They believed they could win in a war against Saleh, severely weakened by economic sanctions, and Saudi agreed to back the South’s quest for independence. But Saleh, a powerful manipulator, had a trump card. He called on the mujahedeen to help fight the ‘infidels’, or the communists, in South Yemen. Fired with anti-communist propaganda, these religious extremists saw a new mission. They arrived in the South and fanatically started applying sharia law, flogging people for drinking alcohol or talking to unrelated women, ransacked the church, and burning down the famous Sira beer factory.  They then stripped the city of its assets, even removing bathtubs, windows and doorknobs, to take back to their homelands.  The Yemen Constitution was torn up and a new one devised, no longer a compromise between the socialist South and the tribal North, but one that suited the North and religious extremists. From then on, Southerners believed themselves to be living under occupation.  A new television programme emerged in the south-west, called ‘Tales of Dahbash’.  Dahbash was a hopeless but loveable rogue with a northern tribal accent.  The name ‘Dahbashi’ became a pejorative term used to describe the chaos of northern management and the unsophisticated behaviour of the tribal people, most of whom had little education.  This made northerners bristle.

As Saleh was keen to continue improving his relationship with Saudi, he gave permission for Saudi to set up Wahhabi schools in Yemen. Religious tolerance in Yemen was high and it had never been a factor in Yemeni politics, historically the tribe being a more significant identifier rather than religion. Saudi was beginning to feel challenged by rising Shia power. The massive Middle East oil field with wells in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and East Saudi Arabia was almost totally over Shia lands. Saudi neurotically obsessed in case their Shia population moved its allegiance to Iraq or Iran, both of which had Shia majorities, which would mean it would lose its oil wealth.  Saudi planned to convert the Zaidis to Sunni Islam, but the northern tribes were having none of it, and countered with a Zaidi revivalist movement. This resulted in escalating tensions, and eventually Saleh was paid by Saudi to attack the Bakil tribe in 2004.  Saleh used members of his own tribe, the Hashids, to do so.  Hussein Houthi, a youth leader was killed in the battle hence his movement became known as the Houthis.  After this other attacks on the Houthis followed, and in 2009 Saudi crossed the border to attack the Houthis themselves, only to be repelled by battle hardened Houthi warriors.

Locations of Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East
Gas and oil fields. Note the correspondence of oil fields with Shia populated areas

The Houthis became more and more militarised in response to the very real threat they faced from Saudi Arabia, and once more they wanted to be in a controlling position in governing Yemen. Meanwhile, as US drones attacked Al Qaeda operatives in areas like Shabwa, often killing civilians as they did so, the numbers of recruits to Al Qaeda actually increased. Al Qaeda by now had a strong anti-Shia sentiment; if it wasn’t funded by Saudi Arabia, all of its characteristics were aligned to Wahhabism.  All of these factors increased the Houthi vulnerability, and made their  stance more aggressive.

After Yemen’s Arab Spring and the downfall of Saleh, the Houthis wanted to be a prominent actor in the new negotiations. They aligned all the Zaidi tribes, including the Hashids, and strangely they allied with Saleh, now ex-President but wanting to take back his old job.  Saleh had left office with considerable wealth.  Because of the tribal support, they easily took over large swathes of the old North Yemen, including the capital, Sana’a.  Obsessed with Saudi and Western interference, they did not try to win hearts and minds; most people in Yemen were tired of the old politicians and corruption, and were open to new approaches; they might have welcomed a more conciliatory approach. Some did start to support the Houthis, but when they closed businesses that they thought had any Saudi or US connections – most that they closed didn’t – and they closed newspapers and arrested jounalists, they deprived many people of their livelihood. When negotiations failed and the interim President Hadi fled from Sana’a to Aden, the Houthi militias followed him.  They were determined not to be deprived of the jewel of Aden, as their forefathers had been by the British occupation. They were  reported as using the old rhetoric as in the 1994 war, calling Adenis infidels and stating that they were intent on killing them.

Aden, Yemen.

The Southern secessionist movement had been more active since 2011 in response to the unrest in Yemen. They were determined this time to win their independence from their northern masters. Most of all, they did not want Saleh to resume his position as their master.  They resisted.  They are not practised warriors; Aden, the south-west and their populations have been destroyed and fighting was vicious; two sides with much to lose.  Saudi is now bombing tribes that had once been allies, the tribes from North Yemen. Saudi bombing has aggravated Houthi aggression and accelerated destruction. Although their presence is resented by many secessionists, Saudi funded Islah militias are fighting along with them together with Al Qaeda and Da’esh militias, who offered military training at Da’esh (IS) training camps.  Da’esh ideology states that anyone can convert to Sunni Islam except Shia, who must be eradicated. Eventually the militias were joined by ground troops reported as from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia, its power long resented in Yemeni society, has used its wealth to build relationships with individual tribes throughout its history. Now it has used its military might to shape Yemeni society, and has caused a divide that will be hard to heal.

Saudis Above, Houthis below, nowhere is safe.

Children trapped in war

SANAA, Yemen — In the early hours of June 13, the Amari family was asleep in their home in Beit Meyad, a district near the heart of Sanaa. Then the bombs came. At least four missiles struck their street in quick succession at around 2 a.m.

A nearby shop selling gas cylinders was hit; there was fire everywhere. The family scrambled to flee their house. They were almost outside when an explosion blew the building’s main gate off its hinges, ramming into four of them and sending them flying backward into the house.

Four siblings were killed instantly: 11-year-old Iyad, 18-year-old Abdel Qader, 22-year-old Mona, and 25-year-old Aisha. Their cousin, Ahmed al-Amari, who lived next door, was also killed by the blasts. He was 10 years old.

“They were torn apart. We buried pieces of them,” said Boshra al-Amari, an aunt to the victims. She lives two streets away and huddled with her three sons in her home that day as the missiles rained down.

The four siblings who were killed are survived by an 18-year-old brother and a 20-year-old sister, who is now in shock and unable to speak. The mother of their dead cousin suffered only a broken arm, but she is in a state of hysteria. She believes the children were injured but are still alive. Fearing for her psychological state, Boshra has not had the heart to tell her they are all dead.

The attack also killed five members of the Akwaa family, who lived next door, including three children, bringing the death toll to at least 10, all of them civilians and five of them children. Up to 60 people were also wounded in the strike.

Beit Meyad is a residential district, but the presumed reason for the strike is that enemies of Saudi Arabia lived in the area.

On March 26, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries began bombing Yemen to stop the advance of a rebel group known as the Houthis who took over the capital in September and continued their march southward, seizing control of large parts of the country.

Saudi planes have bombed sites across Yemen on an almost daily basis for nearly three months, backed by logistical and intelligence support from the United States. In addition to military targets and weapons depots, the airstrikes have hit the airports in Aden and Sanaa, where two destroyed commercial airplanes still lie on the tarmac; a refugee camp the northern district of Haradh; and several UNESCO-protected heritage sites, including most recently at least five houses in Sanaa’s 2,500 year-old Old City.

In addition to the airstrikes, fierce street battles have broken out in Aden, Taiz, and elsewhere between the Houthis, who are allied with forces loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile and other opponents. More than 2,500 people have been killed in the conflict and over 11,000 injured, according to the World Health Organization.

Since the beginning of June, analysts and residents in the capital say, the bombing campaign has entered a new phase:

Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia’s enemies, rather than just military targets.

Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia’s enemies, rather than just military targets. Civilians have found themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire.

The street where the Amari family lived was home to the residences of Saleh’s nephew and his brothers. They weren’t home at the time. Earlier this month, the house of Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, was bombed, as was his office, which is located near a popular Internet cafe in Sanaa. On Sunday night, June 14, the home of a close Houthi ally in the Faj Attan area of Sanaa was also bombarded.

“They are trying to terrorize and punish their opponents,” said Maged al-Madhaji, a Sanaa-based political researcher, adding that Saleh’s allies do not sleep in their homes anymore. “It’s an idiotic strategy and it’s a sign of their failure. They don’t know what to do. They can’t win this war from the air.”

The Saudi-led air campaign is far from the only danger Sanaa civilians like the Amari family face. Boshra said the night after her relatives were killed, a shell from an anti-aircraft weapon fired by the Houthis hit her roof and another landed in her yard. “Their sound is terrifying,” she said. “We get some kind of shrapnel from them hitting our house almost every day.”

The rapid booms of anti-aircraft fire fill the sky in Sanaa whenever the roar of a passing warplane is heard — and sometimes even when it isn’t.

Dr. Nasr al-Qadasi, the head of the Goumhouri hospital in Sanaa, Yemen’s second-biggest hospital, said he receives three to five patients a day who have been wounded by anti-aircraft munitions. “They shoot randomly and without purpose,” Qadasi said. “I am more afraid of the anti-aircraft fire than of the missiles.” In a report in May, Amnesty International found that anti-aircraft munitions shot by the Houthis “were the leading cause of casualties in the capital.”

Meanwhile, Boshra is at a loss of what to do as her family members, like so many Yemeni civilians, are trapped in the fighting.

In addition to the five family members she lost two days ago in a Saudi airstrike, her 80-year-old aunt died in the town of al-Jalilah, some 90 miles northwest of the capital, after being wounded as a result of shelling by Houthi-allied forces; the aunt was unable to reach a hospital for a month due to the fighting and finally succumbed to her injuries. In Aden, Boshra’s cousin’s husband, who is mentally ill, was shot by snipers as he was walking in the street. And a relative of her brother-in-law, a pharmacist, was kidnapped by Houthis in Sanaa last week.

“I don’t see this ending,” Boshra said with tears in her eyes. “I think things will get much worse.”

She lost her job as a reporter after the Houthis closed down the newspaper where she worked. Her husband has not received a government salary in three months. They now rely on a relative living in the United States who sends them money. She wants to leave Yemen, but with the borders closed and hardly any outbound flights from Sanaa, she remains trapped inside.

“There is nowhere safe,” she said. “I want to protect my children but everywhere is targeted. I don’t know how to protect them.”

Coping with crisis in Yemen

The war in Yemen is a multifocal one; the Houthis and ex-President Saleh, President Hadi and troops still loyal to him, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, the southern secessionist militias – and into this maelstrom Saudi Arabia started a bombing campaign, which has only aggravated the fighting militias and not stopped any of their advances. Most areas in the west of Yemen (the old North Yemen plus Aden) are witnessing bombs and militia activity on a daily basis, many have lost their homes due to conflict. In the middle of it all, most ordinary Yemeni people do not belong to a militia and do not want to fight at all, but they are finding that ordinary life has become extremely complicated and hazardous, with even basic needs such as eating, drinking, washing, cooking, becoming difficult and challenging tasks.

Most people in the west of Yemen have not been able to work since the conflict escalated with the start of the Saudi bombing campaign at the end of March. Some people are still receiving their salaries, for example, government employees in the North are still being paid, but Aden government salaries have stopped. Even people still getting their government salaries are not sure how long that can continue. Although most businesses in this area have had to cease trading, some are continuing, for example, water tankers are in demand; however, their costs are escalating due to having to buy petrol on the black market at grossly inflated prices in order to transport water to the cities. Some who are working in internationally funded humanitarian agencies in Sana’a such as UNICEF are still employed but finding the demands have increased significantly, whilst resources available are in limited supply. For others who are still able to work getting to their place of employment is a major problem as petrol is in very short supply and public transport is erratic and expensive due to rising petrol costs. In the east of Yemen, Hadramaut, there is less disruption of employment, although this area has a low population because it is mainly desert, and it is under stress because of the large numbers of internally displaced people arriving there. This area is under Al Qaeda control but mostly stable at the moment. In all parts of Yemen prices are rapidly escalating due to the extensive Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports; people who are relying on their savings to buy essentials are finding that their savings are becoming depleted and they face an uncertain future. There is little sign of humanitarian aid arriving due to the blockade. It is hardly surprising that most Yemeni people that I know are now thinking they must move from Yemen in order to survive. This too is not easy as most countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe are not accepting Yemeni refugees, despite their life threatening circumstances. One way out is by boat across the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden to Somalia and Djibouti; those arriving in Somalia are moving to another war torn country that is more stable than Yemen at the moment. Those Yemenis who have travelled to Djibouti in tens of thousands have not been welcomed and they are living in dire circumstances with little assistance. The other route out is to cross the border into Oman, although Oman is only issuing permits for people who plan to travel across Oman and leave by plane for a third country. So far the only country that has offered asylum to people from Yemen is Malaysia.

So people are trapped inside conflict.The emergency services in Yemen were never well developed, and are now under severe strain. This means that when bombing attacks occur, emergency services rarely turn up.  Local people who are not equipped or trained step in to find people who are injured or dead amongst the rubble, and transport them to hospital.  Often this is done when the rescuers themselves face great danger when they enter buildings that have already been severely damaged, and the survivors who are pulled out might face further injuries because of the makeshift nature of their rescue.

For most Yemenis, the supply of water is their most pressing need.  Even before the conflict water was becoming a serious concern; one city Taiz did not have a regular water supply and it was forecast that Sana’a would be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. In the highlands, water is pumped out of deep wells, needing diesel or electricity. The conflict and blockade has caused erratic electricity and diesel is in very short supply, so water cannot be pumped up. Since April water no longer arrives in people’s homes direct, but instead people leave their homes in search of water, collect it in containers and bring it home. This can only happen when electricity is switched on; in some areas of the capital city residents have reported being without electricity for up to seven days at a time.  When the electricity came on, people rushed out to their nearest water supply; their need was such that sometimes there were fights in the queues waiting for water as people were so desperate. This was helped by some Yemeni benefactors paying for water tankers to bring water to residents in areas that were in short supply.

yemen 29.6.15 003
Water delivery in Yemen

However many humanitarian agencies point to the problems that might arise from contaminated or unclean water in this crisis, and this can only be a temporary stop-gap.  It is aggravated by the lack of fuel for boiling water to make it safe.  All  of the water that is needed by a family – for drinking, cooking, washing and laundering, all has to be bought into the house via plastic containers.

Whilst food is in limited supply and expensive, more pressing is the issue of cooking it.  There has not been any cooking fuel for nearly three months.  Where people have an old tanour oven they are using it, and sharing this facility with their neighbours. For example, one friend has a tanour oven which they share with five other houses which means it is at full capacity most waking hours. It is a boiler shaped oven that has a fire underneath; with little fuel, the only thing that can be used for cooking is wood – and there are not many trees in Yemen.

bread cooking on the side walls of a tanour oven
bread cooking on the side walls of a tanour oven

Many bakeries are no longer functioning and people have to bake their own bread by sticking it on the walls of the oven. Most Sana’a people also have a large metal casserole dish in which they cook the traditional Yemeni food over the fire; a stew of meat and vegetables called salta.

Where people have been made homeless, it is not overseas agencies that have stepped in; it is the hospitable nature of Yemen.  People have opened their homes to others who have lost theirs. In every home that I know of, my Yemeni friends have said that they have a family staying in each of their rooms; a three bedroomed home with 16,18 or more people living together.  Even people who are displaced who have found a small home are sharing it with new arrivals until the seams are almost bursting.

There is no time to start thinking about mental health issues: whole families traumatised as their circumstances have changed from peace to a bloody, senseless war with no end to their insecurity and a lack of hope. Jobs and education disrupted and with no certainty of ever returning to paid employment, or completing school and university. And no end to the constant bombs and hounding by militias. Many must suffer from post-traumatic stress, but there is no treatment available. I have friends in Yemen; I go to bed thinking of them; wake up in the night thinking of them, and they are my first thought when I get up in the morning.  How much worse it must be if you are caught in this prison of conflict.

A lot was said about wartime Britain surviving the blitz.  This is Yemen’s blitz.  They are struggling, and left to do it on their own, with little awareness or concern from others in the world.  If they manage to escape this hell, they will be called economic migrants.

Divide and rule: Saudi Arabia, Oil, and Yemen.

Divide and Rule: Saudi Arabia, Oil and Yemen

(June 2, 2015)

Saudi Arabia does not want a strong, democratic country on the other side of the more than 1500 kilometer long border that separates both countries. It opposed the unification of former North- and South Yemen in 1990. It supported, together with Kuwait, the Southern separation movement during the Civil War of 1994 with billions of dollars. And it heavily influenced the outcome of the Yemeni transition process after 2011.

At the onset of his reign on January 23, 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed his son Mohamed bin Salman (34) as Minister of Defense. Saudi Arabia, supported by others, started the airstrikes on Yemen at the request of its (il)legitimate President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi on March 25 of this year. Five weeks later, the highly experienced and thoughtful Saudi minister of Foreign Affairs (Prince Saud Al Faisal) was replaced by the former Saudi ambassador to the US (Adel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir). At the same time Aramco, the Saudi oil- and gasgiant, was restructured. The Supreme Petroleum Council was abolished and a Supreme Council established, to be chaired by the Minister of Defense. The influential minister already happened to be the Chairperson of the Economic and Development Affairs Council. These developments cannot be seen as separate from the attack on Yemen.

The energy sector is responsible for 90% of the export earnings and 45% of Saudi BNP. Regional security is therefore of crucial importance, In 2013 30% of all oil transported over sea (from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Iran) passed the Hormuz Strait, passing the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. 85% of this oil is intended for Asia. Gas too is an important export product, in particular for Qatar.

Fear of an Iranian blockade of the Hormuz Strait, and the possibly disastrous results for the global economy, has existed for years. The US therefore pressured the Gulf States to develop alternatives. In 2007 Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Yemen jointly launched the Trans-Arabia Oil Pipeline project. New pipelines were to be constructed from the Saudi Ras Tannurah on the Persian Gulf and the UAE to the Gulf of Oman (one to the Emirate of Fujairah and two lines to Oman) and the Gulf of Aden (two lines to Yemen). In addition Kuwait could be connected to this network. So far, only the connection between Abu Dhabi and Fujairah (both UAE) has been completed. It became operational in 2012.

Blueprint Regional Network August 2007

Recent overtures between the US and Iran have led to heightened uncertainty among the Saudi’s about the Hormuz Strait. In 2014 Iran and Oman signed an agreement to construct a pipeline from Iran to Oman in order to export Iranian gas to Oman. Distrust about the intentions of Oman increased the attractiveness of the Hadramaut option in Yemen, a longstanding wish of Saudi Arabia.

However, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (in function from 1978-2012) opposed the construction of a pipeline under Saudi control over Yemeni territory. For many years the Saudi’s invested in tribal leaders in the hope to execute this project under Saleh’s successor. The 2011 popular uprisings by demonstrators calling for democracy upset these plans.

When the situation really became untenable the Gulf States, under the watchful eyes of the US and the EU, convinced Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity. His Vice-President Hadi would take over the presidency until the planned presidential elections. De facto, the existing system was kept intact. The subsequent National Dialogue led to the decision to form a federal state with six countries. The governorates of Hadramaut, Shabwa and al Mahra were to come together in a new state called Hadramaut. When asked last year, the current Yemeni minister of Information Mrs. Nadia Sakkaf (residing in Riyadh) could not explain how that decision was reached: one day it had simply been made. The new state of Hadramaut counts 4 of the 26 million inhabitants of Yemen, 50% of the land area, 80% of the oil exports and – contrary to large other parts of Yemen – a sufficient water supply. In addition, a gold reserve worth 4 billion US dollars has recently been discovered.

After the signing of the Jeddah Agreement concerning the border between both countries in 2000 Saudi Arabia initiated the construction of a three meter high wall along the border from the Red Sea. This wall has not yet reached Hadramaut. The governorate of Hadramaut is one of the few areas where the Saudi-led coalition did not conduct any airstrikes. The port and the international airport of Al Mukalla are in optimal shape and under the control of Al Qa’eda. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has been delivering arms to Al Qa’eda, who is expanding its sphere of influence.

Those pipelines to Mukalla will probably get there eventually.

©2015 Joke Buringa

Yemen, its historical sites, and war; Part 3.

Between 12th Century BCE and 6th Century BC Yemen was one of the leading dynasties in the world, it was known as ‘Arabia Felix’ or Happy Arabia. The dynasties included Ma’in, Qataban, Hadramaut, Aswan, Saba and Himyar.  The Himyarite kingdom was an important one for Yemen, because it located its capital in Sanaa, the same location as today’s capital city.  The remains of the Ghamdan Palace where the rulers lived are in the Old City in Sanaa, and that too was destroyed in an earlier war.  The Himyarite period was known to the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians as the Homerite Kingdom, and it spanned from 110BC to 520h (1126).   There were many cities in Yemen at that time with over 5,000 inhabitants, which was large for that period of history.  Because of its importance to Yemen, a museum collected the artefacts which were used by scholars and researchers; they numbered over 10,000 artefacts. This museum and its contents have now been erased, no longer available for scholars researching ancient world history.

dhamar museum
Dhamar museum, which contained 10,000 artefacts from the Himyarite period.
museum after bombing raid
The remains of the Dhamar museum today

The Regional Museum was the main museum of the Dhamar governorate. It was built at Hirran, north of Dhamar city, in 2002. It had several exhibition halls, a lecture hall, a computer laboratory and storerooms. Its pre-Islamic collection comprised over hundred inscriptions of various provenance and period, whereas the section dedicated to the Islamic archaeology contains some decorated artefacts bearing Arabic inscriptions, in addition to jewels and other handmade products of traditional handicrafts in Dhamar. The most important object is the wooden minbar (pulpit) from the Great Mosque of Dhamar city, which was dated to the fourth century Hegira (11th Century). This was bombed on 18th June 2015.  I have also heard that another museum has been bombed in Zinjibar, Abyan province, but I cannot find confirmation.

Another UNESCO site that has been damaged is the Al Ashrafiyya Mosque in Taiz.

The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration
The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration

One of the beautiful minarets of al-Ashrafiyya Mosque has been hit by tank shelling. It tooks more than 10 years to the Yemeni-Italian restoration team to complete the intervention and restore the original beauty of this holy place and they were ready to begin with the project for the restoration of nearby Al-Muzaffar complex, which now is unlikely to proceed.  It was damaged on 18th June 2015.

The damage to the minaret
The damage to the minaret

The south west corner of Yemen is indeed suffering considerable damage as several militias are fighting and it is also subjected to overhead bombing by the Saudi coalition.  The city of Lahj has been destroyed, mostly by militia activity.

(photos of Lahj from Fatema need downloading from phone and inserting.

Parts of Aden have suffered extensive damage.  The oldest district, Crater, is indeed built in the crater of an extinct volcano. Most of the buildings are relatively recent, but there was a pretty mosque that was used to illustrate stamps during the British occupation of Aden, called the Aidrus mosque.

aidrus mosque
Stamp depicting Aidrus Mosque

This mosque is believed to date from the end of the 15th Century. It was damaged during the 1994 civil war, when old Qu’rans were burned by Yemeni troops from the north, and it has been destroyed in May this year when Houthi militias burned down many of the buildings in Crater, including the Aidrus Mosque. I have no photographs of the mosque post damage  but this is a view of Crater at the time of the arson attack, which does not give me confidence that it has survived.

crater 006
Crater after arson attack by Houthi militias

Another building in Aden has suffered damage from bombs, this is an old Ottoman fort overlooking the harbour known as Seera Castle. This grand citadel was in excellent condition when I visited it in 2011, and commands extensive views of the sea and harbour. I understand it suffered extensive damage on 22nd June, although I have no photographs of the damage.

seera castle7
Seera Castle, Aden, now damaged by bombs.

I also understand that the port area has suffered considerable damage, but have no other details. The port has the remains of grand and imposing buildings erected during the British occupation of Aden, which were badly in need of loving care but not damaged or altered in any way, and after restoration could have been made the area into an attractive area for visitors. Also near the port was the attractive guesthouse of the Sultan of Lahj, or the Sultan of Abdali, who ruled Yemen in the Ottoman period and remained on good terms with the British during their occupation. Indeed, despite the long and bitter campaign to make the British forces leave, Adenis now remember the British occupation in positive terms and feel a strong allegiance with British people. The statue of Queen Victoria remained in place, and a small church damaged once by Al Qaeda and restored, were always treated with respect by Aden people.  I fear for these buildings that reveal a significant part of Aden’s 19th and 20th century history will be lost, and with it, the potential for developing tourism in this part of Yemen.

What makes me feel so sad is that everyone has lost, and no-one has gained.  This is a man made war that cannot be won by military means. In the end, Yemeni and Saudi people will have to sit down with people they hate and make painful compromises. They could have done this without the loss of life, the suffering, and the loss of Yemeni, and world, architectural and historical heritage.