20 AUGUST 1965, Page 9

Notes from the Yemen

bruin ARNO 1. 1) Iii ICHMAN TAIZ HE late Imam Ahmad's headsman is now a I gatekeeper at the water supply and sanita- tion project fostered by the United States aid programme. He's a wiry little man in his late fifties and says he cannot remember just how Many heads he lopped off by order of the Imam. His Yemeni fellow-workers shy away from him though he's a cheerful sort of chap with a smiling mouthful of gold teeth.

Under the old Imam who died in his bed in September 1962 the executioner's sword was never idle because that miserable tyrant was a great one for smelling out opposition. (There still stands a many-storied building of cut stone and sun-dried brick on a lone promontory over Taiz, to which the Imam forced sheikhs to send their sons or brothers as hostages; thus he ensured loyalty to his regime.) Some days after the Imam's son succeeded to the throne the revolution began, led by the then Brigadier Abdullah as-Sallal, now President of the Republic. The revolution ended the ancient Mutawakelite Kingdom of Yemen and with it such barbarities 'as impaling severed heads on poles outside the Imam's palace. How- ever, tyrannies die hard. When I left Yemen a few days ago, there were solid reports that the gaols were full of dissidents against the present military regime which, since assuming power last July, has transformed Yemen into Cairo's first satellite.

What else remains are the tribal wars which, in the fashion of our day, now carry ideological banners. There are the 'royalists' presumably fighting for restoration of the Imamate personi- fied by al-Islam Mohammed al-Badr who is backed heavily by King Feisal of Saudi Arabia. Against them are the republicans who are not only fighting (and justifiably) to prevent the Imam's restoration, but have willingly accepted an Egyptian army of almost 60,000 men and officers to direct this stalemate war against the Imam's partisans. The republicans have great need here for the Egyptian soldier), because the basic tradition of the Yemeni tribes is that you fight because (a) you like to fight and (b) you fight for whichever side pays best—and in that order.

I intend no denigration of the Yemeni tribes- men who battle for money rather than ideologi- cal conviction, because in this Arabia Felix, once ruled over by the Queen of Sheba (or Saba), a mercenary enjoys an honourable calling. The streets of Sana, Taiz, Ibb resemble scenes from a Wild West movie because anybody who is anybody carries either a rifle, usually an Enfield, or sidearms or, at 'the very least, he tucks that junior-sized scimitar, the jambiyya, into his cummerbund. And not infrequently several truckloads of turbaned tribesmen will come jouncing down the paved streets of—I almost said Laredo --Taiz or along the road outside the forty-foot mud -wall of the Sana medina firing their rifles into the air for the hell of it and singing some tribal war song. Nobody notices these pranks.

All of this would be a lot of fun for tourists, were it not for the fact that one of these days a nasty little war may break out in the.Middle East because of Yemen, the present arena for the fulfilment of President Nasser's revolutionary goals. It is now three years that this civil war has been smouldering. Even the normally belli- cose Yemeni I talked to are beginning to sound like the Algerians a few days after their country's

independence (also in September 1962) when they saw they were facing a civil war after seven years of battle with the French. Through the streets of Algiers marched ' Algerian workers chanting 'Sabah s'neen baraker —seven years are enough. The question today is how can this war be ended before it spreads into a formal war between the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East is a congeries of contradic- tions and clashes of interest, probably more so than any area in the world. Take the simple fact of the Egyptian presence in Yemen. Without Egypt there could not be any progress of any kind for Yemen's four million people. Or, put it another way, there could be progress without the UAR but it would be a la russe. The Yemeni, whether they be the seventy-odd university graduates or those who learned their English working for Aramco or the BP refineries in Aden, want to see their country move out of its twelfth-century habitat and they don't care who helps them. Egypt has moved into Yemen not only with tanks and jets and soldiers but also with almost 300 primary and secondary school teachers, with advisers in ministries and departments, with doctors for the new hospitals, with scholarships for students to study in Egypt. Kuwait has also made contri- butions of some consequence, but it is Egypt which really matters. Not only is the Cairo presence inevitable, given Nasser's political ambi- tions, but for Yemenis it is desirable, no matter how much Egyptian propaganda is introduced into the school classrooms. Cairo has on several occasions vetoed Soviet offers of help which Nasser felt threatened his sphere of influence; e.g., the Russians offered to supply teachers who would teach the youngsters Russian.

What frustrates Yemenis about Cairo is the knowledge that they cannot really move forward until the civil war ends and, second, that so long as Nasser is on the Arabian peninsula, King Feisal will help keep the war going with his bountiful supply of Maria Theresa thalers. Yet they are also fearful that if the Egyptian army were to move out, a return of the Imam would be possible not as a constitutional monarch but as the same old autocrat. As far as these Yemeni are con- cerned, the Egyptians are by far the lesser evil.

Yemen has to be seen to be believed. Yemen suffered none of the benefits of colonialism. Its independence as a country was no more than a licence for the Imam to rob and maim his subjects. Communications were so poor that it was twenty-four hours before Taiz to the south knew in September 1962 that there had been an uprising against the Imam in Sana. Yemen had nothing and, by and large, still has nothing in the way of a social or economic infrastructure. Education came to Yemen in 1947 when the Imam Yahya Ahmed Badr of Yemen (assassin ated a year later) decided, probably at the instiga- tion of the Crown Prince Abdullah, to send forty boys and young men, in age from eleven to twenty, overseas for an education. These are known today in Yemen as the Famous Forty. Of the forty, some went to Lebanon or Egypt for primary schooling. Thereafter some went to Europe or the United States for their university training, while others went to naval or military academies in Egypt. Many of these young men, some now middle - aged, became Cabinet ministers, departmental chiefs, ambassadors after the 1962 revolution. Since the military govern- ment of Lieutenant-General Hassan al-Amri took over last July, the Famous Forty lost its status. That is Yemen's loss.

This is a country without a single meaningful national statistic, whether births or deaths, gross national product, per capita income, nothing. Yet one eats, sleeps and acts pretty much as anywhere else. The money circulating has a bit of firmness. It all appears not intolerably different from any other Arab country—until you learn that in three years it has had nine governments and, as one observer put it, four non-governments, meaning there just wasn't anybody anywhere running things on a cabinet or ministerial level. (When I inquired was there a permanent civil service, the answer was yes, the Egyptians.) Taiz lived without running water until this year when American water engineers went down forty-odd feet and came up with ground water at the rate of two million—yes million—gallons a day. And it's being metered and sold. (One Yemeni demanded a large meter intended for industrial, rather than home users. When asked why he wanted the expensive big meter, le replied, 'I have four wives.') But all this is fun and games. What really matters is whether President Nasser is ready to allow Yemen to enjoy the pleasures of peaceful development, and not complicate an already complicated situation with a terrorist campaign in Aden and the Federation of South Arabia, and whether King Feisal can be persuaded to drop the Imam and thus end the civil war, Britain's political influence in the area is small, firstly, because unlike the United States it has no diplo- matic relations with Yemen. America may be the only power capable of persuading President Nasser and King Feisal to come to terms. Thus far the United States, preoccupied with more weighty problems, has been reasonably successful in keeping the civil war from becoming a major war. The time is now come when much more must be done. Prime Minister al-Amri told me during an interview earlier this month that he would welcome President Johnson's 'good offices' intervention, although the significance of his appeal has yet to be assessed.

It is quite possible that King Feisal could be persuaded to end his intervention if there were a' change of government in Yemen. So far as is known the previous civilian government of Prime Minister Noman, a respectable, intelligent and longtime foe of Imamate reaction, was making some progress towards at least a cease-fire. But he opposed Yemen's becoming a satellite and so, after two -months, President as-Sallal engineered a coup (Petal. Now the Cabinet comprises generals and qadis. Naturally, without Cairo's support there could have been no coup.

As President Nasser examines the map in his situation room, he sees a Maghreb where he has lost influence, an Iraq where he has lost influence, a Syria where he has little, a Lebanon which isn't interested in anything that would endanger its prosperity. Yemen is his big opportunity and from there down to Aden, the South Arabian states, the Trucials and up the Persian Gulf to Kuwait. Does Nasser wait a year or so—bokhara —until the South Arabia Federation becomes independent and then move south from Yemen or is it now? As someone said, you can do any- thing with bayonets except sit on them.