Yemen a Long Way from the Garden of Aden; Chris Gray Charts the History of Yemen, the Arab Country That Has Now Become a By-Word for Terror

By Gray, Chris | The Birmingham Post (England), January 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Yemen a Long Way from the Garden of Aden; Chris Gray Charts the History of Yemen, the Arab Country That Has Now Become a By-Word for Terror


Gray, Chris, The Birmingham Post (England)


Kidnappings, terrorist executions and torture have hardly been out of the headlines since the New Year began.

They have all been coming from one of the smaller countries in the Middle East, which normally rarely figures in news bulletins, even when that turbulent region is at the centre of the world's attention.

Its relative obscurity made it an attraction for the more adventurous British tourist, such as the group who travelled there with the Explore travel company before Christmas.

Their horrific experience, when members of the group were kidnapped and four killed in a rescue attempt, propelled Yemen into the British public's consciousness.

Since then, five British Muslims have been arrested in Yemen on suspicion of terrorist activity, another hostage has been released and the trial has started of the Yemenis accused of murdering the four tourists.

Every day seems to reveal another frightening aspect to the country.

In fact the terrible events in the Yemen have occurred partly because it is in the last decade that it has become more accessible than at any time in its history.

Although Britain had a presence in Yemen for more than a century, it was restricted to the city of Aden and its surrounding area, near to the Red Sea and the shipping route that led north to the Suez Canal.

Britain ruled the city for 129 years and held protectorate status over its hinterland until 1967, but it was always in conflict with the Hamid al-Din dynasty, which ruled the country after Turkish occupation collapsed at the end of the First World War. D uring the reign of Imam Ahmad, clashes with Britain occurred regularly and Ahmad sought protection from Cairo, resulting in a short-lived pact between Yemen, Egypt and Syria.

On his father's death in 1962, Ahmad's son, Muhammed al-Badr, ruled for only a week, before a military coup led by Colonel Abdullah al-Sallal proclaimed a republic.

Backed by the United Arab Republic, this new regime was known as the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR).

A civil war followed between the republic, backed by Egypt, and Royalist forces, backed by Saudi Arabia.

The war continued until 1970, when the republic was finally recognised by Saudi Arabia.

In the meantime, the British had held on to Aden against fierce guerilla fighting, but in 1967 were forced to withdraw, making way for a new state, the People's Republic of South Yemen, to be established.

The new republic relied heavily on economic support from Communist countries and became the first and only Arab Marxist state.

In 1970 the republic's name was changed to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

It existed in a state of mutual distrust with the other Yemen republic to the north and tension broke out into a series of short border wars in 1972, 1978 and 1979.

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