The glorious Yemeni Revolution of 1963 an inevitable and logical outcome of the suffering of the Yemeni people under British rule. Yemenis made enormous sacrifices and filled the squares to achieve the dream of nation on October 14, 1963.
British Colonialism in South Yemen
British interests in the area later known as South Yemen began to grow in 1839, when British East India Company forces captured the port of Aden to provide a coaling station for ships en route to India. The colony, known as the Aden Settlement, gained political and strategic importance after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.
After the sultan of Lahj, Mohssen Bin Fadhl, handed Lahj and Aden to the British, there was strong resistance on the part of the south, including from Adeni fishermen. This resistance led to repeated uprisings against British occupation forces for more than a century.
Aden was ruled as a part of British India until 1937, when the city of Aden became the Colony of Aden, a crown colony in its own right. The Aden hinterland and Hadramout to the east formed the remainder of what would become South Yemen. This area was not administered directly by Aden but was tied to Britain by treaties of protection. In the latter decades of the 19th century and continuing into the 20th century, Britain signed agreements with local rulers of traditional polities that, together, became known as the Aden Protectorate.
The area was divided into 20 sultanates, emirates, and sheikhdoms, and was divided for administrative purposes into the East Aden Protectorate and the West Aden Protectorate.
During that period, skirmishes were taking place between the British government and Mutawakkilite kingdom in northern Yemen.
In 1911, reconciliation was made between Imam Yahiya Hamid al-Din, Britain and Turkey called the “Da’an Reconciliation” in which Britain recognized the borders between the two divisions of Yemen. After the imam accepted the reconciliation, Yemen became a divided territory, and the British colonial authority deliberately blurred the identity of the southern regions of Yemen under the name “South Arabia.”
When the Egyptian army came to Yemen and participated in the northern revolution against the imamate, the British feared that this influence would extend to the southern regions of the country. Dr. Balqis al-Hadhrani, chairwoman of translation and foreign researchers department in the Yemeni studies and research center, said that there were international conspiracies and interventions against Yemen, including an invisible struggle between Britain, America and the Soviet Union in which Britain and America supported the monarchy, while the Soviet Union supported Jamal Abudalnasser and the revolution camp.
“Yemen is still facing international interventions even now, and that is why Yemen cannot improve and achieve its revolutionary aims,” she said.
Encouraged by the rhetoric of President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt against British colonial rule in the Middle East, pressure for the British to leave grew. Following Nasser’s creation of the United Arab Republic, attempts to incorporate Yemen in turn threatened Aden and the Protectorate. To counter this, the British attempted to unite the various states under its protection and, on February 11, 1959, six West Aden Protectorate states formed the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South to which nine other states were subsequently added.
During the 1960s, the British sought to incorporate all of the Aden Protectorate territories into the Federation. On 18 January 1963, the Colony of Aden was incorporated against the wishes of much of the city’s populace as the State of Aden and the Federation was renamed the Federation of South Arabia. Several more states subsequently joined the Federation and the remaining states that declined to join, mainly in Hadramout, formed the Protectorate of South Arabia.
In 1963 fighting between Egyptian forces and British-led Saudi-financed guerrillas in the Yemen Arab Republic spread to South Arabia with the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), who hoped to force the British out of South Arabia. Hostilities started with a grenade attack by the NLF against the British High Commissioner on 10 December 1963, killing one person and injuring fifty, and a state of emergency was declared, becoming known as the Aden Emergency.
In January 1964, the British moved into the Radfan hills in the border region to confront Egyptian-backed guerrillas, later reinforced by the NLF. By October they had largely been suppressed, and the NLF switched to grenade attacks against off-duty military personnel and police officers elsewhere in the Aden Colony.
On 30 November 1967 the British finally pulled out, leaving Aden under NLF control. The Royal Marines, who had been the first British troops to occupy Aden in 1839, were the last to leave. The Federation of South Arabia collapsed and Southern Yemen became independent as the People’s Republic of South Yemen.
After the revolutions of North and South Yemen, Yemenis emerged with similar objectives and were united more closely as one people, one culture and a unified struggle, a product of their efforts to change the situation of Yemen in the north and south.
Unfortunately, the revolution of October didn’t achieve the desires of the revolutionaries. Ahmed al-Salhi, one of the revolutionaries, said that since 1967, Adeni life has changed for the worse, as if Britain departed and left Aden in the grip of wolves.
“The October Revolution was able to achieve victory over Britain, but failed to achieve stability in the south. The southern provinces continued to suffer from political and social instability since 1967 until 1990, where it remained in isolation from its neighbors, regional and international surroundings and continued to fight with the northern system,” he explained.
Al-Salhi said that southerners in Yemen have lived in a big prison, unaware of what is going on around them and the future that their leaders were leading them to. From 1967 until 1990, he says, the south lost its leaders and cadres, leaving innocent victims, prisons filled with people and a lot displaced.
“The PDRY remained in confusion and political extremism until they threw the Southern state into the abyss of unification in 1990. It was not the unification that the people wanted; it was an unequal unification because of the corrupt leaders of South and North Yemen, and it led to the war and great losses,” he added.
Despite the negative consequences of the Revolution, there were some benefits, as seen by teacher Mohammed Ali. He said that the change caused by the revolution, the republic, and unification is great. “If we compare the colonial and Imamate eras to the Yemen of today, we will find a huge difference in the economic, health and social levels.”
According to Professor Ali, at the political level, compared to living under a tyrant ruler and the tyranny of colonialism, Yemen now enjoys freedom, democracy, public participation, freedom of opinion and expression and human rights. “Before we were living in ignorance, illiteracy, poverty and disease in the light of the Imamate, and now there is science and knowledge and there are tens of thousands of young people who graduate annually from educational institutions and higher specializations, in addition to improved health and social conditions.”
One of the objectives of the two revolutions was to build a modern civil state, but the current Yemeni situation seems to reflect the opposite.
Dr. Entlaq al-Motakel, a teacher in the Faculty of Arts and Gender Studies Center for Development and the founder of the Youth Leadership Development Foundation (YLDF) and activist in civil society, said that when we look at the reality, Yemenis don’t have a vision for their future because they have not determined what they need; they are still living in past dreams.
“Although we come from the generation of the September and October revolutions, we stall haven’t reached the world we dreamt of. We can’t deny that development has occurred in some aspect, but unfortunately this development does match up to the sacrifices of the martyrs who gave their blood in order to make real change,” she said.
More than 50 years have passed, and Yemenis are still looking forward to achieving the revolutions’ objectives. They still strive for a strong and fair Yemeni state, non-discrimination among citizens in front of the law and social justice and equality.
Huda al-Ales, a writer, said that those who claim that the British oversaw a golden age during its role in the South are wrong, and their minds are paralyzed and they have lost their identities.
Now, Yemen is celebrating Eid while still fighting corruption and looking for freedom and identity.