Political Analysis

National Front in Yemen: War of Central Regions Reflects Today’s Politics

National Yemen

Pro -former President chant for his immunity- photo from archive

By NY Staff

There was a proxy war in the Yemen Arab Republic supported by the Socialist Party in the South of Yemen at that time, and its main theater was in the south of the north and in the central regions of Yemen such as Taiz, Ibb, Dhamar and Riamah.

The difficult living conditions, injustice and deprivation of state services encouraged citizens to join the National Front. The National Front emerged publicly in the era of President Ibrahim al-Hamdi in 1976. It was form from  the union of five leftist forces: the Democratic Revolutionary Party, the Revolutionary Fighters Organization, the People’s Vanguard Party, the Yemeni Labor Party and the People’s Democratic Union.

The National Front engaged in armed activity in the central regions with the support of the Socialist Party that ruled l the Southern part of Yemen at that time. Two official wars erupted between the two governments in the South and North. The first war was in 1972 and the second in 1979. In the end, the northern army was defeated with heavy losses. The northern loss made the some countries as well as the Arab League intervene.

Leftist groups in the north of Yemen carried out the armed conflict in the November 1967 coup. Although leftist military units participated in the implementation of the coup, its leaders returned and kept silent about the inauguration of Abd al-Rahma al-Iryani as president and described the November coup as a victory.

In that period, successive dramatic shifts occurred as well as clashes between leftist currents and the leadership of the armed forces during the events of the Sana’a siege. Forces loyal to the army leaders were able to defeat the military units under the influence of leftist currents. Because of the clashes, a large number of officers and soldiers escaped from their camps and some returned to their areas in the South and West where they began in armed action against tribal sheikhs and representatives of the central authority.

In the al-Hamdi period, the armed activity of the factions of the left declined, but they had the same demands and raised the same slogans. After the assassination of Al-Hamdi, clashes occurred between President Ahmad al-Ghashmi’s system and opposition forces. New forces joined the National Front, especially after accusing al-Ghashmi of direct involvement in the assassination of President al-Hamdi.

President al-Ghashmi failed to secure himself the support of military officers, especially those under the leadership of al-Hamdi. Al-Ghashmi started to take measures against the army, primarily the friends and supporters of Al-Hamdi.

Paratroopers rebelled against President al-Ghashmi, led by the Revolutionary Command Council member Abdullah Abd al-Alem , and joined the National Front against the regime in Sana’a. In that time the relations between the NDF and al-Ghashmi had become strained. Ali Abdullah Saleh took power while the situation in the country was confusing.

In less than three months since he took power on October 15, 1978, Saleh exposed a coup by the Nasserite organization, which was an ally to Ibrahim al-Hamdi, and a large number of leaders in the civil and military organizations. The coup failed and mass arrests and executions occurred.

The Nasserite group was displaced along with thousands of citizens and northern tribes to the south that supported steps to resist authority. The rest of the Nasserites followed the unification option along with the National Democratic Front. According to the agreement they reached, the National Democratic Front had the leadership of the various national democratic forces, leftists, and nationalist activities in the country aiming to establish the National Authority of Democracy in the northern part of Yemen to achieve the unity of both halves in Yemen. The unity of the Nasserites with the NDF reinforced the armed opposition force. This unity helped to intensify its military at the end of 1978 in the areas between Damt and al-Baydha. Several other villages fell under the full control of the Front.

The prevailing political situation in northern Yemen in the second half of 1978 was characterized by instability, the possibility of regime change, and the Democratic Forces in Aden expecting the possibility of a transfer of power to progressive forces under the leadership of the National Front.

To speed up the overthrow of Saleh’s regime by the National Front, the political system in the south fabricated a war with the North on February 23, 1979. The army of the north was defeated, reducing the support of tribal forces to Saleh and a resolute intervention by Syria and Iraq to stop the fighting and rescue the regime in the north. The National Front issued a communiqué stating that the armed forces in North Yemen were in full control of northern Yemeni cities.

The Arab League intervention and the Kuwait Convention between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdel Fattah Ismail led to the end of fighting with the south. But it did not solve the problem of conflict with the National Front, and fighting continued with armed formations in many areas in Sana’a, al-Baydha, white, Al-Jawf, Marib, Taiz and Ibb provinces.

Saleh held several conversations with National Front leaders in order to absorb the pressure and gain time to be able to conduct military and political arrangements that would enable a confrontation. On the other hand the National Front saw that the balance of power tipped in their favor so they could impose their demands and conditions on the system that was in a state of isolation and vulnerability.

The battle in the north was not limited to the political and the military sides, but also extended to the intellectual side, and Islah took over the task of intellectual confrontation with the ideology of Marxism and embarked a strategy to fortify society against leftist ideas. It seems that this is what made Saleh not react with the pressure that was exerted by some leftist, Zaidi and liberal forces to close scientific institutes and combined schools in a single education system.

Saudi Arabia supported the Muslim Brotherhood (Islah) generously and mobilized northern tribes. The Brotherhood fought violent conflict with the National Front forces.

Funds provided by Saudi Arabia to tribal sheikhs contributed to their joining to the Brotherhood forces, which was known as the “Islamic Front groups”. Battles tended to the favor the Islamists and led to entering into negotiations.

The dialogue between Saleh and Sultan Ahmed Omar, a leftist representative, resulted in a discussion of the forms of participation of the Front in the country’s management. Saleh agreed to include some of the National Front in the government but with no official representation, a Saudi demand fearing the return of the revolutionary activities of the front.

In August 1980, Saleh and the leadership of the Front signed an agreement to stop military operations, North Yemen authorities release some Front members, and it also allowed the Front to publish its weekly newspaper “al-Amal”. The newspaper lasted until January 1986 in the South and expressed the viewpoint of the left.

The brotherhood intervened in fighting changed the balance of the forces to the favor of the political system in the field. The demands of the National Front changed. In June 1982, the Front leaders made another attempt to deal with the government and demanded the stop of military operations, the release of political prisoners, and the return of political exiles. Conversely, the Front would return the areas under their control.

With the passage of time, supporters of Muslim Brotherhood increased their activities, and its teams were stationed in areas where the National Front had effective activities along with regular army forces.

Saudi Arabia ordered Saleh to reinforce the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood groups in the armed and security forces with sums of money, including ten million dollars in personal expenses for Saleh and Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who took over the responsibility of integrating the Muslim Brotherhood elements in the army and security.

In June, the National Front representative announced they would take Front teams’ equipment from the central regions and south of the North.

After the end of the central region war, the relations between Saleh and the Muslim Brotherhood strengthened and Saudi Arabia doubled its support. Saudi Arabia advised Saleh to take care of the Muslim Brotherhood and strengthen its influence to protect him and strengthen his regime.

Libya in the early 1980s tried to overthrow President Saleh’s regime through the open armament support for the National Front.

The National Front has been active in southern Yemen and has mobilized supporters. It was exploited by the Socialist Party in the south and many of their leaders are enjoying large influence of the north and south.

The cohesion and strength of the Front contributed to the strengthening of the national spirit and helped other nationalist and leftist movements in Yemen achieve historical revenge on the Muslim Brotherhood and Saleh’s regime.

The international friends of the National Front were keen to support the Front privately and publicly. Russia considered the Front a strong ally to be utilized in the fight against terrorism and a cornerstone in the coming changes in Yemen.