From their eyes: The 1962 revolution
Samar Qaed (author), Samar Qaed (photographer), Amal Al-Yarisi (author)
Still today, revolutionaries are able to relive the details of the revolution—50 years old—that turned Yemen into a republic.
An extension of 1948’s revolution
General Mohammed Abdullah Al-Aryani recalls many details of the revolution and also of the events that attempted to change its direction.
“The 1962 revolution wasn’t a first attempt to uproot the imams but an extension of the 1948 revolution aimed to uproot Yahia Hameed Al-Din’s regime and the attempts aimed to get rid of Imam Ahmed in 1956,” Al-Aryani said.
When Imam Ahmed’s regime toppled, the tribesmen didn’t accept it, so they tried many times to oust the new regime and bring imams back, he said.
At the time, Al-Aryani was the vice manager of the military department and the leader of the Shibam region. He still remembers how the pro-imam tribesmen imposed a barricade around Shibam’s region on numerous occasions.
Al-Aryani said Imam Al-Badr, son of Imam Ahmed Hammed Al-Din, incited the tribesmen to rise against the revolutionaries. His father killed Imam Yahia, and Al-Badr tried to do the same thing. The revolution had been exposed to fluctuations and risks for seven years until it finally succeeded.
According to Al-Aryani, the tribesmen launched an attack on Shibam, and they were expecting death at any moment, but Allah saved their lives.
He also said that had it not been for Egypt’s important role siding with the revolutionaries, the revolution wouldn’t have succeeded and would have been stopped from the beginning.
Al-Aryani called to mind the dreams of the revolutionaries and their ambitious project to develop Yemen. But he said he is sorry for the current situation Yemen is undergoing.
“Seeing how other people improved their countries and what they have achieved in comparison to what Yemenis have achieved, I prefer not to talk about the 1962 revolution,” he said. “Revolutions are like a medical operation that might succeed or fail. The revolution was exposed to problems due to instability and backwardness.”
“We tried hard to overcome that situation, but we couldn’t. Currently, we are facing new circumstances. The National Dialogue is a way out of this situation to achieve equal citizenship and instill democracy,” he continued.
Al-Aryani said that now, 50 years after the revolution, seeing sheikhs in the streets accompanied by armed men really hurts him.
A racist regime
Mutahar Al-Aryani, a prominent national figure, said the imams’ regime affected Yemen negatively because it was a racist regime. Imam Yahia Bin Hameed Al-Din spread racism among Yemenis, Al-Aryani said.
Al-Aryani said Imam Ahmed’s regime faced opposition from the beginning, so it couldn’t spread as the Solaihi State, which included all of Yemen.
He said the imam tortured Yemen and increased sedition among Yemenis, taking advantage of the state’s instability. At the same time, the opposition movement was improving, and people started to support Mohammed Mahmood Al-Zubairi and Ahmed Mohammed Noa’man. The revolution was a must, particularly when people realized that the imams’ promises were false.
“The revolutionary people hoped to get rid of the imams in 1948, but they couldn’t because the imam incited tribesmen to support him and was able to stop the revolution for a period,” he said. “He ruled people by force, violence and by shedding the blood of innocent people. Due to the struggle of the revolutionary people and their opposition to the imam, the revolution was achieved.”
He said the 1955 uprising was the first attempt against Imam Ahmed, but it failed since it was unplanned. However, revolutionaries didn’t give up. They continued opposing the imam and were tortured and killed. In 1961, three officers shot at Imam Ahmed during a visit to Al-Hodeida Hospital, but he survived. He remained bedridden for a year. At that time, the opposition movement was progressing fast and scholars and “elites” joined. Moreover, new political parties showed up such as Marxists and the Baaths.
When Imam Ahmed died on Sept. 19, 1962, the revolutionaries moved quickly to topple his regime.
Brigadier General Mohammed Al-Khawi, a member of the Free Men Organization’s leadership, remembers Ibraheem Hameed Al-Din, who was killed at the hands of his brother Imam Ahmed because of his participation in the revolution against his father Imam Yahia Hameed Al-Din.
“Ibraheem criticized the tragic situation of Yemenis during the rule of his father. At that time, Yemenis suffered from torture, illiteracy, backwardness and inequality.”
Al-Khawi said Imam Ahmed followed his brother’s suit and made people suffer from the scourge of tyranny. He also killed his brothers, Al-Abass and Abdullah, as well as Al-Thulaia, a revolutionary leader, after the 1955 movement. This increased the determination of revolutionaries to remove him from power.
In 1956, Al-Khawi joined the Military Academy. General Hamood Al-Jayfi, a prominent national figure, was dean of the academy at that time, according to Al-Khawi.
Following Al-Khawi’s graduation from the Military College, he moved with his colleagues to Hodeida. When they arrived in Hodeida, they were accused of masterminding the imam’s assassination. The commander of the Royal Guards told them, “You have two choices: either to return to Sana’a or go to Hajja.” Al-Khawi said heading toward Hajja meant imprisonment in the Cairo castle jail, yet they chose to go back to Sana’a.
“Just three days following our return to Sana’a, General Al-Jayfi, the college dean, was arrested and jailed in the castle prison. Thus, our reaction was violent. The detention of Al-Jayfi heralded our turn. We thought at that time to take Al-Jayfi to Shareef Baihan, a prison accommodating the free officers in addition to providing them with water and food. However, he attempted to convince us not to go with him so that the 80 college students would not be accused.”
Al-Khawi went on to say, “Only two went with Al-Jayfi to Baihan and then shifted to Aden. Following this accident, Brigadier General Ahmed Al-Anisi, the head of the Royal Guards, came to us and selected a group of my fellow officers, including martyr Ali Abdu Al-Mughni, Mohammed Mutahar Zaid, Sa’ad Al-Ashwal, Ahmed Al-Kibsi, Ali Al-Dhabaei and Ahmed Al-Washali. I was one of them. We headed toward Taiz. Those personalities were from different branches at the college. That took place in the beginning of 1961.”
In Taiz, Al-Khawi and his colleagues established military units.
“Six hundred soldiers were under our command,” he said. “There was an active businessmen cell—affiliated with the free officers—such as Sheikh Mohammed Ali Othman, Abdulghani Mutahar, Abdulqawi Hameem, Mohammed Qaed Saif, Ali Mohammed Saeed, Pilot Abduraheem Abdullah and Dr. Abdurahman Al-Baidani. The latter used to criticize the imam and violently contradict him through Swt Al-Arab (the voice of Arab) radio station in Cairo.”
He said those businessmen contacted Egyptian President Anwar Assadat, who asked them to be in touch with officers to help combat the imam.
“They met with us and [we] agreed with them to overthrow the imam.”
“We formed a leadership in Sana’a at the house of Colonel Abdullah Al-Moayad. The leadership decided on the formation of the Free Officers Organization. New leaderships spread in Hajja, Hodeida and Taiz. Taiz at that time was the most important station, for Imam Ahmed was there. We primarily agreed that the breakout of the revolution would be in Taiz. We plotted breaking into the palace.”
Al-Khawi said they decided the spark the revolution on Sept. 30, 1962, but on Sept. 19, the imam died.
The imam’s death accelerated the revolution, which broke out four days earlier than planned, on Sept. 26.
At that time, General Abdullatif Dhaif Allah was presiding over the Free Officers Organization. The struggle moved to Sana’a once Taiz was controlled.
“We heard some news that military forces would come up Sept. 20 to install the new imam, Al-Badr. All the forces gathered in Martyrs Square at the palace. Orders were given to the soldiers to return to their military barracks. We detained Saif Al-Islam Ismael and the imam’s sons, Al-Qasim and Al-Mutahar, who could garner tribal support and hijack the revolution. It was a right decision.”
“Taizians supported us to execute that.”
Al-Khawi said the detention of pro-imam forces was a prerequisite.
“Those detained were sent to President Al-Salal in Sana’a. That helped better the well-being of people and made the revolution largely successful.”
He said, “Once they eliminated the Imamate in the north of Yemen, they continued their struggle and moved swiftly to the south. Al-Khawi said he met with combatant Rajeh Laboza in person and set off the Oct. 15 for the revolution that resulted in the independence of Aden and the end of British colonialism in the region.”
A blessed night heralding a new era
Poet Mohammed Abdulsalam Mansour’s memory still holds many things about the events of September. He remembers his participation in a protest against Imam Ahmed in Sana’a in 1962 when he was a secondary school student. At first, the protest was against the school principal. Then, all of a sudden, it turned into a protest demanding the overthrow of the imamate.
Some student protestors held up photographs of leader Jamal Abulnasser. As a result, a lot of students were taken to prison, and they remained imprisoned until the breakout of the revolution, he said.
“In 1962, the aspects of the revolution started to be perceptible,” Mansour said. “People used to talk about it in social and student gatherings. The Egyptian programs broadcast by Swt Al-Arab station against the Imam played a role.”
Just in advance of the revolution, people were expecting an uprising to break out at any moment, Mansour said. He remembered that on the night of Sept. 26, the revolution was the dream that Yemenis impatiently waited for. On the morning of Sept. 27, the radio station in Sana’a read the revolutionary statement and announced the establishment of the Republic of Yemen, pledging the elimination of imamate in Yemen.
“I went with my colleagues on that day to Al-Tahrir Square. We saw tanks, and Al-Bashaer Palace seemed alight. People came inside and outside of the palace. We saw the military officers who appeared to be enthusiastic about the new era and reign.”
The years following the revolution were complicated, Mansour said. He remembered that Imam Hassn, the brother of Imam Ahmed, endeavored to mobilize the tribes to reclaim the imamate. But, on the contrary, Egyptian forces came to Yemen to protect the republic, according to Mansour, indicating that the youth in Yemen were very zealous to defend the republic. There were many young men who were martyred.
Meanwhile, the Police Academy and the Military Academy were opened. When Mansour entered the Police Academy, he was one of the first students to be enrolled. He said there was a political dispute between those who supported the Republic and those who supported the monarchy. He said he was among those lifting the slogan, “Republic or death.” He denoted that he registered later in the Military Forces Units, and he was appointed to the chief staff. He took part in Bani Hushish battles in 1966 with Jar Allah Omar.
The revolution at that time was exposed to continuous setbacks and occurrences. The revolutionaries attempted to rescue their project for the betterment of Yemen no matter what the personal cost to them might be.
He said he had a role to prevent the monarchists from entering Sana’a and combated against British colonialism in the south. He made efforts as well to protect the Republic, following the departure of Egyptian forces from Yemen.
The seventy-day siege on Sana’a was one of the most complicated experiences in Mansour’s life. He said he waded through battles day and night without sleep.
“Soldiers came out of the Police Academy to defend Sana’a from the northern tribes; however, soldiers from the Military College went to Nuqm to repel pro-monarchy people coming from the east. Forces located in Al-Haima came to Sana’a to participate in defending it. We were steadfast; the siege was over and the Republic was established. We entered history.”