Fifty years passed looking for the rule of law
It is known that revolutions happen because of political reasons and economic reasons, while other revolutions spark out because two or three reasons only. But revolutions that happened due to all these reasons, such as the 1962 revolution, which freed Yemenis from the state of political inertia, are rare ones.
Al-Salal’s regime (1962-1967)
The free officers, who carried out the revolution, selected Marshal Abdullah Al-Salal to be a head of the Revolution’s Leadership Council and then a president of Yemen Arab Republic. Although all leaders agreed on requesting the late leader Jamal Abdulnasser to send Egyptian troops to help in protecting the revolution, disagreements later arose between them regarding the political and military role of Egypt in the Yemeni revolution.
No doubt, these disagreements weakened the council and increased the power of the opposition, the imams, during the rule of Al-Salal, which lasted for five years. The sought-after Yemeni state wasn’t built due to a lack of stability. Moreover, the constitution was changed several times and also government changes were made, indicating the great disagreements.
In spite of all political disagreements among the revolutionary council, the most important achievement during Al-Salal’s rule was the republican regime’s steadfastness. Moreover, during Al-Salal’s five-year term, Yemenis became more aware about the importance of a revolution for their future, considering it the right beginning to construct a new, modern country based on the rule of law.
This concept of revolution was instilled among Yemenis due to a spread of health and educational services. Although these services were simple, they were considered great things compared to their inexistence at the time of the imams.
Year after year, the imams’ hope to rule again gradually dissipated. Their last attempt to regain control was the siege they imposed around Sana’a for seventy days in 1967.
Al-Aryani’s term (1967-1974)
On Nov. 5, 1967, Al-Salal’s rule ended due to a peaceful coup by the republican alliance. Al-Salal was certain such a coup would happen sooner or later, so he preferred to leave Yemen and avoid bloodshed.
All national forces agreed to choose Judge Abdurrahman Al-Aryani to replace Al-Salal as the most prominent civil figure. At that time, military men could control everything, but they had no ambitions because they believed authority wasn’t their right. Their noble values made them pay no attention to power.
After the 70-day siege ended in 1968, the republican regime was stronger, and Al-Aryani started reorganizing the revolutionary council. He succeeded in attracting many pro-imams and was able to convince them it was time to start constructing the modern Yemen.
In 1969, a national council, headed by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar, was established to set the permanent constitution of the country and make arrangements to choose the first parliament. Meanwhile, secret arrangements were held to achieve a national reconciliation with the imams, on the condition that Hammed Al-Din’s family remove itself completely from the political scene. The Saudi King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz played a valuable role in this important achievement in 1970.
In 1970, the constitution was set and the Shura Council was elected, which at the beginning of the next year elected members of the Republican Council, usually not less than three and not more than five members.
During the remaining three years of his term, Al-Aryani couldn’t continue building the state of law due to disagreements between sheikhs who had great social and military influence and believed Al-Aryani mustn’t intervene in whatever they did.
Moreover, sheikhs disagreed with Al-Aryani because of the relations with the southern region. Al-Aryani believed there must be normal relations with the south so that the unity could be achieved one day, while the sheikhs considered the regime in Aden their enemy because of their Marxist ideologies.
From there, disagreement rose between the southern and northern regions, leading to war in September 1972 until Arab interference resulted in an end to the war and the signing the first two unity agreements.
The arrangements to replace Al-Aryani took a year and a half to find a replacement in a weird alliance between sheikhs and military men who were loyal to Saudi Arabia and Iraq until June 13, 1974.
Al-Hamdi’s regime (1974-1977)
Al-Aryani’s plotters didn’t know that by choosing Al-Hamdi a president, they would end their military influence forever. They thought Al-Hamdi, who belonged neither to sheikh nor to military family, was a weak person, but he unprecedentedly eliminated their influence.
Although he joined the military, Al-Hamdi’s civil nature remained. He was a very charismatic person. All Yemenis loved him because of his modesty, simplicity, vast knowledge, young age and excellent oratory skills—all of which led them to anticipate he would made great changes and achieve stability.
Because he was an educated and a cultured man, Al-Hamdi had a vision regarding the institutionalization of the state. He knew the powers that dominated during Al-Aryani’s term; he didn’t give them the opportunity to dominate again and prevent the sought-after change.
A little more than one year later, Al-Hamdi dismissed all the sheikhs and military men, but the tension continued because they controlled several areas north of the capital Sana’a. The sheikhs were careful not to do anything wrong and to find suitable solutions to negotiate with Al-Hamdi, but he knew that the solutions would affect the rule of law.
The regional and international support Al-Hamdi’s agendas received made it difficult for that alliance to continue. Saudi Arabia preferred to support Al-Hamdi because his plans would help the north to improve its abilities and also to achieve stability like the south so as to face the Soviet danger in the Arab Peninsula and the Gulf through the south, according to Al-Riyadh and the foreign countries.
Al-Hamdi was happy he was supported; however, he saw that lessening any danger from the south must be achieved by close alliances with the south instead of considering southerners enemies. He also knew having relations with the south would help him in building the state. Therefore, he exerted great efforts to make Al-Riyadh and Aden come together, convincing them to establish diplomatic ties and arranging for a visit for President Salem Robaie Bin Ali to Al-Riyadh in 1976.
However, the coup against Al-Hamdi on Oct. 11, 1977, was very tragic because the people who carried it out feared his popularity and weren’t able to carry out a peaceful coup due to their narrow cultural and educational knowledge. Al-Hamdi paid dearly for trusting untrustworthy people.
All Yemenis were shocked to hear Al-Hamdi was assassinated in the coup because, for sure, there was no reason for the coup and also because they weren’t used to such thing at a time when they started to experience stability and improvement.
Northern Yemen entered a difficult stage after death of Al-Hamdi. They were under the rule of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Al-Ghashmi and Lieutenant Colonel Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Hamdi’s death wrapped up institutional development plans, as proven by the regimes of Al-Ghashmi and Saleh.
Saleh’s three-decade regime (1978-2012)
Nothing distinguished Al-Ghashmi’s regime. It was a transit for who came after. Some politicians advised him to announce a new constitution and appoint a new parliament to bridge the constitutional gap when the time of the Shura Council ended.
Al-Ghashmi ruled for two months only and then was assassinated on June 24, 1978, via a suitcase bomb sent to him from the south, it’s rumored.
The first period of Saleh (1978-1990)
On July 17, 1978, Ali Abdullah Saleh was appointed president and commander of the military forces.
All situations were suitable for Saleh to rule for many years, though politicians at that time expected him to rule only for few months due to the hard situation in the north.
All the expectations proved to be wrong because Saleh prevented himself from making the same mistakes as former presidents, particularly the ones during the six years before taking office.
He also learned many things being a military leader for three years in Taiz, which witnessed a great political movement at that time.
No doubt, in my opinion, the first ten years of Saleh’s rule were the best, and they can be extended to include the two years before signing the unity. At that time, there were many figures meant to be appointed president, but Saleh was the chosen, and despite all his negative aspects, he was able to achieve stability in the north.
Although he lacked an institutional project, Saleh consulted all experienced people around him and took their good opinions—unless the opinions opposed his policy. His positive personal characteristics helped him meet the requirements of that period.
Saleh started a national dialogue, came close together with other political parties, avoided war with the south, opened new ways to start dialogue with southerners, adopted the national pact, established the General People Congress (GPC)—which was Al-Hamdi’s plan—, signed oil extraction agreements, codified laws based on the Islamic laws, held Shura Council elections in 1988 and continued to reduce the influence of sheikhs by meeting their demands and not by opposing them.
Therefore, it can be said the first twelve years of Saleh’s rule were the best, particularly due to achieving unity with Ali Salem Al-Beidh, the general secretary of the Yemen Socialist Party.
But it is sure that Saleh went on to sign the unity agreement after twelve years of his rule without establishing the basic bases of a state based on rule of law, democracy state and independent authorities.
The second period of Saleh (1990-1997)
No need to suspect the good will of the two partners who achieved the unity. Rather, it can be said they couldn’t look after it because disagreements soon rose between them, though people were very eager about that.
They started to suspect each other and preferred their personal interests to the national interest. Today, Saleh is gone, but it is difficult to blame him alone for the disagreements during the first seven years of unity, including the transitional period that lasted three years, the year of war and the three years characterized by the duo alliance with the Islah Party.
Paradoxically, people in the north were ambitious that the Socialist Party in the south would help construct the state because they had previous experience, but all their ambitions dissipated because the Socialist Party was busy defending its political presence.
Meanwhile, the southerners were hopeful that Saleh would extract them from their dire economic situation. They thought better opportunities would come after the unity, but nothing happened.
The multilateral talks started after the constitutional amendment elections, but disagreements intensified because of terms concerning the presidency, resulting in a political impasse and then war.
It can’t be said the two partners didn’t want to go to war because both prepared. Protecting the unity was the first party’s excuse, while the second party’s excuse was regaining the southern country.
The war ended July 7 in victory for the GPC and the Islah alliance. Undoubtedly, the participation of Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, the then-minister of defense, made the war seem like a war to protect unity and not for any other aims, particularly because it made southerners stand impartial.
After the war, the regime canceled the presidential council and gave complete authority to Saleh as president of the Republic of Yemen. Hadi was appointed a deputy, and a reconciliation government—headed by Abdulaziz Abdulghani—was formed by the GPC and Islah parties.
Two-and-a-half years remained for the parliament and the government, during which Saleh made many military and security changes by giving authority to his relatives and close contacts from his village. He marginalized the military troops of the Socialist Party.
When the Islah Party again started opposing Saleh, after the parliament elections in 1997, Saleh and the GPC started to dismiss Islah members from their positions, in preparation to have complete authority.
Saleh’s third period (1997-2012)
Saleh was free of all the shackles and regained the complete rule he sought for such a long time.
But by having the ability to rule alone, Saleh was supposed to stop giving excuses for the security vacuum, the lack of state sovereignty and the lack of unified political decisions, under the pretext that his partners were sneaky.
But what happened when Saleh regained complete control and decision with his GPC? For sure, no improvement marked this period. Instead, negative signs ran rife in everything to such an extent that Saleh pledged to uproot confusion when presenting his 1999 presidential documents to parliament.
But Saleh couldn’t fulfill his pledge, and the result was that the situation worsened more year-by-year, and confusion and disorder was widely spread. It is well known that confusion and disorder are the opposite of order, state sovereignty and rule of law. Rather, it is a natural synonym for corruption and nepotism.
The reason behind all that was Saleh’s lack of a serious and real vision to build an institutional state based on rule of law. Even had he had this vision, it would have opposed his project to give security and military reins to his relatives.
Saleh’s project to pass the rule to his son, Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, gradually appeared. Consequently, Yemen’s opposition newspapers launched a counter-campaign against this plan, which was based on the imams’ regime—toppled some 40 years earlier.
As a result, in 2004, conflict started in Sa’ada and lasted six years. It is considered the most anonymous war in Yemen’s history because no one knew the reason behind it; why it started suddenly and who had power to sporadically stop it; why the military couldn’t achieve a clear victory during the six years; and why the Houthis were in control of more area at the time of truce.
Signs of a weakness in Saleh’s regime began appearing: the Sa’ada war, the appearance of the Southern Movement and at last, when the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs) competed strongly against Saleh during the 2006 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, Saleh continued to look for support for his alleged battles against Al-Qaeda.
This was accompanied by a continuous deterioration in all government apparatuses—without any hope of improvement sooner or later.
And then, the Arab Spring erupted in several countries. Yemenis seized the opportunity and took to streets to end Saleh’s regime and wrap it up forever. They discovered 30 years of their lives were spent under the rule of a person who covered the lack of a clear vision to improve the country by using his political skills, flexibility, patience, acceptance of his political enemies and exploitation of all abilities and sources to buy people’s loyalty and to dismantle social and political organizations.
Current President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi’s term
On Feb. 21, 2012, an unexpected number of Yemenis voted for Hadi to be Yemen’s president. Approximately seven million people—most of them belonging to northern areas—voted, with love, for the first southern president to rule a unified Yemen.
They are all hopeful Hadi will find a way out of the non-nation they’ve experienced during the fifty past years, never finding a way for the rule of law. Yemeni youth carried out a peaceful revolution looking for a new hope after losing hope in Saleh’s regime.
The youths’ peaceful revolution came to retrieve the September 26 revolution on its fiftieth anniversary and bring back all its noble concepts and aims, giving Yemenis a new hope for the possibility of constructing a new Yemen.
Therefore, President Hadi has a historical responsibility to take all the necessary actions to achieve the aims of the revolution. Now, Yemenis can’t wait to construct a state based on rule of law because they have been waiting fifty years to achieve it. They won’t allow any attempts to waste this opportunity again after toppling the imams’ regime fifty years ago and getting rid of the republican succession project.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited down from the original length.