South Yemen’s “Aden Born Community” – confused eccentrics or simple pragmatists?
As broadcast on RTE “World Report” on 2/12/2012
Yet against a backdrop of crumbling colonial bungalows, peeling plaster and red postboxes I don’t even need to volunteer the question. This is the crowded “crator” district; the downtown area built in the bowl of an extinct volcano which once served as the very heart of the crown of the British empire in Arabia; the port of Aden.
“You are a Britisher!” exclaims one of the chewers, stood to attention in near word perfect English “Welcome back to your country, you will find the place in a slightly worst condition than you left.”
The group’s slightly eccentric leader Dr Farook Hamza greets me with a letter addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron, which he reads to me several times upon my reception.
“We are calling on the British army to rush. That is rush in to Aden to help us rid ourselves of the filth and Bedouin rubbish who call ourselves our leaders” Hamza adds with his finger jutted in the air, referring to the country’s politicians many of whom come from tribes and lack formal education.
The members seated attentively in front of me range in age from 27 to 67, and include former revolutionary fighters from the FLOSY, one of the Arab nationalist guerilla groups who eventually persuaded the Macmillan government with their grenades and bombs that the sun had finally set on Britain “ruling the waves”.
This week thousands of Yemenis in the former crown colony of Aden are celebrating, (or perhaps for some that should be only commemorating) the final departure of British troops on the 30th of November 1967 from their foothold in South Yemen.
It’s a poignant anniversary as Yemen is currently struggling its way through a difficult power transition after its Arab spring revolution. Faced with an ongoing insurgency in the country’s North, continued Al Qeada militancy in the East and a struggle for independence in the South, including Aden city, by the so called Hirak movement, the “National Dialogue” is already testing the patience of representatives of the UN who are overseeing it.
Brokered by the Gulf States in light of the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the dialogue which is already stumbling over the so-called “Southern Issue” is important not only to Yemen, but to the whole region and world.
Britain’s own reason for getting involved in the hot, sweaty and rocky colony of Aden port in the first place should be a reminder of what’s at stake if Yemen’s rival factions descend, once again into war. The British had seized Aden in 1839 because it was a nest of pirates threatening maritime trade with Bombay. They stationed a few soldiers there to prevent any recurrence of the threat. A totally unappealing piece of real estate, it had no intrinsic value.
Today the Bab el-Mandab and Gulf of Aden remain some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world linking the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal remains.
So while the views of the “Aden Born Community” may seem unrealistic and even amusing they remain in some way very important.
As I’m leaving the meeting the youngest member of the group, 27 year old Osama Abdul Jeba takes me to one side.
“We need the British to drive out the current system…of course we are not simply asking for our colonial masters”
Yemenis neither trust nor believe in the ability of their leaders, and without this trust the country’s power transition and the National Dialogue will fail. A failed Yemen, means a failed Arabia… so possibly, just possibly for the sake of what remains of the city which was the jewel of Arabia, Mr. Cameron should take notice.