lundi 22 octobre 2012

βιβλιοκριτική Noel Brehony. Yemen Divided από τον Θάνο Πετούρη

από το περιοδικό Asian Affairs, vol. XLIII, no. II, July 2012, pp292-293

Noel Brehony. Yemen Divided: The Story of a Failed State in South Arabia.
I.B. Tauris, London, 2011. pp. xxii + 257. Illust. Chronology. Maps. Notes.
Bibliog. Appendices. Index. Hb. £35. ISBN 9 7818 4885 6356

In Yemen Divided, Noel Brehony reconstructs one of the least studied periods of modern Yemeni history, one that gave rise to the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), the only Marxist state in the Middle East. And he does so both accurately and persuasively.
Within English-language literature on South Yemen this book stands out as the first comprehensive assessment of the history of the country, from the day it acquired independence from Britain in 1967, until its voluntary assimilation
into the Republic of Yemen in 1990, and the failed attempt of the South to
secede from what was by 1994 perceived to be an unfair unification deal with
the North. As such, it presents the reader with a coherent and detailed
account of the key events, analytical portraits of Yemeni politicians, and pre-
viously unknown historical episodes. This reflects the author’s longstanding
engagement with Yemeni affairs, and the meticulous research he conducted
by using Arabic and British primary sources, and interviewing the protagonists all over the Middle East and Europe.
The author very aptly traces the ideological origins of the Marxist South Yemen in the days of the anti-colonial struggle, when the National Liberation Front (NLF), later to become the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), was fighting the
British in Aden and the Protectorates of South Arabia. Having been founded
by the Movement of Arab Nationalists, the NLF pulled together a diverse
group of activists mainly from the Adeni hinterland, the provinces of Lahj,
Abyan and Hadhramaut, and North Yemen. The NLF found in nationalism
and Marxism a language which had resonance among a large and diverse
section of the population, and was at the same time able to conceptualise an infinite number of grievances against the British, as well as ideas about the shaping of the liberated nation.
In the wake of the British departure from South Arabia, the NLF emerged
victorious in its fight against the Aden-based FLOSY (Front for the Liberation
of South Yemen), its rival nationalist organisation. By transforming itself into a
vanguard party, both the ideological and regional fault lines and divisions among its ranks became apparent and would plague the leadership of the new
state until its demise. As Dr Brehony shows the reader through the ‘premier-
ships’ of different NLF leaders, it becomes apparent that what party parlance
referred to as the right and left wings of the YSP were rather loose networks
of patronage based on kinship and regional affiliations. Thus, the PDRY
appears to become the battleground in which these groups played out their
rivalries; the state turns into a prize to be fought over, and the military is a
potent tool for the achievement of personal goals.
What becomes apparent in Dr Brehony’s narrative is that state-building
remained an on-going, unrealisable process throughout the short-lived PDRY,
as it still is today in united Yemen. The Marxist leadership seems to have
been unable to move beyond personal strategies and to implement consistent
policies in key governmental sectors such as the economy, and foreign
affairs, or even agree on constitutional arrangements. Whether “the PDRY
failed as a state, or the regime failed its people” remains today unresolved in
the minds of unrepentant nostalgics, but the book certainly points towards the
failures of the regime. Hence, the shotgun marriage with the North presented
itself as the only route out for an embattled leadership, and an exhausted
Nevertheless, after reading the book, one is left with the question of where the South Yemeni people are. And indeed this is perhaps the only oversight; one would want to read more about how South Yemeni society was organised
after independence, the degree of its involvement in the politics of the party
and the country, the role of social strata such as the sayyids, and popular
reaction to the infinite power struggles. A thematic rather than chronological
division of chapters might have offered more scope for such elaborations. On
that account, among its merits, the book offers a very detailed and valuable
political genealogy of the PDRY leadership and a host of Yemeni politicians
who are still active and relevant in the present tumultuous political climate
within the country and abroad.
Overall, Yemen Divided is a timely, eloquent account of the history of Marxist
South Yemen. It is the fruit of the arduous task Noel Brehony set for himself to
pull together voices and memories that are gradually disappearing, and as such it will remain indispensable to academics and laypeople alike.


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