Hidden history behind the Yemen war

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By: Deirdre Griswold

There is a huge gap in all Western reporting on the horrific tragedy unfolding right now in Yemen, where half the population faces starvation after years of brutal bombing by Saudi Arabia, using U.S. planes and satellite targeting.

This whiteout by the corporate media ignores the highly successful earlier history of socialist revolution in the southern half of Yemen, a time of great hope for the working people, especially youth and women.

The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen lasted from 1967 to 1990. It made great strides in organizing the people of this small country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula to overcome poverty and underdevelopment.

Britain had seized the strategic port city of Aden in 1839 and held it tightly in its huge colonial web for more than a century. But by the 1960s, revolutionary movements in many formerly colonized nations fought to free their economies from imperialist domination and empower the masses of people.

The optimism that existed in southern Yemen during that revolutionary period is heartbreaking to read about today, when the hopes of the people for social change are being drowned in a growing sea of blood.

The following descriptions of the history of the PDRY are from two bourgeois sources.

The Encyclopedia Britannica online writes: “By the early 1970s the government of the south had nationalized almost all land and housing, along with most banking, industrial, and other business enterprises in the country; thereafter, all new industries and businesses of any size were state-owned and state-operated. …

“In North Yemen, women in cities and towns wore the sharsaf, a black skirt, scarf, and veil ensemble that covers the entire body. In South Yemen, the regime that succeeded the British after 1967 vigorously opposed this women’s dress code, and this opposition prevailed especially in the towns and cities. …

“The decision [was made in 1990] by Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, to abandon that country’s support of the governments and policies of a number of eastern European states, some of which were South Yemen’s principal sources of financial, technical, and personnel assistance.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the socialist government in South Yemen was defeated in a civil war in which Saudi Arabia played a big part. The EB continues:

“Following the 1994 civil war, the regime of Col. ‘Alī‘ Abd Allāh Șālih negotiated an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that committed Yemen to a multiyear matrix of structural adjustments in exchange for financial and economic incentives. The package of reforms and aid … was designed to make Yemen both economically viable in a post-remittance era and more attractive to foreign investors in an increasingly globalized international economy.

“The reforms, which included the elimination of subsidies on many basic necessities, cuts in budget deficits, and the downsizing of the government and the public sector, were painful for many and generated widespread discontent and public protest.”

Encyclopedia.com acknowledges that the PDRY “made progress in bridging the gap between Aden and the rest of the country, pursued social goals with some success, and made good use of limited resources in efforts to develop a very poor country. Despite pressures toward fragmentation, especially urgings from Saudi Arabia … South Yemen held together during difficult political and economic times. This was largely the result of political will, agitation and organization.

“The gap between city and countryside remained a constant concern of the leadership, and progress was made in extending education, medical care, and other social services beyond Aden and the other urban centers. In addition, a campaign was waged to extend women’s rights and other progressive ideas and institutions to the countryside. Great differences in wealth and property were eliminated, and the economy was organized along socialist lines, most notably in terms of a variety of agricultural and fishing collectives and cooperatives. … [T]he regime remained relatively committed, egalitarian and free of corruption.”

An excellent and detailed eyewitness account of both the challenges and achievements of the PDRY, “Socialist Revolution in Arabia,” was published by MERIP Report in March 1973 and can be found at tinyurl.com/ybcdnglr.

How different life would be today for the people of Yemen had the imperialists and their henchmen in Saudi Arabia not targeted that brave revolution for ­obliteration.