Letter: A democratic Yemen needs Western support

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The Independent Online
Sir: Saudi Arabia's panicky reaction to the democratic elections in the Yemen, and the failure of ourselves and the US to acknowledge the struggle in Yemen to create a free and equal society for all its citizens by looking for ways to help the Yemenis to develop their newly emerged democracy, highlights the appalling hypocrisy of the West towards those who dwell on the Arabian peninsula. Our motives need examination, and radical overhaul.

Yemen is the last stronghold of the true Arabia Felix. It is the land of Bilquis, Queen of Sheba, with a history of sophisticated civilisation and culture - philosophy, art, music, mathematics (algebra was 'invented' in Yemen) and commerce. The Yemenis were great sailors and traders - they established the spice trade in Zanzibar. From the Wadi Hadhramaut port of Mukalla and from Hodeida in the north the merchants traded into India and the East. They were (and remain) a settled people who built 'skyscraper' cities such as Shibam (still standing and in use) and universities - Tarim. And while the Yemenis did all this, those who now grow fat on their oil wealth struggled round deserts with their scrawny flocks and tents, living on dried shark and rice. And we in Europe were then in the Dark Ages]

I worked and travelled widely under difficult and often dangerous conditions as British Charge d'Affaires in the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen from 1974 to 1978. I also saw something of the north. Those cruel Marxist-sponsored days of international terrorism died with the authors of those policies, the demise of Soviet imperial power and unification with the north.

The proud spirit and moral strength of the Yemeni people remains as it always was, regardless of the political veneers laid on by self-seeking politicians from Egypt's Nasser, who tried to use the north as a stepping stone for his nationalist aspirations. And regardless of ourselves and our cynical abandonment of the south (Aden and the Protectorate) to its fate in 1967 - leaving the political and economic vacuum to be swiftly filled by the Soviet Union and its allies. This failure of ours led to the destruction of the countries in the Horn of Africa - which also fell to Marxism. This in turn led to the problems in Ethiopia and Somalia that we are trying to deal with today.

The war in the Gulf is long over. As champions of democracy, why must we bow to Riyadh and endorse Saudi policy towards Yemen? Yemen deserves our support and an aid programme.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN ROBERTS

London, SW5

17 May

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