by Muhsin al-Aini
Dar al-Nahar, Beirut, 2000. Arabic. Pp. 367. Illus. Pb. £16.
90 (available from Al Saqi Bookshop, 26 Westbourne Grove, London W2
SRH). ISBN 2-84289-296-8.
Muhsin al-Aini, born in 1932 in a village a few miles from Sana’a
and orphaned at the age of seven, rose from humble beginnings to be
Prime Minister of the Yemen Arab Republic during the first decade of
its history. He later served as Yemeni Ambassador in Paris, Bonn,
London and Moscow before his transfer to the UN; he spent the final
years of his diplomatic career in Washington during the presidencies
of Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
Before the 1962 revolution he was closely involved with the Free
Yemenis, with links to the Arab Nationalist Movement, and as Foreign
and Prime Minister he was on terms with most Arab leaders and
eminent figures of the time. Evidence of his wide range of contacts
lies not only in the anecdotal text but in the many photographs
which illustrate it.
As a student in Paris in the late 1950s, al-Aini met and was
befriended by a Marxist intellectual, Claudie Fayein, whose book, A
French Doctor in Yemen (1957), be soon embarked on translating
into Arabic. He did so because he felt that Fayein’s portrayal of
conditions of life under Imam Ahmad would help to sensitise Arab
opinion to Yemen’s plight.
Al-Aini deprecates the notion that his book is the story of the
Yemeni national movement, or of the revolution and republic; or of
Yemeni relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Eastern Bloc and the
West; or of Yemeni and Arab unity; or the Gulf war. But his
disclaimer is partly rhetorical for his memoir is interwoven with
all these issues.
Few incidents seem to have ruffled his composure, but he appears
not to have forgiven Ali Salim al-Bidh, when Vice-President of
recently unified Yemen, for slipping into Washington, making
appointments with the State Department behind his back, and then
accusing him of dereliction of duty. Al-Aini writes well and with a
light touch; his assessment of US- Yemeni relations in a letter to
President Saleh dated 1986 (pp. 342-7) is a model of clarity. His
story ends in 1993 but on the last page he promises a further
instalment. Readers of this elder statesman’s memoir will look
forward to his next.