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  Book review

Life of Major-General Saleh Yislam Bin Sumaida', Commander of the Qu'aiti Armed Forces 

by Muhammad Mahfoudh Saleh bin Sumaida', Wahdain Press, Mukalla, 2011. Arabic. Pp. 224. Illus. Appendix. References.

This book on one of the key indigenous military figures to play a role in Hadhrami affairs during its recent modern history, is long overdue. His career began with the accession of Sultan Saleh bin Ghalib Al-Qu'aiti in 1936, and the immediate initiation of reform in all fields with British help, following the signing of the Treaty of Advice with that great power. His role, always increasing in importance with the passage of time, was to last until after the fall of the Qu'aiti State on 17 September 1967, to be followed a little later by his dismissal, then incarceration and, ultimately, by his execution on 13 February 1973.

The book, published as a tribute to Bin Sumaida''s memory to coincide with the centennial anniversary of his birth in 1911, has been written by his grandson with the assistance and guidance of the latter's uncle, Faiz Saleh bin Sumaida', who, despite repeated house searches, had managed to save and conceal the copious documentary and photographic material illustrated in its pages. What is regrettable is that the photographs have not been reproduced as well as they deserve to have been, for they are the life of the book, which is otherwise more or less a simple factual essay. Introduced by the amiable and soft spoken Qadhi Abdullah Muhammad Ba Huwairith, a former adviser on tribal affairs to the Qu'aiti Minister (Wazir), whose official role brought him into close contact with Bin Sumaida' over two decades, the book is divided into six chapters containing a diversity of material on various aspects of his life contributed by those who knew him.

The most critical of these is Chapter 3 which devotes 64 of the book's 145 pages of written text to the 'Palace Incident' of 27 December 1950.
This involved a demonstration which broke into the Sultan's Palace to demand the appointment of an indigenous Wazir, regardless of professional suitability. The crowd were fired at on the orders of Bin Sumaida' after refusing to heed warning volleys and attacking the palace guard. The Sultan had initially agreed to the appointment of the then Deputy Wazir, Salim Ahmad bin Sadeeq, but was later obliged, in keeping with the terms of his Advisory Treaty, to reconsider his decision in the light of the formal advice offered by the Resident Adviser and British Agent, Colonel Hugh Boustead. This favoured the appointment of the Qu'aiti State's Sudanese Director of Education, Shaykh Sa'id al-Qaddal. Boustead's partiality towards al-Qaddal seems to have been influenced by his own years of service in the Sudan. It is pertinent to mention here that the employment of expatriates (however loyal and competent) by the Qu'aiti State in the absence of qualified locals, tended to arouse resentment.

Sultan Saleh is accused by detractors in the pages of this book of having yielded to British advice on the grounds that at the advanced age of 67 he wanted a pliant Wazir who would give priority to the administration of the Sultan's household and properties. But the accusation ignores the fact that provision for this was made from the Sultan's own, if meagre, Civil List. It also ignores the fact that thirty years earlier Sultan Saleh had donated most of the family's assets, purchased with funds from abroad, for the State's use;
and that the costs of administration in Hadhramaut were underwritten to the tune of 50% with income from assets in India. One of the Sultan's early wazirs (and brother-in-law), Sayyid Hamid al-Mihdhar, whom the Sultan was obliged to dismiss on the advice of Harold Ingrams, considered that the Civil List accepted by the Sultan reduced him and his family to a status of virtual impoverishment.

Again, it is surprising that one of the Sultan's major critics and detractors in Chapter 3 is Muhammad Abdul Qader Ba Matraf, a former Residency official, who, with British support, rose to the rank of Deputy Wazir and exploited the opportunity this gave him to feather his own nest.

It was Sultan Saleh's policy to give priority to recruiting suitable Hadhramis wherever and whenever possible. Bin Sumaida', who had received early military training in Hyderabad, starting as a 'line boy', was just such an example. His story is also that of the typical enterprising itinerant Hadhrami, who had visited all parts of the Hadhrami diaspora "in Africa, the Far East, and India "to be recruited by Sultan Saleh and sent back home. In Bin Sumaida''s case, for a bedouin youth born in a hamlet in Saut al'Ali to rise from the rank of second lieutenant to major-general and the office of Military Secretary, a post specially created for him after it had become defunct, was no mean achievement.

Later, when the State's Wazir, Sayyid Ahmad al-Attas, had terminated the functions of the State Council, the country's legislative body, on the pretext of having a new constitution prepared to hold elections, Bin Sumaida' became a member of the triumvirate (along with Al-Attas and Badr bin Ahmad al-Kasadi, the Governor of Mukalla) responsible for internal policy and administration. In 1964 the trio visited Saudi Arabia to congratulate King Faisal on his accession; Bin Sumaida' also visited Britain the following year as an official guest of the Ministry of Defence.

Bin Sumaida' was awarded the Qu'aiti Medal of Merit and the Medal of Distinction, and an MBE from the British Government in 1959. His career exemplifies how an enterprising Hadhrami, despite a lack of formal education, could make it to the top through innate intelligence and drive. A man of such stature certainly deserves a proper academic study, in addition to the extensive photographic record presented in this book. May his soul rest in peace.

Ghalib bin Awadh al-Qu'aiti