The British-Yemeni Society

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Annual reports, 1993-99

Chairman's report, AGM 21 July 1999

The Chairman, Mr Stephen Day, noted that the past year’s programme had included some well-attended lectures, an excellent tour of Yemen in November, and a successful Christmas Appeal for the Al-Noor Centre for the Blind and Disabled in Mukalla, which had raised 2,735.

Discussing the security situation in Yemen since the unfortunate events in December 1998 and early January he described his own efforts and those of others, not least Brian Whitaker, to inject some balance and perspective into the media debate. Yemen was a robust country; it had survived difficulties in the past; British-Yemeni relations would, in time, return to normal. The opening of the new Container Terminal in Aden was a great achievement and there was considerable goodwill towards Yemen within the international community. However, until the trials of those on terrorist charges were over, the security situation would continue to arouse concern. FCO advice to British subjects remained, ‘don’t go’, and the Society would have to follow this advice, although a tour to ‘safe areas’ in smaller parties, for a shorter time and travelling mainly by air, might be acceptable.

The Chairman proposed that Dr Abdulla Abdul Wali Nasher, Minister of Health, and Mr Jim Ellis should be invited to become Vice-Presidents of the Society. He referred to Dr Nasher’s tireless efforts to improve medical facilities in Yemen, and to Jim Ellis’s services to the Society since its inception, in particular his role in organising and leading three successive annual tours to Yemen, before ill health obliged him to resign from the Committee.

The Chairman thanked Michael Whittall and Julian Lush for their work respectively as Vice-Chairman and Hon. Secretary, and wished Sa’id Hadi Awadh every success in his new assignment. Julian Lush, having handed over to Julian Paxton, wished to remain on the Committee. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Orchard, a founder member, and Peter Hinclicliffe had resigned from the Committee. Douglas Gordon was proposed as the new Vice-Chairman, and John Mason for election to the Committee. These proposals having been approved, the Chairman warmly thanked H.E. Dr Hussain al-Amri, Co-President, and his staff at the Embassy for once again hosting the AGM and arranging a reception afterwards.

Note: Mr Stephen Day submitted his resignation to the Committee in September, citing the pressure of his other commitments, and has been replaced as Chairman by Mr Douglas Gordon. Julian Lush has agreed to act as Vice-Chairman.

Chairman's report, December 1998

The major events of the year have been the visit of President Ali Abdullah Salih to Britain in November 1997, which HE Dr Hussain al-Amri has confirmed was a great success, and the Yemen Festival; both events demonstrated the very marked improvement in Yemeni-British relations. The Festival was limited by financial constraints but introduced notable aspects of Yemeni culture to a wider British public. The Society contributed financially to exhibitions at the British Museum and the Institute of Archaeology and Dr Abdullah Abdul Wali Nasher, Minister of Health, made exceptional efforts to raise funds for the Festival within Yemen. We had an opportunity to thank him by organising a reception for him at the Travellers’ Club in the autumn, to which a number of NGOs were invited. We are also grateful to the companies and to the many individuals who supported the Festival.

The Society sponsored the travel toYemen of two archaeological students to work at the al-Hamid site and thereby further their own studies; they will be reporting to the Society on the results of their trip in a lecture next year.

The second essay competition once again drew a disappointing response. The Committee has decided not to repeat the competition in its present form but to discuss with the British Council and theYemeni-British Friendship Association in Yemen some alternative likely to prove more successful.

Douglas Scrafton has completed his tour as Ambassador in Sana’a and the Society’s gratitude for his help and advice should be recorded; he has been succeeded by Victor Henderson who has agreed to become the Society’s Co-President.

The Christmas Appeal for the Health and Culture Centre in Sana’a raised over 1,000.

Two Committee members are resigning — Venetia Porter and Francine Stone. They were founder members of the Society and deserve our warmest thanks for their sterling work. Meanwhile, on behalf of you all, I propose to send best wishes for a speedy recovery to Jim Ellis, also a founder member. He has led the Society’s three annual tours to Yemen and these have made a considerable contribution to the Society’s funds.

This year we have 205 ordinary and student members and eight corporate members, compared to 179 and seven last year.

Under the constitution, Honorary Officers may only serve two terms of three years. This means that Michael Whittall, Julian Lush and I, myself, must all be gone by the AGM in 1999. Rather than all three of us going at the same time, I am resigning this year. I am delighted that Stephen Day has accepted nomination as my replacement, and that Julian Paxton has agreed to become Hon. Secretary when Julian Lush retires next year. I am also grateful to John Shipman for agreeing to take over as Editor of the Journal.

Finally, I would like to thank our Co-President, the Ambassador, and his staff for all their support and, in particular, for inviting the Society once again to hold its AGM in the Yemeni Embassy and for hosting a reception for us afterwards.

W D Heber Percy MBE

Chairman's report, December 1997

Your Committee decided that the magazine in its original format had become too expensive and alterations were agreed at the AGM. The Committee would welcome comments. We are very grateful to Georgina Simpson who has taken on the duty of Editor.

The series of lectures continued with three last winter and a further four in the Spring. They are reported on elsewhere in the magazine. We are very grateful to our lecturers who give so generously of their time and knowledge.

"Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land" by Tim Mackintosh Smith has been published. Your society helped to finance a visit to Yemen by Martin Yeoman who illustrated the book.

The Christmas Appeal for the Ras Morbat Medical Clinic raised over 2,000. Some medical equipment was purchased and dispatched and the balance of funds transferred to the Clinic in Aden. The Clinic Director has asked me to pass on his thanks to all those who contributed and especially to the Parishes of St Michael and All Angels, Turnham Green and Llanishen, Cardiff who generously donated their Lenten Collection.

The Society’s essay competition for Yemeni students continues. The 1997 competition has a closing date of 30 November. The result will be published in the next edition of the magazine.

Jim Ellis led the second Society tour last Autumn and as this magazine goes to print is in the middle of the third.

The Yemen Festival is covered elsewhere in the magazine. Your Society provided sponsorship for the exhibition in the Institute of Archaeology and the photographic exhibition in the British Museum. All the events seem to have been very well attended. The opening concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was sold out. I would like to express my admiration for all the hard work, much of it voluntary, which went into the organisation.

At the Annual General Meeting James Nash and Sulaiman Ghanem retired from the Committee and Dirham Abdu Saeed, Douglas Gordon and Peter Hinchcliffe were elected. Since the election, Saeed Hadi Awadh has been co-opted onto the Committee. I would like to thank James Nash who single handedly started up the Society’s magazine and edited the first four editions and Sulaiman Ghanem whose advice and help will be missed.

Dr Abdulla Abdulwali Nasher who was Chairman of the Yemeni-British Friendship Association in Sana’a was appointed Minister of Health after the Spring elections. He was of tremendous help to the Society and did much to foster close links between the two organisations. At his request the Committee is working to involve some of the British based medical NGOs in the development of the Health Service in the Yemen.

W D Heber Percy MBE

Chairman's report, November 1996

The visit to Yemen by members of the Society late last year, organised by Jim Ellis, was a great success. We were honoured to meet HE. the President, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and other members of the Government. We also met leading members of the business and academic communities in Sana’a, Taiz and Aden and came away convinced of the continuing friendship between the two countries and a feeling that much needed to be done to encourage an increased level of both governmental and business activity from Britain.

Universal Travel and Tourism looked after us most efficiently on our tour around the country and we were royally entertained by Dr Abdulla Abdulwali Nasher and members of our sister Society in Yemen, the Yemeni British Friendship Association, who are very enthusiastic about working with us to improve ties between our countries.

A number of initiatives resulted from this visit. Your Society helped to recruit five teachers for the Mohammed Ali Othman school in Taiz. A lady teacher was recruited for a school in Sana’a. In May of this year a delegation of British members of parliament visited Yemen at the invitation of the Speaker of the Yemeni parliament. The visit was organised by the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding. World Circuit Arts are now planning a major festival of Yemeni culture in Britain in September 1997. In June Dr Abdulqader al-Gunaid, who is head of the planning committee for a new Taiz University, visited London and your Society arranged meetings for him with both Imperial College, London and Buckingham University. Finally Dr Harry Robertson, who was with us during the visit and ensured that we all survived a frenetic three weeks in one piece, returned to Aden in October as Interim Director of the Anglican Church of the Middle East Medical Centre.

The Annual General Meeting in July was well attended and we are grateful to H.E. Dr Husain al-Amri for inviting us to hold it in the Embassy The committee and officers of the Society were re-elected for a further year.

Students in Yemen were invited to take part in an essay competition initiated by your Society. Entries closed in August. The winner is Ahmed Salah Ahmed Mansour, a student living in San’a, who chose as his title "How a Yemeni sees British people." The Society felt that the number of entrants to the competition did not justify awarding prizes to runners up this year.

At the A.G.M. members agreed that the competition should be repeated in 1997 and efforts made to publicise it more widely and to encourage more competitors of both sexes to have a go.

Finally I must thank Julian Lush, our Honorary Secretary and Bob Davies, our Honorary Treasurer, for all their hard work and H.E. Dr al-Amri and his colleagues at the Yemeni Embassy for their help.

W D Heber Percy MBE

Chairman's report, November 1995

In the autumn of last year it became apparent that the Overseas Development Administration were showing no signs of reactivating the aid programme which had been suspended in the early part of the year. A considerable number of members took the matter up with the ODA., the Foreign Office and with their own members of parliament. A number of questions were asked in both Houses. I am delighted to report that, in March this year, the Minister of State, Baroness Chalker, announced that the bilateral aid programme to the Yemen would resume at the start of the 1995/6 financial year. It is not yet clear whether the level of support will return to the pre-suspension level, but it is very satisfactory that the principle of British development aid to the Yemen has been re-established and I have no doubt that the efforts of members of the Society made an important contribution to this successful outcome.

In March of this year, H.E. Dr. Husain Abdulla al Amri took up his post as ambassador of the Republic of Yemen in London. He kindly agreed to become our honorary Co-President and we had a chance to welcome him with a reception at the Arab British Centre which was very well attended. His help and advice has already proved of great assistance to the Society and he attended and spoke to members at our annual general meeting in May. He has also found time to attend other events.

In July, with the help of Visiting Arts, the Society sponsored Hamud bin Junayd, a classical Yemeni ‘ud player and vocalist, to come to Britain take part in the Llangollen International Festival of Music. In the competition for soloists and small groups, in which sixteen countries competed, he came third. He subsequently gave concerts in Cardiff, London and Birmingham, all of which drew enthusiastic audiences. He also appeared on various radio and television programmes.

The programme of lectures continued successfully and are reported on elsewhere in the magazine. The autumn programme has already been circulated.

Undoubtedly the major event of this autumn is the Wales-Yemen Festival which is to take place in Sana’a in October. Pat Aithie has given up an enormous amount of time to organise this festival, which has received enthusiastic backing from the Yemeni Ministry of Culture, the British Embassy and the British Council. It will consist of an exhibition of Welsh crafts in Dar al Kutub in Sana’a, a group of Welsh musicians and vocalists who will perform not only in Sana’a, but will tour the country performing with a group of Yemeni musicians and a festival of Welsh food in the Taj Sheba Hotel in Sana’a. Prior to its despatch to Sana’a, the exhibition was put on show at the Oriel Gallery in Cardiff, which was opened by H.E. the Ambassador on 31st July. Universal Travel and Tourism, the Taj Sheba Hotel in Sana’a, Celtic Surveys and Clyde Petroleum, amongst others, have helped to sponsor this event. The time and work involved in organising an event of this size is considerable and Pat Aithie and the members of her committee are to be congratulated on a magnificent effort.

At the time of going to press, the Society’s tour of the Yemen seems to be on course thanks to the hard work of Jim Ellis. At the last count 19 members have booked in. I have been forbidden to mention the average age of the travellers!

Julian Lush, the honorary secretary, has been unwell during the summer. He has carried the burden of all the administration of the Society since its inception and his absence, I am afraid, has caused a few minor hiccups for which I apologise. We fervently wish him a full and rapid recovery. Our honorary treasurer, Cliff Leslie, has resigned owing to his departure to warmer climes. Bob Davies has gallantly agreed to take over the post.

Finally at the annual general meeting in 1996, all the officers of the Society come up for re-election. A number of us feel that, after three years, fresh blood is needed. In due course nomination papers will be circulated, but in the meantime, would all members give thought to whom would best guide the Society into the next millennium.

W D Heber Percy

Chairman's report, November 1994

It has been a tragic year for the Yemen. The breakdown of political dialogue, followed by the outbreak of fighting, had a catastrophic effect on the economy of the country and caused much damage to its infrastructure, particularly in Aden. With the cessation of fighting in the middle of the summer, the situation is slowly getting back to normal. Water and power have been restored to Aden and most of the oil companies, which had withdrawn during the fighting, are now back. However, much bitterness remains and the Government has a difficult task to erase the memories of the summer and to reinvigorate the economy. In Britain the troubles have caused difficulties within some of the Yemeni communities which, I hope, your Society may be of some help in solving.

The Society has had a mixed year. Its six lecture programme went very well and all the lectures were well attended. I am grateful to our lecturers who give up so much of their time. I hope that this six lecture per annum programme will continue.

The Society is now a registered charity and I am most grateful to Michael Carey and Cliff Leslie, our Honorary Treasurer, for guiding the committee through the complicated ritual of registration. You will in due course be invited to renew your subscription by deed of covenant which will enable the Society to reclaim tax on each subscription.

The major event of 1994 should have been the Musical Tour of the group of Yemeni singers, dancers and musicians chosen by the Yemeni Ministry of Culture. Sadly this was a casualty of the troubles, but not before a considerable amount of energy had been expended in organising it. I must therefore record my thanks to the committee members, the Museum of Mankind, the Arab Club and the officers of the Yemeni communities in London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield for all their hard work. The tour was to have been sponsored by Visiting Arts, Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust, the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, B.P. Exploration, Clyde Petroleum, Nimir Services Ltd and Thabet International to whom we are most grateful. I hope that it may be possible to organise a similar tour at a later date.

The Society also arranged, at short notice, a reception for H.E. the Yemeni Minister for Energy and Petroleum Affairs, Salih Abubakr bin Husainun at the Travellers’ Club. It is sad to record that the Minister was killed shortly afterwards in the troubles.

It is sad also to report that Dr Shaya Mohsin has left his post as the Yemeni ambassador in London. As our Honorary co-President, Dr Shaya gave a great deal of help and encouragement to your Society in its early days and we will miss his wise advice. We look forward to welcoming the new ambassador.

The Yemeni community in Cardiff held a very successful Yemeni week in May, towards the cost of which your Society made a small contribution. Details of it are included elsewhere in the Journal.

Dr Lawless, who has just retired from Durham University, is publishing a book entitled "From Taiz to Tyneside". Your Society, along with others, is helping to fund the cost of publication of this important historical record of Yemeni migration to Britain.

I hope that 1995 will be a more successful year both for the Republic of Yemen and for your Society. I use the term your Society pointedly. The turnout at the A.G.M. was disappointing and the lack of complaints and suggestions could encourage a sense of complacency in your committee which I am sure you would not wish! Please let us have suggestions on future activities, comments on the format and content of this magazine and any ideas you may have on how the Society can better fulfil its role.

W D Heber Percy

Secretary's report, November 1993

The idea of a society to foster relations between the peoples of Yemen and Great Britain began in mid 1992. Given the long historical links between the two countries and the recent unification of the two parts of Yemen into the Republic of Yemen, the time seemed right for such a society to be formed. Its objectives were to promote friendship and understanding and to advance public awareness and knowledge in Britain of Yemen, of its history, geography, economy and culture. In the autumn of 1992, Bill Heber Percy, with much encouragement and support from H.E. Dr. Shaya Zindani, the Yemeni ambassador in London, undertook the initial spadework and formed a small interim committee of five people to bring the Society into being.

In November 1992, some 300 people were invited to join the embryonic society. As a result of a most encouraging response, an inaugural meeting was held on 11th February 1993 at the British Academy, which was attended by some 120 people. They heard that the Society had already 120 individual and fifteen corporate members. The members present also endorsed the continuation of the interim committee to manage the affairs of the Society until a constitution could be prepared and adopted and a proper committee and officers could be appointed. The objectives meanwhile were to arrange a broad and interesting series of lectures, having particular regard to the wishes and interests of the Yemeni members.

Following the business, Professor Fred Halliday addressed the meeting on "Reflections on contemporary Yemen". With his scholarly knowledge of the historical background and a considerable insight into the current conditions, he gave a rounded appreciation of the situation within the now unified Republic of Yemen as the country approached its first multi-party elections and an account of the new state’s relations with its neighbours. Without denying the immense difficulties of the path forward, his outlook was generally optimistic.

The next meeting was on 16th March at SOAS, when Dr. Samar Damluji gave a well illustrated talk on the architecture of south Yemen and the Hadhramawt in particular. Her knowledge of the subject was most impressive and she conveyed the essence of the unique building styles of these areas in a masterly manner to an appreciative audience.

On 11th May, Dr Tudor Parfitt addressed the Society at the Middle East Association on the Jewish community in Habban. Tracing its history and the position of Jews in the predominently Muslim society of the town, typical of many Jewish communities in Yemen over the centuries, he described their legal and social status in detail. The story ended with the departure of the entire Jewish community to the new state of Israel in 1949/50, for a variety of reasons based on fears perceived and hopeful expectations, the latter having hardly been realised.

Links have been forged with other Arabian societies, in particular the Society for Arabian Studies. On 17th March many of our members attended a lecture, organised by that society, by Hugh Leach, who reminisced on his years of service in Arabia including two spells in Yemen. Our Society also became a joint sponsor with the Society for Arabian Studies and the Leigh Douglas Memorial Fund of a visit by Professor Yusif Abdalla, Vice-President of the General Organisation for Antiquities, Manuscripts and Museums in Yemen, in July, when the professor lectured to members of both societies on the state of archaeology in the country.

On the formal side, a draft constitution was prepared and approved by the Charity Commission. This enabled the first General Meeting of members, held on 21st September, to adopt the constitution and elect the honorary officers and the executive committee. Now that our Society is fully established as a charity, it is well placed to proceed with the various projects in hand and the committee will remain receptive to ideas from the general membership as to how to achieve its objectives.

A. J. M. Lush