It has been an eventful year for Yemen, especially since January
when the Arab Spring reached Yemen and generated the same sort of
youth demonstrations that have taken place in Tunis, Cairo and many
other Arab capitals since then – and in the case of Yemen
continue. There has been a prolonged political crisis as Yemenis try
to resolve their differences over the future shape of their
government. This seemed on the point of reaching a violent climax at
the beginning of June when President Saleh was injured but the main
actors have since reverted – with international assistance – to
seeking a peaceful solution in the interests of all Yemenis.
Meanwhile, many Yemenis are finding great difficulty in their daily
lives with shortages of fuel and basic commodities and parts of the
country appear to be slipping out of central government control. All
this makes the need for a solution more urgent.
The British Yemeni Society (BYS) is bound by its constitution
which defines the objectives of the society as "to advance
public education and knowledge concerning the republic of Yemen, its
history, geography, economy and culture". It does not comment
on political matters but it cannot ignore events in Yemen that
affect the daily lives of many Yemenis including relatives of our
members. We can only urge that those involved in the political
process in Yemen and outside redouble their efforts to find a
solution and find it quickly.
The BYS has been planning with the London Middle East Institute
at SOAS to organise a conference on Yemen on 30 and 31 March 2011. A
planning committee has been set up and we are ready to issue a call
for papers. We need to raise at least £10,000 to get it going and
have received indications that we should be able to obtain this, but
it is difficult to take the project forward in the current
circumstances. It remains our aim to hold the conference in 2012
even if we cannot do it in March. It will discuss the broad range of
economic and social development needs of Yemen and address cultural
Yemen and the UK
There has, of course, been an enormous amount of press coverage
on Yemen, mostly about the political situation. One possible benefit
in the long term is that it has increased British public awareness
The media has shown much greater understanding of the
complexities of Yemen and the quality of reporting and analysis has
improved, albeit not always consistently. The Yemen Forum programme
at Chatham House has organised a steady stream of conferences,
discussions and papers on Yemen, and I am delighted that its work
Members of the British-Yemeni Society have been active in the
media, speaking as individuals and not in the name of the BYS,
notably Ginny Hill and her colleagues at Chatham House. Stephen Day
and James Spencer have made notable contributions, and even I have
done a Pod cast for the Economist and briefed some outlets
unattributably. Tom Finn has produced some excellent first hand
reports in the Guardian from Sana'a.
On 24th February 2011 – BBC3 aired a television documentary, A
Dangerous Place to Meet My Family – an account of
Sheffield-born Dean Whitney's journey to Yemen to meet his extended
There have been three new books on Yemen by BYS members:
- Seen in the Yemen: Travelling with Freya Stark and Others
by Hugh Leach.
- Yemen Divided ... My modest contribution to the history
of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
- A Quarter-Century in Diplomacy 1994-1969 (Arabic: rub'
qarn fi al-diblomasiya) by Dr Abdulaziz Ali Al-Qu'aiti.
There have been several others by non-BYS members, and I know of
at least three more that will be published over the next year.
The BYS remains active in the decorative arts:
- Gillian Hills continues to develop her Yemeni mosaics and has
generously offered her large one of Sana'a as a gift to the
Embassy of Yemen
- British-Yemeni Tasleem Mulhall had another exhibition of
paintings and sculpture in Isleworth in November 2010.
In addition, there has been the exhibition at the Royal
Geographical Society in London: The Artist's View – 7 Artists
in Yemen. This followed a similar artists' exhibition at
l'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in February which some members
were able to attend. Members of the BYS were invited to a lecture on
4th April 2011 at the Italian Cultural Institute about Amedeo
Guillet who had featured in the 2008 Journal.
In conjunction with an exhibition of photos of Yemen by Pat and
Charles Aithie at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, Pat
Aithie gave a lecture on 23 March 2011 entitled Yemen: From
Aden's Steamer Point to Cardiff's Tiger Bay. Pat had also had an
exhibition of her work in Cardiff in July/August 2010.
The award-winning Yemeni/US film The Oath was screened in
London cinemas in March 2011 and a Yemeni participant, Boushra
Almutawakil, featured in an exhibition (My Father's House) at
the Brunei Gallery at SOAS in late 2010.
Essay Competition 2010 & BYS Grant 2011
The first prize for the essay was awarded to Warda Eissadi for Smile!
You are in Yemen and second prize to Fernando Carvajal for Decentralization
through Dialogue. Warda's essay will be published in the 2011
This year's academic grant has been awarded to Benedict Wilkinson
for fieldwork towards his PhD on counter-extremism strategies
operated by the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
We organized a number of events during the past year:
14 October 2010: Screening of the documentary film Humanitarian
Citadel which tells the story of the ICRC's humanitarian mission
to Yemen in the 1960s.
2 November 2010: Donna Kennedy-Glans gave a talk entitled Wielding
Hope like an Axe: How to recognise and support Yemeni Youth as
positive change leaders – which focused on her work with
Yemeni youth leaders.
23 November 2010: Musicologist Samir Mokrani talked about
UNESCO's ‘Intangible Heritage' project: Safeguarding the Song
8 December 2010: Belhaven of Arabia: The Scottish Lord
who loved the mountain Arabs – a joint lecture with the
Society for Arabian Studies by BYS member, Trevor Mostyn.
24 March 2011: General discussion on Yemen (in lieu of HM
Ambassador Jonathan Wilks' talk which was postponed at the last
14 April 2011: Helen Lackner gave a thought-provoking talk
on Daily Life in Rural Yemen.
3 May 2011: HMA Jonathan Wilks gave his perspective on
Yemen after his first few months in post there.
18 May 2011: In association with the Royal Society for
Asian Affairs and the Society for Arabian Studies (now the British
Foundation for the Study of Arabia), BYS member Hugh Leach gave a
lecture Seen in the Yemen: Travelling with Freya Stark and Others
followed by the launch of his book under the same title.
The full autumn programme will be sent out with the 2011 Journal
at the end of the summer. One of our speakers will be Thanos
Petouris – awarded the BYS academic grant in January 2010 – to
talk about the results of his research.
BYS member Dr Salma Samar Damluji will be speaking on the
Restoration of the mosques of Sah and 'Aynat in Wadi Hadhramaut at
the July 2011 Seminar for Arabian Studies (to be held at the British
Christmas appeal for Dr Salem Yousr was very successful. We are
delighted to have been able to support his fieldwork in Soqotra and
that he has been able to attend the AGM. He has presented the BYS
with a delightful wooden artefact in the shape of Soqotra, which we
will display at future events.
We are delighted to welcome new members to the Society – 18
since last year. We regret to have learned of the death of three
members in the last year: Marjorie Fleming, Robin Allen and Alawi
New Committee Members
The committee co-opted Thanos Petouris during the year to provide
representation for our younger members. He has been very active on
our behalf and has established our presence on Facebook.
I would like to thank all members of the committee for their
support, in particular Rebecca Johnson for all her work as our
secretary, and John Mason for so calmly keeping our finances in
The BYS will need to change and that I would like to present the
2012 AGM with our ideas on how we can take the Society forward. I
don't want to pre-empt this but it seems to me that:
- The BYS needs to recruit younger members and ideally more from
the British Yemeni community in the UK.
- The BYS should have an events secretary who has the time to
build a programme that will attract and hold new (and existing)
members and relieve the load on Rebecca.
- We should organise a conference on Yemen (as proposed for
2012) if we can raise the funds.
- We may need to revise the constitution to take into account
the changes but also make sure it fits existing as well as any
I would like to invite anyone with ideas to put them forward to
the Committee or join a small ad hoc group that will look at how we
should develop the Society.
I would also like to let members know that the Committee has
decided that we should request all BYS members to make a voluntary
donation (suggested £5) towards the cost of future events, that
guests of members make the same donation but that other non-members
attending events should donate £10. Unfortunately, the cost of
events continues to rise and is not covered by the subscriptions.
Finally I would to thank His Excellency Abdulla Ali al-Radhi, our
joint honorary president, for his generous support for the BYS and
for hosting the reception that will follow.
Abdulla Ali Al-Radhi pictured with his wife on the occasion of
presenting his credentials to HM Queen Elizabeth on 8 December