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Prince al-Hassan bin Yahya Hamid al-Din (1908-2003)

Sayf al-Islam al-Hassan was the third son of Imam Yahya and took a prominent part in Yemeni politics for four decades.

He was born in the village of al-Qafla in Hashid territory northwest of Sana’a in 1908. His mother was Sharifa Huriya, the daughter of Sayf al-Islam Muhammad al-Mutawakkil. He began a traditional education with its strong Islamic and Arabic language orientation at al-Qafla and continued it in Sana’a when Ottoman rule, only nominal in many regions, finally ended in 1918.

In 1932 he was despatched by the Imam to the mountain of Barat to bring the tribes of Dhu Husayn and Dhu Muhammad under control. In the late 1930s, al-Hassan was appointed Governor of Ibb Province and remained in this post until the abortive revolt led by Sayyid Abdullah al-Wazir in 1948. Al-Hassan was one of the leaders of the counter-revolution, and Imam Ahmad appointed him his Prime Minister and Governor of Sana’a. The two brothers, however, fell out over the Imam’s decision to nominate his son Muhammad al-Badr as Crown Prince. Al-Hassan considered that al-Badr was insufficiently learned and that his life-style did not conform to strict Zaydi principles, views which he expressed in the official newspaper al-Iman. Imam Ahmad was enraged and sent al-Hassan abroad. After the rebellion of their brother Abdullah in March 1955, in which the Imam quite unjustifiably suspected al-Hassan of being implicated, the latter was stripped of his position as Prime Minister and appointed head of the Yemeni delegation to the United Nations.

It was in New York, therefore, that al-Hassan heard the news of the 26 September Revolution in Sana’a and the alleged death of the new Imam, Muhammad al-Badr. He proclaimed himself Imam and travelled to Saudi Arabia to organise resistance against the new republic from the north. When he learnt that al-Badr was, in fact, alive and had escaped from Sana’a, he immediately withdrew his claim to the imamate. Al-Hassan, together with the other princes, sunk their differences and rallied around al-Badr. For the next four years he was in charge of military operations in the province of Sa’da, while at the same time serving as al-Badr’s Prime Minister. His courage, prowess and skill in mortar-fire are well-known. By 1968, however, he had to withdraw from the conflict due to bronchial problems.

Al-Hassan spent the last three decades of his life in the USA and in Saudi Arabia where many of his relatives were living. He died in Jedda on 13 June 2003 and was buried the following day in Medina.

He married four times and two of his wives survive him. He had seven sons, two of whom predeceased him: al-Husayn who, only a young boy was machine gunned with Imam Yahya in 1948; and Abdullah who was shot dead in an ambush in July 1969.

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