Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The fruits of success

Arab success in the Yemen conflict would help bring the Arab capitals closer together and reduce the threat of terrorism, the well-known historian Assem Al-Dessouki tells Haytham Nouri

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“This is the third time in our modern history that we have gone to Yemen with a military force. The first time was during the Mohamed Ali era, the second was during the rule of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and the third is now,” said prominent historian Assem Al-Dessouki in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.

The founder and former dean of the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University said that “many Egyptians are only aware of the Yemen War that started in 1962. This war was not condemned in Egyptian public opinion, but people do not know about the Mohamed Ali campaign in Yemen in 1837, which Britain responded to by occupying Aden in 1839 to prevent Egypt from taking control of the Bab Al-Mandab Straits.”

Al-Dessouki is one of Egypt’s most prominent historians. He was dean of the Faculty of Arts at Assiut University (Sohag branch) before he founded Helwan’s Faculty of Arts. He has published dozens of books, as well as research papers and articles in scientific journals, newspapers and magazines.

“[Under Nasser], there was no public condemnation of the Egyptian leadership supporting the Yemeni revolution against Imam Al-Badr [the last imam of Yemen] on 26 September,” Al-Dessouki said, adding that the public position had arisen from the circumstances at the time.

“The leadership of the Yemeni revolution at the time, major-general Abdullah Al-Silal, asked for Egypt’s help to confront the monarchist forces supported by Saudi Arabia which opposed the revolution.”

Egypt sent troops in to support the revolution, frustrating the counter-revolution. “This forced US president John Kennedy to recognise the Yemeni Revolution in November 1962, nearly two months later,” Al-Dessouki noted.

Washington’s position was the “recognition of a fait accompli,” he said, a traditional US policy that starts by recognising the de facto reality, “then moves to containment, and if that fails a siege begins, and if that fails then there are military strikes.”

After the US recognition, the fighting subsided in Yemen, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, led by Nasser and king Faisal, respectively, agreed that Egyptian troops would withdraw from Sanaa in return for an end of the Saudi support for the monarchist troops.

“This changed when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as the tenth group of Egyptian forces withdrew in November that year,” Al-Dessouki said. “Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, then sent a message to Riyad asking for Yemen to be a ‘snare’ for Nasser.”

He added that royalist troops had immediately attacked Egyptian forces that were preparing to complete their withdrawal, which is why Egypt had returned to defend itself and its army, extending the war in Yemen to the 1967 Defeat.

“It benefited the US for the war in Yemen to be drawn out,” Al-Dessouki noted. “Nonetheless, Egyptians did not condemn what Nasser was doing because everyone understood this was a necessary step to expand the number of republics in the Arab world in the face of the monarchies. At the same time, Egypt wanted to protect its strategic security in the Bab Al-Mandab Straits, and a sense of victory was widespread among the masses.”

In 1948, there had been a revolution in Yemen that was opposed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt under the monarchy, which is why it had quickly failed.

“The positive image of the war in Yemen in the 1960s has helped the Egyptian government to go into Yemen again today, despite the smear campaign against Nasser,” Al-Dessouki said.

He added that “there are many reports that a large number of Egyptians were martyred in Yemen. But the masses at the time did not view the campaign as a source of casualties, instead seeing the dead soldiers as heroes paying with their lives for their country. Meanwhile, the financial costs were necessary since we cannot achieve our goals without paying the price that all people pay when they go to fight beyond their borders to defend their existence.”

Al-Dessouki said that “the US today is fighting beyond its borders to defend its existence. Russia also attacked Georgia and intervened in Ukraine to protect its national security.”

The historian said that the subsequent smear campaign against the war in Yemen was ordered by former president Anwar Al-Sadat in order to undermine Nasser’s accomplishments, even though he had been the politician in charge of the war at the time. “King Faisal told Abdel-Nasser when they met at the Khartoum Summit after the Setback [August, 1967] that ‘the one who embroiled you in Yemen was Sadat’.”

Asked about the criteria for victory in the current war, Al-Dessouki said that “controlling the skies and putting the Yemeni ports under siege, which forces the opponents to sit down and negotiate under an Arab umbrella and not outside it, will prevent this from becoming a sectarian war. It will also prevent hostile forces from taking control of the Bab Al-Mandab Straits.”

He warned against a ground invasion in Yemen because this would only stoke hostilities and make resolution difficult. He added that success in Yemen would help solve both the Syrian and Libyan issues, since it would minimise Saudi-Egyptian differences.

Saudi Arabia is opposed to the Syrian regime in order to weaken Iranian influence, not because the regime [of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad] is Alawite since Damascus has never applied sectarian policies in its Arab or international relations, Al-Dessouki said. This fact and Arab success in Yemen would lessen the animosity between Riyadh and Damascus by ending Gulf support for the Syrian opposition and thus calm the Syrian crisis.

Al-Dessouki expects Damascus will distance itself from Tehran if there is success in Yemen, because by lowering tensions with the Gulf countries Syria will find itself a place in the Arab world that will help it to rebuild and play its traditional role.

Meanwhile, the Gulf must end all assistance to the opposition in Libya to the government that is recognised worldwide. This too would also bridge the gap between Cairo and Riyadh.

“I believe success in Yemen would, at a minimum, help end the terrorism in the Middle East,” Al-Dessouki said. “But this will not be an automatic outcome because there is terrorism in Somalia, Nigeria and the Sahara, and all efforts must be made in order to eliminate it once and for all.

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