“Yemen was once known as Arabia Felix, or ‘happy Arabia’, and that is how I remember the country,” Says Keith Vaz of the Murderous Years of British Covert Action in the Region

As the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, local Labour MP Keith Vaz is doing exactly what he has done for the near entirety of his political career, he is enabling the continuation of violence! One key way in which Mr Vaz continues to promote war at the expense of justice and socialism is by studiously ignoring the toxic legacy of British involvement in Yemen.

For example, you will perhaps never have heard Mr Vaz speaking publicly and passionately about the scandalous role played by both Tory and Labour government’s in covertly supporting an earlier civil war in Yemen, between 1962 and 1970 – a war that resulted in the slaughter of two hundred thousand people (that is, 4 percent of the Yemeni population).

So when speaking in Parliament last October — while British-backed atrocities continued to be committed in Yemen — Mr Vaz reminisced about the “positive history” of British involvement in their one-time colony, making reference to a recent showing of a film of “our Queen’s last visit to Aden [in April 1954], where the local hospital I was born in was named after her.”

Two years after this very regal visit, Mr Vaz himself had of course been delivered in Aden (on November 26, 1956); and casting his mind back to ancient words from the third century he recalled how: “Yemen was once known as Arabia Felix, or ‘happy Arabia’, and that is how I remember the country.”

“The first nine years of my life were among my happiest,” he continued — these being the years he spent in Yemen, before moving to England with his parents in 1965. But instead of using these apparently happy years of his childhood to draw political similarities between the British government’s atrocious role in fomenting violence then and now, he continued:

“Every night when I go home from this place [Parliament], I think of Aden, and I light frankincense just to remind me of it. Yemen is an easy country to fall in love with. It has incredible beauty, enormous history and wonderful people. Its geography and its architecture are among the most stunning in the world. It is renowned as the home of the legendary Queen of Sheba. It breaks my heart that incredible cultural heritage sites are being reduced to rubble by the fighting and that we will never be able to recreate them. We are part of this conflict; we cannot walk by on the other side. This is a crisis crying out for leadership.”

Tragically, but predictably, the socialist leadership that is necessary to help bring an end to the crisis in Yemen is not going to come from Leicester’s very own warmonger, Mr Vaz.

There can be no doubting that Yemen is a beautiful country with “wonderful people” but Mr Vaz would prefer that the world ignores the details of Yemen’s “enormous history,” knowledge of which might paint the intentions of British politicians in more malevolent light. So here it is useful to turn to the critical analyses presented in Mark Curtis’s important book Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses (Vintage, 2004), where the author makes clear:

“One of the least known aspects of recent British history is the ‘dirty war’ conducted by Britain in North Yemen in the 1960s. The episode lasted almost a decade, spanned Conservative and Labour governments, and cost up to 200,000 lives. It also involved lying by the government to the public.” (p.288)

The troubles that took place during the time of Mr Vaz’s happy days evidently began, when a popular coup overthrew the Royalist rulers of North Yemen in September 1962. The nationalist leaders of this coup then instigated a popular Republican form of government in place of the prior “feudal kingdom” (“where 80 per cent of the population lived as peasants”). Drawing upon the “heavily censored” British government files that have since been declassified, Curtis explains:

“Britain soon resorted to covert action to undermine the new Republican regime, in alliance with the Saudis and Jordanis. The declassified files show that many British officials understood that they were supporting the ‘wrong’ side.” (p.289)

He adds:

“Britain decided to engage in a covert campaign to promote those forces recognised as ‘shifty’, treacherous’ and ‘despotic’ to undermine those recognised as ‘popular’ and ‘more democratic’. Crucially, they did so in the knowledge that their clients did not stand a chance of winning. The campaign was undertaken simply to cause trouble for the Republicans, and the Egyptians, in Yemen, who held the overwhelming majority of the country and the centres of the population.

“The files are clear on this point. Harold Macmillan noted in February 1963 that ‘in the longer term a republican victory was inevitable’. He told President Kennedy that:

‘I quite realise that the Loyalists [sic] will probably not win in Yemen in the end but it would not suit us too badly if the new Yemeni regime were occupied with their own internal affairs during the next few years.’

“What Britain wanted was ‘a weak government in Yemen not able to make trouble’.” (pp.291-2)

Perhaps if Mr Vaz was a socialist, or if Mr Vaz cared to learn anything from history, he might be doing everything in his power to expose Britain’s historical support of civil wars in Yemen, so he might be able to play a part in bringing a swift end to the bloodbath in Yemen. The fact that he is doing quite the opposite shows exactly why he needs to be forced to resign from his post as a Labour MP by all concerned members of the Labour movement.

Keith Vaz Yemen Civil war


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