Chairman's Report 2012

Twentieth Annual General Meeting, Wednesday 13 June 2012.

It has been a dramatic year for Yemen which culminated in what is called the GCC deal that paved the way for the resignation of President Saleh and the election of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as his successor and the appointment of a new coalition government. There is now an agreed process for transition on three main tracks:

• Preparations are under way for a Conference of the National Dialogue, which will include not only the main political parties but also representatives of the southerners, al-Huthis, women, youth and civil society organisations. It should lead to the drawing up of a new constitution in preparation for parliamentary elections in 2014.

• The military and security forces are being restructured to eliminate some of the causes of the 2011 crisis and make it more clearly accountable. These changes have enabled the military to launch a campaign against the Al-Qa’ida insurgency in Abyan.

• The Friends of Yemen have just met in Riyadh to find new ways of supporting the Yemeni government in dealing with its many profound economic and social problems.

There is a very long way to go but these developments offer Yemenis a realistic hope for a better future.

The success of the process so far is the result of action by Yemen’s leaders. A key part, however, has been played by the skilled and patient diplomacy of Jamal Bin Omar, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy. He has been backed by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the EU and the GCC. All are determined to make the transition work. I wish more publicity was given to the remarkable role played by Bin Omar and a group of ambassadors in Yemen. I am delighted that the British government has been fully involved, with both Nicholas Hopton, the current British ambassador and co-President of the BYS, and his predecessor, Jonathan Wilks – playing crucially important roles. However, the success of the transition will depend on Yemen’s political leaders, and I am sure we would all wish to support them in the challenging task they face.

In organising our meetings the Society will try to keep members informed of progress.

I said in the 2011 report that the BYS has been planning with the London Middle East Institute at SOAS to organise a conference on Yemen for March 2011. We have now postponed this until early January 2012. We have issued a call for papers and have received well over 50 applications, a great response. It shows the level of current interest in Yemen. We are very keen to involve as many Yemenis as possible and we will shortly start fundraising to enable this to happen. We hope that by next January it will be easier for Yemenis to obtain UK visas in and from Yemen.

Yemen and the UK

Press coverage, unsurprisingly, was largely related to the upheavals surrounding Yemen’s own ‘Arab Spring’. The world is taking an interest in the country, if not always for the right reasons. The BYS’s own Ginny Hill and Tom Finn have contributed regular reports on the developing situation from both inside and outside Yemen.

28th September 2011 – BBC Radio 4 aired a programme about Yemen’s water shortage: Waters of Arabia

October 2011 – British Yemenis featured in the first episode of a new BBC TV series ‘Mixed Britannia’.

25th January 2012 – Stephen Sackur’s programme Yemen in Crisis aired as part of the HARDtalk series on the BBC News channel in the UK and via satellite to viewers outside the UK on the BBC World News channel.

19th March 2012 – BBC4 The Reluctant Revolutionary by award-winning documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister gave an intimate portrait of Yemen, told through the eyes of a local tour guide. There was a further screening of this, followed by Q and A with McAllister, on 5th April at the Prince Charles cinema off Leicester Square.

The October-November issue of The Middle East in London magazine, published by The London Middle East Institute at SOAS, was devoted to Yemen and Oman.

Some light relief… Salmon Fishing in the Yemen transferred to the screen as a romantic comedy, starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott-Thomas. Not as sharp as the novel, but pleasantly entertaining and as the Daily Mail says, ‘one shouldn’t carp’ at it …

Meanwhile, our congratulations to Dr Salma Samar Damluji on winning this year’s Global Award for Sustainable Architecture for her renovation work in Wadi Daw’an.

Books about Yemen by BYS members include:

Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in Yemen 1962-67 by Jonathan Walker, which has recently been re-issued by the military publishers Pen & Sword.
Ginny Hill’s book Yemen and the Coming Chaos: Al-Qaeda, Warlords and Oil in the Arabian Peninsula should be published before the next AGM, and I hope also that by then a paperback version of my book, Yemen Divided will be ready. Recent books by non-members include Stephen W Day (an American scholar who is not to be confused with the BYS’s Stephen Day) on Regionalism and Rebellion in Yemen: A Troubled National Union.

Other non-BYS events:

28 September 2011
Concert at the Barbican The Ecstatic Journey: Music from around the Sufi World included a performance by the Ensemble Syubbanul Akhyar, descendants of the Hadhrami Arabs of Yemen.

28 October 2011
Transferts de savoir dans les cartographies de l’océan Indien – study day on mediaeval cartography at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

December 2011
Tawakkul Karman spoke at various locations in the UK, including Chatham House.

25 February 2012
The closing event of the Traders Unpacked season at The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich was entitled The East India Company and Me and included accounts from historians and genealogists who had successfully traced their own ancestors, among whom were British Yemenis.

6 March 2012
U.N.I.T.E.@SOAS An evening of music, poetry and dance performances from around the world, including a contribution from Yemen organised by BYS member Warda Eissadi

14 March 2012
The Islamic Art Circle invited BYS members to their lecture on the Archaeology of Suakin, whose architecture is very close to that of Mocha

13–15 March 2012
Photo exhibition at SOAS depicting images of the Yemeni protest movement that started in February 2011

15 March 2012
Screening of the documentary film Karama Has No Walls at SOAS

Many Yemeni groups across the UK have been organising charity fundraising events to help with the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen – wherever we have been aware of them, we have publicised these events by email to our membership and on our Facebook page.

BYS Grant 2012

This year’s academic grant has been awarded to Larissa Alles for her thesis on The Vulnerabilities of Authoritarian Upgrading in Yemen.

BYS Events

We organised the following:

6 October 2011
Iona Craig – perspective on Yemen as a freelance journalist recently returned from Sana’a

26 October 2011
Thanos Petouris – Women in Resistance: Female Participation in the Anti–Colonial Movement in South Arabia 1937–67 (joint lecture with LMEI and BFSA)

23 November 2011
Film screening of The Oath (event held jointly with the SOAS Khaleej Society)

29 November 2011
HMA Jonathan Wilks – update on situation in Yemen

13 December 2011
Dr Salem Yousr Muftah – lecture on his work with the children of Soqotra

9 February 2012 Dr Qais Ghanem – lecture and launch of his novel Final Flight from Sanaa.

This was one of the best-attended events of the year and generated good publicity.

(Dr Ghanem is attending the reception after this AGM with copies of his second novel Two Boys from Aden College which will be available to buy after the meeting. He is generously donating to the BYS £2 from each copy sold).

28 March 2012
Saleem Haddad on Public Protest and Visions for Change: Voices from within Yemen’s Peaceful Youth Movement (last minute substitution for Susanne Dahlgren)

26 April 2012
Dr Abdul Galil Shaif al-Shaibi – on his experiences as Chairman of the Aden Free Zone Authority and on challenges facing the new Yemeni leadership

10 May 2012
Benedict Wilkinson on Recasting the threat from Al-Qa’da in the Arabian Peninsula: Counter-terrorism and Development imperatives

Forthcoming events

The full autumn programme will be sent out with the 2012 Journal at the end of the summer. Our September speaker will be Taher Ali Qassim to talk about his experience as a Yemeni migrant in Liverpool.

Nicholas Hopton is to give a talk on events in Yemen at our July meeting and we may ask him to come back in October to bring us up to date.

Home: Contemporary Architectural interpretations of the 'home' in the Arab world will be presented by the Museum of Architecture, as part of the British Council’s London Festival of Architecture 2012, at The Mosaic Rooms, A.M. Qattan Foundation, 21 June–7 July. The exhibition will include a presentation on Shibam, Hadramawt, by Dr S.S. Damluji

As mentioned above, the BYS Conference will take place on 11 and 12 January 2013. Details will be sent out later and will be placed on the web site. It will be the most important BYS event for some time and one that I hope will raise our profile and enable us to make a contribution to helping Yemen deal with its many problems.

Thanks to all who have already contributed towards Ras Morbat and/or the Soqotri medical students appeal (details of which were sent out with the Spring newsletter).

Membership

We are delighted to welcome 19 new members to the Society since last year.

Members deceased since last AGM: Dr Russell Rhys, Ms Anne Morris and Najla Abu Taleb, whose obituary appeared in last year’s Journal.

We also regret to announce the death in late March of Dr Neil Orr who was a member of the 1956 Oxford University expedition to Soqotra and whose account of his return visit to the island some 48 years later was published in the Journal in 2004.

New Committee Members

Three members of the committee are standing down, two of them after many years of service to the BYS. Julian Paxton was secretary for several years and for long a pillar of the society. John Grundon has been an assiduous attendee and generous contributor to the BYS Committee and given us much of his time. Ginny Hill has helped with the discussions on the future of the Society but feels she is simply too busy with Chatham House to stay on the committee but she will continue to support out work.

I want to thank Ginny, John and Julian for all their work on your behalf.
I will come to two new members a little later. We co-opted Helen Balkwill- Clark as membership secretary after the last AGM and I would like to thank her for what she has done.

I would also like again to acknowledge our gratitude to Rebecca Johnson, the BYS Secretary, and John Mason our treasurer for their continued work on behalf of the BYS. A special thanks should be given to John Shipman who has edited our journal with such distinction over many years.

Future of the BYS Survey

I mentioned last year the BYS needed to take a look at itself and build for the future. The committee asked three of its members – Adel Aulaqi, Thanos Petouris and Ginny Hill – assisted from Tunis by James Spencer – to produce a report on this. I have now received it and it makes a number of very useful suggestions. There was not enough time between its receipt and the AGM to organise a meeting of the committee to consider it. We plan, however, to arrange a meeting of the new committee to consider it before putting it to members. At the same time, we want to organise a survey of members’ opinion about the BYS and its future. These matters will be the priority for the new committee and we will put the proposals to members probably at EGM.

Conclusion

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.

Noel Brehony

Report year: 
2012