Twentieth Annual General Meeting, Wednesday 19 June 2013
For Yemen the last year has been dominated by the preparations for the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that finally started on 18 March. The 565 delegates have until the end of September to agree a new political structure for Yemen that will lead to a new constitution and elections for a president and parliament in early 2014. The delegates have been selected to allow for representation not only of political parties but also of women (30 %) and youth (20 %). Over half the delegates are from the south and the southern movement has the largest single group. The NDC is reaching out to all communities and regions in an ambitious programme of consul- tation to give people a say in their future. The key topics – such as the new constitution, justice, southern question and the future of Sa‘ada – are being discussed in nine working parties which are currently presenting their preliminary findings to a plenary session which will continue until just before the start of Ramadan. No one should underestimate the difficulties in finding solutions to some of these issues and of reconciling different interests and views. I know that some people are sceptical about the process or are trying to lay down pre-conditions but I ask them to remember how close Yemen came to armed conflict in 2011. No solution will be possible unless it has broad popular support. The NDC is the only effective game in town.
There is strong support for the NDC from the UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar and his team and from the international community. The British government is playing an important role in providing financial, technical and political support. They all want to give Yemenis the oppor- tunity to shape a new stable and united system of government able to address the major economic, social and security problems facing the country. All concerned recognise that it is vital that ordinary people see some tangible benefit from the NDC process: there must be an imme- diate and sustained improvement in their daily lives. The international community has finally understood that if it wants to defeat terrorism and contribute to stability in the region then it must help Yemenis to build a stable future.
The BYS is doing what it can to help in organising events to keep members informed of what is happening. I had the honour of meeting President Hadi last September during his visit to London. He expressed his gratitude for the work done by the BYS and for the contribution it was making to the Yemeni-British relationship.
Much of the BYS year was taken up by organising and holding the ‘Yemen: Challenges for the Future’ Conference held at SOAS on 11 and 12 January. It succeeded way beyond our expectations. 300 people attended and many more wanted to do so but there was not enough space for them. There were over forty papers during the two day event with speakers from a wide range of countries. I am delighted that so many Yemenis were able to attend despite the difficulties over visas. They included Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of our opposite number, the Yemeni British Friendship Association, and Dr Muhammad al-Sa’adi the Minister of Planning and International Co-operation. Alan Duncan, the Minister of State at the Department of International Development spoke. There is a full report on the conference at our web site and Thanos Petouris has written an article on it for the journal. I want to thank all those who sponsored the event and give particular thanks to the organisers: Thanos Petouris, the main convenor and Helen Lackner, Gabriele Vom Bruck, Shelagh Weir, Adel Aulaqi and Julian Lush.
We are following up the conference with a book under the title Why Yemen Matters: A Society in Transition to be published by Saqi with SOAS in February 2014. Helen Lackner is editing it and there will be about 16 chapters based on papers presented at the conference. The book will be available to BYS members at a discount.
As many of you know John Shipman has been suffering from ill health recently and has decided that the time has come for him to stop editing the journal. He has been editor for many years and has become a personifica- tion of the journal. I want to thank him on behalf of all BYS members for what he has done in setting the highest standards for the journal both in the quality of the articles and reviews and also his meticulous editing. He has established the journal as a sought-after publication on Yemen. We all wish him a speedy and full recovery and thank him for everything he has done. I am glad that he has agreed to remain on the BYS committee so that we continue to call on his wisdom, experience and unfailing willingness to help. I am delighted that Helen Lackner has agreed to take on the role of building on John’s achievements. She is currently editing the 2013 issue which should be out in late October.
Rebecca Johnson has decided she would like to stand down after six years as Honorary Secretary. I think everyone in this room knows what a splendid job she has done and how she is always so helpful, patient and kind in dealing with our administration and acting as the main contact point for the Society. I would like to thank her on your behalf and wish her well. She will remain an active member of the BYS. Audrey Allfree – who has been on the committee since 2012 – has agreed to be nominated in her place.
I also want to thank Shelagh Weir who is also standing down from the committee after many years. Her contributions had always been invaluable – not least in ensuring that the BYS Conference achieved such high aca- demic standards. I want to thank Victor Henderson, who is also standing down. As you know he is both a former chairman of the BYS and a former British Ambassador to Sana‘a. The BYS will still be able to call on their advice and both intend to remain active members of the BYS.
The committee is nominating three new ordinary members: John Shipman, Taher Ali Qasim MBE and Safa Mubgar. I am particularly happy that Taher will join us as he is active in the British Yemeni community in Liverpool and has been a leading figure in the Arab Arts Festival there. We hope to co-opt additional members from British Yemeni communities in other parts of the UK. They will not be able to attend many committee meetings but we would like to call on their advice – and help arrange BYS meetings outside London.
Could I also say a word of thanks to Paula De Souza who has been for many years working in the Yemen Ambassador's office and who has always been immensely helpful to us. Thank you, Paula.
I would like to congratulate Jane Marriott who will shortly take up her post as the British Ambassador in Yemen – and thus I hope agree to be one of our two honorary presidents. The BYS is very grateful to Nicholas Hopton, who has spoken to the society twice in the last 18 months, for his strong support. We wish him well in his next posting as ambassador to Qatar.
Yemen and the UK
Highlights include: Visit of President Hadi to the UK in September 2012. Friends of Yemen conference in London, March 2013, ahead of the start of Yemen’s National Dialogue. Festival of Yemen organised by the All Party Parliamentary group of Yemen chaired by Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP. Mr Vaz has set up a task force of individuals from four sectors: health, business, education and security. He has appointed figures to lead these and they are in touch with counterparts in Yemen. The BYS has offered to assist in any way we can.
Press coverage has been extensive this year. Among recent events: BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on 1/6/13 featured an item about Yemen by BYS member Dr Elisabeth Kendall. Channel 4’s documentary series ‘Unreported World’ aired a programme with Krishnan Guru-Murthy reporting Yemen – Death Row Teenagers on 24 May 2013.
New books about Yemen
Hawks of the Hadhramaut by Philip Allfree (paperback edition). Sana‘a: an Arabian Islamic City (reprint) co-edited by Ron Lewcock. Islamists and the State by Stacey Philbrick Yadav (IB Taurus). The Principles of Arabian Navigation co-edited by BYS member Will Facey. Unmaking North and South by John M.Willis.
Ginny Hill’s book Yemen, The Road to Chaos is to be published later in the year as well as Nora Ann Colton’s book The Political Economy of Yemen.
BYS members in the news
Congratulations to BYS member Nouria Nagi, director of YERO, who has been awarded an OBE in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours ‘for services to charitable work transforming the lives of women and children in Yemen’. This is great news not just for her – and the BYS – but for civil society and women’s rights in Yemen generally.
Other (non-BYS) events
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival
29 May 2013
BFSA lecture by Dr Noel Brehony: The role of the PDRY in creating a South Yemeni identity.
14 March 2013
Dr Noel Brehony in conversation with Manuel Almeida at the Mosaic Rooms on the subject of ‘Yemen Divided’.
7 March 2013
Lecture at Mosaic Rooms by Dr Khaled Fattah: Re-visiting state-tribe rela- tions in Yemen.
6 March 2013
Screening of The Reluctant Revolutionary and A new day in old Sana’a at the Mosaic Rooms.
2 rare screenings at the NFT London of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s short film for UNESCO The Walls of Sana’a.
Little Yemen – exhibition by British Yemeni photographer Sonia Audhali at MAC Birmingham.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
British Arabian Nights concert (BAX).
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Film screening: The President’s Man and his Revolutionary Son (SOAS Yemen Society).
1–22 February 2013
Last of the Dictionary Men exhibition (Mosaic Rooms).
BYS Grant 2013
This year’s academic grant has been awarded to Amr Sufian for his PhD research into Honey Monitoring in the Yemen. We are pleased to welcome Amr here today to receive his award in person. We will present it at the end of the AGM and we look forward to him talking about his research at a BYS meeting next year.
BYS events this past year
13 May 2013 Lecture by HMA Nicholas Hopton: The state of Yemen’s political transition.
13 March 2013
Lecture by Larissa Alles (winner of last year’s academic grant): The Vulnerabilities of Authoritarian Upgrading in Yemen.
21 February 2013
Lecture by Dr Qais Ghanem: The Summer that follows the Arab Spring. Plus launch of his latest book My Arab Spring, My Canada.
11–12 January 2013
BYS-LMEI conference – Yemen: Challenges for the Future.
10 December 2012
Lecture by Dr Adel Aulaqi: Eid-ing in Aden, Yemen 2012.
15 November 2012
Lecture by Richard Stanforth (Oxfam) and Awssan Kamal: Yemen, Fragile Lives in Hungry Times; the Humanitarian Overview.
16 October 2012
Lecture by Ilham Ali: Yemeni Women – Know Your Limits!
17 September 2012
Lecture by Taher Ali Qassim MBE: How alien a Yemeni am I?
17 July 2012
HMA Nicholas Hopton – gave his perspective on Yemen after his first few months in the country.
Upcoming BYS events
The full Autumn programme will be sent out with the 2013 Journal at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, a date for your diaries:
23 July 2013
Professor Scott Reese will give an afternoon talk ‘A Community of Believers: Saints' Festivals and Public Piety in Colonial Aden’ at 2.00 p.m. at the Middle East Association.
We are delighted to welcome new members to the Society – 39 since last year (including two new corporate members: MBI Al Jaber Foundation and MENARC). Two of our members have died since the last AGM, Malcolm Docherty and Captain Gordon Blyth.
Future of the BYS / Survey
I said in the 2012 report that we were proposing to organise a survey of your views on the BYS and how it should develop. I regret that we have not been able to do this – because of the time taken up by the conference and book – but we plan to arrange it before the next AGM.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to His Excellency Ambassador Abdullah Al-Radhi for being so supportive of the BYS. It is often difficult for our honorary presidents to deal with us. On the one hand we all want to promote understanding between Britain and Yemen. On the other, the BYS is an independent society responsible to its members and the Charity Commission, not to the British or Yemeni governments. The ambassador has been immensely understanding and patient with us for which I am most grateful. I also thank him in advance on your behalf for the reception he is hosting for members after the AGM.