Professor Fred Halliday (1946– 2010)
Fred Halliday died in Barcelona on 26 April at the age of 64. He was well known personally to many members of the British-Yemeni Society, to which he himself belonged for many years, as well as for his books, articles and lectures on Yemen. There have been many obituaries acknowledging this outstanding scholar and teacher, a man with a larger than life personality, who influenced generations of students and touched the lives of all those who met him.
I first came across Fred in 1971 when as a diplomat in Aden I read in the press of the then People's Republic of South Yemen (PRSY) an item praising the visiting member of the Black Dwarf, which was a short lived cultural and political journal published by a socialist commune. Tariq Ali was another of its stars. The Aden press extolled Fred's Marxist-Leninist virtues and spoke of him possibly leading a protest march against the British Embassy - over, I think, the UK's support for the Sultan of Oman. Fred then or later went into Dhofar with a group of fighters from the Marxist-led Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG). Fred remained a friend of the leaders of what later became the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) but one not afraid to criticise the regime with his pen or to the face of its leaders.
Sadly, I did not meet Fred until I spoke in 1986 to a small group at SOAS about what had now become the People' Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). I had had a mental image of him as a firebrand polemicist famed for his book Arabia without Sultans and his writings for the New Left Review. What I found was a courteous man who listened to the views of others 70 whilst expressing himself with remarkable lucidity and elegance. He had an extraordinary mind and grasp of events. He retained his deep interest in the affairs of South Yemen and was disappointed (as I was) by the events in Aden of January 1986 when four members of the Politburo of the ruling YSP and several other leaders were killed in a committee room, sparking a virtual civil war within the regime. Thousands died, parts of Aden were destroyed and there was the extraordinary sight of Soviet experts being ferried to safety by the British Royal Yacht Britannia. It was this event which mortally wounded the regime and persuaded its rump leadership to opt for unity with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990.
When I decided to write a book on PRSY/PDRY I consulted Fred who gave me great encouragement, introductions to his contacts and passed on key documents. These included a long playing record of revolutionary songs by the PFLOAG fighters. He was always generous in his support and keenly interested in my progress. Having finished the text in March, I was proposing to send it to him when I heard about his cancer and then his death.
Fred's two main contributions to our understanding of Yemen are in two of his over twenty books. Revolution and Foreign Policy: the case of South Yemen 1967-87 (Cambridge, 1990) remains the standard work and is likely to do so for many years. It is a rich source of information on PDRY's internal and external policies and relations between North and South Yemen before unity, and was the subject of Fred's famously delayed PhD thesis. Another of his well known books, Arabs in Exile, has been republished (with a new preface by Fred) under the title Britain's First Muslims: Portrait of an Arab Community (I B Tauris, 2010). It tells the story of Yemeni migration to Britain and of the rich contribution which Yemenis have made and continue to make to British society.
Visiting Yemen in May 2010, I was astonished at how many people spoke of him with fondness and deep respect. He is remembered for the way he has helped explain Yemen to the world and for his long friendship with the country and its leaders in both the old north and south, and for his wonderful ability to tell jokes in the right Yemeni voice.