Nasser’s Ghost Hovers Over YemenRoundup
When Saudi Arabia and its allies began to bomb Yemen last week, it was not the first time that Yemen’s neighbors turned the country into a battleground. Both the Obama administration and the Saudi monarchy would do well to recall the last time Yemen became a pawn in regional power struggles.
In the fall of 1962, Saudi Arabia’s King Saud watched nervously as Egyptian troops poured into Yemen. Egypt had undergone a revolution 10 years before and, under the leadership of its charismatic president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, it had been transformed from a friendly fellow monarchy to a fire-breathing republic.
Nasser set about exporting Egypt’s revolution throughout the Middle East, sowing fear in the hearts of monarchs from Baghdad to Sana. In 1956, the kingdom of Jordan nearly fell to pro-Nasser forces. In 1958, the Iraqi monarchy collapsed. That same year, Nasser announced the formation of a union between Egypt and Syria, laying the foundations for a pan-Arab empire. The Saudis, desperate to stop the Egyptian project before it reached Riyadh, allegedly funded a failed attempt on Nasser’s life and conspired to break up the Syrian-Egyptian union.
It was only a matter of time before Nasser struck back.
Exactly one year later, a group of Yemeni officers, supported by Egyptian intelligence agencies, staged a coup in Sana, overthrew Yemen’s monarchy and established a republic. The ousted imam, Muhamad al-Badr, retreated to a mountain stronghold among supportive Zaydi-Shiite tribes in northern Yemen — the same tribes from which the Houthi movement was to emerge in the 1990s — and declared war on the republic.
For Nasser, the coup in Yemen was a chance to set off a revolutionary chain reaction in the Persian Gulf that would, he hoped, bring down the House of Saud. The Saudis, horrified by the idea of a hostile Egyptian army encamped in their backyard, decided to back the imam with bountiful supplies of arms and gold. A protracted and costly civil war ensued, only ending with the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from Yemen in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Is history now repeating itself before our eyes? ...
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