The British-Yemeni Society

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Summary of lectures

Lectures and events in 1999

January 12

Joint meeting with the Middle East Association at which Captain Roy Facey, Adviser to the Yemen Ports Authority gave a progress report on the container terminal project in Aden Port.

January 21

Dr Derek Harvey gave an illustrated talk on Wildlife Conservation Initiatives in Yemen.

March 31

Mr Richard Schofield, Director, Geopolitics and International Boundaries Research Centre, SOAS, spoke on Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia.

July 21

Following the AGM, the film ‘L’Arabie Interdite’ (made by Rene Clement about the visit of the explorer Jules Barthous to Yemen in 1937) was shown, and during the reception kindly arranged by the Yemeni Embassy, members had the opportunity to view an exhibition of photographs of Yemen taken by Iason Fowden, a student of Arabic at Oxford.

September 22

Joint meeting with the Middle East Association to discuss recent developments in Yemen and prospects for the economy. Speakers included Mr Alan Duncan MP, Mr Gianni Brizzi (World Bank Representative, Sana’a), Mr Stephen Day, and Mr Jonathan Pearse (Consultant).

October 28

Joint meeting with the Anglo-Omani Society at which Professor Fred Halliday, London School of Economics, spoke on Yemeni-Omani relations.

Lectures in 1998

January 15

Joint meeting with the Middle East Association. Captain Roy Facey, Adviser to the Port of Aden, spoke about plans for the development of Aden Port and Free Zone.


Douglas Scrafton, former British Ambassador in Sana’a, presented ‘snapshots’ of his tour of duty in Yemen ending on 27 September 1997. He touched on economic problems exacerbated by the Gulf conflict in 1991, the dramatic results of World Bank/IMF inspired restructuring, and Yemen’s efforts at political fence-mending with its Arab neighbours. These and the relatively ‘free and fair’ elections in 1997 had helped to change international perceptions of Yemen and to create a favourable climate for increased foreign aid.

March 11

A lecture by Tony Milroy (Arid Lands Initiative) and Abdul Rahinan al-Iryani on Yemen’s water situation had to be postponed. Instead, members were able to attend a lecture by Professor Tony Allen (SOAS), organised by the Society for Arabian Studies, on water resources in the Peninsula.

April 23

Joint meeting with the Anglo-Oman Society. Dr Jenny Balfour-Paul, whose book Indigo in the Arab World (1997) was reviewed in last year’s journal, gave us a spirited lecture on this subject drawing on her researches of the past 15 years. She described the historical background to indigo’s use, the complicated art of its manufacture, and the mystique which indigo had acquired from its cosmetic, ritual and medicinal applications. Synthetic dyes had now almost completely supplanted the natural substance, and with changing social and economic patterns, the industry, even in Oman andYemen, was virtually extinct.

June 17

Following the AGM, a video was shown of films taken by John Hewitt in 1948-50 in Hadhramaut and other parts of Yemen during his service with Desert Locust Control. George Popov, a locust expert (see article) provided a commentary. Afterwards, H.E. the Yemeni Ambassador hosted a reception which was, as usual, an animated and most enjoyable occasion.

September 10

Mr Victor Henderson, British Ambassador in Sana’a, offered us some impressions of his first year in Yemen. His talk was attended by Dr Hussain al-Amri and members of aYemeni delegation visiting Britain for talks on privatisation.

October 7

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, recent winner of the Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph Travel Writer of theYear Award for his book, Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, and Kevin Rushby, author of Eating the Flowers of Paradise (1998), spoke about their visit together to the remote island of Soqotra, with its distinctive culture and folklore, and illustrated their talk with slides.

November 12

Bishop John Brown, formerly Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, spoke on Christian-Muslim Relations.

November 16-December 2

The Society’s annual tour of Yemen led by Alan D’Arcy. Members were warmly received by the Yemeni-British Friendship Association, and by the British Embassy, and were entertained to a musical evening at the Health and Culture Centre, Sana’a by Dr Nizar Ghanem. Representatives of the group were also invited to a televised meeting in Sana’a with the Prime Minister, Dr Abdulkarim al-Iryani.

December 2

Dr Ulrike Freitag, lecturer in history at SOAS, spoke on Hadhrami Migration in the 19th and 20th centuries to a joint meeting with the Society for Arabian Studies.

Lectures in 1997

January 13

Stephen Day, who had served in the Western Aden Protectorate for seven years 1961-67, spoke on ‘The return of the shaikhly families to southern Yemen". He said that the tribal shaikhs with Treaty relations with Britain up to 1967 (numbering twenty and a half, the last of uncertain allegiance) had been over-elevated in status by the British; to regard them as rulers had been a false appreciation. Following Britain’s disorderly withdrawal from Arabia, many of these families had survived thirty years in exile with great tolerance, "without losing a sense of the past nor a vision of the future". In 1996 the Sana’a Government began to permit these families to return to their lands and resume their traditional role of involvement in tribal affairs and resolving problems, but without other official capacity. From his continuing personal friendship, Stephen Day described with sympathy and understanding the particular positions of those who had already taken advantage of the new situation.

February 19

John McHugo, having recently led a fact-finding mission of British commercial and industrial interests to Yemen, reported on the visit and ouflined the legal framework and favourable legislation for foreign investment. The visit had been a success with interest shown by many British firms in opportunities for investment and business in Yemen. They had visited Sana’a, Taiz and Aden where the port facilities and future Free Trade Zone had been seen.

March 12

A Gallery Talk at the British Museum had been arranged by Western Asiatic department and Julian Reade kindly conducted a party of Society members first round the permanent display of South Arabian artefacts and then to the basement to view the antiquities in the reserve collection. The party was intrigued to have the objects fully explained and to have unexpected details pointed out.

May 1

HE Dr Hussein al Amri gave a lecture on "Two Important Documents in Contemporary Yemen: the Sacred National Charter of 1948 and the National Charter of 1982". Dr al Amri explained the historical significance of each Charter at its point in time, relating them to the constitutional developments that have culminated in the present unified Republic of Yemen.

September 9

Brian Whitaker, Managing Editor of the Guardian, spoke on "The April 1997 Elections in Yemen", providing a knowledgeable insight into the multiparty electoral process.

October 5

Society visit to the Mu'ath Welfare Trust, Birmingham. Our party received a warm welcome and generous hospitality and were much impressed by the variety and scope of the educational and other services which the Trust is undertaking (see BYS Journal, Vol 5, p30). A number of ways in which the Trust and the Society could work together more closely were identified.

October 13 

John Harding gave an illustrated talk on his days as a young political officer in the Aden Protectorates in the early 1960s.

November 5-26 

Jim Ellis again led the Society’s annual tour of Yemen. This was the third such tour and some 23 members participated.

December 4 

Joint lecture meeting with the Society for Arabian Studies. Dr Geoffrey King described the precarious condition of the Dar al-'Izz, or Queen Arwa’s Palace in Jiblah, resulting from the ravages of time, Nature and Man. He mentioned the rapid increase in dilapidation since his last visit a few years previously and the possibility of UNESCO assistance in conserving what remains of the monument.

Lectures in 1996

January 17

Brian Whitaker of the Guardian spoke on "Unity and Democracy in Yemen". In his clear analysis of the trends leading up to the civil conflict of 1994, he said that, despite a wide felt desire for national unity and the democratic process of government, the incompatibility of the complex political hierarchies and the uneven demographic weighting in the two parts of the country had inexorably led to a struggle for power and control. (AJML)

February 21

Carl Phillips, Institute of Archaeology, spoke on "Archaeological Exploration in Yemen." His lecture appears in this edition of the Journal. (AJML)

April 17

Brigadier Martin Lance, British Defence Attache in Sana’a in 1994, gave an account of the military aspects of the civil war in Yemen. Starting with the disposition of the unamalgamated forces of the north and south, he gave a detailed account of the campaign from the outbreak of shooting in February 1994 to the ultimate collapse of southern resistance. He brought out the superior strategy of the northern command and stressed the fundamental popular desire of the southerners and northerners to maintain the unity of their country. (AJML)

July 2

Following the Annual General Meeting, Maria Holt, of CAABU, gave a report on the recent visit of the British parliamentary delegation to the Yemen. The five M.Ps met numerous senior Yemeni parliamentarians and officials and were impressed by the process of democratization in the Yemeni context; they had discussions with members of the Yemeni British Friendship Association and others on a wide range of subjects incluiding press freedom, the position of women and the country’s economic problems. A lobby group for Yemen now exists in the House of Commons. (AJML)

September 11

Dr Lain Murray-Lyon spoke about medical matters, including medical education, in Yemen. With its already high and fast increasing population, despite high infant mortality, malnutrition and low life expectancy, he forecast a crisis brewing due to shortages of basic resources such as fuel and water, not to say food. He described an alarming incidence of endemic diseases in a quite different spectrum from those in western Europe. A team he heads is looking into the medical effects of chewing qat and of chronic viral liver diseases such as hepatitis B and C. In education, more doctors are graduating in Sana’a and Aden than ever before, including women who generally attain a high standard, but the number of doctors per head of population is still lamentably low. (AJML)

November 13

Dr Aviva Klein-Franke gave an illustrated talk of Yemeni Jewish silverwork. She described the historical position of Jewish silversmiths and the demand for their work in all social sectors. She explained the use of the silver coin as their base material and the constant re-use of melted silverwork for new articles. Her talk was illustrated by slides of superb examples of old silver jewellery in the possession of Jews in Israel who had emigrated from Yemen. She explained the intricate decorative features from these examples.

December 5

Dr Francine Stone gave an illustrated lecture on ‘The ruined city of aI-Mahjam on Tihama; an excuse to tell tales". With her detailed knowledge of the background and the city of al-Mahjam in particular, she entranced the audience with snippets of an earlier age, and colourful, if gruesome, incidents gleaned from the writings of contemporary observers.

Lectures in 1995

January 25

Carl Phillips, lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology discussed recent archaeological excavations in the Yemen, focussing in particular on his excavation at al-Hamid, close to Bajil, a South Arabian site in Tihama and one of the projects associated with the British Archaeological Mission in the Yemen. (VP)

March 1

Bernard Haykel, St John’s College, Oxford, spoke on Shawkani and modern Yemeni history. Shawkani was an important Zaydi jurist who sought to bridge the gap between religious groups in 19th century Yemen. Haykel’s talk was based on extensive research into his writings and fieldwork carried out in the Yemen for his doctoral thesis. (VP)

March 7

Dr Venetia Porter, Curator at the British Museum, spoke on the architecture of the Tahirid dynasty of the Yemen. This dynasty, ruling the Yemen between 1454 and 1517, has left few cultural remains other than a number of fascinating monuments lavishly decorated with wall paintings and stucco ornament, which were the subject of the lecture. (VP)

April 24

Dr Nicholas van Hear, Centre for Refugee Studies, Oxford, spoke on the impact of the mass return of Yemenis after the Gulf War in 1990, and discussed the problems faced by the return of approximately 800,000 Yemenis previously in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, expelled as a result of their country’s stance during the war. (VP)

May 16

Amin Tibi, Faculty of Business Administration, University of Singapore, gave a talk on the Yemeni community of Singapore. (VP)

July 10

An evening of traditional Yemeni music, sung and played on the ‘ud by Hamud al-Gunaid following his performance in the Llangollen Festival. (AJML)

September 27

Paul Dresch of St John’s College, Oxford, gave a talk on "Tribalism - the pros and cons." (AJML)

November 13

Laila No’man, University of Wales, gave a talk on "The Education of Women in Yemen" which was published in the Journal. (AJML)

November 29

Patrick Seale recounted his "Anecdotal Recollections of 1962 in Yemen" when he was foreign correspondent for the Observer and Economist covering the upheavals taking place in North Yemen at that time. (AJML)

Lectures in 1994


Dr Abdul Galil Shaif from Sheffield gave an enlightening account of "The Yemeni communities in Britain." Describing first the problems still besetting the first generation of immigrants who came to work in British heavy industries, he explained the reasons for their having preserved their sense of Yemeni identity and community. He went on to describe how the younger generation is now stimulating an improvement in social and welfare assistance and education within the communities, while still maintaining the cohesion and sense of identity. (AJML)


Ms Ianthe Maclagan, speaking on "Food and family in a Yemeni highland community", described vividly her time spent doing anthropological research in the northern region of Yemen, her life and lasting friendships she made with the community within which she lived. (AJML)


Mr Richard Porter, leader of the 1993 Ornithological Society of the Middle East’s expedition to Yemen, spoke on "The birds of southern Yemen and Socotra", illustrated by slides from all seven of his visits to Yemen. He first described the objectives of the 1993 survey as being to identify areas of particular importance to bird life so as to assist in the development of a national conservation strategy. His team had carried out systematic transects of desert areas, wooded mountain terrain and coastal regions, observing large numbers of species including many endemic to the Yemen. He observed that since rural Yemenis still live in relative harmony with their surroundings, many bird species have as yet not suffered greatly from the destruction of their habitats; this was true most notably in Socotra. (AJML)


The Society’s AGM was followed by a talk by Sarah Posey with Dr Mark Littlewood on "Contemporary Yemeni pottery", describing its manufacture and use today in every aspect. The lecture was followed by a tour of the important exhibition of Yemeni pottery which was on display, arranged by Sarah Posey, in the Museum of Mankind. (AJML)


Mr Ian Davison, lecturer in structural geology at Royal Holloway University of London, spoke on "The geology of Yemen: the past thirty million years." He nobly stood in for the published lecturer, Prof Martin Menzies, who was unfortunately unable to attend. Outlining the distribution of rocks from the very earliest times throughout Yemen, Mr Davison went on to describe in more detail the latest field work of his research team on the upthrust of the sedimentary layer to become the mountains which form the spectacular scenery of Yemen today, a process which, using the very latest technology, can now be seen to have taken place within a relatively short space of geological time, between twenty five and twenty seven million years ago. His talk managed brilliantly to reduce a highly complex technical subject to an enthralling account, readily comprehensible in layman’s terms. (AJML)


Dr Gabriele vom Bruck, lecturer in the Department of Anthropology London School of Economics, gave a lecture entitled Sayyids and Merchants in Sana’a: Different ways of being History This study was based on fieldwork she had undertaken in the Yemen in the 1980s and the subject of her doctoral thesis. (VP)


Dr Nizar Ghanem, Professor of Medicine at Sana’a University and also one of the Yemen’s leading ‘ud players, gave a talk entitled Contemporary Music in the Yemen: the Cultural Exchange. He discussed the different styles of Yemeni music and the influences that have affected it such as Turkey and, in recent times that of Egypt, India and East Africa. His talk was illustrated by a video film and his own delightful music. (VP)