Parameters of Power: The Quandary of Yemen Between the World Wars
The purpose of this dissertation is to use a Foucauldian lens to examine the nature and scope of the many challenges the British faced in southwest Arabia in the wake of the retreating Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. The subsequent power vacuum which ensued meant that Britain had to make a decision as to the nature of its future imperial policy in Yemen beyond Aden. The challenge would be to maintain the security of the Red Sea route to India by implementing some sort of cost-effective imperial arrangement which allowed for some measure of Yemeni autonomy while keeping European competitors at a safe distance. The impact of the discussions at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and the Cairo Conference in 1921 are also examined. While the focus of the study is on Yemen, it begins with an explanation of the overlapping concerns of competing centers of power in Delhi, Cairo, and London and the fundamentally different visions they had for the Middle East in general, and the Arabian Peninsula, in particular. The professionals who staffed the India Office, the Foreign Office, and the Colonial Office held divergent views of where Yemen fit into their imperial plans, reflecting the various experiences they drew upon from their careers in Africa and India. They simply could not decide if Yemen belonged more to the Indian imperial system, or conversely, to the Red Sea world of colonial Africa. Failing to resolve this fundamental difference of vision, this disagreement led to the support of two different leaders in Yemen, the Sufi Idris of Asir and the Zaydi Imam of Sanaa. The default plan was for Aden-in Foucauldian style-to serve as a type of panopticon, overseeing the region with appropriate discipline and rewards via less formal, trucial-style arrangements with various tribal shayhks and other notables, believing that keeping southwest Arabia divided would serve Britain's strategic interests. A central theme is the display of Arab agency through the power and influence of Yemeni leaders who leveraged their religious heritage to reinforce their own positions and to maintain a state of chaos along the border with Aden in the south, and the Eastern and Western Protectorates. Ultimately, the British government concluded the Treaty of Sanaa in 1934 with a figure whom it had not initially backed, the Zaydi Imam Yahya, This delay of fourteen years to resolve the lingering territorial issues carried over from the war diminished the reputation of Britain at home and abroad, and ensured that these issues would continue to reverberate in Yemen into the twenty-first century, while taking on new and different outer forms. The paper concludes with a brief examination of these reverberations by comparing the problems faced by the British in the interwar period to those of the United States and her allies today. Although Yemenis witnessed increased independence and agency with the retreat of the Ottomans at the end of World War One, pressure (and eventually, violence) emanating from Aden acted to corral it within the parameters of the imperial panopticon based there. These problems include an excessive number of armaments and foreign soldiers emanating from "ungoverned spaces," large numbers of poor and exploited African immigrants, the presence of potentially volatile, non-orthodox forms of Islam, financial extortion by native leaders and the failed attempts by Western hegemonic forces to manage these problems effectively from a distance. Many of these same problems exist in the region today, now supervised from Camp Lemonnier, Dibouti, rather than Aden, and the disparity between Yemeni expectations and reality have erupted in revolutionary fervor with a distinct anti-Western bias.
Aden, Idris, Imam, Shia, Yemen, Zaydi
April 14, 2014.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of History in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Peter Garretson, Professor Directing Dissertation; Petra Doan, University Representative; Jonathan Grant, Committee Member; Adam Gaiser, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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