This is another post written by Zaida on her now inactive blog about Zaidism that I am sharing as part of a series about the Zaidiyya movement. All opinions and references are her own.
Muhammad al-Badr Hamidaddin was born in 1926 as oldest son of Ahmad bin Yahya, imam of the Zaydis.
Muhammad Badr and his relatives spent almost a decade defending the 1,000 year Zaidi Imamate from a band of republicans in collusion with Egypt’s Gamal Abdu Nasr.
Abdu Nasr had looked to a regime change in Yemen since 1957 and finally put his desires into practice in January 1962 by giving the “Free Yemen Movement” office space, financial support, and radio air time.
On 19 September 1962 Imam Ahmad died, Muhammad al-Badr was proclaimed Imam, but a week later rebels shelled his residence in Sana’a and set up a republic. Abdullah as-Sallal, whom al-Badr had appointed commander of the royal guard, led the coup, and declared himself president of the Yemen Arab Republic.
Badr is quoted as saying: “Now I’m getting my reward for befriending Nasser. We were brothers, but when I refused to become his stooge, he used Sallal against me.”
Al-Badr had, like most young Arab leaders of his generation, been a great admirer of Abdu Nasr and had even arranged during his father’s absence for Egyptian experts to come and help modernize the Yemen. His father had incorporated Yemen into the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria, which then became the United Arab States. It is thus ironic that the coup was largely instigated and planned by Egyptians and that without a massive Egyptian presence in the Yemen for five years afterwards, the “Yemen Arab Republic” would never have survived.
Although the republicans had announced to the world that al-Badr had died beneath the rubble of his home, he had in fact managed to escape unhurt and set out to the north. As he proceeded on his journey, the loyal Zaydi tribes rallied round him pledging him their allegiance as Amir al-Mumineen (“Prince of the Faithful”), as loyalty to an imam from the Ahl al-Bayt (the descendants of the Prophet) is an important part of the Zaydi belief system. . Badr was joined by his childhood pen pal, American Zaidi convert Bruce Conde, who set up the post office and would later rise to the rank of general in the Royalist forces.
Al Badr lived alongside his supporters, sharing with them every deprivation and hardship. Al-Badr was a man of great courtesy, kindness and personal charm. He loved dearly the Yemeni people and was essentially a man of peace. He said he would never allow a terrible civil war to rage once again in his country.
The hill tribes were Zaidi while the Yemenis of the coast and the south were Sunni, as were most Egyptians. Sallal was a mountain Shia but he was fighting alongside the lowland Sunnis and Egyptians in order to retain his Presidency.
Mohamed was a diplomat; his policy was to keep officers as prisoners for exchange, and to allow soldiers to go in return for their arms. He promised amnesty to all non-royalists once the Egyptians were withdrawn. He also promised a new form of government: “a constitutionally democratic system” ruled by a “national assembly elected by the people of Yemen” if his side was victorious.
In February, 1967, Nasser vowed to “stay in Yemen 20 years if necessary”, while Prince Hussein bin Ahmed said “We are prepared to fight for 50 years to keep Nasser out, just as we did the Ottoman Turks.”
As well as aerial bombardent, Egypt resorted to gas attacks. The gas attacks stopped for three weeks after the Six-Day War of June, which was lost because Egypt had sent too many troops to Yemen, but resumed on July, against all parts of royalist Yemen.
Casualty estimates vary, and an assumption, considered conservative, is that the mustard and phosgene-filled aerial bombs caused approximately 1,500 fatalities and 1,500 injuries.
In later peace negotiations involving Egypt, Badr said: “It is essential that the conflict which has devastated our beloved country be brought to an end by peaceful negotiations between the Yemeni people themselves.” In another reconciliation attempt, Badr promised to send his troops to fight with Egypt against Israel, should Nasser live up to a truce brokered by the Saudis. However, Sallal kept frustrating the peace efforts. One of Sallal’s deputies resigned, saying “It is obvious that Sallal and his cronies are more interested in war than peace”.
In 1970, despite the fact that territorially most of the Yemen remained under the control of al-Badr and the Hamid al-Din family, Saudi Arabia, which had been the principal opponent of the Sana’a regime, recognized the Yemen Arab Republic and other nations like the United Kingdom swiftly followed suit.
Stunned by Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the republican regime which had been negotiated without any consultation with him whatsoever, al-Badr went to England, where he lived quietly in a modest house in Kent, only going abroad to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. He died in 1996 in London.
Historians call the Yemeni Civil War “Egypt’s Vietnam” because of its disastrous consequences, which include the loss of most of Palestine in the 6 day war, the senseless loss of life, the negative impact on Egypt’s economy, and the postponement of Yemen’s development as a modern nation.
For Zaidis, the War signaled the end of the 1,000 year Zaidi Imamate of Yemen. Today’s Zaidis propose that Muhammad Badr’s dream of a “a constitutionally democratic system” ruled by a “national assembly elected by the people of Yemen” will one day be realized, instead of the corrupt presidency currently led by Abdullah Saleh, which has continued to wage war on the Zaidi tribes of North Yemen, and encourages the Saud-backed Wahhabists to attack the Zaidis in their own region.
Sources: Wikipedia pages on Muhammad Badr and North Yemen Civil War.