ADEN (AFP) – In 1954, large crowds turned out for a historic visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Aden. At the time, this city on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula was a colony of the British Empire and was one of the busiest and most important ports in the world.
Now the queen’s death after a 70-year reign has prompted some Yemenis to remember a part of history not often evoked.
Her death has brought waves of grief and sympathy for some, but has also raised calls for a re-examination of the death and deprivation inflicted by Britain’s colonial rule in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
In Aden, now the second largest city in Yemen, many remember colonial rule as a time of oppression that entrenched some of the problems still plaguing the city and the country.
Hassan al-Awaidi, a university student, knows his grandfather was among those waving from the street when the queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, passed by.
But al-Awadi says his generation now knows better.
“In the context of the 21st century, such practices are seen as a reflection of contemporary global issues like racism, inequality and white supremacy,” he said.
“They cracked down on people who wanted to end the colonial occupation of this land. Thousands of people were killed in the struggle to root out colonialism. They should be prosecuted and pay for their crimes.”
Aden was the only Arab territory to have been a British colony. Other British outposts in the Middle East like Egypt and Palestine were mandates or protectorates, not outright colonies.
Aden was first occupied by the British in 1839. Britain went on to seize surrounding parts of southern Yemen as protectorates, clashing with the other colonizers of the peninsula, the Ottomans.
Finally, the two established a border splitting north and south Yemen — a division that has endured throughout the country’s modern history and has flared again in the current Saudi-led war.
But not long after the Queen’s visit, an uprising emerged, fueled by pan-Arab nationalism. After years of fighting, the British were finally forced to withdraw.
When the last batch of British troops left Aden in late November 1967, the People’s Republic of South Yemen was born, lasting until unification with the north in 1990.
Salem al Yamani, a schoolteacher in the southern province of Abyan, said that even amid the current chaos caused by Saudi Arabia, nostalgia for colonial times sparked by Elizabeth’s death is misplaced.
“The idea of having good roads and services does not mean they (the colonizers) were good. They were occupiers who served their own interest at the first place,” he said.
“That the situation now is dire doesn’t mean we want them back again,” he said.
“This is our own problem, and it will be resolved if foreign powers stopped meddling in our affairs.”