In 2011, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protesters not only asked extensive political change, but also to hold the president accountable for human rights abuses and other crimes he committed during his decades-long political career. One of the problems Yemenis He wanted Saleh to answer for the 1977 murder of Yemen's northern president, Ibrahim al-Hamdi.
Al-Hamdi, seen by many as a reformer and modernist, came to power in a bloodless coup in June 1974, when Yemen split into two countries: North Yemen, supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States, and South Yemen. , supported by the Soviet Union. During his brief term as head of state, al-Hamdi instituted various reforms to combat corruption and establish an egalitarian system, earning the support and respect of the public. He also implemented policies aimed at reducing his country's dependence on Saudi Arabia and tried to unify north and south.
In October 1977, just two days before a scheduled visit to southern Yemen to negotiate unification, al-Hamdi was assassinated. The exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery to this day.
Army Vice President and Chief of Staff Ahmad al-Ghashmi, who succeeded al-Hamdi as president, said at the time that al-Hamdi was killed in a murder-suicide involving his brother Abdullah and two French prostitutes. While officials declined to reveal details of al-Hamdi's death, the bodies of the president, his brother and two French women, were widely rumored to have been found in an apartment in Sanaa that belonged to one of the women.
Al-Hamdi's family and political allies, however, never accepted the strange story told by al-Ghashmi and the rumors that followed. Instead, they believed that the President was assassinated by al-Ghashmi and his ally and eventual successor, Saleh. They also argued that French women were added to the story simply to damage al-Hamdi's reputation. Several witnesses came forward to say that the President was invited to al-Ghashmi's home on the day of his murder and was last seen alive. inside the house in the company of al-Ghashmi and Saleh. The Yemeni public also overwhelmingly believed that the President was assassinated by his political opponents.mourning he as a respected national hero.
Despite the claims, questions and accusations surrounding al-Hamdi's murder, there has never been an official investigation into the circumstances of his death. Al-Ghashmi was assassinated in June 1978 before answering any questions about the death of his predecessor. Saleh, who assumed the presidency in July 1978, also declined to discuss the death of al-Hamdi during his time in office.
That is why, in 2011, when people took to the streets to protest against the excesses and abuses of President Saleh's government, some carried large al-Hamdi posters. Young activists, most of whom were not even born when the tragedy occurred, chanted slogans demanding justice for the reformist president, because they viewed his murder as a turning point in their country's history.
Saleh was forced to resign in November 2011, but the president's ouster did not prevent the Yemenis from demanding answers about al-Hamdi's murder. In 2016 Saleh finally broached the subject in an interview with RT net and denied having played any role in the murder. However, he revealed that the official story pointing to a "sex scandal,quot; was completely made up, and claimed that agents paid by Saudi Arabia organized the murder. Saleh then threatened to continue talking about Yemen's past political crimes, but was assassinated in December 2017 before revealing anything else about al-Hamdi's murder.
In April 2019, a research documentary by Al Jazeera, titled Yemen: the last lunchThey tracked the events leading up to the assassination of al-Hamdi using official documents, witness reports and expert testimony. Beyond answering questions about who may have carried out the murder and how, the documentary also explored the possible motivations behind the crime.
Explaining how al-Hamdi's efforts to make his country a strong and independent actor in the southern Red Sea region by building a strong economy and uniting with South Yemen disturbed Saudi leaders, the documentary added weight. to Saleh's claim that Riyadh was behind the murder. The film also presented several other reasons why Saudi Arabia opposed al-Hamdi's presidency: its policy to lessen the political influence of tribes in Yemen; his marginalization from Paramount Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussayn al-Ahmar from the Hashid tribe, who was a top agent for Saudi Arabia in Yemen; and its refusal to resolve a border problem with Saudi Arabia, which had existed since the 1930s when the kingdom conquered three provinces in northern Yemen and arranged a decades-long lease to maintain possession.
Al Jazeera's documentary clearly showed that Saudi Arabia had strong motivations to eliminate al-Hamdi at the time. But no one has provided indisputable evidence that Riyadh was behind the murder. Furthermore, it is widely believed that it was impossible for Saudi Arabia to carry out a plot to assassinate the President of Yemen within its own territory without the help of powerful local players.
Yemen's former presidents al-Ghashmi and Saleh were perhaps the only two people who were in a position to shed light on al-Hamdi's murder. As they are both gone, figuring out exactly what happened to the reformist president who wanted to unite Yemen and make him an independent power in the Middle East seems like an impossible task.
As Yemen's devastating civil war enters its fifth year, the mystery surrounding al-Hamdi's death continues to hang over Yemenis' collective political memory. Yes, and when the country succeeds in leaving the conflict behind, any post-war government will face the difficult task of uniting a divided nation and gaining the trust of all its citizens. By launching an official investigation into al-Hamdi's death and revealing the people and powers behind his murder, Yemen's future leaders could help the nation heal. Furthermore, such research can help Yemenis see the powers hampering their country's development and encourage them to take collective action to prevent history from repeating itself.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.