Imamic Yemen’s Sacred National Charter (1948): Failed Interpretations of an Established Social Compact

By Fernando R. Carvajal
Submitted to Session P2901 (Intellectuals and their Impact on the Middle East, 2011 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Arab constitutionalist movements of the twentieth century failed to realize objectives set out by intellectuals of the Arab Awakening. Among them, al-Tahtawi attempted to expand upon ideas which influenced the Ottoman Hatt-? Hümayun (1856) and Ahd al-Aman (1857) and Tunisian constitution (1860) as instruments of revival for Arab-Muslim civilization. His writings primarily described constitutions as instruments of restrain against tyranny, but also empowered educated elites that would contribute to national prosperity. Such were the aims of reformists in North Yemen (Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen 1918-1962) which shaped the discourse of opposition to Zaydi Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din, leading to the revolt of February 1948. Correlation of ideas formulated by intellectuals of the Awakening and those espoused by Yemeni reformers in the 1940s saw continuity of thought transcending the Islamic sectarian schism. Failures of the constitutionalist movement in North Yemen were many, but few will acknowledge a fundamental failure to empower the people within the movement and the Sacred National Charter (SNC).

This paper will examine ideas regarding the relationship between ruler and ruled put-forth by reformists in North Yemen (1940s) by analyzing the text of the Sacred National Charter as translated by the British Government in Aden and Professor J. Leigh Douglas. Analysis of the SNC text will provide insight to the ideas of major influence as well as the degree of influence exerted by the suspected authors of the document, the Muslim Brotherhood. My work aims to contribute to the understanding of the roots of Arab constitutionalism in the early twentieth century, its successes and failures. In addition, writings by al-Farabi, al-Tahtawi, al-Kawkabi, and other Arab writers such as the Egyptian Khalid Muhammad Khalid and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood under Hasan

al-Banna will help provide a better understanding of the origins and development of reformist ideas that influenced Yemen’s movement.

While this historical precedent influenced events of the 1962 revolution establishing the Yemen Arab Republic and ending a thousand years of Imamic rule, the paper will focus on major failures of the 1948 coup to restructure the persistent condition of people as subjects (ra’iyah) within the context of relations between ruler and ruled. Some observers have argued the constitutionalist movement failed from the start due to its lack of contact with the masses, a similar argument was formulated by reformers against Imam Yahya.