- FAWAZ SALMAN
Kulthoom Muhammad Saeed was 12 when a young Queen Elizabeth II visited Aden, then one of the world’s busiest supply ports and a strategic part of Britain’s crumbling global empire.
Nearly seven decades later, Yemen’s long years of war and neglect have had a devastating effect on Aden, and the queen’s death has made Kulthoom nostalgic.
“Honestly, we were comfortable in the British colonial days. We weren’t suffering,” said the little octogenarian, describing how she was able to raise a family of six on a modest income. “When we were under colonialism, we were in the grace and security of God.”
Kulthoom Muhammad Saeed, 80, speaks to Reuters at his home about memories of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Aden in 1954 during its time as a colony within the British Empire, in Aden, Yemen, September 11th. PHOTO: Reuters/Fawaz Salman
Queen Elizabeth II died last week aged 96 after a 70-year reign. She was Britain’s oldest and most traveled monarch.
Speaking at his home next to a hospital founded by the Queen, Kulthoom said young and old in Aden turned out to welcome him during a 24-hour visit in 1954, as part of a tour around the world that Elizabeth made the first year after her coronation.
News footage from the visit showed the Queen bestowing knighthoods on a senior British air force officer and a Yemeni leader from the eastern Hadramaut region, and watching troops march past Yemenis, some riding camels.
“People were all satisfied, young and old were happy,” Kulthoom said, listing the neighborhoods in Aden where locals went to greet the queen.
A view of Big Ben Aden, a clock tower built next to the port of Aden during the period when Aden, Yemen was a colony within the British Empire, September 9. PHOTO: Reuters/Fawaz Salman
Uprising and war
A bronze plaque still marks the foundation stone Elizabeth laid for a hospital that bore her name until the end of British rule in 1967, when it was replaced by Jumhouriya (Republic) Hospital.
During this decade, the goodwill displayed during the Queen’s visit dissolved. A four-year uprising, in which hundreds were killed, drove out British troops.
Britain had captured Aden in 1839, seizing it to control the entrance to the Red Sea and protect the routes to India. In 1937 it became a Crown Colony with great strategic importance to the British.
Aden then became the capital of socialist South Yemen, which merged with the north in 1990 before unsuccessfully trying to break away in a civil war four years later. The city saw heavy fighting again in the latest conflict that erupted when fighters from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement seized much of the country in 2014.
Nouria Naji, who heads the Yemeni Education and Relief Organization, speaks to Reuters as she stands in front of a photo showing Queen Elizabeth presenting her with the Order of the British Empire award in 2013, at his home in Sanaa, Yemen on September 12. PHOTO: Reuters/Adel Al-Khadher
For Nouria Naji, director of the Yemen Education and Relief Organization, who has championed access to education for the poorest children over the past two difficult decades, the death of Queen Elizabeth II also brought back memories.
Naji was honored by the Queen in 2013 for her work, which was described in her citation as transforming the lives of women and children in Yemen.
Holding a picture of her investiture ceremony in London, she said she stood proudly ‘like I was a soldier’ as the Queen made her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, as its price is officially known.
“When they called my name: ‘Nouria Naji is honored for her work in Yemen’, the name Yemen made me feel like I had the whole world in my hands,” she said. “It was a great honor and a great pride”.
– Additional reporting by RIAM MUKHASHAF, KHALED ABDULLAH, ABDULRAHMAN AL-ANSI and MOHAMED AL-GHOBARI