172. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rogers1


  • Southern Yemen: Extreme Leftists Seize the Reins


Leftist extremists ousted President Qahtan al-Shaabi and Premier Faisal al-Shaabi in a bloodless coup June 22, using the General Command of the ruling National Liberation Front (NLF) as their vehicle.

The new regime, headed by a five-man Presidential Council,2 is dominated by the extreme left segment of the radical NLF. Moderate army leaders, who would be expected to oppose the new regime, have been unable to mount effective resistance because the army is split over whether to support the new leadership, but the regime’s narrow base may hold the seeds of future trouble. In foreign policy, the new government will probably seek to move closer to the Soviet Union and will have even worse relations with neighboring states than its predecessor.

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Extreme Leftists Predominate. The new Presidential Council and cabinet are both dominated by extremists. Most of these extremists had been removed from positions of power at army insistence in the spring of 1968, and many went into exile. They were permitted to return in early 1969. Three of the five Presidential Council members—Chairman Salim Rubayya’, Abdul Fattah Ismail, and Ali al-Bishi (Ali Antar)—are extremist leftists, and the other two—Premier Muhammad Ali Haytham and Defense Minister Muhammad Salih Awlaqi—are considered Arab nationalist opportunists. Six of the eleven Cabinet members are extreme leftists. Two or three members of the new leadership are reportedly Communists, and the extreme leftists as a group have a Castro-like flavor.

Abdul Fattah Ismail, leader of the NLF extremist faction and perhaps the most intellectual member of the new regime, is probably the organizing genius behind the coup. He will probably function as a de facto party secretary-general to spark the organizational effort that will be needed to keep the regime alive. He is likely to control the situation from behind the scenes, and if the extremist regime lasts, he may eventually emerge as the overt leader.

Regime has Narrow Base. The NLF regime in Aden has always represented only a small minority of the country’s 1,300,000 inhabitants, and the seizure of power by the extreme left has produced a regime with an even narrower base of support. The new regime is strongest among party intellectuals, labor unions, NLF youth, and the NLF commandos (ex-terrorists and ex-guerrillas from preindependence days). It can be expected also to draw support from the Chinese-style People’s Guards, a paramilitary force which was disbanded in 1968 at army insistence but re-created in May 1969 to help put down tribal dissidence. The new regime is weakest in the army, the small educated class, business groups, and the more conservative residents of the hinterland.

Army Split Appears to Assure Survival in Short Run. The army, so far a relatively moderate political force, is divided between opponents and supporters of the new regime. Moderate army leaders, who might have attempted a counter-coup, appear to have been neutralized as a result of their own disorganization, the division in army ranks, the reported detention of some senior officers, and the absence of major units upcountry. The new government appears to control most military and police forces in the Aden area, and its short term survival prospects are good.

Friction with Neighboring States to Rise. The new regime would probably like to increase Southern Yemeni efforts to export revolution to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, despite its limited capabilities. This desire will heighten tension between Southern Yemen and the Yemeni Arab Republic (YAR), Saudi Arabia, Muscat and Oman, and the Persian Gulf shaikhdoms. Saudi Arabia and the YAR have not yet reacted to the coup in Aden; because of their fear of NLF revolutionary efforts, Saudi [Page 546] Arabia and the YAR may separately support a major effort by anti-NLF elements to overthrow the new Southern Yemeni regime.

Regime Will Cozy up to Soviets. The new regime will probably seek to move closer to the Soviet Union. Earlier this spring, Abdul Fattah Ismail reportedly hoped to have the NLF announce its membership in the Socialist Bloc led by the Soviet Union; and a statement by the NLF General Command immediately after the coup said that “relations with the friendly socialist states, and the Soviet Union in particular, are to be bolstered.” The Soviets, desirous of maintaining their position in Southern Yemen, will allow themselves to be embraced by the new regime but will avoid supporting Southern Yemeni efforts to stir up trouble in nearby Arab states. They also may be reluctant to increase their economic and military assistance beyond the moderate levels already projected.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 SYEMEN. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem.
  2. See telegram 103042 to Addis Ababa, June 23. (Ibid., POL 12 SYEMEN)