For anyone who would like to know how Britain
acquired more territories to colour pink in 19th Century atlases Dr Farah's study of the
Yemen in Ottoman times is worth much more than a cursory look.
Aden was the first Imperial acquisition of Queen Victoria's reign and its seizure in
January 1839 by Captain Haines RN on behalf of the Government of Bombay was little
more than an officially sanctioned act of piracy for the sake of obtaining a strategic
foothold in South West Arabia. The pretext for invasion was to demand compensation
from the local ruler, the Sultan of Lahej, following the plundering by local tribesmen of a
British registered cargo vessel, wrecked on the coast near the then small fishing village of
Aden. Previously the Sultan had been pressurised by the British into leasing Aden, which
once occupied by British troops passed permanently into crown possession despite the
armed opposition of local tribesmen allied to the Lahejis.
Dr Farah describes how the British consolidated their position in their new colony
establishing a cordon sanitaire bolstered by local tribal alliances aimed at protecting their
tiny enclave of eighty square miles. Most of the other tribes, not in British pay, were
equally willing mercenaries recruited in their turn by the authorities in Istanbul and the
Imams (Priest/Kings) of the Yemen to oppose the British presence and to curtail the
spread of European colonial influence. All this in the context of attempts by the
Ottomans' to enforce their largely nominal authority in the Arabian Peninsular in direct
competition with the Imams who were flexing their muscles against their distant overlords
in Istanbul. Dr Farah spins a fascinating (and well-written) tale of intrigue and counter
intrigue with the tribesmen of the Yemen being recruited by the three main parties
involved to further their interests. The Great Game of Arabia was as convoluted as
that of the North-West Frontier if of lesser international significance.