Yemen: Trouble for the Sons of Saud

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Cairo newspapers derisively called him a ghost. But the ousted Imam of Yemen, Mohamed el Badr, seemed very real last week. Badr's enemies had repeatedly reported him dead ever since September, when rebel tanks commanded by Strongman Abdullah Sallal ringed the palace in San'a and opened fire at point-blank range. But the royal troops held out until the next day, when the Imam darted through a breach in the wall. A woman in a nearby house helped him replace his fancy clothes with a common soldier's khaki tunic, and Badr safely made his way to neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Dressed in the same clothes, and wearing a bandolier of bullets across his chest, Badr told of his escape to a group of 16 newsmen who huddled on mats in a camel-skin tent at an encampment a few miles inside Yemen near the Saudi Arabian border. While dagger-wielding, shouting followers raised a din outside, Badr cheerfully predicted that he would be back on the throne in a few weeks. He claimed to command 20,000 tribesmen.

As for Sallal's "republican'' regime, Badr said scornfully: "It seems all you need to make a government these days is a broadcasting station and a declaration that you have formed a government." Furthermore, said the Imam, who has never been much interested in women himself, the new regime has the wrong attitude toward sex: "It encourages the unveiling of women, adultery, alcoholism, and every other kind of sin."

Foreign Threats. Tiny, primitive Yemen may not be much to fight over, but it has become a symbolic object of contention between the Middle East's two most powerful Arab factions. On one side is Nasser's Egypt, which supports the Sallal regime. On the other side is feudal Saudi Arabia, which backs Badr. Allied with Saudi Arabia's King Saud is Jordan's young King Hussein, 28, who believes that "if Saud goes, I go too."

Egypt has poured 10,000 troops into Yemen since Sallal's September revolt, and is reportedly spending $20 million a week to supply them with Soviet-built tanks, jets and other armaments. Nasser's navy shelled Saudi Arabian towns along the Red Sea; his pilots attacked five villages across the border.

Yemen in turn is loudly threatening to invade Saudi Arabia. Although the little country has no qualified flyer (its one pilot survived three crash landings and has not yet received a license), the Sallal regime boasts that it will return enemy attacks "as far as Amman," the Jordanian capital. With Nasser's belligerent backing, Sallal proclaimed a new "Republic of the Arabian Peninsula," laying claim to about three dozen kingdoms, sheikdoms and sultanates near Aden, most of which are under British protection.

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