During a Friday prayer in June 2011, Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, president of the Consultative Council of Yemen Republic, was standing next to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. With him and behind him were many of the leading lights of the country and dozens of bodyguards from the president’s elite force and the palace. As the men prostrated during the prayer, an explosion rocked the mosque killing and injuring many of those present including the president and Abdulaziz. Many soldiers were killed in what was considered to be one of the most secured places in Yemen, a mosque inside the palace.
When the guards and ambulances arrived they found a large number of casualties. The seriously injured included senior staff officers who were the mainstay of the president who had been in power for nearly 32 years. Abdulaziz was so badly injured that he could not, for many days, recognize his family or speak to them. The president was severely wounded in the face, chest and hands.
As Yemen’s medical facilities could not cope with the catastrophic assassination attempt, the majority of casualties including Saleh and Abdulaziz were flown to Riyadh where medical services are acknowledged to be one of the best in the world. The Saudi government put in its best efforts to save the lives of the Yemenis and provide them with medical treatment at the highest level possible.
President Saleh and Abdulaziz had recuperated partially although Abdulaziz could not regain his health or even his ability to communicate. Saleh had to undergo several operations and he eventually survived.
Sadly, Abdulaziz’s situation remained in limbo until he succumbed to his injuries in August 2011 and had to be flown for burial to Sanaa in one of the largest funerals ever witnessed in the capital.
Abdulaziz was my close friend and relative. His wife is my cousin who was married to him in Aden before he shifted to Sanaa. We used to meet regularly and thoroughly enjoy his sumptuous luncheons to which his wife would add one or two of my favorite dishes including a fish curry now and then.
His death was a shock not only to me but to thousands of others since he occupied a number of exalted positions ranging from the central bank to various ministries to the premiership.
He had a master’s degree in political science from Colorado University, which later awarded him its doctorate in recognition of his services to his country. He spent 18 years in the premiership of Yemen Arab Republic and then the unified Yemen of north and south before he chose to retire and become president of the less turbulent Consultative Council, which is a kind of upper house of Parliament. Throughout, he was close to the president and devoted much of his time to him.
That closeness was perhaps not good for him because it was the reason of his presence in the mosque where the huge bomb exploded on that fateful day.
Born in 1939, Abdulaziz often lived in Aden — where he was married — and visited the erstwhile British colony where we became friends. When the colony became the independent Republic of South Yemen he tried hard to persuade me to go over to the north and establish an English-language daily where there had been none. But I could not do that since the new Marxist regime in South Yemen had confiscated almost everything that I and my family had owned including printing presses and property without giving a penny in compensation.
Throughout our friendship he remained a calm, cool and collected person I had always known him to be. In fact he was known in Yemen and the Middle East as the main conciliator in Yemeni affairs as he was a peaceful man who hated turmoil in his country and always offered valuable advice to citizens and officials in order to resolve problems peacefully. That I noticed during our luncheon conversation. He never raised his voice in anger even if he had reason to be upset.
But he would listen carefully if the other party had something useful to say or to quote. He was an avid reader of books and magazines and loved to tell stories with intellectual backgrounds which I shared passionately. I sometimes thought how great for Yemen he would have been had he chosen a professorial job where he would have enjoyed every minute of his time reading, writing and lecturing. But this was not to be although he loved to go to London where he would spend a few weeks each time simply reading and watching the BBC I channel, which is weightier than channel two that is lighter and focuses on entertainment programs.
After Abdulaziz’s death President Saleh returned to Sanaa to confront a mountain of problems without of course the comforting presence and advice of his long-term philosopher and friend. He did not last very long in power and had to quit the presidency quietly. But that is another story.
— Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.