Details surrounding the political assassination of Ibrahim al-Hamdi, president of North Yemen, in 1977 are stranger than fiction.
Al-Hamdi, viewed by many as a reformer and modernist, came to power in a bloodless coup in June 1974 at a time when Yemen was divided into two countries: North Yemen, where al-Hamdi was president and Marxist South Yemen. As a moderniser, al-Hamdi pushed for Yemeni unification and was due to travel to Aden to meet with his southern counterpart in October 1977.
Two days before that meeting was due to take place, al-Hamdi was invited to lunch at the home of his army commander Ahmed al-Ghashmi. On arrival, al-Hamdi was taken past the dignitaries and brought to a room where on the floor lay the body of his brother. According to an eyewitness, al-Hamdi was then murdered at the scene.
The exact details of his death remain a mystery. Some claim he was shot dead in a drive-by shooting. A more lurid account places al-Hamdi’s body and that of his brother alongside those of two young French women, who some speculate may have been spies, high class escorts, or both. While nobody was ever charged with the murder, the list of suspects included two future Yemeni presidents, tribal enemies opposed to al-Hamdi’s erosion of their power and forces loyal to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, who vigorously denied involvement in the murder.
The assassination of al-Hamdi still resonates today. More than 40 years on, his family and supporters still search for answers. And with few witnesses left alive, calls for accountability and closure are more pressing than ever.
Yemen: The Last Lunch traces the events leading up to Ibrahim al-Hamdi’s murder and how his death steered the course of a country deeply divided.
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