Now the death of the Queen after 70 years of reign has prompted some Yemenis to remember a part of history that is not often recalled.
Her death has brought waves of sadness and sympathy from all over the world. But it has also called for a re-examination of the death and hardship caused by Britain’s colonial rule in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
In Aden, now Yemen’s second-largest city, many remember colonial rule as a time of oppression that entrenched some of the problems that still plague the city and country, ravaged by civil war since 2015.
Some still remember Elizabeth’s visit today with admiration and credit British rule with advancements in the country. Hassan al-Awaidi, a university student, knows that his grandfather was one of those who waved from the street when the Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, passed by.
But al-Awadi says his generation now knows better.
“In the context of the 21st century, such practices are seen as a reflection of contemporary global problems such as racism, inequality and white supremacy,” he said.
“They stood up to people who wanted to end the colonial occupation of this country. Thousands of people were killed in the struggle to eradicate colonialism. They should be prosecuted and atone for their crimes.”
Aden was the only Arab area to be a British colony. Other British outposts in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Palestine and in the Gulf, were mandates or protectorates, not outright colonies.
Aden was first occupied by the British in 1839. Britain then conquered the surrounding parts of South Yemen as protectorates and clashed with the other settlers of the peninsula, the Ottomans.
Finally, the two established a border between North and South Yemen – a division that has endured throughout the country’s modern history and has flared up again in the current civil war.
Aden was officially proclaimed a crown colony in 1937. Located just outside the Red Sea, the city was a vital tank and trading port between Europe and Asia, especially the British colony of India.
Elizabeth stopped by on her way back from Australia, part of her first tour of the Commonwealth, two years after she ascended to the throne.
Photos of the visit on the website of the British-Yemeni Society, a British charity, show British officers, dignitaries and Yemeni leaders greeting the young Queen and her husband.
Large numbers of Yemenis met them wherever they went. A ceremony was held for the queen to award a knighthood to local leader Sayyid Abubakr bin Shaikh al-Kaff. To receive it, al-Kaff knelt on a chair in what was explained as a refusal to bow to the queen because of his Muslim faith.
The royals also watched a military parade featuring British and local Yemeni troops.
But not long after the visit, an uprising arose, fueled by pan-Arab nationalism and supported by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a nemesis of the colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s. After years of fighting, the British were finally forced to withdraw.
When the last batch of British troops left Aden in late November 1967, the People’s Republic of South Yemen was born with Aden as its capital. It would be the only Marxist country to ever exist in the Arab world, until its unification with the North in 1990.
Some in Aden remember that British rule brought order and development.
Bilal Gulamhussein, a writer and researcher of the modern history of Aden, said that many “lived long ago in the days of British rule, because everything was in order, as if you lived right in Britain.”
He said much of the early infrastructure and basic services, including health care and education, date back to colonial times.
“Britain has laid the foundations for civil administration in Aden from the beginning of the occupation,” he said.
A few small memories remain.
A statue of Queen Victoria stands in a main square, hit by bullets that grazed it during crossfires in the current Civil War. A clock tower resembling London’s Big Ben overlooks the city from a hilltop. A plaque commemorates the laying of the foundation stone of a major hospital by Queen Elizabeth.
The current civil war has torn Yemen into a north led by Houthi rebels and a south led by the internationally recognized government and a host of allied militias. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have stepped in to support the government and see the Houthis as a proxy for Iran. The fighting has plunged Yemen into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, pushing it into even greater poverty and near starvation.
Salem al Yamani, a schoolteacher in the southern province of Abyan, said that even amid the current chaos, nostalgia for the colonial era sparked by Elizabeth’s death is misplaced.
“The idea of good roads and facilities does not mean that they (the settlers) were good. They were occupiers who primarily served their own interests,” he said.
“Just because the situation is dire now doesn’t mean we want them back,” he said. “This is our own problem and it will be solved if foreign powers stop meddling in our affairs.”