The British Brand of Anti-Imperialism: Information Policy and Propaganda in South Arabia at the End of Empire
In the lexicon of European de-colonisation, counter-insurgency campaigns were fought against anti-imperialism across the periphery of empire from Vietnam to Algeria and from Kenya to Malaya. Yet the doubly reactive description of these conflicts serves to mask the dynamism of late imperialism. The term ‘counterinsurgency’ has its uses for modern day analysts of military strategy and tactics but from a political and historical perspective it is euphemistic.1 British strategy at the end of empire was neither wholly defensive nor wholly reactionary, as might be implied by the prefix ‘counter’; it was concerned both with pacifying those territories which they continued to govern and stirring up discontent and even insurgency on the other side of the imperial frontier. The preservation of order could entail what Karl Hack has described as ‘screwing down’ the local population and destabilising potential or actual foes such as Nasser’s Egypt or Sukarno’s Indonesia.2 One means of doing this was to influence perceptions of anti-imperialism through the employment of propaganda. Susan Carruthers has demonstrated the importance which colonial governments gave to manipulating media coverage of events in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus.3 In Aden, British officials pursued an intriguing policy which sought to capitalise on the
presumed particularist and autarchic character of local Arab politics by directing resentment against external interference away from London and towards Cairo. Efforts to blacken the reputation of the Egyptian president Gamal abd al Nasser tested the bounds of propriety which marked off information policy from propaganda. The preoccupation of British policy-makers with propagating their own tendentious brand of anti-imperialism was evident at three key moments around which the following analysis is structured: the decision to appoint an Information Adviser to the Governor of Aden in September 1962, the authorisation of a black propaganda campaign in Yemen in April 1964 and the introduction of a South Arabian Federal Television Service in September 1964. British propagandists hoped to persuade the inhabitants of South Arabia that Cairo’s influence was a threat to the freedom of people across the Middle East and to disseminate the message that Egyptian anti-imperialism was counterfeit. Although independence from British rule was not offered to the residents of South Arabia until 1964, and the British fought to preserve their access to the Aden base for another two years, this was a late imperial war which employed anti-imperial themes.