Yemen (YE)

Capital

Sanaa

Population

27.5 million

Constitution

Suspended due to civil war

Head of state (internationally recognised)

President Ali Abdullah Saleh

National Day

May 22nd

Yemen's Ambassador to the UK

H.E. Dr Yassin Saeed Noman Ahmed

Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, 57 Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2ED

UKs Ambassador to Yemen

H.E. Mr Richard Oppenheim

British Embassy Sana'a /938 Thahr Himyar Street, East Ring Road, near Mövenpick Hotel, Sana’a, Yemen (*EMBASSY OPERATIONS SUSPENDED SINCE FEBRUARY 11TH 2015)

Yemen borders Saudi Arabia to its north, Oman to its east, the Gulf of Aden to the south the Red Sea to its west. Its climate is mostly desert with milder mountains in the west. 

Population

Yemen’s natural resources include some petroleum, fishing reserves, salt and marble. Approximately 45% of the country is agricultural land and 2.2% is arable. Most of the country is located in the far west of the country. The population of Yemen is just below 30 million people. Most Yemenis are Arab but there are some Afro-Arabs and South Asians.  

Government

The Republic of Yemen is divided into 22 administrative divisions. The country’s constitution was adopted in 1991. A new draft proposed in 2015 has been delayed by the ongoing Yemen conflict. The legal system in Yemen is a mixture of sharia law, Napoleonic law, English common law and customary law.  

The country’s executive includes a president as chief of state and a prime minister as head of government. The president is directly elected for a 7-year term which can be renewed once.  

Yemen’s legislative is the parliament which consists of the Shura Council. The Shura is comprised of 111 members who are appointed by the president, and the House of Representatives. Members of the House of Representatives are usually directly elected to represent single-seat constituencies on 6-year terms. 

History

Islam spread quickly to Yemen, ending Persian domination.  The country split into separate republics in the late 1960s following Britain's withdrawal from the important southern port of Aden.

Yemen in its current form emerged in 1990, after separate republics in the north and south respectively merged. It was hoped that unification would lead to a united Yemen becoming a multi-party democracy, that was capable of providing representation to the various groups in Yemen, but sadly this did not prove to be the case. 

Yemen and the Gulf War

Economic and geopolitical conditions did not favour the newly unified state. During the First Gulf War, which erupted the very same unification took place, Yemen was anxious to avoid the coming Gulf War and strove to find a diplomatic solution to Iraq’s sudden invasion of Kuwait. Its subsequent refusal to join theUS-led coalition against Iraq resulted in its northern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, expelling Yemeni workers who were working in the Kingdom. This put an end to  the hugely valuable remittances enjoyed by Yemeni workers, and also to foreign aid Saudi Arabia had been giving to the country.

As other Gulf nations followed suit, it quickly became clear to the new Yemen that even with the discovery of new oil reserves, the abrupt cessation of money from remittances and foreign aid would prove a disastrous combination for the economy and the country's political stability.

Decades of instability

Economic instability paved the way for general instability in the country and eventually to conflict, despite an initial election in 1993 that was generally accepted as being fair. Instability soon turned into a war for succession which southern forces would lose. With a weakened south with its political leadership in disarray, and a general tention about the fragility of the new state, initial optimist gradually gave way to increased repression and domestic tension.  

Throughout the 1990s Yemen’s economy continued to deteriorate. Tensions with its newly independent cross-Red Sea neighbour, Eritrea, over competing claims of sovereignty over the Hanish islands also became a challenge for the country, although these were eventually awarded to Yemen following international arbitration. 

Yemen and Saudi Arabia agreed on their common border, initially fostering optimism of good relations between the two nations. But in 2001, a year that greatly altered the history of the Middle East, Yemen was also to be buffeted by the fallout from the attacks of September 11th and the sudden attention poured by the West directed at the issue of issue of Islamist terrorism.

In October 2000, just 11 months before the attacks on US, al-Qaeda militants carried out a suicide bombing on the USS Cole, a US destroyer, in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen US sailors died and 37 others were injured in the attack. 

"Secessionitis"

As economic conditions deteriorated, secessionist demands increased and protests gradually spread across the country dissatisfied at the situation in the country. These intensified in 2011 as the region entered the Arab Spring. By that stage it there was already a significant degree of rebellion, which rapidly blew up into civil war. Houthi rebels became prominent in the conflict. Tehran supported the Houthi insurgency, deeply concerning for Iran's biggest regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

Conflict and catastrophe

It is hard to overstate the catastrophic impact civil war has had on Yemen. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), an estimated 24 million Yemenis are in need of assistance, a staggering number when you consider the country's population of around 27 million. There are 4 million refugees and approximately 100,000 people have died since 2015.

In late 2021, Houthi militants were advancing on Marib in western Yemen, one of the last strongholds of the internationally-recognised government.

Culture  

Cultural customs in Yemen reflect the traditional Arab culture of the Gulf. Family and often tribal ties area very close. Some of the most striking aspects of Yemen’s culture are its buildings. This does not just extend to socially and religiously significant buildings but also to people’s houses, which although often old can rise to as high as six stories tall, housing multiple generations of a family. The presence of such unique architecture has led to UNESCO designating the cities of Sanaa, Zabid and Shibam as World Heritage sites. There is also, as is the case with many other Gulf countries, a rich oral tradition, where raconteurs are known to memorise huge amounts of prose, poetry, history and proverbs.  

The practice of chewing a stimulant called khat has also gained attention recently, as the tradition spread from the north of the country to the rest of the population. While it is more common for men to chew the drug, it remains a common social past time 

Religion 

Approximately 99% of Yemenis are Muslim with an estimated 65% being Sunni and 35% Shia. The remaining one percent mostly represents people originally from other countries, although it worth noting that there is a very small but ancient Jewish community in Yemen.  

Most Muslims in the country are Sunni. Shia groups in the country belong to the Zaydi school, which is mostly found in the north of the country, and the Ismailis, which can also be found in the north.  

Economy 

GDP per capita in Yemen is around $2,500. The agricultural sector in Yemen grows and rears a wide variety of produce. Industries include a petroleum sector, production of industrial materials and other small-scale industries such as cotton and leather good manufacturing. 

Continued instability in Yemen has massively hampered the development of the country’s economy and will likely continue to do so for some time. Even after the emergence of an oil industry in the late 20th century, something which made its Gulf neighbours so prosperous, the situation in Yemen is still so dire that an estimated 20 million in Yemen are designated as ‘food insecure’ by the UN. 

Despite an IMF extended credit facility of $570 million in 2014, the disruptive effects of intense fighting soon overshadowed the move. Yemen continues to rely heavily on international aid, as the government and civil society struggles to important sufficient quantitates of a whole host of key goods to support its population 

Key dates

115BC - 500s AD
Yemen comes under the sway of the Himyarites who eventually convert from paganism to Judaism
500s
The last Himyarites king, Dhu Nawas, converts to Judaism and massacres Christian. Byzantines send in army from Christian Aksum, in what is now Ethiopia, to punish Dhu Nuwas
500s AD
Himyarites call on the Persian Sasanian dynasty of Persia to expel Aksumites. The Persians then add the new satrapy of Yemen to their empire
628 AD
The last Persian governor of Yemen converts to Islam, confirming dominance of the Muslim community
632 - 634 AD
Muhammad's first successor, the Caliph Abu Bakr, unifies the Arabian Peninsula but his successor have to deal with numerous rebellions and problems in Yemen subsequently
Early 800s
Muhammad bin Ziyad founds the city of Rabid and establishes the Ziyadid dynasty
800s
The extreme Zaydi Shia sect start their growing dominance over Yemen. The suppression of Zaydis would place a key role in Houti rebellion and civil war in the 2010s
1500s
OTTOMAN ANNEXATION: Ottoman Empire annexes Yemen but are expelled in the 1600s
1839
IMPORTANCE OF THE PORT CITY OF ADEN: Aden comes under British rule and serves as an important refuelling port following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869
1849
OTTOMANS: Ottomans return to the north of Yemen
1918
OTTOMAN EMPIRE COLLAPSE: The Ottoman Empire starts to dissolve . North Yemen gains independence and is ruled by Imam Yahya
1948
YAHYA ASSASSINATION: Imam Yahya is assassinated and is succeeded by his son, Ahmad
1962
Imam Ahmad dies and succeeded by his but army officers stage a coup and set up the Yemen Arab Republic. Civil war ensures
1967
YEMEN SPLITS: A pro-independence insurgency follows British withdrawal from South Yemen which becomes the People's Republic of Yemen, separate from the north
1969
COMMUNIST COUP: Communists stage a coup and rename the south the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and takes the Soviets' side in the Cold War
1970
CIVIL WAR: In the North, Republican forces win the civil war
1972
Border skirmishes take place between the 2 Yemens. The Arab League brokers peace
1978
Ali Abdallah Saleh becomes president of North Yemen
1979
RENEWED CONFLICT BETWEEN 2 YEMENS: Fighting again breaks out between the 2 Yemens
1986
A power struggle in the south causes 1000s of deaths. Haida Bakr al-Attas takes over and works to unify the 2 Yemens
May 1990
UNEASY UNIFICATION: The 2 Yemens unite as the Republic of Yemen under President Ali Abdallah Saleh but tension still simmers between north and south
May 1994
President Saleh declares state of emergency and fires his vice-president, who with other southern officials declare the secession of the south
July 1994
The national army defeats the southern secessionists
1995
Yemen and Eritrea on the other side of the Red Sea clash over the Hanish Islands. Most of the islands os awarded to Yemen after international arbitration
Oct' 2000
USS COLE ATTACK: Al Qaeda launch a suicide attack against the US naval vessel, the USS Cole, killing 17 US sailors
Feb' 2002
Yemen expels down on more than a 100 foreign Islamic clerics in a crackdown on al-Qaeda
2004
HOUTHI INSURGENCY: 100s die as troops battle Shia insurgency led by Hussein al-Houthi
2005
Fighting resumes between government troops and followers of by now slain rebel leader al-Houthi
Jan - March 2007
HOUTHI CONFLICT: More fighting between Houthis and security forces. The militants' leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi accepts ceasefire
2009
GOVERNMENT OFFENSIVE AGAINST HOUTHIS: Government military launches offensive against the Houthis in the north, displacing many 1000s of Yemenis
2010
Government launches attack on separatists in the southern province of Shabwa
2011
President Saleh resigns and hands power over to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi who forms a unity coalition government
2012
A spate of al-Qaeda attacks in the Yemeni capital Sanaa
2014
Presidential panel approves a new draft constitution to accommodate Houthis and southern grievances. The Houthis reject the deal and seize control of most of Sanaa
2015
The Islamic State group attacks Yemen for the first time with suicide bombs at 2 Shia mosques killing 137 people
2015
Country descends into civil war. Saudi-led coalition of mainly Gulf states launches airstrikes against Houthis, who are now backed by Iran
June 2015
US drone strike kills the al-Qaeda leader of the Arab Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhaysi
Jan' 2018
Southern Yemeni separatists - backed by the United Arab Emirates - seize control of Aden
Nov' 2019
Government and separatists sign power sharing agreement to end conflict in the south
Feb' 2021
Houthis launch an attack on Marib, the last stronghold of Yemen's internationally recognised government
March 2021
Houthis start campaign of missile airstrikes against Saudi Arabia, including oil tankers and airports, drawing retaliatory strikes by the Saudi-led coalition

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