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.
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.
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.
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 the US-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.
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.
The rise of the Houthis
The 1990 unification of North and South Yemen brought Ali Abdullah Saleh to power as the leader of the new Republic of Yemen. Saleh’s government, increased the influence of the Saudi- Sunni Muslims in northern Yemen, the traditional stronghold of the Zaidis, a Shia sect whose followers comprise about a quarter of Yemeni Muslims.
Unification caused a Zaidi backlash, and led to the eventual Houthi movement, named after its then leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who emerged as its champion, promoting a revival of Zaidism along with hostility towards Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the government of unified Yemen.
Initially, the Houthi movement was known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God). In September 2004, the Yemeni government announced that Al-Houthi had been killed in fighting. But the Houthi insurgency continued, and Ansar Allah became known as the Houthis.
It was probably inevitable that the Houthis would become an Iranian-backed proxy force, much like Hezbollah in Lebanon, taking into account the movement’s Shia religious identity and its hostility to the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the internationally recognised Yemeni government.
Iran has been accused of supplying the Yemeni rebels with heavy weaponry, including the missiles that they have launched against Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both Iran and the Houthis deny the charge, but much of the international community came to its own conclusions years ago.
In 2011, Yemeni activists, inspired by the Arab Spring, began calling for regime change. Internal and external pressure forced Saleh to resign, and his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, assumed the presidency for a two-year transitional period in a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Operation "Decisive Storm"
In 2015, the Houthis arrested Hadi and his government ministers. Hadi resigned and managed to escape to Aden where he requested assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC.) This is when Saudi Arabia decided to intervene, forming the "Decisive Storm" coalition with the UAE and additional Arab states – among them: Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan. The purpose of the coalition was to prevent the Houthi rebels from expanding southward, which would have put an Iranian proxy force on Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
8 years of conflict
In 2017, after each side blamed the other for breaking the cease-fire, the Houthis launched missiles into Saudi Arabia, including the capital, Riyadh. Meanwhile, the situation deteriorated further when the former president, Saleh, was killed by Houthi fighters.
Until the attacks in recent weeks, the last Houthi-claimed attacks on the UAE were in 2018, though were years of missile and drone attacks by the Houthis on Saudi-coalition forces and vice versa. The Houthis have now publicly threatened to fire on the headquarters of international companies in the UAE, in an apparent attempt to harm both business and tourism in the Emirates.
In late 2021, the Houthis were advancing on Marib in north-western Yemen, one of the last strongholds of the internationally-recognised government. However, the militants suffered serious set-backs in early 2022 and responded with missile attacks on the UAE. One failed missile attack took place during a a visit to the UAE by Israeli president Isaac Herzog.
In January 2022, the Houthis called for peace talks, but the conflict continues to this day.
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
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 Zaidi school, which is mostly found in the north of the country, and the Ismailis, which can also be found in the north.
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
115BC - 500s AD
Yemen comes under the sway of the Himyarites who eventually convert from paganism to Judaism
The last Himyarites king, Dhu Nawas, converts to Judaism and massacres christians. Byzantines send in army from Christian Aksum, in what is now Ethiopia, to punish Dhu Nuwas
Himyarites call on the Persian Sasanian dynasty of Persia to expel Aksumites. The Persians then add the new satrapy of Yemen to their empire
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
Muhammad bin Ziyad founds the city of Rabid and establishes the Ziyadid dynasty
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
OTTOMAN ANNEXATION: Ottoman Empire annexes Yemen but are expelled in the 1600s
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
OTTOMANS: Ottomans return to the north of Yemen
OTTOMAN EMPIRE COLLAPSE: The Ottoman Empire starts to dissolve . North Yemen gains independence and is ruled by Imam Yahya
YAHYA ASSASSINATION: Imam Yahya is assassinated and is succeeded by his son, Ahmad
Imam Ahmad dies and succeeded by his but army officers stage a coup and set up the Yemen Arab Republic. Civil war ensures
YEMEN SPLITS: A pro-independence insurgency follows British withdrawal from South Yemen which becomes the People's Republic of Yemen, separate from the north
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
CIVIL WAR: In the North, Republican forces win the civil war
Border skirmishes take place between the 2 Yemens. The Arab League brokers peace
Ali Abdallah Saleh becomes president of North Yemen
RENEWED CONFLICT BETWEEN 2 YEMENS: Fighting again breaks out between the 2 Yemens
A power struggle in the south causes 1000s of deaths. Haida Bakr al-Attas takes over and works to unify the 2 Yemens
UNEASY UNIFICATION: The 2 Yemens unite as the Republic of Yemen under President Ali Abdallah Saleh but tension still simmers between north and south
President Saleh declares state of emergency and fires his vice-president, who with other southern officials declare the secession of the south
The national army defeats the southern secessionists
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
USS COLE ATTACK: Al Qaeda launch a suicide attack against the US naval vessel, the USS Cole, killing 17 US sailors
Yemen expels down on more than a 100 foreign Islamic clerics in a crackdown on al-Qaeda
HOUTHI INSURGENCY: 100s die as troops battle Shia insurgency led by Hussein al-Houthi
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
GOVERNMENT OFFENSIVE AGAINST HOUTHIS: Government military launches offensive against the Houthis in the north, displacing many 1000s of Yemenis
Government launches attack on separatists in the southern province of Shabwa
President Saleh resigns and hands power over to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi who forms a unity coalition government
A spate of al-Qaeda attacks in the Yemeni capital Sanaa
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
The Islamic State group attacks Yemen for the first time with suicide bombs at 2 Shia mosques killing 137 people
Country descends into civil war. Saudi-led coalition of mainly Gulf states launches airstrikes against Houthis, who are now backed by Iran
US drone strike kills the al-Qaeda leader of the Arab Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhaysi
Southern Yemeni separatists - backed by the United Arab Emirates - seize control of Aden
Government and separatists sign power sharing agreement to end conflict in the south
Houthis launch an attack on Marib, the last stronghold of Yemen's internationally recognised government
Houthis start campaign of missile airstrikes against Saudi Arabia, including oil tankers and airports, drawing retaliatory strikes by the Saudi-led coalition