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(yĕm`ən), officially Republic of Yemen, republic (2015 est. pop. 26,916,000), 207,300 sq mi (535,800 sq km), SW Asia, at the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula. The present nation of Yemen was formed in 1990, when the Yemen Arab Republic (the former Yemen or Northern Yemen) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (the former Southern Yemen) were unified. Yemen is bordered on the north by Saudi Arabia, on the east by Oman, on the south by the Gulf of Aden, and on the west by the Red Sea. The islands of Kamaran, in the Red Sea, PerimPerim
, Arab. Barim, island, c.5 sq mi (13 sq km), off the SW Arabian peninsula in the Bab el Mandeb strait; it is part of Yemen. A rocky and barren island rising to c.215 ft (65 m), it is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.
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, in the Bab al-Mandeb, and SocotraSocotra
, island, 1,383 sq mi (3,582 sq km), S Yemen, at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. With three much smaller islands to the west it forms the Socotra Archipelago governorate. Socotra's mountainous interior rises to c.5,000 ft (1,520 m).
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, in the Arabian Sea, are part of Yemen. SanaSana,
or Sanaa
, city (1994 pop. 954,448), capital and largest city of Yemen. The city lies inland on a high plain (alt. 7,250 ft/2,210 m) and is connected to the Red Sea port of Hodeida by road.
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 is the capital; the port of AdenAden
, city (1994 pop. 398,399), SW Yemen, on the Gulf of Aden near the southern entrance to the Red Sea. It is the chief port of Yemen. Aden consists of two peninsulas, Aden and Little Aden, and an intervening stretch of the mainland.
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 is the country's commercial capital. Other important cities are HodeidaHodeida
or Al Hudaydah
, city (1994 pop. 298,452), W Yemen, on the Red Sea. An important port, it exported coffee, cotton, dates, and hides prior to Yemen's civil war in the late 2010s. It was developed as a seaport in the mid-19th cent. by the Turks.
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, MukallaMukalla
, town (1994 pop. 94,051), S Yemen, a port on the Gulf of Aden. It is the chief settlement of the Hadhramaut and the capital of the former sultanate of Qaiti. Fish products, tobacco, and coffee are exported. Dhows are built there.
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, TaizTaiz
or Taizz
, city (1994 pop. 317,753), S Yemen, in the interior highlands. It is an agricultural marketing center, particularly for coffee, and the focus of trade routes. Taiz was the administrative capital of Northern Yemen 1948 to 1962.
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, Ibb, and Abyan.

Land and People

Yemen has a narrow coastal plain, stretching more than 700 mi (1,130 km), along the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula. It also has interior highlands and an eastern desert. The highlands, which are actually a section of the upturned Arabian plateau, are the highest part (rising to more than 12,000 ft/3,660 m) of the Arabian peninsula. They receive an annual average rainfall of c.20 in. (50 cm), making them also the wettest part of the peninsula; most of the precipitation occurs during the summer rainy season. The remainder of Yemen is hot and virtually rainless in the coastal regions. Numerous wadis radiate from the highlands, but there are no permanent streams; oases and springs provide local water needs.

Yemen is the most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula. The population is predominantly Arab, but there are also Afro-Arabs, South Asians, and Europeans. The north of Yemen is nearly 100% Muslim, both Sunni and Zaydi Shiite; the south is predominantly Muslim, but also has Christians and Hindus. Between 1948 and 1950 about 50,000 Yemeni Jews emigrated to Israel; only a handful remain. Arabic is the nation's principal language. The tribal social structure is still prevalent in the country, although its importance diminishes along the coast, due to more foreign contact.


Most Yemenis are engaged in agriculture and herding. N Yemen produces grain, fruits, vegetables, khat (a stimulant-containing shrub), coffee, cotton, and livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, and camels) but is dependent on imports for most of its essential needs. Terraced agriculture, dating from ancient times, is still practiced. S Yemen is one of the poorest areas of the Arabian peninsula. The climate is arid, and only a fraction of the land is arable. Pastoralism is prevalent in the south, and the greatest amount of industry is located in Aden. There is fishing, food processing, salt mining, and small-scale manufacturing, including cotton textiles, leather goods, handicrafts, and aluminum products. The country produces and refines petroleum, and oil export revenues have boosted the economy since the late 1980s, but oil reserves are now being depleted. Imported oil is also processed into petroleum products for export. Other exports include coffee and processed fish. Foodstuffs, live animals, machinery, and chemicals are imported. Important trading partners include China, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Switzerland. Yemen's GDP is supplemented by remittances from Yemenis working abroad and by large amounts of foreign aid. One of the principal reasons for Southern Yemen's merger with (Northern) Yemen in 1990 was the steady decline of its economy and the loss of Soviet political and economic support. Pervasive corruption, however, has hindered new economic development in unified Yemen.


Yemen is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The president, who is head of state, is elected by popular vote for a seven-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The bicameral legislature consists of the Shura Council, whose 111 members are appointed by the president, and the House of Representatives, whose 301 members are popularly elected to six-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 19 governorates.


Northern Yemen

The earliest recorded civilizations of S Arabia were the Minaean and Sabaean. The Sabaean kingdom (see ShebaSheba,
biblical name of a region, called in Arabic Saba, of S Arabia, including present-day Yemen and the Hadhramaut. Its inhabitants were called Sabaeans or Sabeans. According to some passages in Genesis and First Chronicles, Sheba, a grandson of Noah's grandson Joktan, was the
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) flourished from c.750 B.C. to c.115 B.C., with MaribMarib
, ancient city, Yemen, SW Arabia, 140 mi (225 km) inland at an altitude of 3,900 ft (1,190 m). It was one of the chief cities, perhaps the capital, of Sheba. It was the site of a dam, built in the 6th cent. B.C., that was one of the great engineering feats of antiquity.
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 (located east of Sana) the capital after c.600 B.C. Sabaean society was highly developed technically, as witnessed by the remains of a great dam at Marib that was the center of a large irrigation system. The Himyarites, who followed the Sabaeans, were invaded by the Romans (1st cent. B.C.) and were occupied by the Ethiopians (c.A.D. 340–A.D. 378). During the second Himyarite kingdom Christianity and Judaism took root in Yemen. Ethiopia again conquered the country in 525. After a Persian period (575–628), Islam came to Yemen, which was soon reduced to a province of the Muslim caliphate.

After the breakup of the caliphate, Yemen came under the control of the rising Rassite dynasty, imams of the Zaidi sect who built the theocratic political structure of Yemen that lasted until 1962. The Fatamid caliphs of Egypt occupied most of Yemen from c.1000 until c.1175, when it fell to the Ayyubids, who ruled until c.1250. By 1520, Yemen formed part of the Ottoman Empire, which exercised at least nominal sovereignty until the end of World War I. A turbulent wave of Wahhabism, a puritanical sect of Islam, swept across the Arabian peninsula at the opening of the 19th cent. and drove out the Zaidi imams. Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, acting in the name of the Ottoman sultan, drove out the Wahhabis in 1818, and the Egyptians remained until 1840. The Ottoman Turks then replaced the Egyptians, giving the imam full autonomy in the interior.

After the Ottoman evacuation (1918), Imam Yahya moved to expand Yemen's territory, but his only gain was the port and surrounding area of Hodeida. In 1934, after a brief Saudi Arabian invasion and skirmishes with Great Britain (which had the protectorate of Aden), Yemen's boundaries were fixed by treaty with Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. However, clashes on the Aden border continued sporadically. Modifying its traditional policy of isolation, Yemen became more active in foreign affairs after World War II; it joined the Arab League in 1945 and the United Nations in 1947 and established diplomatic relations with other nations. However, the imam, as both king and spiritual leader, continued to rule along theocratic lines.

Dissatisfaction, hitherto rapidly suppressed, grew, and in 1948 a palace revolt broke out, and the old Imam Yahya was assassinated. Crown Prince Ahmad drove out the insurgents and succeeded as imam. The new ruler accepted technical and economic assistance from both the West and the Communist bloc. From 1958 to 1961, Yemen joined with the United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria) to form the United Arab States, which in reality was a paper alliance. Disorders broke out in 1959, and Imam Ahmad survived an assassination attempt in 1961. After his death in 1962, Imam Ahmad was succeeded by Crown Prince Muhammad al-Badr (later Imam Mansur Billah Muhammad), who favored a neutralist foreign policy. Soon afterward a revolt headed by pro-Egyptian army officers deposed the imam, but he escaped and led royalist tribes against the new government.

The ruling junta, commanded by Col. Adallah al-Salal, proclaimed a republic, and the army contained the imam's forces. Yemen then became an international battleground, with Egypt supporting the republicans and Saudi Arabia and Jordan the royalists. The Yemeni republicans split into opposing factions on the issue of Egyptian support. In an administrative reorganization in 1966, the independent government of Premier Hassan al-Amri was ousted by a strongly pro-Egyptian regime, with al-Salal assuming the office of premier. Many of al-Amri's supporters were arrested or removed from office. In 1967, by mutual agreement, Egyptian troops were withdrawn from Yemen, and Saudi Arabian aid to the royalists was halted. In Nov., 1967, al-Salal's government was overthrown while he was abroad, and a three-man republican council was formed with Qadi Abd al-Rahman al-Iryani (one of the anti-Egyptian leaders) as chairman; al-Amri resumed the premiership.

Fighting between the republicans and the royalists continued until 1970, when Saudi Arabia formally recognized the republican regime and stopped aid to the royalists. Between 1967 and 1972 frequent border clashes occurred between Yemen and Southern Yemen, until an accord was signed (1972) to merge the two countries. However, by 1974 the agreement had not been implemented, and fighting continued between the two states. On June 12, 1974, Chairman al-Iryani resigned after a period of internal political tension, and the next day a group of army officers led by Col. Ibrahim al-Hamidi staged a nonviolent coup. The officers established a command council to govern the country, suspended the constitution, and reestablished civilian rule.

Al-Hamidi was assassinated in Oct., 1977, and was succeeded by Lt.-Col. Ahmad al-Ghashmi, who continued civilian administration until his assassination in June, 1978. Lt.-Col. Ali Abdullah SalehSaleh, Ali Abdullah
, 1942–2017, Yemeni political leader, b. Bayt al-Ahmar. Saleh joined the army in 1958 and rose through the ranks, becoming a colonel in 1982. An active participant in the 1974 coup, he became president of the Yemen Arab Republic (or Northern Yemen) and
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 then was elected president. In early 1979 border fighting with neighboring Southern Yemen erupted into full-scale war. Peace was soon established, however, and another unification agreement was devised. Saleh was elected to a second term in 1983 and a third term in 1988.

Southern Yemen

A number of ancient empires, including the Minaean, Sabaean, and Himyarite, flourished in southern Yemen. The region came under Muslim influence in the 7th cent. In the 16th cent. it became part of the Ottoman Empire and came under the suzerainty of the imams of Yemen. (For a more detailed history, see above history of Northern Yemen or see ArabiaArabia
, peninsula (1991 est. pop. 35,000,000), c.1,000,000 sq mi (2,590,000 sq km), SW Asia. It is bordered on the W by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, on the S by the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, on the E by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and on the N by Iraq
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The British presence in Southern Yemen began in 1839, when forces of the British East India Co. occupied Aden. In 1854 and 1857 the Kuria Muria and Perim islands were ceded to the British, and other mainland areas were purchased by them. Between 1886 and 1914, Britain signed a number of protectorate treaties with local rulers. In 1937 the area, which by then consisted of 24 sultanates, emirates, and sheikhdoms, was designated the Aden Protectorate and was divided for administrative purposes into the East Aden protectorate and the West Aden protectorate. In 1959 six small states of the West Aden protectorate formed the Federation of the Emirates of the South; it was later enlarged to 10 members. Despite considerable opposition from its population, the Aden colony proper was made part of the federation (1963), which was then renamed the Federation of South Arabia (see South Arabia, Federation ofSouth Arabia, Federation of,
federation, 1963–67, S Arabian peninsula, formed by the merger of the British colony of Aden with the Federation of the Emirates of the South, a British protectorate. The Federation of the Emirates of the South was formed (Feb.
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By 1965, 16 tribal states had joined the federation. However, nationalist groups in Aden remained adamantly opposed to the federation and began a terrorist campaign against the British. Two rival nationalist groups emerged: the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). Although Britain had promised to withdraw from the region by 1968, the NLF, which had emerged as the dominant group by 1967, forced the collapse of the federation after taking control of the governments of all the component states. Britain accelerated its withdrawal, and Southern Yemen became independent in Nov., 1967, with Qahtan al-Shaabi of the NLF the first president. In June, 1969, he resigned, and was succeeded by Rubayi Ali. In 1970 the country received a new constitution and was renamed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Following independence border disputes arose with Oman and the Yemen Arab Republic, some of which led to armed clashes. An accord was signed with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1972 calling for the end of fighting and the merger of the two countries. However, the agreement was not to be implemented for several years. In Apr., 1972, the government of Southern Yemen suffered a severe blow when 25 of its top officials were killed in an airplane crash. Rubayi Ali was ousted in June, 1978, by Abdalfattah Ismail, a radical rival who in 1979 signed a 20-year relation treaty with the Soviet Union. Soviet influence, including the presence of naval bases, became predominant in Southern Yemen, which was the Arab world's only Marxist state. Fighting with Northern Yemen again broke out in Feb., 1979, but was resolved one month later by a peace treaty.

In 1983, Ali Nasser Muhammad, Ismail's successor as president, restored relations with Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Jan., 1986, Muhammad tried to eliminate internal party opposition by killing party leaders and former president Ismail, but rival political fighting erupted for two weeks, after which Muhammad fled to Ethiopia. His supporters were mostly eliminated by the administration of Haider Abu Bakr al-Attas, Muhammad's successor. In Oct., 1988, Attas visited Oman, the first Southern Yemen leader to do so.

Unified Yemen

The leaders of the two Yemens met in Dec., 1989, when final unification agreements were made, and the borders were opened in Feb., 1990. On May 22 of that year, the two Yemens were officially united. North Yemen president Saleh became the leader of a unified Yemen, and Sana became the nation's capital. By 1993, however, relations between north and south had again grown tense. Fighting between northern and southern army units in 1994 erupted into a civil war between southern secessionists and Yemen's northern-based government. The war lasted for nine weeks and was decisively won by northern forces. Subsequently, Saleh was officially elected by parliament as president of the country, and a coalition government that excluded the leading southern party was established. The new government imposed unpopular economic austerity measures. Muslim extremists committed sporadic acts of violence in the south, and armed tribespeople from remote areas staged kidnappings of foreign tourists.

Yemen's armed forces clashed with Eritrea over control of the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea in the early 1990s; the Hague Tribunal awarded the islands to Yemen in 1998. The president's party won nearly two thirds of the seats in the 1997 legislative elections. In Sept., 1999, in Yemen's first direct presidential election, Saleh was returned to office; candidates from opposition parties were not approved to run, and the government was charged with fraudulently inflating the vote count. In Oct., 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was damaged by a suicide bombing while anchored at Aden and the British embassy was bombed. Also in 2000, a border treaty ending disputes with Saudi Arabia that dated to the 1930s was signed.

President Saleh announced support for the U.S. "war on terror" in 2001 and subsequently received American aid and made some moves against Muslim extremists, but the terror attacks also continued. Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) won more than two thirds of the seats in the 2003 legislative elections. In June, 2004, government forces began raids against supporters of Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi, who was accused of sedition and extremism. The cleric had denounced the government's pro-American policies and government corruption. Several months of fighting in NW Yemen, in which hundreds died, followed, and in September Sheikh Houthi was killed and a cease-fire mediated. Fighting erupted again in Apr., 2005, when the government attacked his followers, commonly referred to as Houthis or Hawthis, after unsuccessful negotiations. Almost a year later some 600 rebels were released in an amnesty, but attacks continued spordically until June, 2007, when a cease-fire was agreed to. There were, however, additional attacks by Jan., 2008, and in subsequent months, and fighting with the rebels intensifed in the second half of 2009, displacing some 200,000 persons. In Nov., 2009, a rebel incursion into Saudi Arabia led also to fighting between Saudi forces and the rebels. The conflict extended into Feb., 2010, when a truce was established; the rebels also withdrew from Saudi Arabia. The truce largely held, although there were clashes in July, 2010. There also have been clashes with Islamic militants linked to Al QaedaAl Qaeda
or Al Qaida
[Arab.,=the base], Sunni Islamic terrorist organization with the stated goals of uniting all Muslims and establishing a transnational, strict-fundamentalist Islamic state.
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, with an increase in operations against them in E Yemen in early 2010 after an attempted bombing (Dec. 25, 2009) of a plane in the United States by a Nigerian with ties to the Yemeni Islamists.

Meanwhile, in July, 2005, fuel price increases sparked protests and riots across Yemen, leading the government to roll the increases back somewhat. That same month the president said he would not seek a new term in Sept., 2006, a position he reversed a year later. In the 2006 presidential Saleh was reelected with more than three-fourths of the vote, but the opposition rejected the results. Despite irregularities, the election was generally regarded as an improvement over the previous presidential poll.

By early 2008, S Yemeni unhappiness with unification was again becoming pronounced, as protests and riots occurred in parts of S Yemen; sporadic unrest continued into 2010. Amid protests in early 2011 against his rule (which echoed similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt against entrenched rulers there), the president promised in February not to seek reelection. Recurring demonstrations, however, were stoked by the killings of demonstrators, which also split the ruling party and the military. By April, the widespread protests had crippled the country.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) attempted to negotiate Saleh's resignation, but the president several times reneged on agreements. The unsettled situation invigorated militant Islamists, who mounted attacks in S Yemen and were able to seize control of some areas; fighting with the Islamists continued into 2012. In late May tribal militias became increasing active in opposing Saleh, and fought with government forces in Sana and Taiz. In early June Saleh was severely wounded in an attack on the presidential compound and went to Saudi Arabia for treatment; he returned in September. A truce with the tribal militias largely held during the summer, but beginning in September there were more serious outbreaks.

In November, Saleh agreed to transfer his powers to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi under a GCC-brokered plan, remaining on as titular president until an election (later were called for Feb., 2012). An interim government, with cabinet posts divided equally between the government and opposition and headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa, an opposition politician, was appointed in Dec., 2011; the new government subsequently approved a law granting immunity to Saleh. In Feb., 2012, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi was elected president in an election in which he was the only candidate, but Saleh remained a political force and attempted to undermine the interim government through his supporters in it and the military. The military subsequently mounted an offensive against the militant Islamists in S Yemen, and by mid-2012 had largely reestablished government control there, but the area continued to be the scene of sporadic fighting.

In August and in December, Hadi ordered armed forces reorganizations designed to reduce the influence of Saleh and others in the military. Not all the changes. however, came into effect in subsequent months. In Apr., 2013, Hadi ordered further changes and removed Saleh's relatives from military command positions. A national dialogue conference intended to help develop a new constitution for Yemen began in Mar., 2013, and ended in Jan., 2014; it approved a six-region federal system for the country and extended Hadi's term by a year.

In Sept., 2013, the prime minister was the subject of an assassination attempt. Houthi Shiites attacked in a Sunni Salafist school in NW Yemen in October and November, accusing the Salafists of running a training camp for foreign fighters. Fighting continued into 2014, spreading to other areas in the northwest as the Houthis expanded the area under their control with increasing support from Yemen's Shiites. They captured Amran (Omran), N of Sana, in mid-2014. In Apr., 2014, government forces began a new offensive against Al Qaeda–aligned militants in S Yemen; the militants launched a number of attacks in the capital in retaliation.

In August, the Houthis mounted protests around Sana against the government. When a peace deal was signed ending the conflict in September they secured control of the capital and then expanded in October W into Hodeida and, fighting Al Qaeda–aligned Sunni militants, S into central Yemen, but the Sunni militants subsequently mounted a violent retaliatory campaign. The prime minister, whom the Houthis objected to, resigned in September, and after appointment of a new prime minister (Khaled Bahah), they objected to the makeup of the cabinet, which was re-formed in December. They also seized control of a number of ministries. The Houthis received support from Saleh and military forces that continued to support him, and in November the United Nations sanctioned Saleh.

By Feb., 2015, the Houthis had formally seized control of the government, and Hadi, who they had placed under house arrest, had fled to Aden, where he attempted to rally progovernment forces. Houthi and Saleh forces advanced south toward Aden, seizing Taiz (subsequently contested by progovernment forces), and by March the opposing forces were fighting for control of Aden; that month Hadi left Yemen for Saudi Arabia, and subsequently he stayed mainly abroad (it was reported the Saudis prevented him from returning to Yemen in 2017). Also in March, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations began an air campaign and naval blockade against the Houthis, there were clashes with the Houthis along the Saudi border, and the Houthis began sporadic ballistic missile, and later also drone, attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Houthis and their allies meanwhile received financial and matériel support from Iran. The civil war in W Yemen allowed the Al Qaeda–aligned forces to seize Mukalla, a port on the central Gulf of Aden coast, in April, and that same month the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis and their military allies.

Progovernment forces and allied Saudi-led coalition forces subsequently cleared Aden (but at least initially did not effectively reestablish order there), regained much of the south, and began an advance toward the capital. Attempts at peace negotiations and to establish a cease-fire have been generally unsuccessful. In Apr., 2016, President Hadi dismissed the prime minister and named Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr to succeed him, and progovernment forces regained control of Mukalla. Al Qaeda–aligned forces remained active, however, in parts of S Yemen.

In July, 2016, the Houthis and Saleh's GPC established a formal alliance, sharing control of governing council overseeing much of N Yemen, and in November they announced the formation of a government. Progovernment forces seized control of the port of Mocha from Houthi forces in early 2017. In May, a former governor of Aden announced a S Yemen secessionist government; its forces were formed from elements that had been part of the progovernment forces and were supported by the United Arab Emirates.

By the second half of 2017 there were tensions between Yemeni allies on both sides of the conflict, leading at times to clashes between ostensible allies. In Dec., 2017, Saleh was killed during several days of fighting between his supporters and the Houthis. Southern secessionists seized control of much of Aden from other progovernment forces in Jan., 2018, before a cease-fire was negotiated. Saudi-led forces made advances against Hodeida during 2018. President Hadi dismissed Prime Minister Daghr in Oct., 2018; Maeen Abdul Malik succeeded him.

In December both sides agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeida, combatant withdrawal from three ports and city, distribution of humanitarian aid, and a prisoner swap; the cease-fire mostly held, but the withdrawal from the ports did not occur until May, 2019, and other aspects of the deal were slow to be completed. Also in 2019, the United Arab Emirates reduced the number of forces it had committed to the stalemated conflict. In Aug., 2019, government forces and southern secessionists contested Aden, and secessionists sought to expand their control to other areas in the south. After Saudi-managed negotiations, Saudi forces took control of Aden in October. A power-sharing deal between the government and southern secessionists was signed in November, but tensions remained between the two; there were outbreaks of fighting, and the deal was not implemented.

In early 2020, fighting increased in central Yemen, and Houthi forces made a number of gains in several provinces there. In April, the southern secessionists declared they were establishing self-rule in the former Southern Yemen, though they controlled only a small part of that territory, encompassing Aden and the area around it. Subsequently, fighting broke out between government forces and the secessionists in Abyan, the governate E of Aden, and on the island of Socotra. Secessionists secured control of the latter in June, and a cease-fire was later since, but fighting resumed in Abyan in August. In Oct., 2020, Houthi and goverment forces engaged in a prisoner swap involving roughly 1,000 persons. In December, anti-Houthi forces announced that the implementation of the Nov., 2019, power-sharing agreement would begin.

An estimated 17,000 people had been killed as a result of the civil war by the end of 2015, with the death toll estimated to have reached 100,000 by the end of 2019; forces on both sides of the conflict have been accused of war crimes and of diverting food aid. The conflict has also brought economic collapse in the north, and many have died due to starvation as a result of the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition. In 2017 a cholera outbreak that had begun in 2016 rapidly grew to become the most severe such outbreak worldwide; by the end of the year 1 million were believed to have been affected. Cholera again surged in 2019, with the cumulative number of cases exceeding 2 million, and by mid-2020 COVID-19 was epidemic in Yemen.


See C. Fayein, A French Doctor in the Yemen (tr. 1957); E. Macro, Yemen and the Western World since 1571 (1968); E. O'Ballance, The War in the Yemen (1971); R. W. Stookey, South Yemen (1982); R. Bidwell, The Two Yemens (1983); R. F. Nyrop, ed., Yemens (1986); P. Dresch, Tribes, Government and History in Yemen (1989); F. Halliday, Revolution and Foreign Policy: The Case of South Yemen (1989); T. Mackintosh-Smith, Yemen: The Unknown Arabia (2000); P. Dresch, A History of Modern Yemen (2001); V. Clark, Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the southwestern and southern Arabian Peninsula. The Arabic name of Yemen (al-Yaman, literally “the right side”) probably goes back to antiquity, when to the inhabitants of northern Arabia it meant the country located to the right-hand side (when one stands facing the sunrise), while Syria was called al-Sham, “the left side.”

In ancient times Yemen included almost all of the Arabian Peninsula from the Gulf of Aqaba in the west to the lower course of the Euphrates in the east. Ancient geographers called this territory Arabia Felix (Fortunate Arabia); they evidently associated the legendary riches of “the land of fragrances,” located in the extreme southwest of Arabia, with the second meaning of the word yaman, “fortunate.” The inhabitants of ancient South Arabia itself gave the name Yemen (more precisely, Yamanat) to the region along the banks of the Hadhramawt, where there were evidently plantations of tropical trees giving myrrh. After the appearance of Islam in the seventh century and the rise of the Muslim religious center in Mecca, the northern border of Yemen came to be considered as extending from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, south of Mecca.

In the late second and early first millennium B.C. a unique South Arabian civilization took shape in Yemen. This period saw the rise of the states of Hadhramawt, Qataban, Saba (Sheba), and later, Main (the Minaean state). Highly developed irrigation permitted the formation of oases, which became the basis of economic life. The most important source of prosperity for these states was the trade in myrrh, frankincense, and other fragrant resins that were in demand in the markets of Egypt, Southwest Asia, Greece, and Rome.

The main trade route connecting South Arabia with other countries (the “road of fragrances”) passed through the Arabian Peninsula. Intermediate trade was entirely in the hands of the inhabitants of north Yemen (Main) and a trading colony, Gerra, on the shore of the Persian Gulf. Main and Saba (Sheba) were also centers of agriculture and livestock raising.

Around the middle of the first millennium B.C. the state of Saba, through which the “road of fragrances” passed, acquired the greatest political power; all the other states in Yemen came under its sway. Trying to free themselves from this dependency, Qataban and Hadhramawt searched for a maritime trade route to export myrrh and frankincense and to import crafted goods. The route was found: from the southern harbors of Hadhramawt across the Persian Gulf to the mouth of the Euphrates. Later, as a result of colonizing the East African shores of the Red Sea, Qataban attained a monopoly over the incense trade. In the early second century b.c., Egypt began to occupy an increasingly important place in the sea trade of Qataban (and from the first century b.c., in the trade of the Himyarite kingdom, which arose at the end of the second century B.C. in the southwestern part of the peninsula). Beginning with the first century b.c., all of the sea trade of South Arabia with the West passed through Qataban. Until the first century B.C. the harbors of South Arabia were stopover points for goods from India.

In the early fourth century A.D. all of Yemen was united under the Himyarite kingdom. Between the fourth and sixth centuries, the beginnings of feudalism appeared: village communes fell under the sway of an aristocracy whose power had grown significantly. During this time Judaism and Christianity spread throughout Yemen.

In the early sixth century Yemen was conquered by the Ethiopians; at the end of the century it was conquered by the Sassa-nids. In the late sixth and early seventh century there were a great number of small principalities. In 629–30 they were made part of the Arabian Caliphate. The feudal system and Arab Muslim culture became firmly established, and Islam gradually became the dominant religion.

The independent states of the Ziyadids (capital, Zabid) and the Yafurids (capital, Sanaa) arose in the ninth century. In the tenth century, part of Yemen came under the power of a Shiite sect, the Zaidis. The subsequent history of the Yemeni states is filled with internecine wars and frequent changes of dynasties. From time to time states arose that were nominally subject to Egypt. In the second half of the 12th century Yemen was subjugated by Turan-Shah (brother of the Egyptian sultan, Salah al-Din), but even during this period it was governed by an independent branch of the Ayyubid dynasty. By the early 16th century the Zaidi imams held a commanding position in the northern and central mountainous regions.

The Ottoman Turks invaded Yemen in the early 16th century. However, they succeeded in conquering the country completely only after many years of war. In the early 17th century an anti-Ottoman uprising flared up, ending with Turkish troops being driven out of most of Yemen and with the establishment in 1633 of an independent state (imamate) headed by the Zaidi imams. A brief period of comparative calm ensued, and the economy and culture developed. Direct ties with some European countries, to which Yemeni mocha coffee was sent, were established. However, the imamate remained a backward feudal country, torn by internecine feudal struggles.

Small independent feudal principalities developed in the southern regions of Yemen. By the early 19th century the imams enjoyed real power only in the environs of Sanaa; they could withstand neither the attacks of the Wahhabites nor the later invasion by the troops of the Egyptian pasha, Muhammad Ali, and acknowledged themselves vassals of the Egyptian pasha.

Egyptian power over Yemen lasted until 1840. In 1839, Great Britain seized the city of Aden and turned it into a military base. Extending its control over the remaining territory of south Yemen during the rest of the 19th and the early 20th century, Britain imposed on the sheikhs, sultans, emirs, and other rulers of principalities and tribal federations in the vicinity of Aden treaties “of friendship” and later the status of protectorates. British expansion met with stubborn resistance from the masses. Only by relying on local princes (emirs, sheikhs, and so forth), who received annual British subsidies, did Great Britain maintain control over the interior regions of the country, and its influence was not secure.

By the early 1870’s the power of the Turkish sultan was restored in north Yemen, and Yemen was declared a Turkish vilayet (province), although there was no stable administration in the country. In 1873, Turkey was forced to acknowledge British control of Aden. Between 1903 and 1905, Anglo-Turkish protocols were signed on the borders of British possessions. (These agreements were affirmed and supplemented by the Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1914.) After World War I the question of boundaries was the cause of conflicts between Great Britain and the Kingdom of Yemen.

In the late 19th and early 20th century uprisings against Ottoman rule frequently flared up in various areas of north Yemen. In 1904 they grew into a general insurrection, led by Imam Yahya. After a stubborn and bloody struggle the Turkish government was forced in 1911 to conclude a treaty with Yahya under which the sultan recognized the autonomous status of the Zaydi districts of Yemen, where secular power was transferred to Imam Yahya. During World War I, Yahya maintained a vassal relationship to the Ottoman Empire but did not engage in any military action.

After the war Yahya declared Yemen independent and himself king. He subjugated all the mountain districts, but his possessions were surrounded by hostile states. The Idrisids, princes of the Asir region and allies of Britain, seized the Tihama, and there were continual clashes with British troops at the borders of the Aden protectorates. The struggle to unify the country, headed by Yahya, took on the nature of an anti-imperialist movement and united the mass of the population, who had suffered from internal wars, imperialist expansion, and the destruction of traditional economic ties. In 1926, Yahya succeeded in liberating al-Hudayda and the remaining territory of the Tihama, achieving ascendancy over his rivals within the country, and uniting the country under his authority.

Yahya’s attempts to subjugate the southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula and the contested regions of the north were without success. In 1934 an Anglo-Yemeni agreement was concluded under which Britain acknowledged the independence of the Kingdom of Yemen but retained its Aden protectorates. That same year, after a war with Saudi Arabia that ended in failure for Yemen, Yahya relinquished his claims to the contested border regions.

Striving to preserve the existing feudal-theocratic system and at the same time to guard the country from imperialist penetration, Yahya pursued an isolationist policy. Foreigners were permitted into the country only under exceptional circumstances. However, in the interests of strengthening the country’s defenses and acquiring necessary goods, trade relations were maintained with a number of European countries, especially Italy. Great importance was attached to the establishment of trade relations with the USSR: the first Soviet-Yemeni treaty on friendship and trade was concluded in 1928 (renewed in 1955). Beginning in the 1930’s, Yahya’s conservative internal policies began to call forth a growing mood of opposition. There arose a number of political organizations demanding reforms. These organizations were crushed.

In World War II the Kingdom of Yemen managed to maintain neutrality despite pressure from Italy, which attempted to establish military bases in its territory. In 1943, Yahya broke off diplomatic relations with Italy; Italian and German nationals who were then in the country were interned. During the war famine and epidemics broke out in the Kingdom of Yemen, which was deprived of supplies from abroad.

The feudal-theocratic regime, absence of democratic freedoms, and acute worsening of the economic situation forced a substantial part of the population to leave the country. Large colonies of Yemenis, numbering about 1 million persons in all, arose in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Sudan, Pakistan, and the principalities of the Persian Gulf. Among the Yemeni emigres, an opposition movement developed, led by the Yemen Liberal Party, which was founded in exile in 1944. In 1948 the opposition organized a plot against Yahya, headed by Abdullah al-Wazir, a high official from a large landowning family. On Feb. 17, 1948, Yahya was killed, and al-Wazir declared himself imam and king. However, Yahya’s son Ahmad, with the help of the northern tribes, managed to remove al-Wazir and assume the throne in March 1948.

The oppression of monarchy, the continuation of the feudal system and even remnants of slavery, the unlimited authority of the imam, who was also the country’s biggest landholder, the savage exploitation of the people by the aristocracy (the saids) —all this deepened the general dissatisfaction. In the 1950’s progressive officers in the Yemeni army formed the Free Officers group, whose aim was to overthrow the royalist regime. A favorable moment for this was the death of Imam Ahmad on Sept. 19, 1962. On Sept. 26, 1962, an antiroyalist revolution occurred in north Yemen. Army units connected with the Free Officers seized the government buildings and radio station in Sanaa, and the Yemen Arab Republic was proclaimed.

The liberation struggle of the peoples of Southern Yemen against the British colonial government intensified in modern times under the influence of the successes of the liberation movement in north Yemen. Tribal insurrections erupted throughout the area in 1918. The British imperialists’ “pacification” of Southern Yemen was a lengthy process, lasting until the end of the 1920’s in the western districts and until World War II in the eastern districts.

In 1937, Aden was proclaimed a crown colony, and the territories having the status of British protectorates were divided into the Eastern and Western protectorates of Aden. Feudal and even prefeudal social structures were preserved untouched in Hadhramawt and the principalities of the Western Protectorate.

In the 1930’s various political and social organizations sprang up in Southern Yemen (such as the Club of Arab Reforms, the Club of Arab Literature, and the Hadhramawt Movement People’s Club), which carried on the fight against foreign dominance, but their influence extended only to the cities. The rebellions against the British colonialists by various tribes were of a spontaneous, disorganized nature.

After World War II the largest oil refinery in the Arab East was built in the city of Aden, which had become an important trade center, The raising of cotton, intended for the British market, was begun. As a result a relatively numerous industrial and agricultural working class came into existence.

In February 1959, Great Britain, in order to strengthen its control of Aden and the Aden protectorates, established the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South (which became the Federation of South Arabia in April 1962). By 1963 the principalities of the Western Protectorate, the colony of Aden, and Wahidi, a small principality of the Western Protectorate, had been added to the federation. Relations between the federation and Britain were regulated by a treaty “of friendship” (1959), which guaranteed the dominance of British interests. A military base and the headquarters of the British forces in the Middle East were located in Aden.

The popular masses protested strongly against the establishment of the federation and later agitated for its liquidation and for the genuine independence of Yemen. The struggle against the colonialists and their feudal allies took on a particularly wide scope after the fall of the royalist regime in north Yemen and the proclamation of the Yemen Arab Republic.

All the patriotic organizations of Aden contributed to the struggle for independence: the Aden Trades Union Congress, the People’s Socialist Party, the People’s Democratic Union (all founded in 1956), and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (founded in 1965). The National Liberation Front of Occupied South Yemen, formed in 1963, was especially important. Under its leadership, on Oct. 14, 1963, an armed struggle began against the British colonialists, federation rulers, and local princelings (sultans, emirs, and sheikhs). After the liberation forces established control over most of the territory and paralyzed the government of the federation, the government of Great Britain was forced to recognize the independence of Southern Yemen and to evacuate its troops from Aden on Nov. 30, 1967. On that same day, the independent People’s Republic of South Yemen was proclaimed (the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen since Nov. 30, 1970).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Yemen

Capital city: Sanaa

Internet country code: .ye

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black

Geographical description: Middle East, bordering the Ara­bian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Red Sea, between Oman and Saudi Arabia

Total area: 203,796 sq. mi. (527,970 sq. km.)

Climate: Mostly desert; hot and humid along west coast; temperate in western mountains affected by seasonal monsoon; extraordinarily hot, dry, harsh desert in east

Nationality: noun: Yemeni(s); adjective: Yemeni

Population: 22,230,531 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Predominantly Arab, but also Afro-Arabs, South Asians, Europeans

Languages spoken: Arabic

Religions: Muslim including Shaf’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shi’a), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu

Legal Holidays:

Independence DayNov 30
Labor DayMay 1
Liberation DayOct 14
National DayMay 22
Revolution DaySep 26
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in SW Arabia, on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden: formed in 1990 from the union of North Yemen and South Yemen: consists of arid coastal lowlands, rising to fertile upland valleys and mountains in the west and to the Hadhramaut plateau in the SE: the north and east contains part of the Great Sandy Desert. Official language: Arabic. Official religion: Muslim. Currency: riyal. Capital: San'a. Pop.: 20 732 000 (2004 est.). Area (including territory claimed by Yemen along the undemarcated eastern border with Saudi Arabia): 472 099 sq. km (182 278 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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