Yemen Arab Republic

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Yemen Arab Republic


(Al-Jumhuriya al-Arabiya al-Yamaniya), YAR, a state in Asia, in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula. The republic borders Saudi Arabia to the north and east and the People’s Democratic Republc of Yemen to the south and faces the Red Sea on the west. Area, 195, 000 sq km; population, 5.9 million (1971). The capital is Sana. The country is divided administratively into seven districts (liwas ).

Constitution and government. The YAR is a republic. The present constitution became effective on Dec. 28, 1970. The head of state is the chairman of the Republican Council, who is elected by the council from among its members.

The Republican Council (the “presidency”) is responsible for the formulation of state policy and the direction of its implementation. The council consists of three to five members elected for a term of five years by the Consultative Assembly. The chairman of the council is also commander in chief of the armed forces. He appoints the chairman of the government (the Council of Ministers), subject to the approval of the Republican Council. He also has the right to conclude international agreements, which become effective after they are approved by the Republican Council and the government (the Council of Ministers) and are ratified by the Consultative Assembly.

The highest legislative body, the Consultative Assembly, also regulates the bodies of executive power. The Consultative Assembly consists of 159 members who, as a rule, are elected by the people to a four-year term. However, up to 20 percent of the Consultative Assembly can be appointed by the Republican Council. The right to vote is enjoyed by male citizens who have reached the age of 18. The assembly is considered a continuously operating body and is called upon to give recommendations to the government (the Council of Ministers), to approve the budget prepared by the government, and to report on the budget’s implementation. The highest executive body is the government (the Council of Ministers), which is headed by its chairman.

The highest constitutional court is elected by the ConsultativeAssembly, which recommends to the Republican Council candi-dates chosen from among the most highly qualified experts onthe Sharia.


Natural features. About two-thirds of the YAR is extremely rugged mountain country (the Jabal), consisting of high plateaus (reaching 2, 000–3, 000 m) cut by deep valleys; it breaks off to the west and south into a multiterraced heavily eroded escarpment. There are many extinct volcanoes. The highest peak is Mount al-Nabi Shaib (3, 600 m). In the eastern YAR (the Sharqa), the plateau descends by sharply marked escarpments to the desert of Rab al-Khali. The Tihama lowland extends along the Red Sea in the west in a 50- or 60-km strip. Near the foothills of the Jabal and in its central part, the Tihama lowland is cultivated and heavily populated; along the coast it is a sand and solonchak desert. The Red Sea coast has few inlets and is bordered in some places by coral reefs.

Salt is mined (in the region of al-Salif), as well as alabaster and such semiprecious stones as agate, onyx, chalcedony, and jasper.

The climate is tropical and, throughout most of the country, dry, with precipitation primarily in the summer. In the Tihama, the average temperature in January is about 20°C, temperatures in June average more than 30°C, and maximum precipitation is 100 mm a year. It is cooler in the Jabal. In the city of Sana, located at an elevation of about 2, 400 m, temperatures in January average about 14°C and in June (the warmest month), 21°C; there are frosts from December through February. In certain places precipitation exceeds 1,000 mm as a result of a summer monsoon from the Indian Ocean. Permanent small streams are found only in the mountainous regions.

Soils are red-brown, and there are some solonchaks. Most of the mountain terrain is devoid of vegetation, except for an occasional sparse cover of cactus and thorny brush. On the high plateaus are dry steppes. Deciduous and evergreen bushes and trees grow in the deep valleys. The Sharqa and the coastal part of Tihama have desert and semidesert vegetation. The date-palm grows in the oases. Typical fauna includes the gazelle, the wild ass (onager), and predators: the hyena, wolf, fox, wildcat, and leopard. The hamadril monkey is common in the south.

Population. The overwhelming majority of the people are Arabs. Ethiopians, Somalis, Turks, and other nationalities also live in the country. The inhabitants of the coastal strip have noticeable negroid features as a result of long intermingling with different African peoples. The Arabs retain tribal relations. The largest tribes and tribal unions are the Hashad, Baqil, Zaraniq, Quhra, and Anis. The official language is Arabic. Most of the people are Muslims, who belong to various sects, including Zay-dis, Shafiites, Hanifites, and Ismailites. Most of the country’s Muslims are Zaydis. The Muslim calendar (Hijra) and the Gregorian calendar are used.

The economically active population numbers 1.65 million (1970), with 73 percent employed in agriculture. Most are peasants (fellahin ). About three-fourths of the population is concentrated in the Jabal, where the population density in the most fertile regions is about 80 per sq km. In the Sharqa region population density is less than one per sq km, predominantly nomads. Six percent of the people are urban (1970). The most important cities are Sana (population, 120, 800), al-Hudayda, and Taizz.

Historical survey. The Yemen Arab Republic was proclaimed on Sept. 26, 1962, after an antiroyalist revolution. A decisive role in overthrowing the monarchy was played by the progressive army officers, as well as by representatives of the middle-class merchants, the intelligentsia, and the Yemenis in exile. The revolution of September 26 received the support of broad segments of the population.

In its domestic policy the republican government of Yemen proclaimed the goals of achieving social justice and abolishing the feudal-theocratic system. In 1962 a decree was issued abolishing slavery and the hostage system [tribal leaders were required to send a son as hostage to the central government], which had survived in the country since ancient times. Immediately after September 26 the lands of the royal family and of active royalists who had resisted the republican regime were confiscated. A number of measures were taken to establish national industry. The YAR Federation of Trade Unions was founded in 1963.

In foreign policy the government announced its intention to establish friendly relations with all countries respecting its sovereignty and independence; to struggle against imperialism and neocolonialism; and to uphold the principles of nonalignment, noninterference in the internal affairs of other states, and mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. On Mar. 21, 1964, the USSR and the YAR signed a treaty of friendship, as well as an agreement on economic and technological cooperation. (Diplomatic relations with the USSR have existed since the late 1920’s.)

The overthrow of the monarchy and the first measures taken by the republican government brought forth resistance from domestic reactionary forces who, with the support of the imperialists and Saudi Arabia, unleashed a civil war. Egyptian troops, which entered Yemen in October 1962, were instrumental in quelling reactionary rebels.

Taking advantage of the 1967 withdrawal of Egyptian troops from the YAR, the royalist forces, late that year and in early 1968, launched an attack on Sana by mercenary detachments, who blockaded the city. However, thanks to the friendly support of the USSR, other socialist countries, and most Arab states, the attempts to capture Sana and liquidate the republican regime ended in total failure. After an agreement was reached between the YAR and Saudi Arabia in the spring of 1970, the civil war was ended. The royalists recognized the republican regime and were allowed to participate in the work of the governing bodies of the state.

Beginning in 1970, because of intrigues by imperialists and the Arab reactionary forces, relations between the YAR and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) became increasingly strained. However, the conflict was resolved on Oct. 28, 1972, during negotiations between the YAR and the PDRY. An agreement was also reached by both countries regarding their intent to create a unified Yemeni state.


Economic geography. Yemen is an agrarian, economically backward country, with an agricultural system dominated by precapitalist relationships. The national capital is invested chiefly in commerce; early forms of capitalist association (“family firms”) have developed. Most land is the property of wealthy landowners and the clergy. After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1962 the country started on the road to overcoming economic backwardness.

Agriculture. Agriculture is the main branch of the economy. Land cultivation techniques are extremely backward: plowing is by wooden plows with iron plowshares, and draft power is supplied by zebus, camels, and donkeys. Crops are sown and harvested by hand.

The chief agricultural regions are the Jabal, where bogara (dry-farming) cultivation on terraced slopes and plateaus predominates, and the Tihama, with irrigated cultivation. Two harvests a year are gathered in the Jabal, and three in the Tihama. The main export crop is coffee (3, 600 tons in 1970), most of it grown in the Jabal. The date palm is cultivated in the Tihama (60, 000 tons of dates in 1970). There are vineyards and orchards of figs, apricots, mangoes, and pomegranates. Industrial and aromatic crops are also grown, including indigo, sesame, ginger, cotton, and tobacco. Kat, a narcotic plant grown in the Jabal, brings in great profits. The local food crops are durra (chiefly in the Tihama), grains (barley, wheat, corn), legumes, and vegetables.

Livestock raising is developed in the Sharqa region and in parts of the Tihama and the Jabal. The 1970—71 livestock population included 12.4 million sheep, 1.4 million zebus and other cattle, and 600, 000 camels. Horses and donkeys are also raised. There is beekeeping in the Jabal and fishing (a catch of 3, 000–5, 000 tons a year) and pearl fishing along the Red Sea coast.

INDUSTRY. Underground resources have been little surveyed. Salt is mined along the seacoast, and rock salt in the mountains. There is also mining of iron ore and semiprecious stones (agate, onyx, chalcedony). An algerian-yemeni company has been formed to prospect for oil and other extractive resources. Copper has been discovered (near taizz), as well as limestone, magnesium ore, phosphorites, and coal.

Processing industry is dominated by small-scale handcrafted production of cloth, footwear, jewelry, pottery, and daggers. Coffee beans are processed and packed for export. There is a textile factory and an arms factory in Sana and cotton mills in Sana, al-Hudayda, and Zabid. Electric power plants have a capacity of 30, 000 kilowatts.

The Soviet Union has greatly assisted the development of the economy. It has helped build a seaport in al-Hudayda (1961), the Taizz-al-Hudayda highway (1969; about 200 km long), a shop producing metallic containers for petroleum products, and other projects. In 1971 a cigarette factory was built in Sana and a candy factory in Taizz. Construction of a cement factory began in 1973.

TRANSPORTATION. There are no railroads in yemen. The country is linked internally by automobile roads and caravan routes. The main highways are Taizz-al-Hudayda, Sana-al-Hudayda, and Sana-Taizz-Mocha. There are about 1,000 km of auto roads. The main seaport is al-Hudayda (handling 312, 000 tons in 1967). The ports of mocha and al-Salif handle low-tonnage ships. Foreign-trade cargo is carried on foreign ships. There are airports in Sana, Taizz, and al-Hudayda.

FOREIGN TRADE The main exports are coffee. (51.3 percent of the value of exports in 1970), kat (26.3 percent), salt (9.5 percent), and hides (7.6 percent); dried fish, raisins, and grapes are also exported. Imports include food products (54.5 percent), manufactured goods (14.9 percent), machinery and equipment (4.8 percent), and petrochemical products. Trade is developing with the ussr (22.5 percent of trade in 1970) and other socialist countries. The yar’s main trading partner is the pdry (38 percent of trade volume in 1970). The yar also trades with japan (9 percent), the usa, and west germany

The monetary unit is the Yemeni riyal. The exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR in January 1973 was 100 riyals =15 rubles 30 kopecks.


Armed forces. The armed forces include ground troops, an air force, a navy, internal security forces, and police. The supreme commander in chief is the chairman of the Republican Council. His deputy exercises direct control of the army. The army is manned both by conscripts (universal military obligation) and volunteers. The armed forces personnel numbered about 24, 000 men in 1971. Ground forces (about 20, 000 men) include infantry and paratroop brigades; detached tank, artillery, and antiaircraft battalions, and service units. The air force has about 500 men and 15 war planes. The navy has about 500 men and a squadron of torpedo boats. Internal security forces and police number about 3, 000 men. Arms are of foreign manufacture.

Medicine and public health. The YAR does not keep demographic data. Infectious disease is the predominant health hazard and the leading cause of death. Tuberculosis and malaria are found throughout the country, as are dysentery, Maduromyco-sis, geohelminthoses, and trachoma. Dengue, pappatachi fever, and miliaria rubra (known locally as harara ) are endemic in the coastal desert of the Tihama. Amebiasis, schistosomiases, and Aden ulcer are endemic to the Tihama and the foothills and low hills of the Jabal. In mid-mountain Jabal, there is amebiasis, syphilis, and kidney-stone disease, with 56 percent of the people (primarily males) suffering from schistosomiases. Filariatoses are found in the central mountains and parts of the foothills. Wuchereriasis is found near Sana and Taizz. In the southern mid-mountain region cases of leprosy are frequent. Mass afflictions of bejel, kidney and genital schistosomiases, and Aden ulcer are characteristic of the eastern districts (the Sharqa). Throughout the country children suffer from protein deficiency and rickets, and women from osteomalacia and hypovitami-noses. An unusual narcotic addiction, katophagia (chewing leaves of the kat tree), exists among the population.

In 1964 the cities of al-Hudayda and Sana had 2,100 hospital beds (or 0.4 bed per 1,000 people). In 1966 there were 82 doctors (one for every 62,600 people). Medical personnel are trained abroad. In 1967 the USSR built in Sana and donated to Yemen a hospital with 100 beds and a clinic handling 100 people perday.


Education. Before the 1962 revolution the YAR had 688 primary schools (with a six-year course of study in the city and a four-year course in the villages), attended by 38, 700 pupils; 16 Muslim schools (with a 12-year course of study), attended by 1, 800 students; one four-year secondary school in the capital, with 228 students; and four two-year secondary schools in the large cities, attended by 468 students. In 1962 about 90 percent of the population was illiterate. In the first days of the revolution the republican government established a new system of education. A law was passed providing for free education at all levels of study, and standard programs of study were introduced.

The present educational system is composed of secular six-year primary schools, three-year intermediate schools, vocational and general three-year secondary schools, and religious educational institutions. Instruction is sexually segregated. Children enter primary schools at the age of six. In 1969–70, 744 primary schools had 65, 500 pupils; 20 intermediate schools had about 3, 000 students. The secondary schools have both humanities and technical divisions; in 1969–70 four secondary schools had 939 students.

In 1967, with the help of the USSR, three general education schools were built. Centers for the elimination of illiteracy have been opened, with 24 operative in 1966 (of which three were for women). After the revolution, two schools for agriculture, three for industrial training, and three for teacher training (for primary-school teachers) were established. Specialists requiring higher education are trained abroad.


Press and radio. As of 1975 the most important periodical publications were Al-Thawra, a semiofficial daily newspaper founded in 1963 and published in Sana, and Al-Jumhuriya, a semiofficial daily, founded in 1963 and published in Taizz; both are in Arabic. There is an official news agency, Saba, founded in 1970. Centralized radio broadcasting began in 1963; there are stations in Sana, Taizz, and al-Hudayda, which broadcast in Arabic.

Literature. Medieval Yemeni literature developed within the general stream of Arabic literature and was represented mainly by poetry on religious themes. An exception, important in its time, was the long narrative poem Himyarite Qasida by Nash-wan al-Himyari (died 1117), which contains valuable historical information. In this period the poetical Diwan of al-Hamadani and the long narrative poems of Ash Hamadan were also written.

The growth of the anti-imperialist struggle helped bring about a renewal of Yemeni literature. Poets of the 1950’s and 1960’s, such as Yahya bin Muhammand al-Aryani and Abd al-Karim Mazhar, wrote traditional qasidas (odes). Realistic trends are represented by writers of the younger generation grouped around the literary journal Al-Mustaqbal (The Future), such as Ahmad al-Fayth, Shawqi Abdullah, and Jafar Abdu.


Architecture and art. The remains of ancient cities, Marib, Qarnaw (Main), and others, dating back to the second millennium B.c., have been discovered in the YAR. These cities usually had a square plan and were surrounded by turretted walls 10–12 m high. The remains of irrigation systems have been found (the Marib dam, seventh century B.c.). Examples of ancient stone temples, decorated with reliefs, statues, and sometimes wall paintings, include the oval-planned Awwam temple near Marib (eighth century B.C.) and the square-planned Rasf temple near Qarnaw (between 550 and 450 B.c.). Stone and bronze sculptures (including figures of people and animals and votive statuettes), glyptics, and ceramics have been found.

The city of Sana has been known since the first century B.C. There, according to the description of Arabian writers, stood the Ghumdan, a 20-story castle.

As Islam spread, mosques were built, first of the “court” type (al-Jami al-Kabir in Sana, 670’s; additions of the eighth, tenth, and 12th centuries) and later in the form of one or several domed halls (the al-Sharifiya Mosque in Taizz, 13th century; the al-Bakiliya Mosque in Sana, 17th century). Minarets rise near the mosques and are usually tiered, round or polygonal (set on a square base), and capped by a little dome.

Dwellings are of various types. The characteristic dwellings in Sana are strong three- to seven-story stone and brick buildings with white frames around doorways and square, round, or arched windows and with bandings between the stories. Dwellings in Taizz are characteristically three- or four-story buildings without external decoration; those in al-Hudayda are stucco, with balconies with openwork. Village dwellings in the interior of the country are tall mud-brick or stone buildings, often with an enclosing wall and sometimes inaccessible turrets and with animal quarters on the ground floor and living quarters on the upper floors. Rural dwellings in the coastal areas are wood-frame huts covered with reeds or grass.

Industrial and irrigation structures are being built in modern Yemen. Alongside the old sections of the cities new sections are growing, with modern buildings that nonetheless preserve elements of the traditional architecture (structures in Sana, Taizz, and the port of al-Hudayda).

The ancient folk arts are still practiced: inlaying on wood and metal, the making of jewelry (silver filigreed pendants with stones, rings, bracelets) and of curving jambiya daggers decorated with silver and cornelian, embroidery of traditional clothing with silk, wool and metallic thread in geometrical designs, and carpet weaving (pileless woolen rugs with bright stripes of red, green, and yellow).


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