UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



Yemen was one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. Between the 12th century BC and the 6th century AD, it was part of the Minaean, Sabaean, and Himyarite kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade, and later came under Ethiopian and Persian rule. The poverty of the land and the roving habits of the people proved the bulwark of national independence. Neither the armies of Egypt, of Persia, and of Abyssinia, nor even the indomitable legions of Rome, could convert the stern wildnesses and the lonely deserts of Arabia into " a province." The petty and hostile races which peopled the Peninsula generally ranged into Beduins, or wandering tribes, and Hadesi, or stationary inhabitants, who settled chiefly in Yemen. Divided into a multitude of separate states - if such they may be called - they followed various religions.

In 25 BC the army of AElius Gallus failed miserably before the walls of Marib, the Sabean capital. About AD 300 the ever-increasing Abyssinian immigrants overthrew the Himyarite dynasty, and inaugurated the "Kingdom of Saba, Raidân, Hadhramôt, and Yemen", which, after yielding place for an interval to a Judoo-Sabean kingdom and violent religious persecution (cf. Pereira, "Historia dos Martyres de Nagran", Lisbon, 1899), was re-established by Byzantine intervention in 525.

In the early centuries of the Christian era, the kingdom of Yemen was sometimes ruled by Christian, but chiefly by Jewish princes. About forty years before the birth of Mohammed, when the Jewish kingdom of Yemen gave place to a Christian monarchy, a church was built in Sana which in splendor is said to have greatly supassed even the far-famed Kaaba.

In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After this caliphate broke up, the former north Yemen came under control of Imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times. (Imam is a religious term. The Shi'ites apply it to the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, his sons Hassan and Hussein, and subsequent lineal descendants, whom they consider to have been divinely ordained unclassified successors of the prophet.)

Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of north Yemen throughout the 11th century. By the 16th century and again in the 19th century, north Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and in some periods its Imams exerted control over south Yemen.

Yemen was historically divided between the Ottoman-controlled north and the British controlled south. Each had a different history until the country was finally unified in 1990. National unity had long been in the minds of all Yemenis in spite of the political division and differing approaches to re-unification of both regimes in the North and South. In 1972 the YAR and the PDRY declared that they supported the idea of creating a future Yemenise union. Despite this, little progress was ever made on the issue and tensions actually increased between the two states throughout the 1970s.

Both parts of the country had been engulfed in war in 1972 , which ended with unification agreements on October 28, 1972 and February 28, 1973. The two Presidents agreed to form a joint presidential council comprising the two leaders and defence, economic, trade, planning and foreign affairs officials. It was agreed that the Council would meet every six months alternating between Sana'a and Aden to consider issues of concern to the unified Yemeni people and to coordinate issues of concern to the unified Yemeni people and to coordinate efforts on foreign policy. However, events that followed made it impossible to implement such an agreement. A wave of assassinations had afflicted both parts of the country. Such events had triggered an eventual catastrophe especially with the two regimes launching fierce media and propaganda campaigns against one another.

The tensions broke into outright fighting in 1979 which required mediation from the Arab League before the fighting ceased. President Ali Abdullah Saleh took over power in Sana'a on June 17, 1978. Presidents Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdulfatah Ismaeel met in March 1979 in Kuwait and reached an agreement in which they asserted their commitment to previous unity agreements and speed up their implementations. The northern and southern heads of state reaffirmed the goal of unity during a summit meeting in Kuwait in March 1979. But later that year the PDRY began sponsoring an insurgency in the YAR.

PDRY President Abdul Fattah Ismail resigned and went into exile in 1980 and was replaced by Ali Nasr Muhammad, who adopted a less interventionist stance towards the YAR and Oman. However in 1986 Abdul Fattah Ismail returned to the PDRY and began a violent struggle against Ali Nasr Muhammad and his supporters. The fighting lasted only a month but when it was finished thousands were killed including Abdul Fattah Ismail, and 60,000 refugees fled to the YAR, including Ali Nasr Muhammad.

Real progress on unification was finally made in 1988 when the YAR and PDRY came to an agreement to renew discussions on unification, as well as establishing a joint oil exploration project, demilitarizing the border, and allowing Yemenise unrestricted border passage based on a national identification card.

North Yemen's 1990 absorption of lightly populated Marxist South Yemen, then known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), took place against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the concomitant implosion of communism around the world. A summit meeting in Aden on November 30, 1989 reached a historic agreement which endorsed the draft constitution for the unified State. The leaders of the YAR (Ali Abdullah Saleh) and the PDRY (Ali Salim Al-Bidh) agreed on a draft unity constitution originally drawn up in 1981. In April 1990, an agreement was reached for the establishment of the Republic of Yemen.

The Republic of Yemen (ROY) was declared on May 22, 1990. Ali Abdullah Saleh became President, and Ali Salim Al-Bidh became Vice President. The constitution provided for a parliament, free elections, a multiparty system, the right to private property, equality under the law, and respect for human rights. After one year, the constitution of the Republic was put to a popular referendum and the people ratified the constitution with 98.3% of votes in favour of the Constitution. The unity constitution affirmed Yemen's commitment to free elections, a multiparty political system, the right to own private property, equality under the law, and respect of basic human rights.

A 30-month transitional period for completing the unification of the two political and economic systems was set. A presidential council was jointly elected by the 26-member YAR advisory council and the 17-member PDRY presidium. The presidential council appointed a Prime Minister, who formed a Cabinet. There was also a 301-seat provisional unified Parliament, consisting of 159 members from the north, 111 members from the south, and 31 independent members appointed by the chairman of the council.

Parliamentary elections were held on April 27, 1993. International groups assisted in the organization of the elections and observed actual balloting. The resulting Parliament included 143 GPC, 69 YSP, 63 Islah (Yemeni Grouping for Reform, a party composed of various tribal and religious groups).

South Yemen was less tribal than the north, and the long British occupation had created a more secular society and politics in and around Aden. Merging the two polities after the 1990 unification proved a Herculean task. Two state bureaucracies, two militaries and two quite different societies had to be merged. The effort failed miserably, but did give rise to vast new means of corruption.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:38 ZULU