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North Yemen History

The Kingdom of Yemen was never a British protectorate - it was nominally part of the Ottoman empire until 1918 and was independent thereafter. Ottoman control was largely confined to cities with the Imam's suzerainty over tribal areas formally recognized. Turkish forces withdrew in 1918, and Imam Yahya strengthened his control over north Yemen. The basic uneasy balance between state and tribe in Yemen continued after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Imamate in what became North Yemen. Indeed, ill-fated Ottoman attempts to extend its power over the powerful northern Hashid tribe helped undermine Ottoman power in Yemen. The wealthy agricultural interests tied to the cities, especially in Sana'a, Ta'iz and Ibb, dominated the Imamate state, while the northern tribes led a largely autonomous existence.

Yemen became a member of the Arab league in 1945 and the United Nations in 1947. Imam Yahya died during an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1948 and was succeeded by his son Ahmad, who ruled until his death in September 1962. Imam Ahmad's reign was marked by growing repression, renewed friction with the United Kingdom over the British presence in the south, and growing pressures to support the Arab nationalist objectives of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser.

A Free Officers' Movement, helped by massive Egyptian participation, had been established in December 1961 through September 1962 as a leading instrument for launching revolutions. Student protests had taken place during the period in Sana'a and Taiz. Protests that had begun in late June 1962 had sent strong waves of discontent across society. While some had expected new hopes with the new King Al-Badr in power after his father died on September 18, 1962, the new King changed his commitments made during his coronation speech a few days later. This had triggered speedy actions by the Free Officers' Movement. The Yemeni officers with the help of Egyptian Officers bombarded the palace of Al-Badr and announced his assassination. The people of Yemen were awakened by the revolution on the morning of September 27, 1962. The Revolution resulted in the downfall of the Imamate and the establishment of a new Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) in the north.

Shortly after assuming power in 1962, Ahmad's son, Badr, was deposed by revolutionary forces, which took control of Sanaa and created the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). The 1962 republican revolution overthrew the Imamate, but left in check the basic power relationship between lower and upper Yemen. The fierce republican-royalist civil war that followed throughout the 1960s - in large part a proxy war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia - ultimately produced a republican and technocratic regime committed to modernizing Yemen.

Egypt assisted the YAR with troops and supplies to combat forces loyal to the Imamate. Saudi Arabia and Jordan supported Badr's royalist forces to oppose the newly formed republic. Conflict continued periodically until 1967 when Egyptian troops were withdrawn. While tensions remained throughout the early republican rule, significant advances in Yemeni state-building did take place. Part of the strategy of this new elite was, for the first time in Yemen's history, to bring the northern tribal areas under the full control of the state. Naturally, the tribes resisted this threatened loss of autonomy, especially to a perceived weak urban population, sometimes dismissed as the munbantilin, or 'men with pants.' By 1968, following a final royalist siege of Sanaa, most of the opposing leaders reconciled; Saudi Arabia recognized the Republic in 1970.

The 1970s witnessed the beginning of a considerable reversal of this historic dynamic. Instead of the state extending its control over northern tribal areas, the tribes started to take over the state. At an accelerating pace since 1994, state resources have been increasingly taken over by tribal elites, either in their capacity as tribal leaders or through their domination of the upper echelons of the military and security forces. State institutions have mostly been a sideshow, while patronage networks and the financial flows they control have been the key to elite politics.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:44 ZULU