Yemen

President: Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi (2012)

Prime Minister: Khaled Bahah (2014)

Total area: 203,849 sq mi (527,969 sq km)

Population (2012 est.): 24,771,809 (growth rate: 2.575%); birth rate: 32.57/1000; infant mortality rate: 53.5/1000; life expectancy: 64.11; density per sq mi: 115.7

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Sanaá, 1,937,451

Other large cities: Aden, 568,700; Hodiedah, 426,100; Tiaz, 317,600

Monetary unit: Rial

Republic of Yemen

National name: Al-Jumhuriyah al-Yamaniyah

Current government officials

Language: Arabic

Ethnicity/race: predominantly Arab; but also Afro-Arab, South Asians, Europeans

Religions: Islam (including Sunni and Shiite), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu

Literacy rate: 63.9% (2010 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2011 est.): $57.97 billion; per capita $2,300. Real growth rate: -10.5%. Inflation: 19.5%. Unemployment: 35% (2003 est.). Arable land: 3%. Agriculture: grain, fruits, vegetables, pulses, qat, coffee, cotton; dairy products, livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, camels), poultry; fish. Labor force: 6.956 million (2011 est.); most people are employed in agriculture and herding; services, construction, industry, and commerce account for less than one-fourth of the labor force. Industries: crude oil production and petroleum refining; small-scale production of cotton textiles and leather goods; food processing; handicrafts; small aluminum products factory; cement; commercial ship repair. Natural resources: petroleum, fish, rock salt, marble, small deposits of coal, gold, lead, nickel, copper, fertile soil in west. Exports: $8.662 billion (2011 est.): crude oil, coffee, dried and salted fish. Imports: $8.248 billion (2011 est.): food and live animals, machinery and equipment, chemicals. Major trading partners: Thailand, China, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, India, U.S., Kuwait (2011).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 1.075 million (2011); mobile cellular: 11.668 million (2011). Radio broadcast stations: state-run TV with 2 stations; state-run radio with 2 national radio stations and 5 local stations; stations from Oman and Saudi Arabia can be accessed (2007). Radios: 1.05 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 7 (plus several low-power repeaters) (1997). Televisions: 470,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 33,206 (2012). Internet users: 2.349 million (2009).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 71,300 km ; paved: 6,200 km; unpaved: 65,100 km (2005 est.). Ports and harbors: Aden, Al Hudaydah, Al Mukalla, As Salif, Ras Issa, Mocha, Nishtun. Airports: 57 (2012).

International disputes: Saudi Arabia has reinforced its concrete-filled security barrier along sections of the fully demarcated border with Yemen to stem illegal cross-border activities

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Yemen

Geography

Formerly divided into two nations, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic, the Republic of Yemen occupies the southwest tip of the Arabian Peninsula on the Red Sea opposite Ethiopia and extends along the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula on the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Saudi Arabia is to the north and Oman is to the east. The country is about the size of France. A 700-mile (1,130-km) narrow coastal plain in the south gives way to a mountainous region and then a plateau area.

Government

Parliamentary republic.

History

The history of Yemen dates back to the Minaean (1200–650 B.C.) and Sabaean (750–115 B.C.) kingdoms. Ancient Yemen (centered around the port of Aden) engaged in the lucrative myrrh and frankincense trade. It was invaded by the Romans (1st century A.D.) as well as the Ethiopians and Persians (6th century A.D.). In A.D. 628 it converted to Islam and in the 10th century came under the control of the Rassite dynasty of the Zaidi sect, which remained involved in North Yemeni politics until 1962. The Ottoman Turks nominally occupied the area from 1538 to the decline of their empire in 1918.

The northern portion of Yemen was ruled by imams until a pro-Egyptian military coup took place in 1962. The junta proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic, and after a civil war in which Egypt's Nasser and the USSR supported the revolutionaries and King Saud of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan supported the royalists, the royalists were finally defeated in mid-1969.

The southern port of Aden, strategically located at the opening of the Red Sea, was colonized by Britain in 1839, and by 1937, with an expansion of its territory, it was known as the Aden Protectorate. In the 1960s the Nationalist Liberation Front (NLF) fought against British rule, which led to the establishment of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen on Nov. 30, 1967. In 1979, under strong Soviet influence, the country became the only Marxist state in the Arab world.

The Republic of Yemen was established on May 22, 1990, when pro-Western Yemen and the Marxist Yemen Arab Republic merged after 300 years of separation to form the new nation. The poverty and decline in Soviet economic support in the south was an important incentive for the merger. The new president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was elected by the parliaments of both countries.

New Nation Falls into Civil War

Differences over power sharing and the pace of integration between the north and the south came to a head in 1994, resulting in a civil war. The north's superior forces quickly overwhelmed the south in May and early June despite the south's brief declaration of succession. The victorious north presented a reconciliation plan providing for a general amnesty and pledges to protect political democracy.

Militants Strike in Yemen

The president's party, the General People's Congress, won an enormous victory in the April 1997 parliamentary elections, the first since the civil war. In 1998–1999, a militant Islamic group, the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, kidnapped several groups of Western tourists, which led to the deaths of several during a poorly orchestrated rescue attempt. The group's leader, Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar, threatened to continue attacks on tourists and government officials. The goal of the militants is to overthrow the government and turn Yemen into an Islamic state.

On Oct. 12, 2000, 17 Americans died and 37 were wounded when suicide bombers attacked the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole, which was refueling in Aden, Yemen. The U.S. had numerous clashes with Yemeni authorities during the investigation of the terrorist act. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., however, Yemen increased its cooperation with the U.S. and assisted in antiterrorism measures. In Oct. 2002, a French tanker, the Limburg, was also the victim of a terrorist attack off the coast of Yemen. Ten suspects of the Cole bombing escaped from prison in April 2003; seven, including the two suspected masterminds of the attack, were recaptured in 2004. Fifteen militants were convicted in Aug. 2004 on a variety of charges, including the attack on the Limburg. In September, two key al-Qaeda operatives involved in the Cole bombing were sentenced to death.

In presidential elections in Sept. 2006, incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh was reelected with 77% of the vote. In March 2007, President Saleh appointed Ali Muhammad Mujawar prime minister and asked him to form a cabinet.

Regional Violence and the Strengthening of al-Qaeda Make Yemen a Volatile State

The government and a rebel group from northern Yemen, called the Houthi movement, signed a cease-fire in February 2008. Thousands died since the two sides began fighting in 2004. The truce fell apart just a month later, as battles broke out again between the parties. Intermittent violence continued, and the Houthi have proven to be quite resilient and successful in gaining control of land in the northern border region of Saada. In August 2009 the army launched an offensive against the rebels, which prompted fierce retaliation. As many as 50,000 people were displaced in the fighting, in addition to another 150,000 who've been made homeless since 2004. The government has accused the Houthi movement of receiving aid from Iran, while the rebels contend that Saudi Arabia backs the Yemeni government. The rebel group belongs to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, and the Zaidis ruled northern Yemen until 1962.

In September 2008, a car bomb and a rocket strike the U.S. embassy in the capital city of Sanaa as staff arrived to work, killing 16 people, including four civilians. At least 25 suspected al-Qaeda militants are arrested in connection to the attack. Yemen continues to be a fragile state and a breeding ground for al-Qaeda militants. In January 2009, al-Qaeda groups in Saudi Arabia and Yemen joined to create a single branch: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In December 2009 on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, a 23-year-old Nigerian man allegedly attempted to ignite an explosive device hidden in his underwear. It failed to detonate. The alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, told officials later that he was trained and directed by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. Soon after, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group based in Yemen, took responsibility for orchestrating the attack. The attempted attack underscores the United States' troubled relationship with Yemen, and the likelihood that Al Qaeda is trying to set up an operational and training hub in that country to rival the one currently in Pakistan.

Cease-Fire Tentatively Ends Six-Year War

The government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels agree to a cease-fire in February 2010, tentatively ending a six-year war. President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced the truce, and rebel leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi endorsed the agreement. The government's main conditions for a cease-fire demanded that rebels open blocked roads, withdraw from civilian areas, return detainees, and refrain from launching attacks on Saudi Arabia. The government of Saudi Arabia had been drawn into the war when a Saudi border guard was killed in November 2009. In the following months at least 133 Saudi soldiers were killed in battles with Houthi guerilla troops. If the cease-fire remains in effect long term, the Yemeni government will be able to focus on the diminishing the presence of Al Qaeda in the country.

Protests Push President Saleh to Announce He Will Not Run for Reelection

The protests that swept through the Middle East in early 2011 also spread to Yemen in early February, with both anti- and pro-government protesters taking to the streets. Thousands of students rallied in the capital Sana and the city of Taiz and called for the resignation of President Saleh, while another bloc of protesters in Aden, a southern city, used demonstrations to underscore their long-sought quest for independence from the north. The students formed an informal alliance, called the Joint Meeting Parties, with Islamists and other opposition groups. The Houthis participated in the anti-Saleh protests and expanded their area of control in the north.

President Saleh promised that he would not use force against the protesters and said he would not run for reelection in 2013, but the protests continued and he reneged on his promise when, on March 18, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in the capital, Sana. Government forces opened fire, killing some 50 protesters. The crackdown fueled the protesters' anger and intensified calls for the Saleh to step down. On March 20, he fired his cabinet and several military leaders and members of the defected to the opposition. March 25 saw the largest protests to date, with pro- and anti-government supporters holding opposing demonstrations in Sana. Saleh said he was willing to step aside if the country would be in "safe hands." However, he defiantly backed off that pledge days later, despite calls by other Arab leaders for him to resign. In late April, representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council presented Saleh and the opposition with a proposal in which Saleh would immediately pass power to his deputy and resign within 30 days. In exchange, he and his family would be granted immunity. The opposition would end the street protests and join a coalition government with Saleh's party. Saleh accepted the offer, but refused on three occasions in May to sign the agreement.

On June 3, Saleh barely survived an attack on the presidential compound. The Ahmar family, opposition leaders whose militia has been fighting Saleh's troops for nearly two weeks, was blamed for the attack. Saleh traveled to Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment. Members of Saleh's family and allies assumed control of the government. The fighting continued throughout the country during Saleh's absence, and Islamic militants gained control of several regions, leaving the opposition frustrated and demoralized. In addition, a humanitarian crisis emerged, with skyrocketing food prices and a short supply of electricity and fuel. In August, opposition leaders formed a national council, which the government instantly condemned.

Prime Minister Ali Mujawar, who was also injured in the attack on the presidential compound, returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia in late August. Saleh made a surprise return in late September. He called for a cease-fire and for negotiations to resume, but the fighting continued between government forces and protesters, and soldiers joined the fight alongside with anti-government protesters. In a deal brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in November 2011, Saleh agreed to step down and hand over power his vice president, Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In addition, the GCC set out a timetable for elections, the drafting of a new constitution, and the formation of a National Dialogue Conference to implement the plans.

American-born al-Qaeda Leader Killed by U.S. Drone

In September 2011, a missile fired from an American drone aircraft in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, U.S.-born Islamic cleric who was an influential figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Born in New Mexico in 1971, Awlaki became radicalized as a college student and started preaching about global jihad and Islamic extremism at mosques. He moved to Yemen in 2004 and his anti-American sermons grew more threatening. Fluent in both English and Arabic, he was known for his charisma and ability to attract a devoted and passionate following. He is believed to have inspired Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who was convicted of killing 12 fellow soldiers and a civilian in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. As head of external operations of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Awlaki is believed to have been involved in planning attacks against U.S. targets.

Saleh Cedes Power and Is Given Immunity

President Saleh left Yemen on January 22, 2012. His departure from the country followed a vote by parliament to grant him and members of his government immunity from prosecution. Saleh arrived in the United States later in the month to seek medical treatment. Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the former vice president who took over for Saleh in November, was the only candidate in the February 2012 presidential election, and he won 99.6% of the vote. Saleh was on hand for Hadi's inauguration on February 27, which marked a smooth transition of power. Despite Saleh's resignation, the opposition called for a change of guard in the country's powerful military, whose leadership is split between relatives of Saleh and supporters of the opposition.

Just days into his term, Hadi was confronted with an attack by Yemeni militants on a military outpost in southern Yemen that killed more than 90 soldiers. In May, Hadi launched a campaign to rout al-Qaeda havens in the southern part of Yemen. On May 21, a suicide bomber struck a military parade in Sana, killing more than 100 soldiers. A branch of al-Qaeda took responsibility, saying the attack was in retaliation for the military's crackdown on the jihadists.

Officials Say They Thwarted an al-Qaeda Terrorist Attack

Yemeni officials announced in August 2013 that they had foiled a plan for a large-scale terrorist attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Officials said they were alerted to the plot by intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the organization, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the group in Yemen, in which Zawahiri reportedly ordered Wuhayshi to launch the attack, and by the recent arrival to the capital, Sana'a, of dozens of militants. Officials said the militants planned to target Western embassies and offices, the Yemeni military headquarters, and oil and gas pipelines. They did not, however, indicate how they prevented the attacks. The announcement came days after the Obama administration shut down 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa, including posts in Yemen, in response to the intercepted communications. Some analysts were skeptical that Yemen actually thwarted attacks, suggesting instead that Yemen's announcement was politically motivated—an attempt show it could maintain security and that the move by Obama to close the embassies was alarmist. Indeed, after U.S. personnel were evacuated from Yemen, the Yemen embassy in Washington released a statement saying, "Yemen has taken all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of foreign missions in the capital."

The National Dialogue Conference, which was part of the November 2011 agreement, opened in March 2013 to recommend provisions for a new constitution, ways to shore up the economy, end corruption, and discuss how to curb the secessionist movement in the south. The conference was made up of 565 representatives from political parties, women's groups, youth movements, and other civil organizations. It ended in January 2014, several months behind schedule. While the conference fell short of expectations, it agreed to establish an anti-corruption board, end childhood marriage, improve the rights of women, implement a federal system of government, and work to reduce the marginalization of southerners. In response to the conference, a presidential committee laid out a plan in February for Yemen to become a federation of six regions.

Houthis Expand Territory and Political Might Amid Turmoil

The Houthis took advantage of the instability in Yemen, and in early July 2014 took control of Amran, a city 45 miles north of the capital, Sana. In August, Houthi leaders demanded that Hadi rescind his decision to end subsidies that helped the poor. The move helped the Houthis to gain wide support, from both Shia and Sunnis, and by early September the Houthis had entered the capital and set up camp there. On Sept. 2, Hadi agreed to form a new government, with the Houthis nominating the prime minister. Hadi also announced a 30% reduction in the price of fuel. The Houthis, however, rejected the concessions as inadequate. Fighting broke out between the rebels and security forces in Sana days later and continued until the Houthis took control of Sana, a stunning accomplishment for the rebels and an equally significant blow for Hadi. The UN brokered a peace deal between the Houthis and the government on September 20. The next day, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa announced his resignation. As part of the deal the Houthis agreed to withdraw from Sana, and Hadi said he would reinstate the fuel subsidy, a "technocratic national government" would be established, the Houthis would select presidential advisers, and the provisions of the National Dialogue Conference would be implemented.

In October, Khaled Bahah, Yemen's former ambassador to the UN, was named prime minister. The Houthis rejected Hadi's first choice.

See also Encyclopedia: Yemen.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Yemen


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