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See also: Republic of Yemen
(PD) Image: CIA World Factbook
Location of Yemen

Yemen is a country in the Middle East, formed, in 1990, from North Yemen (a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918), and South Yemen (a British protectorate until 1967). North Yemen had existed as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen until 1962 and as the Yemen Arab Republic thereafter, with a capital in Sanaa, and South Yemen as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, having Aden as its capital. Ali Abdallah Salih, former president of North Yemen, is the current Head of State.

The country has a shoreline along the Red Sea and the island of Soqotra, and shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman.


Yemenis, as opposed to other peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, do not have a nomadic tradition, but have long been settled in villages and towns.

Ethnicity and tribalism

They are primarily Arab, although there are African elements on the coast. Arabic is the official language, although English is increasingly understood in major cities. In the Mahra area (the extreme east), several non-Arabic languages are spoken. Tribes, therefore, have territories,[1] producing a very different political dynamic than, for example, when the House of Saud became a leader of the nomadic Bedouin. Yemen has a unique balance of formal and tribal governance.[2]

(PD) Image:
National Flag of Yemen


When the former states of north and south Yemen were established, most resident minority groups departed. Most are Muslim, divided into:

  • The majority Shafa'i school of Sunni Muslims, found in the south and southeast
  • Shi'a Zaidi sect, found in the north and northwest. The Houthi resistance group says it is fighting to stop marginalization of the Zaidi.[3]

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund Hull writes that most sources overestimate Sunni-Shiite tension. "both the Houthis and President Saleh are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam. Generally, there is no clear divide between Sunnis and Shiites in Yemen, although the Shiites tend to live in the north and northwest while the Sunnis, mostly members of the moderate Shafii school, predominate in the south and southeast. In any case, one’s sect matters far less in Yemen than in countries like Lebanon or Iraq, and it’s not unknown for Yemenis to convert from Sunni to Shiite as a matter of convenience."[4]

National history

Unification took place for a number of reasons. In President Salih's 1990 speech, three factors went into a broad desire for national identity:

  • "the return to a lost “golden age”
  • the removal of the effects of monarchy and imperialism
  • the desire for pan-Arab unity, with Yemeni unity as a preliminary step."[5]


Among the poorest countries of the Arab world, it has had average annual growth in the range of 3-4% from 2000 through 2007. Its economic fortunes depend mostly on declining oil resources, but the country is trying to diversify its earnings. Preliminary estimates for 2008 a GDP growth rate of 4.4 percent as compared to 4.2 percent in the previous year. "Higher oil revenues and some progress in tax collections also helped to reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.3 percent of GDP and the current account deficit to around 2 percent of GDP. Given that oil prices were very high during the first nine months of the year, the overall economic performance in 2008 is disappointing and underscores the difficult challenges faced by Yemen."[6]

In 2006 Yemen began an economic reform program designed to bolster non-oil sectors of the economy and foreign investment. As a result of the program, international donors pledged about $5 billion for development projects. In November 2006, a World Bank-sponsored international donors conference held in London raised $4.7 billion for Yemen's development; the funds are to be disbursed between 2007 and 2010.

Officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries held a donors' conference in Saudi Arabia in June 2009. Approximately USD $3.5 billion was pledged to projects in 2007 through 2010. of which about nearly 90 percent has been made available to 50 development projects. [7]


Diverting resources from food crops, and indeed necessitating the import of food, is the widespread propagation of the stimulant qat.[8]


While Yemen has formal governance mechanisms, the power of tribal leadership cannot be understated. Al-Qaeda has been reported to be focusing on building tribal alliances. [9]

Government corruption is a severe problem. [10] Human Rights Watch reported, in December 2009, that the government was dominated by northerners, who suppressed southern interests, [11], although the political dynamics of Yemen are far more complex than the binary distinction between North and South.