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Ancient Yemen

The Last of the

British Rule
A Unified Republic
Civil War
Ottoman Rule
Ancient Yemen
The history of the Yemen stretches back over 3,000 years, and its unique culture is still in evidence today in the architecture of its towns and villages.
From about 1000 BC this region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula was ruled by three successive civilisations -- Minean, Sabaean and Himyarite. These three kingdoms all depended for their wealth on the spice trade. Aromatics such as myrrh and frankincense were greatly prized in the ancient civilised world and were used as part of various rituals in many cultures, including Egyptian, Greek and Roman.
In the 11th century BC, land routes through Arabia were greatly improved by using the camel as a beast of burden, and frankincense was carried from its production centre at Qana (now known as Bir 'Ali) to Gaza in Egypt. The camel caravans also carried gold and other precious goods which arrived in Qana by sea from India
The chief incense traders were the Minaeans, who established their capital at Karna (now known as Sadah), before they were superseded by the Sabaeans in 950 BC. The Sabaean capital was Ma'rib, where a large temple was built. The mighty Sabaean civilisation endured for about 14 centuries and was based not only on the spice trade, but also on agriculture. The impressive dam, built at Ma'rib in the 8th century, provided irrigation for farmland and stood for over a millennium. Some Sabaean carved inscriptions from this period are still extant.
The Himyarites established their capital at Dhafar (now just a small village in the Ibb region) and gradually absorbed the Sabaean kingdom. They were culturally inferior to the Sabaeans and traded from the port of al-Muza on the Red Sea. By the first century BC, the area had been conquered by the Romans.
With the rise of the great ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and along the Mediterranean Sea, historic Yemen became an important overland trade link between these civilizations and the highly prized luxury goods of South Arabia and points east and south. As a result, several pre-Islamic trading kingdoms grew up astride an incense trading route that ran northwest between the foothills and the edge of the desert. First, there was the Minaean kingdom, which lasted from about 1200 to 650 BC, and whose prosperity was due mainly to the trade of frankincense and spices. The large and prosperous kingdom of Saba' (Sheba), founded in the 10th century BC and ruled by Bilqis, the queen of Sheba, among others, was known for its efficient farming and extensive irrigation system built around a large dam constructed at Ma'rib. Farther south and east, in the region that would later become South Yemen, were the Qataban and Hadhramaut kingdoms, which also participated in the incense trade. The last of the great pre-Islamic kingdoms was that of Himyar, which lasted from about the 1st century BC until the 500s AD (seeHimyarites). At their heights, the Sabaean and Himyarite kingdoms encompassed most of historic Yemen.
Because of their prominence and prosperity, the states and societies of ancient Yemen were collectively called Arabia Felix in Latin, meaning "Happy Arabia." However, when the Romans occupied Egypt in the 1st century BC they made the Red Sea their primary avenue of commerce. With the decline of thecaravan routes, the kingdoms of southern Arabia lost much of their wealth and fell into obscurity. Red Sea traffic sailed past Yemen, and what seaborne commerce Yemen engaged in had little impact on the country's interior. The Tihamah region, which was hot, humid, swept by sandstorms, and clouded in haze, isolated the comparatively well-watered and populous highlands. The weakened Yemeni regimes that followed the trading kingdoms were unable to prevent the occupation of Yemen by the Christian Abyssinian kingdom (modern Ethiopia) in the 4th and early 6th centuries AD and by the Sassanids of Persia in the later 6th century, just before the rise of Islam.


The Rise of Islam
The Islamic era, which began in the 7th century, contains many events critical to the formation of Yemen and the Yemeni people. The force with which Islam spread from its origins inMecca and Medina in the nearby region of Al Hijaz (the Hejaz) led to Yemen's rapid and thorough conversion to Islam. Yemenis were well-represented among the first soldiers of Islam who marched north, west, and east of Arabia to expand Muslim territory.
Yemen was ruled by a series of Muslim caliphs, beginning with the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled from Damascus in the latter part of the 7th century; Umayyad rule was followed by the Abbasid caliphs in the early 8th century (seeCaliphate). The founding of a local Yemeni dynasty in the 9th century effectively ended both Abbasid rule from Baghdad and the authority of the Arab caliphate. This allowed Yemen to develop its own variant of Arab-Islamic culture and society in relative isolation. In the 10th century, the establishment of the Zaydi imamate, essentially a theocracy, in the far north of Yemen forged a deep, lasting link between the towns and tribes of the northern highlands and the Zaydi Shiite sect of Islam. By contrast, the two-century-long rule of the Rasulids, beginning in the 1200s and initially based in Aden, identified the coastal regions and the southern uplands with Shafi'i Islam. The Rasulids, one of the major dynasties in the history of Yemen, broke from the Egyptian Ayyubid dynasty to rule independently. Their capital, later located at Ta'izz, was famous for its diverse artistic and intellectual achievements.

Ottoman Rule
In the early 16th century Portuguese merchants came to Arabia and took over the Red Sea trade routes between Egypt and India. The Portuguese annexed the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, and from that vantage point tried unsuccessfully to take control of Aden. Following the Portuguese, the Egyptian Mamelukes attempted to take power in Yemen, successfully capturing Sanaa but failing to take Aden. Armies of the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt in 1517, and in 1538 brought most of Yemen under their control. The Ottomans were expelled nearly a century later, after a long struggle led by the Zaydi imamate that united and strengthened Yemeni identity and ushered in a long period of Zaydi rule.
Yemen developed an extensive coffee trade under Ottoman rule, with the coastal town of Mocha (Al Mukha) becoming a coffee port of international importance; despite this, the highlands of Yemen remained economically and culturally isolated from the outside world from the mid-17th century to nearly the mid-19th century, a period during which Western Europe was greatly influenced by modern thought and technology.
The process by which Yemen and the Yemeni people were divided into two countries began with the British seizure of Aden in 1839 and the reoccupation of North Yemen by the Ottomans in 1849. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, both the Ottomans and the British expanded their control of Yemeni lands. In the early 20th century, the two powers drew a border between their territories, which came to be called North and South Yemen, respectively. This boundary remained intact for most of the 20th century
In North Yemen, Ottoman rule met with significant opposition during the early 1900s. Under the leadership of the Zaydi imam, Yemenis staged many uprisings. After years of rebellion, in 1911 the Ottomans finally granted the imam autonomy over much of North Yemen. Defeat in World War I forced the Ottomans to evacuate Yemen in 1918.
 
The Last of the Imams
For the next 44 years North Yemen was ruled by two powerful imams. Imam Yahya ibn Muhammad and his son Ahmad created a king-state there much as the kings of England and France had done centuries earlier. The two imams strengthened the state and secured its borders. They used the imamate to insulate Yemen and revitalize its Islamic culture and society at a time when traditional societies around the world were declining under imperial rule. While Yemen under the two imams seemed almost frozen in time, a small but increasing number of Yemenis became aware of the contrast between an autocratic society they saw as stagnant and the political and economic modernization occurring in other parts of the world. This produced an important chain of events: the birth of the nationalist Free Yemeni Movement in the mid-1940s, an aborted 1948 revolution in which Imam Yahya was killed, a failed 1955 coup against Imam Ahmad, and finally, the 1962 revolution in which the imam was deposed by a group of nationalist officers and the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) was proclaimed under the leadership of Abdullah al-Sallal.
The first five years of President Al-Sallal's rule, from 1962 to 1967, comprised the first chapter in the history of North Yemen. Marked by the revolution that began it, this period witnessed a lengthy civil war between Yemeni republican forces, based in the cities and supported by Egypt, and the royalist supporters of the deposed imam, backed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In 1965 Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser met with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to consider a possible settlement to the civil war. The meeting resulted in an agreement whereby both countries pledged to end their involvement and allow the people of North Yemen to choose their own government. Subsequent peace conferences were ineffectual, however, and fighting flared up again in 1966.
By 1967 the war had reached a stalemate, and the republicans had split into opposing factions concerning relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In late 1967 Al-Sallal's government was overthrown and he was replaced as president by Abdul Rahman al-Iryani. Fighting continued until 1970, when Saudi Arabia halted its aid to royalists and established diplomatic ties with North Yemen. Al-Iryani effected the long-sought truce between republican and royalist forces, and presided over the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1970.
In June 1974 military officers led by Colonel Ibrahim al-Hamdi staged a bloodless coup, claiming that the government of Al-Iryani had become ineffective. The constitution was suspended, and executive power was vested in a command council, dominated by the military. Al-Hamdi chaired the council and attempted to strengthen and restructure politics in North Yemen. Al-Hamdi was assassinated in 1977, and his successor, former Chief of Staff Ahmed Hussein al-Ghashmi, was killed in June 1978. The lengthy tenure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 until it merged with South Yemen in 1990, proved more stable. Saleh strengthened the political system, while an influx of foreign aid and the discovery of oil in North Yemen held out the prospect of economic expansion and development.

British Rule in the South
The history of South Yemen after the British occupation of Aden in 1839 was quite different. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Aden became a vitally important port along the sea lanes to India. In order to protect Aden from Ottoman takeover, the British signed treaties with tribal leaders in the interior, promising military protection and subsidies in exchange for loyalty; gradually British authority was extended to other mainland areas to the east of Aden. In 1937 the area was designated the Aden Protectorates. In 1958 six small states within the protectorates formed a British-sponsored federation. This federation was later expanded to include Aden and the remaining states of the region, and was renamed the Federation of South Arabia in 1965.
During the 1960s British colonial policy as a whole came under increasing challenge from a nationalist movement centered primarily in Aden. Great Britain finally withdrew from the area in 1967, when the dominant opposition group, the National Liberation Front (NLF), forced the collapse of the federation and assumed political control. South Yemen became independent as the People's Republic of South Yemen in November of that year. The NLF became the only recognized political party and its leader, Qahtan Muhammad al-Shaabi, was installed as president. In 1969 al-Shaabi was ousted and replaced by Salem Ali Rubayi; until 1978, South Yemen was governed under the co-leadership of Rubayi and his rival, Abdel Fattah Ismail, both of whom made efforts to organize the country according to their versions of Marxism. In 1970 the country was renamed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). Foreign-owned properties were nationalized, and close ties were established with the USSR. Rubayi was deposed and executed in 1978; under the prevailing authority of Ismail, Soviet influence intensified in South Yemen. Ismail was replaced by Ali Nasser Muhammad al-Hasani in 1980. In 1986 a civil war erupted within the government of South Yemen; the war ended after 12 days, and al-Hasani fled into exile. Former premier Haydar Bakr al-Attas was elected president in October.

A Unified Republic
Relations between North Yemen and South Yemen grew increasingly conciliatory after 1980. Border wars between the two countries in 1972 and 1979 both had ended surprisingly with agreements for Yemeni unification, though in each case the agreement was quickly shelved. During the 1980s the two countries cooperated increasingly in economic and administrative matters. In December 1989 their respective leaders met and prepared a final unification agreement. On May 22, 1990, North and South Yemen officially merged to become the Republic of Yemen. Ali Abdullah Saleh, then leader of North Yemen, became president of unified Yemen, while Ali Salem al-Beidh and Haydar Bakr al-Attas of South Yemen became vice president and prime minister, respectively. Sanaa was declared the political capital of the Republic of Yemen, and Aden the economic capital. By the summer of 1990 more than 30 new political parties had formed in Yemen. Rising oil revenues and financial assistance from many foreign countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, brought hope that Yemen could begin to strengthen and expand its economy.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the events that followed in the Persian Gulf took a serious toll on Yemen's economy and newfound political stability. Yemen's critical response to the presence of foreign military forces massed in Saudi Arabia led the Saudi government to expel 850,000 Yemeni workers; the return of the workers and the loss of remittance payments produced widespread unemployment and economic upheaval, which led in turn to domestic political unrest. Bomb attacks, political killings, and violent demonstrations occurred throughout 1991 and 1992, and in December 1992 a rise in consumer prices precipitated riots in several of Yemen's major cities. Concern arose that declining economic and social conditions would give rise to Islamic fundamentalist activities in Yemen. Political turmoil forced the government to postpone general elections, which were finally held on April 27, 1993, completing the Yemeni unification process begun three years earlier. The General People's Congress (GPC), the former ruling party in North Yemen, won 121 seats in parliament; the Yemen Socialist party (YSP), the former ruling party of South Yemen, won 56 seats; a new Islamic coalition party, al-Islah, won 62 seats; and the remaining 62 seats were won by minor parties and independents. The president and prime minister remained in office after the election, and the three major parties formed a legislative coalition.


Civil War and its Aftermath
The successful elections quickly gave way to political turmoil. In August 1993 Vice President al-Beidh withdrew from Sanaa to Aden and ceased to participate in the political process. This followed his visit to the United States, where he had held talks with Vice President Al Gore, apparently without the consent of President Saleh. From his base at Aden, al-Beidh issued a list of conditions for his return to Sanaa; the conditions centered on the security of the YSP, which, according to the vice president, had been subject to northern-instigated political violence since unification. al-Beidh also protested what he considered the increasing economic marginalization of the south.
The deadlock persisted into the later months of 1993, despite extensive mediation efforts by representatives from several foreign governments. In January 1994 Yemen's principal political parties initialed a Document of Pledge and Agreement, designed to end the six-month feud between Yemen's president and vice president; the document called for a thorough review of the constitution and the country's economic programs and goals. The document was signed by the two leaders in February, but military clashes occurred almost immediately thereafter. In April Oman and Jordan halted mediation efforts aimed at getting the two sides to adhere to their peace agreement. Later that month, heavy fighting broke out between northern and southern forces at 'Amran, north of Sanaa; the fighting signaled the disintegration of the Yemeni union.
Yemen exploded into full-scale civil war in early May. Both sides carried out missile attacks in and around Sanaa and Aden. On May 21 al-Beidh announced the secession of the South from the Republic of Yemen and the formation of a new southern state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY). The DRY assembled a political structure similar to that of unified Yemen, and al-Beidh was elected president by a five-member Presidential Council. Meanwhile, Saleh dismissed a number of YSP party members from Yemen's government in an attempt to remove the influence of al-Beidh.
Fighting continued throughout June, much of it centered around the port cities of Aden and Al Mukalla. Both sides launched attacks on oil installations, and a great deal of infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. Following the failure of a Russian cease-fire agreement, Saleh's northern forces launched a final drive on Aden and Al Mukalla in early July, ultimately defeating the DRY army. By mid-July all of the former South Yemen was under Saleh's control.
After the collapse of the DRY, Saleh's government was faced with the task of rebuilding Yemen's economy and government. The infrastructure in and around Aden had sustained the most damage, from water systems to oil refineries and communications centers. In July more than 100 cases of cholera were diagnosed in Aden, due in part to water shortages in the city.
In September 1994 the Yemeni legislature approved a number of major reforms to the country's 1990 unification constitution. Saleh was formally reelected president on October 1, and he appointed Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as his new vice president. In an attempt to revive the country's economy, Yemeni leaders made efforts to devise and implement an economic austerity program called for by several international economic agencies; this was achieved with a great deal of difficulty in the spring of 1995.
In February 1995 the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia agreed to negotiate a settlement to their long-standing dispute over their shared border. The agreement defused a potentially explosive situation, as Yemen and Saudi Arabia had skirmished in the region only a few months before. As of May 1996 negotiations continued but the two sides had not agreed on a formal border.
In December 1995 Eritrea, which lies across the Red Sea from Yemen, seized Hanish al Kabir (Greater Hanish Island), strategically located at the mouth of the Red Sea, from Yemeni troops stationed there. At least 12 people were killed in the fighting. Both Yemen and recently independent Eritrea claim the Hanish Islands; Yemeni plans for a resort on Hanish al Kabir reportedly sparked the attack. By May 1996 the two countries had reached a truce and agreed to submit the question of sovereignty over the islands to arbitration.
Government :Before unification, North Yemen was governed by a benign authoritarian regime dominated by the military, and South Yemen functioned as a centralized socialist party-state. Politics opened up with the creation of the Republic of Yemen in 1990, and the number of freely functioning parties, lobbying groups, and communications outlets multiplied. During a 30-month transition period, the unification regime was based on equal power sharing between the General People's Congress (GPC) and the Yemeni Socialist party (YSP), the former ruling parties of North Yemen and South Yemen, respectively. An open, hotly contested national election in April 1993 marked the end of the transition period and yielded a coalition government consisting of the GPC, the YSP, and the conservative Islamic Reform Grouping (al-Islah), with the GPC holding nearly a majority of the cabinet posts. The 1993 election was the first multiparty election on the Arabian Peninsula, and the first in which women could vote; the vast majority of Yemenis participated.
The constitution adopted in 1990, which was similar to North Yemen's 1970 constitution, provided for a 301-member elected legislature, called the Council of Deputies. In addition to its legislative tasks, the council would select a five-member Presidential Council and vote on the composition and program of the cabinet. The Presidential Council would choose from its membership a president and vice president, and also nominate the prime minister. The members of the Council of Deputies would be selected for five-year terms, as would the president and vice president. In September 1994, at the end of the country's civil war, the Council of Deputies voted to adopt major reforms to the unification constitution. The amended constitution declares Islamic Sharia (basic law) as the basis of all legislation and describes the economy as market-based. The reforms also abolished the five-member Presidential Council, and stipulated that the presidency be decided by universal suffrage, with no one permitted to hold office for more than two terms.
Since 1990 the president has been Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former leader of North Yemen; Saleh was most recently reelected in 1994, following Yemen's short civil war. At the end of Saleh's five-year term in office in 1999, the president will be directly elected according to the terms of the amended constitution. From 1990 to May 1994, Ali Salem al-Beidh, the former top leader of South Yemen, was the vice president of unified Yemen. Following the civil war, in which al-Beidh led the losing secessionist forces, Saleh replaced him with Major-General Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Saleh also appointed a new cabinet comprised of members of the GPC and al-Islah parties to replace the three-party coalition formed in 1993 that had included the YSP.

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