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Yemen Modern History

The country was divided into North and South Yemen until 1990, when the disintegration of the Soviet Union contributed to unity, as South Yemen, which had been a communist, faced collapse. In 1994, a civil war was fought in which the South Yemeni influence was cut. The strong man in the north Ali Abdullah Saleh then dominated all of Yemen. But falling oil revenues and riots undermined his rule. 2011 protests erupted in connection with the Arab Spring. It ended the sale of Saleh's regime and led Yemen to collapse as a state.

North Yemen

Northern Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s, but the Ottomans found it difficult to gain full control. The Imam played an important role in the resistance. In 1911, Yemenis and Ottomans signed a treaty that meant formal Ottoman supremacy, but in practice the Imam gained control of the highlands and Ottomans over the coastal plain of Tihama. During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Imamate of northern Yemen became fully independent in 1918.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Yemen. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The ruling Imam Yahya also claimed South Yemen, which was under British colonial administration. The claims were based on kinship with the Himyaritic kings, and the claims also included the provinces of Asir and Najran in Saudi Arabia. This led to screenings with the British and conflicts with Saudi Arabia. In 1934, peace was made between Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Imam relinquished much of its demands in the north, but conflicts continued.

Contemporary History of YemenIn 1948, North Yemeni leader Imam Yahya was assassinated by political opponents. The power was taken over by his eldest son Ahmed, who continued to rule as a single ruler, but broke the isolation of the Nordjemen from the outside world. Ahmed died in 1962.

A group of army officers took the opportunity. With the help of Egypt, they overthrew the new imam, Ahmed's son, and proclaimed the Arab Republic of Yemen. This led to a civil war between "republicans" and imprisoned "royalists" who received Saudi support. Egypt withdrew its troops in 1967, while the Saudis decided to accept the new North Yemeni Republic as a counterweight to the newly formed socialist state of South Yemen. The war ended in 1970. Northern Yemen became dependent on aid from Saudi Arabia and other countries, and continued to be shaken by tensions fueled by the rival government of South Yemen. In 1974, a bloody military coup was carried out in the north that drove President Abd al-Rahman al-Iryani from power. The successor Ibrahim al-Hamadi was assassinated in 1977.

Power was then taken over by Ali Abdullah Saleh. After a few troubled years of fighting against both domestic opponents and South Yemen, the situation stabilized. In 1982 Saleh convened a partially elected parliament, the General People's Congress (AFK), which would act as a political mass movement. Northern Yemen's economy also improved, although the country remained dependent on aid. In 1984 major oil deposits were discovered for the first time. The government became somewhat more stable, which facilitated a merger with South Yemen.

South Yemen

In the British-controlled South Yemen, the important port city of Aden had developed rapidly, but there were major differences between Aden and the countryside, where local sultans ruled under British supervision.
Underground resistance cells against colonial power were formed in Aden during the 1950s. In an attempt to counter the nationalists, the British allowed some Sultanates in the countryside to form a federation in 1959. Eventually, the Crown Colony of Aden was also incorporated with the so-called Southern Arab Federation, which was granted some autonomy. Independence was promised until 1968.

From 1963, however, the National Liberation Front (NLF) waged armed struggle for an independent socialist state. NLF initially had support from Egypt, but soon went too far to the left for Cairo's taste. Following Egyptian pressure, NLF and another resistance movement formed in 1966 a new alliance, the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (Flosy). NLF soon broke the cooperation, and Flosy was further weakened by the Egyptian withdrawal from North Yemen. The southern Arab federation collapsed in 1967, and after negotiations in Geneva, the British surrendered the land to the NLF, which had crushed Flosy.

South Yemen was a ragged country. NLF's first president, Qahtan al-Shaabi, was overthrown in a coup in 1969 and succeeded by a radical left wing under Salim Rubay Ali. One-party system was introduced and in 1970 the state adopted the name Democratic People's Republic of Yemen. South Yemen thus became the only communist state in the Arab world, in a position of dependence on the Soviet Union. Agriculture was collectivized, Aden lost its role as a free port and South Yemen supported armed left groups in North Yemen and Oman.

Between 1967 and 1972, a quarter of the population fled to Northern Yemen. Many refugees were armed by Saudi Arabia to try to overthrow the government in Aden, and South Yemen similarly tried to undermine the regime in the north. This led to fighting along the 1971-72 border. The conflict was aborted after mediation by Arab states and was followed by an agreement on a united Yemen. New battles erupted from 1978 to 1979 and resulted in a South Yemeni invasion of North Yemen. This war also ended with promises to form a common state.

In 1978 President Ali was deposed and executed, after which NLF and several smaller organizations were merged into a state-carrying party, the Yemen Socialist Party (JSP). The party and the country's new leader Abd al-Fattah Ismail advocated an uncompromising Marxist policy, but soon had to go into exile in Moscow. The new head of state, Ali Nasir Muhammad, maintained good relations with the Soviet Union, but also tried to approach neighboring countries. An iceberg took place between the two Yemeni states.

But the opposition grew at home and in 1985 Ismail returned from Moscow to take up the fight. A brief civil war broke out in 1986. Ismail disappeared without a trace, while Muhammad fled the country. A few days later, former Prime Minister Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas swore to the presidential order and took steps to normalize the situation. New JSP leader became Ali Salim al-Bid. Like their representatives, they continued to seek better contacts in the region, but also with the United States and other Western countries.

The Soviet Union's new foreign policy under Michail Gorbachev brought about major changes for South Yemen. Assistance to the JSP regime was cut and in 1989 the centralized economy collapsed. A merger with North Yemen appeared as the last opportunity to stabilize the country and save what was left of JSP's influence. Political parties were allowed, prisoners released and Marxism-Leninism rejected. The road was open to an association between North and South Yemen.

Yemen reunites

On May 22, 1990, the two states were officially united. North Yemen's leader Saleh was appointed president and South Yemeni leader Ali Salim al-Bid became vice president. The leading political organizations in North and South Yemen, AFK and JSP, formed a unifying government. A presidency council was established, including the Islamist party Islah; Islah generally supported AFK against JSP. In May 1991, a majority of the people of Yemen voted in favor of a new constitution. Yemen was about to become the most democratic country in the Arab world.

But the unity government suffered from severe internal contradictions. Two very different political traditions would be united, by leaders who looked at each other with deep distrust. Reforms to merge the former countries' state administrations and military forces are being implemented in the future. The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 also had devastating consequences for the economy. When Yemen opposed the US-led military effort against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, among others, responded by withdrawing aid and expelling hundreds of thousands of Yemeni guest workers.

The situation became increasingly unstable, with murders of politicians and violent protests against the government. Nevertheless, the first parliamentary elections could be held in 1993 under relatively calm conditions. AFK won 123 seats, 62 seats went to Islah and 56 to JSP. The three parties formed government. But this meant that JSP, which had previously had half of the government posts, lost in influence. The South feared that the Union would be dominated by conservative Islamic forces from the north. Gradually, JSP government members left Sanaa to work from Aden instead.

In May 1994, civil war broke out and Bid declared that South Yemen was resurrected as an independent state. However, President Saleh and the North Yemeni army received support from strong clan militia, Islamist movements and some JSP hostile groups from the south. In July it was clear that the north side won. By then several thousand people had died in the fighting. Many JSP leaders and thousands of soldiers fled to neighboring countries.

The war strengthened the position of the North Yemeni leaders and, despite all the talk of reconciliation, the JSP was kept out of government. Islah instead received several ministerial posts and Saleh made concessions to the party's demands for religious influence.

To get out of the economic crisis, the government turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The economy was tightened to achieve a balance in government finances and to increase the pace of growth.

When parliamentary elections were held in 1997, AFK gained its own majority. JSP boycotted the election, which became violent in several places. All parties except AFK claimed that election fraud occurred. In the first direct presidential election in 1999, Saleh won by an overwhelming majority. He was supported by Islah despite the party becoming more critical of his rule.

More radical Islamist groups began during this time to launch attacks on foreign targets in Yemen, including a US fighter in the port of Aden bombed by al-Qaeda in 2000. The United States was annoyed by Yemen's unwillingness to cooperate fully in the pursuit of the perpetrators. After the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, President Saleh approached the United States and began to bring in the hard gloves.

The presidential power was gradually strengthened. At that time, some of Saleh's former allies began to join the opposition. This included Islah, who started a collaboration with his former rival JSP. The United Yemen's third parliamentary elections would have been held in 2001, but postponed until 2003. In that election, Saleh strengthened his position again. The opposition accused the government of electoral fraud.

Saleh was re-elected president in 2006. However, the situation became increasingly tense. Saleh slowly but surely gained power in his own or his family's hands, while the deteriorating economy made it difficult for him to buy opponent loyalty. Living conditions drove Yemenis into the arms of the opposition and local rulers began to free themselves from Saleh. In 2007, Abdullah al-Ahmar, who had been leader of both the Hashid clans and Islah, passed away, and a new generation took over the leadership. Throughout the country, protests and riots became more common.

In the summer of 2004, a war broke out between the government army and a Zaydite rebel group in the Sada province in the north. The rebels called themselves al-Shabab al-Mu'min (Believer Youth) but became more known as the Hut movement after leader Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi. The Huthi movement said they had resorted to weapons to combat the discrimination they claimed to be facing Zaydites in northern Yemen, but they also protested against Saleh's cooperation with the United States and made anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish statements.

Bloody battles between the government army and the Huthi came to flare up occasionally during the remainder of Saleh's reign. The government accused the Houthis of cooperating with Iran. Saudi Arabia in turn supported Saleh and various clan militia linked to the Ahmar family, the Islamist party and Sunni Islamist movements that fought against the Houthis.

At the same time, Saleh's regime faced increasing resistance in the south. In the spring of 2007, a protest movement for greater autonomy - or even independence - for southern Yemen began to emerge, the so-called Southern Movement. The demonstrations were encouraged by JSP. The government often turned down the protests by force, which only increased the anger in the south.

Meanwhile, the problems with al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) grew, which also began to carry out attacks abroad. In 2009 and 2010, the group was close to successfully blowing up American airliners. It sought, through propaganda in English, to attract Muslim youth from the United States and Europe. Above all, however, Aqap fought against the Yemeni government and attacked Saudi targets. The United States began to carry out aerial and drone attacks in Yemen on a large scale in 2011. It weakened Aqap, but also undermined the support for Saleh, as many Yemenis were upset over US actions.

Parliamentary elections that would have been held in 2009 were postponed until April 2011, after JSP and Islah threatened with boycott. The wave of popular protests that erupted in the Arab world in 2011 spread to Yemen. During the first half of the year, protesters held mass protests demanding Saleh's departure. Soon, rulers also began to turn against the president, including his relative General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar and the new leader of the Hashid clans Sadiq al-Ahmar. At the same time, unrest spread. Local insurgency was given more space as the regime weakened. Security forces hit hard on protesters. In February and March, hundreds of people were estimated to have been killed.

In April 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Organization (GCC) presented a plan to resolve the crisis peacefully: in exchange for pledges not to stand trial, Saleh would hand over power to its Vice President, South Yemenite Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, after which the UN would help Yemen write a new constitution and holding elections. The United States supported the GCC initiative.

Many opposition supporters felt that the GCC initiative was too mild against Saleh. The president agreed to accept the plan, but every time he signed the agreement, he found sweeping reasons to refrain. In May, fighting erupted in Sanaa, where army forces led by President Ahmed Saleh's son, Sadiq al-Ahmar's clan militia, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar's military units, and other clan and family militia controlled various neighborhoods.

In June 2011, the president was wounded in an attack on the presidential palace. He traveled to Saudi Arabia to receive care, and Vice President Hadi temporarily took over. At the same time, the protests and negotiations continued. Saleh returned and said he was ready to leave. The GCC initiative was supported by the UN Security Council. In November, Saleh eventually traveled to Saudi Arabia to sign the power surrender plan. Hadi became acting president.

 
 

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