U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Yemen, November 1995
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs,
Office of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE, and
Official Name: Republic of Yemen
Area: 527,831 sq. km. (203,796 sq. mi.); about the size of California
and Pennsylvania combined.
Cities: Capital -- Sanaa. Other cities -- Aden, Taiz, Hodeida, and al-
Terrain: Mountainous interior bordered by desert with a flat and sandy
Climate: Temperate in the mountainous regions in the western part of
the country, extremely hot with minimal rainfall in the remainder of the
country. Humid on the coast.
Nationality: Noun and adjective -- Yemeni(s).
Population (1995 est.): 15 million.
Annual growth rate: 3.7 percent.
Ethnic group: Arab.
Education: Attendance (ages 6-15, 1994 est.) -- total 57.4 percent,
including 79.4 percent of males, 33.9 percent of females. Literacy
(1994 est.) -- 45 percent.
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 138/1,000 live births. Life expectancy
Work force (by sector): Agriculture -- 53 percent, public services -- 17
percent, manufacturing -- 4 percent, construction -- 7 percent; work
force as percentage of total population -- 25 percent.
Type: Republic; unification (of former south and north Yemen): May
Constitution: Adopted May 21, 1990 and ratified May 1991.
Branches: Executive -- Prime Minister with Cabinet. Legislative --
301-seat parliament. Judicial -- the constitution calls for an
judiciary. The former northern and southern legal codes have been
unified. The legal system includes separate commercial courts and a
Supreme Court based in Sanaa.
Administrative subdivisions: 18 governorates subdivided into districts.
Political parties: General People's Congress (GPC), Yemeni Grouping
for Reform (Islaah), Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), Baathist parties,
Nasserist parties, and Muslim fundamentalist
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
National holiday: May 22 (Unity Day).
Flag: Three horizontal bands -- red, white, and black.
GDP (1994 est.): $4 billion.
Per capita GDP (1994 est.): $280.
Natural resources: oil, natural gas, fish, rock salt, minor deposits of
coal and copper.
Agriculture (est. 18 percent of GDP): Products -- qat (a shrub
containing natural amphetamine), coffee, cotton, fruits, vegetables,
cereals, livestock and poultry, hides, skins, tobacco, honey. Arable
land (est ) -- 5 percent.
Industry (est. 7.5 percent of GDP): Types -- petroleum refining,
mining, food processing, building materials.
Trade (1994 est.): Exports -- $1.81 billion: crude petroleum, refined
oil products, hides, fish, fruits, vegetables, cotton, coffee, biscuits,
plastic pipes. Major markets -- United States, Western Europe, South
Korea, Saudi Arabia. Imports -- $1.88 billion: cereals, feed grains.
Foodstuffs, machinery, petroleum products, transportation equipment.
Major suppliers -- Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, EC countries, China,
Russia and other Newly Independent States, United States.
Exchange rate (October 1995): Official -- 50 Rial per US$1. Market --
100 to 120 Rials per US$1.
Unlike other people of the Arabian peninsula who have historically
been nomads or semi-nomads, Yemenis are almost entirely sedentary
and live in small villages and towns scattered throughout the highlands
and coastal regions.
Yemenis are divided into two principal Islamic religious groups: the
Zaidi sect of the Shi'a, found in the north and northwest, and the
Shafa'i school of Sunni Muslims, found in the south and southeast.
Yemenis are mainly of semitic origin, although Negroid strains are
present among inhabitants of the coastal region. 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. When the former states of north and south Yemen were
established, most resident minority groups departed.
Yemen was one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East.
Between the 12th century BC and the 6th century AD, it was part of the
Minaean, Sabaean, and Himyarite kingdoms, which controlled the
lucrative spice trade, and later came under Ethiopian and Persian rule.
In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the
area. After this caliphate broke up, the former north Yemen came under
control of Imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who
established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern
times. (Imam is a religious term. The Shiites apply it to the prophet
Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, his sons Hasan and Hussein, and
subsequent lineal descendants, whom they consider to have been
divinely ordained unclassified successors of the prophet.)
Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of north Yemen throughout the
11th century. By the 16th century and again in the 19th century, north
Yemen was part of the Ottoman empire and in some periods its Imams
exerted suzerainty over south Yemen.
Former North Yemen
Ottoman government 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. 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 Qamal Abdul Nasser.
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). 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. By 1968, following a final royalist
siege of Sanaa, most of the opposing leaders reached a reconciliation;
Saudi Arabia recognized the Republic in 1970.
Former South Yemen
British influence increased in the south and eastern portion of Yemen
after the British captured the port of Aden in 1839. It was ruled as
part of British India until 1937, when Aden was made a crown colony with
the remaining land designated as east Aden and west Aden
protectorates. By 1965, most of the tribal states within the
protectorates and the Aden colony proper had joined to form the British-
sponsored federation of south Arabia.
In 1965, two rival nationalist groups -- the Front for the Liberation of
Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the National Liberation Front
(NLF) -- turned to terrorism in their struggle to control the country.
In 1967, in the face of uncontrollable violence, British troops began
withdrawing federation rule collapsed, and NLF elements took control
after eliminating their FLOSY rivals. South Arabia, including Aden,
was declared independent on November 30, 1967, and was renamed
the People's Republic of South Yemen. In June 1969, a radical wing of
the Marxist NLF gained power and changed the country's name on
December 1, 1970, to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
(PDRY). In the PDRY, all political parties were amalgamated into the
Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which became the only legal party. The
PDRY established close ties with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and
Republic of Yemen
The governments of the PDRY and the YAR had declared in 1972 that
they approved a future union. However, little progress was made
toward unification and relations were often strained. In 1979,
simmering tensions led to fighting, only resolved after Arab League
mediation. The goal of unity was reaffirmed by the northern and
southern heads of state during a summit meeting in Kuwait in March
1979. However, that same year the PDRY began sponsoring an
insurgency against the YAR. In April 1980, PDRY President Abdul
Fattah Ismail resigned and went into exile. His successor, Ali Nasir
Muhammad, took a less interventionist stance toward both the YAR
and neighboring Oman. On January 13, 1986, a violent struggle began
in Aden between Ali Nasir Muhammad and the returned Abdul Fattah
Ismail and their supporters. Fighting lasted for more than a month and
resulted in thousands of casualties, Ali Nasir's ouster, and Ismail's
death. Some 60,000 persons, including Ali Nasir and his supporters,
fled to the YAR.
In May 1988, the YAR and PDRY governments came to an
understanding that considerably reduced tensions including agreement
to renew discussions concerning unification, to establish a joint oil
exploration area along their undefined border, to demilitarize the
border, and to allow Yemenis unrestricted border passage on the basis
of only a national identification card.
In November 1989, the leaders of the YAR (Ali Abdallah Salih) and
the PDRY (Ali Salim Al-Bidh) agreed on a draft unity constitution
originally drawn up in 1981. The Republic of Yemen (ROY) was
declared on May 22, 1990. Ali Abdallah Salih became President and
Ali Salim Al-Bidh became Vice President.
A 30-month transitional period for completing the unification of the
two political and economic systems was set. A presidential council was
jointly elected by the 26-member YAR advisory council and the 17-
member PDRY presidium. The presidential council appointed a Prime
Minister, who formed a Cabinet. There was also a 301-seat provisional
unified Parliament, consisting of 159 members from the north, 111
members from the south, and 31 independent "at-large" members
appointed by the chairman of the council.
A unity constitution was agreed upon in May 1990 and ratified by the
populace in May 1991. It affirmed Yemen's commitment to free
elections, a multi-party political system, the right to own private
property, equality under the law, and respect of basic human rights.
Parliamentary elections were held on April 27, 1993. International
groups assisted in the organization of the elections and observed actual
balloting. The resulting Parliament included 143 GPC, 69 YSP, 63
Islaah (Yemeni grouping for reform, a party composed of various tribal
and religious groups), 6 Baathis, 3 Nasserists, 2 Al Haq, and 15
independents. The head of Islaah, Paramount Hashid Sheik Abdallah
Bin Husayn Al-Ahmar, is the speaker of Parliament.
Islaah was invited into the ruling coalition, and the presidential
council was altered to include one Islaah member. Conflicts within the
coalition resulted in the self-imposed exile of Vice President Ali Salim
Al-Bidh to Aden beginning in August 1993 and a deterioration in the
general security situation as political rivals settled scores and tribal
elements took advantage of the unsettled situation. Haydar Abu Bakr
Al-Attas (former southern Prime Minister) continued to serve as the
ROY Prime Minister, but his government was ineffective due to
political infighting. Continuous negotiations between northern and
southern leaders resulted in the signing of the document of pledge and
accord in Amman, Jordan on February 20, 1994. Despite this, clashes
intensified until civil war broke out in early May 1994.
Almost all of the actual fighting in the 1994 civil war occurred in the
southern part of the country despite air and missile attacks against
cities and major installations in the north. Southerners sought support
from neighboring states and received billions of dollars of equipment
and financial assistance. The United States strongly supported Yemeni
unity, but repeatedly called for a cease-fire and a return to the
negotiating table. Various attempts, including by a UN special envoy,
were unsuccessful to effect a cease-fire. Southern leaders declared
secession and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yemen
(DRY) on May 21, 1994, but the DRY was not recognized by the
international community. Ali Nasir Muhammad supporters greatly
assisted military operations against the secessionists and Aden was
captured on July 7, 1994. Other resistance quickly collapsed and
thousands of southern leaders and military went into exile.
Early during the fighting, President Ali Abdallah Salih announced a
general amnesty which applied to everyone except a list of sixteen
persons. Most southerners returned to Yemen after a short exile.
An armed opposition was announced from Saudi Arabia, but no
significant incidents within Yemen materialized. The government
prepared legal cases against four southern leaders (Ali Salem Al- Bidh,
Haydar Abu Bakr Al-Attas, Abd Al-Rahman Ali Al-Jifri, and Salih
Munassar Al-Siyali) for misappropriation of official funds. Others on
the list of sixteen were told informally they could return to take
advantage of the amnesty, but most remained outside Yemen. Although
many of Ali Nasir Muhammad's followers were appointed to senior
governmental positions (including Vice President, Chief of Staff, and
Governor of Aden), Ali Nasir Muhammad himself remained abroad in
Syria. In the aftermath of the civil war, YSP leaders within Yemen
reorganized the party and elected a new politburo in July 1994.
However, the party remained disheartened and without its former
influence. Isilaah held a party convention in September 1994. The GPC
did the same in June 1995.
In 1994, amendments to the unity constitution eliminated the
presidential council. President Ali Abdallah Salih was elected by
Parliament on October 1, 1994 to a five-year term. The constitution
provides that henceforth the President will be elected by popular vote
from at least two candidates selected by the legislature. The next
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 1997.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ali Abdallah Salih
Vice President--Abd Al-Rab Mansur Hadi
Prime Minister--Abd Al-Aziz Abd Al-Ghani
Deputy Prime Minister--Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Anisi
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs--Abd Al-Karim Al-
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Planning and Development--Abd
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Industry, Minister of Oil and
Mineral Resources--Muhammad Said Al-Attar
Ambassador to the United States--Moshin Al-Alaini
Ambassador to the United Nations--Abdallah Al-Ashtal
The Republic of Yemen maintains an embassy in the United States at
2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Suite 705, Washington, DC 20037 (TEL
At unification, both the YAR and the PDRY were struggling
underdeveloped economies. In the north, disruptions of civil war
(1962-70) and frequent periods of drought had dealt severe blows to a
previously prosperous agricultural sector. Coffee production, formerly
the north's main export and principal form of foreign exchange,
declined as the cultivation of qat (a shrub whose leaves contain a
natural amphetamine and are chewed for a mild stimulating effect)
increased. Low domestic industrial output and a lack of raw materials
made the YAR dependent on a wide variety of imports.
Remittances from Yemenis working abroad and foreign aid paid for
perennial trade deficits. Substantial Yemeni communities exist in many
countries of the world, including Yemen's immediate neighbors on the
Arabian peninsula, Indonesia, India, East Africa, the United Kingdom,
and the United States. Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union
and China provided large-scale assistance to the YAR. This aid
included funding of substantial construction projects, scholarships, and
considerable military assistance.
In the south, pre-independence economic activity was overwhelmingly
concentrated in the port city of Aden. The seaborne transit trade which
the port relied upon collapsed with the closure of the Suez canal and
Britain's withdrawal from Aden in 1967. Only extensive Soviet aid,
remittances from south Yemenis working abroad, and revenues from
the Aden refinery (built in the 1950's) kept the PDRY's centrally-
planned Marxist economy afloat. With the dissolution of the Soviet
Union and a cessation of Soviet aid, the south's economy basically
Since unification, the government has worked to integrate two
relatively disparate economic systems. However, severe shocks
including the return in 1990 of approximately 850,000 Yemenis from
the Gulf states, a subsequent major reduction of aid flows, and internal
political disputes culminating in the 1994 civil war hampered economic
growth. Since the conclusion of the war, the government entered into
negotiations with the international monetary fund about a structural
adjustment program. The World Bank is eager to reactivate over $300
million in project assistance and is willing to add new funds once an
agreement with the IMF is implemented. The IMF program includes
major structural reforms, including floating the currency, reducing the
budget deficit, cutting subsidies, and rationalizing the civil service.
The Yemeni Government has agreed to the reform program, but still has
concerns about its implementation. Yemen has considered a buy back
of its estimated $6.5 billion Soviet debt. Some military equipment is
still purchased from former East Bloc states and China, but now on a
Following a minor discovery in 1982 in the south, an American
company found an oil basin near Marib in 1984. 170,000 barrels per
day were produced there in 1995. A small oil refinery began operations
near Marib in 1986. A Soviet discovery in the southern governorate of
Shabwa has proven only marginally successful even when taken over
by a different group. A western consortium began exporting oil from
Masila in the Hadramaut in 1993 and production there reached 180,000
barrels per day in 1995. More than a dozen other companies have been
unsuccessful in finding commercial quantities of oil. There are new
finds in the Jannah (formerly known as the Joint Oil Exploration Area)
and east Shabwah blocks. Yemen's oil exports in 1995 earned
approximately $1 billion.
Marib oil contains associated natural gas. Proven reserves of 10-13
trillion cubic feet could sustain an LNG export project. Medium-term
economic prospects for the country depend upon the outcome of the
gas export project and plans to upgrade port facilities at Aden. In
September 1995 the Yemeni Government signed an agreement that
designated total of France to be the lead company for an LNG export
project after discussions with American companies were unsuccessful.
Progress continues in making Aden a free zone and finalizing plans to
construct a modern container port and other facilities in Aden.
The geography and ruling Imams of north Yemen kept the country
isolated from foreign influence before 1962. The country's relations
with Saudi Arabia were defined by the TAIF Agreement of 1934 which
delineated the northernmost part of the border between the two
kingdoms and set the framework for commercial and other intercourse.
The TAIF Agreement has been renewed periodically in 20-year
increments, and its validity was reaffirmed in 1995. Relations with the
British colonial authorities in Aden and the south were usually tense.
The Soviet and Chinese Aid Missions established in 1958 and 1959
were the first important non-Muslim presence's in north Yemen.
Following the September 1962 revolution, the Yemen Arab Republic
became closely allied with and heavily dependent on Egypt. Saudi
Arabia aided the royalists in their attempt to defeat the Republicans
and did not recognize the Yemen Arab Republic until 1970. Subsequently,
Saudi Arabia provided Yemen substantial budgetary and project
support. At the same time, Saudi Arabia maintained direct contact with
Yemeni tribes, which sometimes strained its official relations with the
Yemeni Government. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis found
employment in Saudi Arabia during the late 1970's and 1980's.
In February 1989, north Yemen joined Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt in
forming the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), an organization created
partly in response to the founding of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and
intended to foster closer economic cooperation and integration among
its members. After unification, the Republic of Yemen was accepted as
a member of the ACC in place of its YAR predecessor. In the wake of
the Gulf crisis, the ACC has remained inactive.
British authorities left southern Yemen in November 1967 in the wake
of an intense terrorist campaign. The people's democratic Republic of
Yemen, the successor to British colonial rule, had diplomatic relations
with many nations, but its major links were with the Soviet Union and
other Marxist countries. Relations between it and the conservative Arab
states of the Arabian peninsula were strained. There were military
clashes with Saudi Arabia in 1969 and 1973, and the PDRY provided
active support for the DHOFAR rebellion against the Sultanate of
Oman. The PDRY was the only Arab state to vote against admitting
new Arab states from the Gulf area to the United Nations and the Arab
League. The PDRY provided sanctuary and material support to various
international terrorist groups.
Yemen is a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, and the
organization of the Islamic conference. Yemen participates in the
nonaligned movement. The Republic of Yemen accepted responsibility
for all treaties and debts of its predecessors, the YAR and the PDRY.
Yemen has acceded to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The Gulf
crisis dramatically affected Yemen's foreign relations. As a member of
the UN Security Council (UNSC) for 1990 and 1991, Yemen abstained
on a number of UNSC resolutions concerning Iraq and Kuwait and
voted against the "use of force resolution". Western and Gulf Arab
states reacted by curtailing or canceling aid programs and diplomatic
contacts. At least 850,000 Yemenis returned from Saudi Arabia and the
Subsequent to the liberation of Kuwait, Yemen continued to maintain
high-level contacts with Iraq. This hampered its efforts to rejoin the
Arab mainstream and to mend fences with its immediate neighbors. In
1993, Yemen launched an unsuccessful diplomatic offensive to restore
relations with its Gulf neighbors. Some of its aggrieved neighbors
actively aided the south during the 1994 Civil War. Since the end of
that conflict, tangible progress has been made on the diplomatic front
in restoring normal relations with Yemen's neighbors. The Omani-
Yemeni border has been officially demarcated. Following a period of
tension over the Saudi-Yemeni border in early 1995, negotiators met to
discuss outstanding issues, President Salih visited Saudi Arabia, and
Saudi-Yemeni negotiations on the border and other matters began.
The United States established diplomatic relations with the Imamate in
1946. A resident legation, later elevated to embassy status, was opened
in Taiz (the capital at the time) on March 16, 1959 and moved to Sanaa
in 1966. The United States was one of the first countries to recognize
the Yemen Arab Republic, doing so on December 19, 1962. A major
AID program constructed the Mocha-Taiz-Sanaa highway and the
Kennedy memorial water project in Taiz, as well as many smaller
projects. On June 6, 1967, the YAR, under Egyptian influence, broke
diplomatic relations with the United States in the wake of the Arab-
Israeli conflict of that year. Relations were restored following a visit
Sanaa by Secretary of State William P. Rogers in July 1972, and a new
AID agreement was concluded in 1973.
During a 1979 border conflict between the Yemen Arab Republic and
the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, the United States
cooperated with Saudi Arabia to greatly expand the security assistance
program to the YAR by providing F-5 aircraft, tanks, vehicles and
training. George Bush, while Vice President, visited in April 1986, and
President Ali Abdallah Salih visited the United States in January 1990.
The United States had a $42 million Agency for International
Development (USAID) program in 1990. From 1973 to 1990, the
United States provided the YAR with assistance in the agriculture,
education, health and water sectors. Many Yemenis were sent on USG
scholarships to study in the region and in the United States. There was
a Peace Corps program with about 50 volunteers. The US Information
Service operates an English-language institute in Sanaa.
On December 7, 1967, the United States recognized the People's
Democratic Republic of Yemen and elevated its Consulate General in
Aden to Embassy status. However, relations were strained. The PDRY
was placed on the list of nations that support terrorism. On October 24,
1969, south Yemen formally broke diplomatic relations with the United
States. The United States and the PDRY re-established diplomatic
relations on April 30, 1990, only three weeks before the announcement
As a result of Yemen's actions in the Security Council following the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States drastically reduced its
presence in Yemen including canceling all military cooperation and the
Peace Corps program. AID levels dropped in FY-91 to $2.9 million,
but food assistance through the PL 480 and export enhancement
programs continued. The United States was actively involved in and
strongly supportive of the 1993 parliamentary elections and continues
working to strengthen Yemen's democratic institutions. The United
States supported a unified Yemen during the 1994 civil war. The
USAID program, focused in the health field, has slowly increased to
$8.5 million in FY-95.
Principal US Officials:
Ambassador--David G. Newton
Deputy Chief of Mission--Margaret Scobey (arrives July 1996)
The address of the US Embassy in Yemen is P.O. Box 22347, Sanaa,
Republic of Yemen.
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