U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Yemen, October 1996
Bureau of Public Affairs

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 
coastal plain.
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%.
Ethnic group: Arab.
Religion: Islam.
Language: Arabic.
Education: Attendance (ages 6-15, 1994 est.)--57.4% total, including 
79.4% of males, 33.9% of females. Literacy (1994 est.)--45%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--38/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--52 
Work force (by sector): Agriculture--53%; public services--17%; 
manufacturing--4%; construction--7%. Work force as percentage of total 


Type: Republic; unification (of former south and north Yemen): May 22, 
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 independent 
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 parties.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
National holiday: May 22 (Unity Day).
Flag: Three horizontal bands--red, white, and black.


GDP (1995 est.): $4.8 billion.
Per capita GDP (1995 est.): $250.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, fish, rock salt, minor deposits of 
coal and copper.
Agriculture (est. 18% of GDP): Products--qat (a shrub containing a 
natural amphetamine), coffee, cotton, fruits, vegetables, cereals, 
livestock and poultry, hides, skins, tobacco, honey. Arable land (est )-
Industry (est. 7.5% of GDP): Types--petroleum refining, mining, food 
processing, building materials.
Trade (1995 est.): Exports--$1.94 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, EU countries, China, 
Russia and other New Independent States, United States.
Exchange rate (October 1996): Official--fluctuates between 125-150 rials 
per U.S.$1 and floats based on an average of foreign currencies. Market-
-since floating the dollar, market rate usually reflects the official 
rate of exchange.


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 

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 African 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 radical Palestinians.

Republic of Yemen

In 1972, the governments of the PDRY and the YAR declared 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, which was 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 16 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 Salim 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 16 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. Islaah 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 Al-
Qadir Bajamal
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: 202-965-4760).


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 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 collapsed.

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 agreement 
with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to institute an extremely 
successful structural adjustment program. Phase one of  the IMF program 
includes major financial and monetary reforms, including floating the 
currency, reducing the budget deficit, and cutting subsidies.  Phase two 
will address structural issues such as civil service reform.  IMF 
credits over the next three years may total as much as $600 million.  
The World Bank is also active in Yemen, providing an $80 million loan in 
1996. Yemen has received debt relief from the Paris Club and is in 
negotiation with Russia regarding its estimated $6.5 billion Soviet 
debt. Some military equipment is still purchased from former East Bloc 
states and China, but now on a cash basis.

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 a liquid natural gas (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 
project. American companies are engaged in ongoing discussions with the 
Government of Yemen regarding their participation in LNG projects. 
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 in north Yemen. Following the 
September 1962 revolution, the Yemen Arab Republic became closely allied 
with and heavily dependent upon 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 Gulf.

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 have continued. 
Yemen is also committed to international arbitration in the resolution 
of the Hanish islands dispute with Eritrea.


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 U.S. 
Agency for International Development (USAID) 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 to Sanaa by Secretary of State William P. 
Rogers in July 1972, and a new USAID 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 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 U.S. 
Government scholarships to study in the region and in the United States. 
There was a Peace Corps program with about 50 volunteers. The U.S. 
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 reestablished diplomatic relations on 
April 30, 1990, only three weeks before the announcement of unification. 
However, the embassy in Aden, which closed in 1969, was never reopened, 
and the PDRY as a political entity no longer exists.  

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, non-
humanitarian assistance, and the Peace Corps program. USAID levels 
dropped in FY-91 to $2.9 million, but food assistance through the PL 480 
program continued through 1994. Resumption of  U.S. Government food 
assistance will depend in large part on ongoing negotiations regarding 
outstanding arrearages. 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, had slowly increased to $8.5 million in FY-
95, but will conclude by FY-98 after conclusion of the current cycle of 
program assistance.

Defense relations between Yemen and the U.S. are improving with the 
recent resumption of International Military Education and Training 
(IMET) assistance and the commercial transfer of non-lethal spare parts. 

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--David G. Newton
Deputy Chief of Mission--Margaret Scobey 

The address of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen is P.O. Box 22347, Sanaa, 
Republic of Yemen.


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