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Yemen's Recent History

History of Yemen's Recent HistoryYemen has a changeable history as a modern state formation. Today's Yemen Republic came into being in May 1990, when the two neighboring states (northern) Yemen and southern Yemen merged into one state. The merger failed to integrate the two parts, and it resulted in both a civil war for detachment in the south and continued demands for independence.

History of Yemen

Yemen's location at the entrance to the Red Sea has given ancient and modern times an important strategic position. The Cold War expanded in this area because Marxist South Yemen was closely associated with the Soviet Union, while North Yemen turned to the West. One dimension was also the political rivalry between Arab states. In Yemen, it was expressed during the civil war in the early 1960s, when radical Egypt intervened militarily, and was indirectly in conflict with conservative Saudi Arabia. The UN deployed a peacekeeping force - the United Nations Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM) - which Norway also participated in. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Yemen.

Yemen's recent history includes the post-World War I period, with the decolonization of South Yemen, civil war and the merger of one state in 1990, with a new civil war.

Also read the articles: Yemen's contemporary history, the uprising in Yemen 2011–2012, and the war in Yemen, 2015–

Division into two states

Yemen's modern history is largely marked by the fact that the country was long divided into what became an independent state in the north and a British protectorate in the south (which then became its own state) - and disputes associated with this division.

Yemen Arab Republic

When the Ottoman forces were withdrawn from Yemen after World War I, zaidi imam Yahya secured control of the country, challenging the UK's right to contact the tribes of the South Yemen Protectorate, which he also considered his subjects. In 1934, however, the Imam accepted the border demarcation between the British and the Turks, which laid the groundwork for the later division of the country into the two independent states.

Yahya remained neutral during World War II despite an established relationship with fascist Italy. Imam Yahya was killed in a coup in 1948, and his son Ahmad took power. He ruled just as autocratic, but opened Yemen to the outside world. Ahmad was suspicious of Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, which approximates the United Kingdom. (Northern) Yemen made demands on Aden, and there were military clashes in 1953 and 1958. Yemen (northern Yemen) entered a federation with the United Arab Republic (Union of Egypt and Syria) in 1958, but this became dissolved again in 1961 without being realized.

In 1955 and 1961 there were attempts to overthrow Imam Ahmad bin Yahya. When he died in 1962, an officer rebellion, later known as the Revolution, erupted and Ahmad's successor, Mohammed al-Badr, was overthrown. The rebellion was backed by Egypt and led to the establishment of the Arab Republic of Yemen.

The revolution led the monarchists to mobilize, with financial and military support from Saudi Arabia. Egypt entered the conflict to defend a radical Arab regime and to secure a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula. Around 70,000 Egyptian soldiers came to the rescue of the Yemeni military regime in the ensuing civil war. A United Nations Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM) was deployed in 1963-1964 to monitor the border with Saudi Arabia. Norway participated with a small number of observers in the force. Following the defeat of Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, Egypt withdrew from Yemen.

Fighting between Republicans and royalists continued until 1969, until the war ended in 1970 after costing around 200,000 lives. That same year, the royal family returned to Yemen. After an unstable period with several leaders, Ali Abdullah Saleh took over as head of state in 1978. In 1979, the country was attacked by Marxist South Yemen. The United States sent military forces to (northern) Yemen and supplied the country with weapons. The fighting ended with an agreement to unite the two states.

The government in Sanaa was also destabilized by the left-wing National Democratic Front (NDF), which was beaten after a major offensive in 1982. At the same time, South Yemen ended its support for the North Yemeni armed opposition, and a period of political stability began. Saleh founded a ruling party, the General People's Congress (GPC), the first of its kind in (northern) Yemen. Saleh was elected president in 1983.

South Yemen

While North Yemen was an independent Imamate, South Yemen was a British protectorate, while Aden had a colony status. It had the largest British military base outside Europe, with a high standard of living and extensive political freedom.

After World War II, an Egyptian-backed nationalist movement, the National Liberation Front (NLF), emerged, demanding independence and advocating the creation of a socialist state in southern Yemen. In 1961, Aden joined the Federation of Southern Arabia, however, not an independent state formation but a loose association. In 1963, NLF started an armed resistance struggle against the British regime. In Aden, another group operated, Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). In 1967, NLF took control of Aden from FLOSY after a brief civil war, and then established control of the interior.

In 1966, the United Kingdom began decolonization, and withdrew from Aden on November 30, 1967. Thus, South Yemen became an independent state. The country's first president was Qahtan al-Shaabi from the NLF.

The new state expelled British military advisers and replaced them with Soviet; The Soviet Union also supplied South Yemen with weapons. After internal contradictions in the NLF, Shaabi was deposed in a coup in 1969 and replaced by a presidential council, led by Salim Rubai Ali. The change of power meant a left turn, and in 1970 the country's name was changed to the Democratic People's Republic of Yemen.

Political instability characterized the 1970s. A quarter of the population fled the country, which was in constant crisis and sustained through Soviet assistance. The relationship with Northern Yemen was conflict-ridden, and there was fighting at the border in 1972. In 1978, the NLF was transformed into a Marxist-Leninist party, the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP). The internal disputes led to a brief civil war in 1986.

Collection in one state

Despite strong contradictions, battles on the border in 1973 and 1979 and mutual interference in the other state's internal affairs, both countries were ready for a merger. Already in 1972, the two states signed the first of several agreements to merge, which, however, did not occur until 1990.

In addition to historical and cultural conditions, with a common Yemenite identity, economic development in particular was crucial. South Yemen could no longer count on support from the Soviet Union, and the state's existence was threatened. An important factor was also the discovery of oil and natural gas in both states; partly in disputed border areas. One reason why a rally was difficult was ideological contradictions, and the fact that states were not equal partners and one of them (the northern one) would become the dominant one.

On May 21, 1990, both countries' parliament approved the merger; unanimously in the south, against some opposition from Islamists in the north. The next day, the two national assemblies met for a joint session and elected a five-man presidency. (Northern) Yemen, by virtue of its size and economy, was the strongest party in the new state formation, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh became the new Republic's president; the leader of the South Yemenite state-bearing party, Ali Salem al-Baid, vice president. Sana became the capital; Aden the new financial center. The parliament of the two former states was merged, and a liberal constitution was passed after a 1991 referendum.

The first parliamentary elections were held in 1993; the first democratic, general multiparty election on the Arabian Peninsula.


Yemen is a traditionally bound society, where both political organization and public governance within modern structures have a short history. Traditional power relations, and loyalty to the tribe and clan, are strong, not least in the countryside.

Cultural conflicts especially related to religion, including a separation between Sunnis and Shi'ites, have contributed to the uprising in the north. When integration between the two states did not emerge in the 1990s, this was due to both cultural differences and unfulfilled expectations of developments in the south.

The dissatisfaction with how the southern part was addressed within the United States led to political resistance and armed struggle - and to the southern part of the country trying to break out after a civil war. This rebellion was suppressed, but political tensions have persisted, giving rise to several impacts - including military rebellion in the north and political opposition in the south. In addition, political tension and violent actions are the result of the activities of radical Islamists.

Civil War

In 1993, political opposition grew in the south, and there was an armed clash between rival military units. In the spring of 1994, the conflict developed into full civil war between the two old states. This led in May to the then deposed Vice President Baid proclaiming the Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south, and broke out of the United States formation of 1990. After military fighting and siege of Aden, the South Yemeni forces were defeated and the rebels surrendered 7. July. Yemen was then continued as one state. Saleh was re-elected president.

Islamic growth

Weak central power and high tensions have contributed to the radicalization of radical Islamist groups in Yemen; above all, a local part of the al-Qaeda terror network: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Several well-known members of al-Qaeda come from these two countries, including Osama bin Laden.

Yemen has long been used as a base for terrorist actions. A radical group, the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, was active towards the end of the 1990s. Several members had backgrounds from mujahedin in Afghanistan; many of them then joined al-Qaeda. It is estimated that about 4,000 Yemenis participated in jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and that many more with experience there sought refuge in Yemen. Around 90 of the prisoners in the Guantanamo base in Cuba, more than from any other country, came from Yemen.

The US feared that Yemen would develop into a base for international terror. The fear was partly confirmed in 2000 when the US Navy vessel USS Cole was attacked during a stay in Aden, and in 2002 when the French tanker Limburg was hit by an attack. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Yemen and the United States began cooperation in 2002 in the fight against terrorism. As part of this, US special forces have trained Yemenite counterterrorism and security forces.

The 2015 war has allowed the Islamic State (IS) to strengthen its foothold in Yemen, partly at the expense of AQAP. IS has also carried out several actions in Yemen.

Foreign Policy

Northern Yemen and South Yemen conducted various foreign policy, with South Yemen particularly seeking support from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc; Northern Yemen had good relations with Saudi Arabia, and thus with the United States. In the late 1980s, South Yemen's relations with both Saudi Arabia and the West also improved. The United Yemen came into being after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and continued the relations established by both states; regionally and globally.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 put the recently united state in a difficult situation. Iraq was an important trading partner and aid provider, while Saudi Arabia was both a strong neighbor and Yemen's largest financial backer, as well as an important labor market for Yemeni workers. From December 1990, Yemen chaired the Security Council and sought to mediate in the conflict, without bringing it forward. Yemen's relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were weakened by the war, and the expulsion of over half a million Yemeni workers from Saudi Arabia had significant negative consequences for Yemen's economy.

When South Yemen in 1994 attempted to break out of the United Yemen, the new state formation was immediately recognized by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The authorities in the north accused Saudi Arabia of encouraging the outbreak, and even received support from Iran and Iraq.

Discussions to resolve a border dispute with Saudi Arabia were resumed in 1995, following mediation from Syria. The year before, there was an armed clash between the two countries over disputed islands in the Red Sea.

Relations with the United States improved after the Second Gulf War, and Yemen joined the international fight against terror in early 2001. In 2009, Saudi Arabia provided military support in the fight against Houti rebels in the north, while Iran was accused of supporting them.. After the regime change in 2012, Saudi Arabia, but also the UAE, has played an increasingly active role in Yemen. Saudi Arabia was the driving force for the multinational military intervention in 2015. The UAE was one of the coalition countries that sent the largest ground forces to Yemen.

The relationship with Oman has traditionally not been good, but in the late 1980s there was a reconciliation between South Yemen and Oman. This paved the way for a 1992 border demarcation agreement; in 1993 the border was opened.

During the liberation war in Eritrea, Yemen in the 1980s welcomed thousands of refugees from there. In 1995 there were military meetings between the two countries; the conflict revolved around control of the Hanish Islands. In 1998, the International Court of Justice in The Hague granted Yemen control over the majority of the islands.

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