Yemen in A Century [Archives:2000/02/Reportage]
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 Sokotra 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 Sana’a but failing to take Aden. The armies of the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt in 1517, and in 1538 brought most of Yemen under their control.
The Flourishing Coffee Trade
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 division of Yemen
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.
The Zaydi Rule
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 Ottomans were expelled nearly a century after taking control, after a long struggle led by the Zaydi imamate that united and strengthened Yemeni identity and ushered in a long period of Zaydi rule.
The Preparations for the Revolution
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 here in Yemen, 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.
The Birth of the Yemen Arab Republic
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.
Rule of 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.
Rule of Al-Iryani
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.
Rule of Ibrahim Al-Hamdi
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.
A Short Rule by Al-Ghasmi
Al-Hamdi was assassinated in 1977, and his successor, former Chief of Staff Ahmed Hussein al-Ghashmi, was killed in June 1978 without having the chance to prove himself worthy of the presidency.
The Rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh
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 vital 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.
Birth of the PRSY and then, the PDRY
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).
USSR influence and the 1986 January events
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. The short civil war was famous for the January events, which lead to massacres in the streets of Aden. All the ones involved in this bloody event still can recall the bloodshed in the streets of the city. After the war, former premier Haydar Bakr al-Attas was elected president in October of the same year.
Increasing Tensions between the two Yemens
Relations between North Yemen and South Yemen grew increasingly conciliatory after 1980. Border arguments 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.
A Unified Republic
In December 1989 South and North Yemen’s 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. Sana’a was declared the political capital of the Republic of Yemen, and Aden the economic capital.
Emergence of Multi-Party System and Press Freedom
The unity of Yemen had an important effect in the history of Yemen as the reason behind establishing a multi-party system to involve the two ruling parties. 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. However, the dream was not to come true.
The Gulf War
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.
1993 Parliamentary Elections
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.
Signs of a Civil War
The successful elections quickly gave way to political turmoil. In August 1993 Vice President al-Beidh withdrew from Sana’a 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 Sana’a; 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 Sana’a; the fighting signaled the disintegration of the Yemeni union.
The 1994 Civil War
Yemen exploded into full-scale civil war in early May 1994. Both sides carried out missile attacks in and around Sana’a 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 1994, 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.
The Aftermath of War
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 1994 more than 100 cases of cholera were diagnosed in Aden, due, to water shortages in the city.
In September 1994 the Yemeni legislature approved a number of major reforms to the country’s 1991 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.
The Yemen-Saudi border negotiations resumed
After being able to sort out the border dispute with Oman in 1993, Yemen tried to do the same with its most influential neighbor, Saudi Arabia. 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 mid-1999 the two sides had not agreed on a formal border.
Eritrean-Yemeni Border Dispute
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 Eritrea claimed 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. In October 1998 the arbitration tribunal ruled that Hanish al Kabir belonged to Yemen, and Eritrea withdrew from the island. Of the remaining Hanish Islands, the tribunal awarded some to Yemen and some to Eritrea. Both countries accepted the ruling and moved to normalize relations.
1997 Parliamentary Elections
In April 1997 President Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) was returned to power in the first parliamentary elections since the 1994 civil war. Many members of the opposition boycotted the elections, alleging unfair tactics by the GPC. International election monitors, however, reported that the elections were mostly fair.
1999 Presidential Elections
In September 1999 Saleh was reelected by a wide margin. The elections were to many a milestone in the democratic reforms in Yemen. However, according to , the percentage of participation was quite low to what was expected in such an event. The 94% the president gained against his sole competitor, Najeeb Qahtan Al-Shaabi, was seen as a push to the president to further improve the country’s conditions that he took the legitimacy directly from the people.
Yemeni Political Conflicts in a Century
By: Jalal Al-Sharaabi
Yemen has witnessed variant changes throughout the 20th century, crises as well as political conflicts, all of which have caused Yemen to pay a heavy price. Yemen has always been the victim of continuous conflicts agitated at times by internal forces and at other times by neighboring regional forces. Foreign Intelligence was the inciter and planner of some conflicts, but Yemenis were the instigators of far more.
Yemen had entered the threshold of the 20th century at a time when it was under the yoke of colonization; what was then called the Southern part of Yemen was under the strong hold of Britain, and since 1839 had aggressively oppressed Yemenis; killing, dislodging and torturing many of them and exploiting all the resources and potentials of the Aden.
To have a strong and tight control over Aden, the British colonizers established the Sultan’s System, according to which and with the British support, Sultans became the supreme power. They were also the whip used to exploit and blackmailed the innocent citizens and were also the same tool used to oppress the citizens of the other Sultans and get rid of its enemies. Thus, enemies of the Britons were killed by their Sultans.
At the time the Northern part was not much better, for the Turks used to violently oppress people as well.
From 1900, the beginning of the 20th century until 1962, the declaration of the Republic in the then Northern part and the revolution in the then Southern part in 1963 and the independence in November 1967, Yemen has passed through terrible and miserable conditions. The number of people killed and badly treated or hurt has been numerous.
The Turks ruled the Northern part of the country until the end of the 1st World War in 1918. Then, Imam Ahmad came to power. He exercised a very strict attitude in his dealings with the people. His period was characterized by a severe deterioration. On the other hand, Britain continued to control the Southern part until independence in 1967. Therefore, all the Yemenis, whether in the then Southern or Northern parts were victims of international forces.
Although the Northern part was free from colonization in 1918 by the coming to power of Imam Yahya Hamid Al-Din, the people came to suffer under the tyranny and oppression of this ruler.
This period was also marked by the signing of internal as well as external agreements and treaties in which abuse as well as negligence of the Yemeni sovereignty over the Yemeni lands was clearly marked. For instance, the Imam signed an agreement with Britain in 1934, renouncing the Southern part to Britain. Later in the same year, he signed another agreement with Saudi Arabia, renouncing Nagran, Assir and Gaizan, all Yemeni lands, basically turning them over to the Saudi Kingdom. Many wars as well as conflicts between the two countries have taken place, however, these conflicts and confrontations did not lead to giving these lands up for the Saudi control.
Though the opposition to the Imam’s reign emerged in the 1930s and was called “Contesting Organization,” this opposition was not at all effective for its objective was only to change the ruler.
Conditions in the Southern part were not in any way better, for detachments of the Popular bloc used to carry out commando raids, however, all came to nothing and did not affect the strong British Regime. As a result the people and those patriots who carried out these commando plans were exposed to aggressive killing and suppression.
The movement of 1948 in the Northern part led to the killing of Imam Yahya Hamid Al-Din, the first ever ruler of Yemen after the Othmanies colonization. However, his killing did not end the tragedy and agony of Yemenis, for his son Ahmad Yahya came to pull down Abdullah Al-Wazir’s government and left Sana’a open to looting and spoilage for Sa’ada and Haja’s tribesmen as they supported him in taking revenge for his father’s death.
The same thing happened in case of 1955 movement in which more than 30 patriots were killed. Conflicts and tensions continued even after the revolution of 1962 took place. The outcome of this revolution was that Imams’ reign was ended, and Al-Bader, the last Imam in Yemen, fled abroad; the declaration of the Republic and the appointing of Abdullah Al-Salal to the presidency of the first ever Republic established in Yemen.
Al-Salal remained in power from 1962 to November 5, 1967. Egypt during the reign of Gamal Abduh Al-Nasser was the main supporter of this Republic, however, the foreign intervention was quite large. And when the reactionary forces staged a coup d’ tat and brought down his rule, he fled to Iraq.
The revolution of October 14, 1963 in the Southern part marked the first signal of the independence that took place in 1967. Kahtan Al-Sha’abi was then the one who came to presidency as the first ever President after the British colonization.
After staging the coup d’ ‘etat against Al-Salal regime, Abdul Al-Rahman Al-Aryani was the one who came to control. His reign was supported by Saudi Arabia which wanted to control Yemen. However, Al-Aryani did not remain in power for long, for he resigned at a time characterized by political conflicts spread within his government.
In the Southern part Salem Rabee Ali succeeded Kahtan Al-Shabi to the presidency of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen within the context of political conflicts between the National Movement and Freedom Movement.
Then, Yemen witnessed a new era that was characterized by Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Hamdi taking the presidency in the Arab Republic of Yemen in the Northern part and Salem Rabi Ali as the president of the Southern part of Yemen. This was the only period characterized by harmonious and coherent relations between the two parties. The first ever agreement between the two parts in regard to the unification took place in 1972.
President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi started to launch a correctional campaign aiming at administrative as well as financial reform in all the governmental bodies and institutions on June 13, 1974. This period was featured by relative stability and a flourishing of the development process. Unfortunately, his reign didn’t last for a long time, as he was murdered on October 11, 1977, one day prior to his meeting with the President Salem Rabi to declare the Yemeni unity. Then, a temporary government was established and was chaired by Al-Arashi. This transitional government lasted for days. Then, Ahmad Mohammed Al-Ghashmi who was charged for conspiracy and murdering Al-Hamdi came into control. His reign lasted only for 9 months before he was murdered as the result of a bomb bag, coming from Aden during the reign of Abdul Fatah Ismail, the founder of the Yemen Socialist Party and the President of Southern Yemen at that time.
The political conflicts continued to take place in the two parts of Yemen to the extent of making military confrontations, especially after Ali Abdullah Saleh took control in the Northern part on April 1978. A military confrontation near the borders had taken place in 1972. The violent military confrontation took place in 1979 during the reign of the President Saleh when the Southern forces reached Marib and controlled some parts of it. However, the meeting held between the two sides in Kuwait made an end to such confrontations.
During the 1970s, the Southern part of Yemen witnessed severe conflicts among the ruling leaders of Yemen Socialist Party, the result of which was many victimized members from the political office of the party, including the Secretary General of the founder of the party.
During 1980s, the epic was characterized by some attempts to control these crises and political suppression through declaration of the People General Congregation (PGC) in 1982. This period was also characterized by the ruling power trying to assert its legitimacy through establishing some projects and trying to regain the people’s trust after that had vanished and vaporized in thin air after the murder of Al-Hamdi.
In 1986, the most terrifying massacre in the Southern part happened and around 40,000 citizens were victimized, besides a number of leaders of the YSP. The dead bodies were thrown in the streets for three days. The outcome of this massacre was that the Southern President Nasser Mohammed was compelled to move to the Northern part and then to Syria.
The period, from the time President Ali Abdullah Saleh came to office in 1978 to the time when the massacre took place in 1986, was featured by political conflicts as well as crises between the two parts of Yemen. The national Movement supported by the South used to be in constant clashes with the government forces of the North. The number of people coming from the Southern parts to the Northern parts had also increased visibly, especially the followers of the ex-president Ali Nasser Mohammed. The same thing happened in the Northern part, for some of the people moved to the Southern parts.
After the massacre of 1986, Ali Salem Al-Bid became the President in the Southern part of Yemen while in the Northern part President Saleh remained in office. This marked the beginning of a new era characterized by the ceasure of political assassinations of presidents. Conditions remained as they were until the civil war in 1994.
After 1986, the two parts of Yemen started to ease procedures for cooperation and it was easy for people to move from one part to the other using the identity card. The last agreement signed paved the way to the declaration of the unification of the then two parts into one part called the Republic of Yemen on May 22, 1990.
During the 1990s, Yemen entered a new era characterized by democracy and political pluralism. It was expected that the unification would heal all the wounds of the past and would make our leaders make amends and start a new page motivated by the national interest. However, after the unification Yemen entered a new turbulent stage in which the ruling sides did not trust each other. The three year trial period was featured by confrontations, political conflicts and assassinations of high ranking officials, especially from the YSP, the most dominant among whom were Majed Murshed, Al-Horaibi, etc. This led to a series of crises and hidden wars until 1993 when the 1st ever parliament after the unification was elected. It was expected that things would calm down after the election of the parliament, however, the outcomes of parliamentary elections of 1993 intensified the conflict when the YSP did not get the chairs expected in the elections while the Islah party, the opposition at that time, got more chairs. Then a coalition government was formed of the three parties, PGC, YSP and Islah. The temporary period was also characterized by the formation of the Presidential Council, formed of five members from the three parties.
After the parliamentary elections, the political conflicts and crises started to take new turns, in terms of the YSP leaders secluding themselves from the political life. Furthermore, a good number of them were exposed to oppression.
Then the Pledge and Agreement Record was made up, however, after it was signed by all the sides in Jordan, Adman, Ali Salem Al-Bid, the vice president of the Presidential Council, went straight away to Saudi Arabia instead of going back to Sana’a. A few days later the first ever military confrontation in Amran took place between the two camps; one belonged to the YSP while the other belonged to the YSP. Around 16,000 people, soldiers as well as citizens, were the victims of this confrontation. Then the War of 1994 took place, lasting for two months. It was ended by the entry of Northern forces into Aden.
Around 3000 persons, military and citizens as well as officials from the Southern parties, moved to different countries abroad to seek political asylum.
In 1997, the second parliamentary elections took place in which the PGC had the upper hand and took power over the Islah party.
On April 1999, the presidential elections took place. In these elections the current President, Ali Abdullah Saleh competed with one of the members of the parliament and who belonged to the same party, PGC, named Najib Kahtan Al-Sha’abi, the son of the first president of the then Southern part of Yemen. These elections were decided as expected with a resounding victory by Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The political scenario made up as a result of the political events within the 20th century was featured by assassinations and conflicts that cost Yemen much, devastating its economy and tiring the shoulders of Yemenis’ who have been paying the cost of all this at the expense of their own lives.
To sum up, the 20th century witnessed five presidents coming to power in the then Southern part of Yemen, most of whom were killed while the others were expelled and forced to flee the country. In the then Northern part of Yemen, six presidents came to power, of whom five passed away. All but one was killed. Therefore, Yemen in all the decades of the 20th century was the victim of political conflicts and crises which were originated and supported either by some external or internal factors.