Yemen History - History

Yemen History - History

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The ancient kingdom of Sheba, and its port of Aden, occupied a strategic location on the Arabian peninsula, allowing it to have dominated the trade routes that passed from Africa through the Middle East to India and back again. Islam came early to the region and in the 10th century, the Zaidi sect gave Yemen its kings (and, concurrently, its religious leaders). The Zaidis ruled until 1962. But control over Aden was disputed by many peoples including the Portuguese, the Ottomans, and the British. Britain made Aden a crown colony in 1839, with portions of the country becoming a protectorate. The Ottomans exerted control over the region twice: from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries and from 1849 to 1918; they were expelled only at the conclusion of World War I and Yemen became independent in 1918. All did not go smoothly, however, as conflict arose with the Saudis, who invaded in 1934, and with Britain in 1954 over Aden. The throne was challenged in 1955 and when the imam died in 1962, the country was divided into North and South. Shortly thereafter, Aden and the protectorate began agitating for independence. South Yemen declared independence in 1967. Its leftist regime was socialist in nature. The North, civil war continued between royalist and republican elements until 1970. Clashes between north and south occurred in the early '70s and in 1979, full-scale war was launched by the South. North and South were reunited in 1990.

History of Yemen

Soldiers search evidence after a roadside blast targeted an army bus in Sanaa, Yemen, on May 5, 2014, Photo Hollandse Hoogte / Xinhua.

For many long years, Yemen is struggling. Once called “The Happy” Yemen, the country is stuck in a prolonged struggle where Yemeni parties became a pawn to territorial and international interests.

The country suffered from tribal confessionalism and internal conflicts between the north, south, and the Houthis during former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yet Yemen has been a cradle of civilizations and has been able to defend itself against the Ottomans and other invaders.

Fanack will dive in this section into Yemen’s history from present to past. By this, we attempt to get through the conclusive events which laid out this country’s present and identity from a historian’s perspective.

The Civil War (2020 -2014)

Yemen has been experiencing a huge human tragedy since September 2014. This occurred when the conflict broke out between different Yemeni parties. According to sources, the civil war led by October 2019 to 100,000 fatalities.

The crisis broke out in Yemen in September 2014. The Zaydi-Shiite Houthis took over Sanaa in alliance with the former Yemeni President and their old adversary due to his influence in the Yemeni Army. The Houthis took over control of the capital after clashes with forces loyal to General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar – a consultant of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthi movement came as a consequence of demonstrations organized on the outskirts and inside of Sanaa to protest against the increase in fuel prices.

After announcing Khalid Bahah as a prime minister of a new competent government in November 2014, the Houthis attacked in January 2015 the presidential palace. President Hadi was besieged at his home. They imposed house arrest on the Prime Minister and several other Ministers until both the president and the government resigned.

In February 2015, the Houthis issued a constitutional declaration to dissolve parliament. They established a supreme committee to assume the presidency headed by Muhammad Ali al-Houthi. President Hadi then escaped to Aden to retract his resignation and declare southern Yemen as a temporary capital.

Right before the Houthis were about to tighten their military control over Aden fully, Saudi Arabia led an air military force to deny the city’s Houthis control.
To read more, click here and here.

The Arab Spring (2014 – 2011)

In January 2011, demonstrations broke out, calling to overthrow President Saleh amid the “Arab Spring” uprisings. The confrontations between Saleh’s forces and the dissident army units escalated. Saleh was wounded in an explosion in the presidential palace’s mosque, and he was transferred to Riyadh for surgery.

In September 2011, Saleh returned from Saudi Arabia to take control. However, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for his resignation. With the pressures rising, Saleh signed a power transition agreement in the presence of Saudi King Abdullah. A transitional government headed by Mohamed Basindawa (opposition politician) was formed.

After the presidential election in February 2012, the new President Hadi began a campaign to trim Saleh’s influence and power. The new government set about restructure security and military agencies, proceeding with transitional justice issues, holding a complete national dialogue, and making preparations for a new constitution. However, the Houthis and the southern parties refused to participate in the national dialogue.
To read more, click here and here.

From the Royalty to the Republic (1990 – 1918)

Between 1918 and 1962, Yemen was under the rule of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom. During the Zaidi Imams Yahya and Ahmad’s reign, Yemen was cut off from external influence for nearly fifty years. In 1962, a republican revolt – aided by the Egyptian army – drove Imam al-Badr to Saudi Arabia.
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Only when the Egyptians withdrew in 1968, North Yemen established under the Army’s control and Hashid tribal confederation. On the other hand, Aden – who was then a British colony – was replaced with the People’s Republic of South Yemen, then this state was renamed “People’s Republic of Yemen” in 1970.

In 1990, South Yemen and North Yemen declared their unification. Ali Abdullah Saleh -From North Yemen- became the president. In turn, Ali Salem al Beidh -From North Yemen- was appointed as his Vice President.

However, fighting broke out in 1994 when Ali Salim al-Beidh announced the south’s secession from the new union. The war was ended when the southern army units were isolated from their power base. Afterward, Saleh completely dominated the political life, thanks to the balance that he made between tribes and army units and distributing public positions.
To read more, click here and here.

Saleh’s power did not face huge resistance, except for the conflict that erupted in 2004 with Houthis. By 2011, Saleh’s regime had already gone through 7 wars confronting the Houthis.
To read more, click here.

Islam, the Ottomans and the British (1967 – 610)

Traditionally, the Caliphs (Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid) were used to appoint Yemen rulers. None of the rulers succeeded in extending their rule over the whole of Yemen.

The Ayyubids ruled and united southern Yemen but never reached Sanaa. They were succeeded by the local Rasulid dynasty, who ruled southern Yemen for two centuries and even controlled Sanaa. The Rasulids were succeeded by the Tahirids, whose rule came to an end at the Ottomans’ hands in 1517. The Ottomans ruled for over a century, moving the capital from Zabid to Sanaa and back to Zabid after being defeated in Sanaa by Zaidi tribes from the north.

The Ottomans remained in the coastal areas, where they subsequently tried to control the maritime great powers such as Portugal, Holland, and Britain. The Ottomans would return briefly to Yemen in the 19th century. However, they too failed to rule the entire country. In the north, Zaidi tribes easily held out against the Ottomans, while southern Yemen had been in Great Britain’s hands since 1839.

On the other hand, Zaidi imams ruled northern Yemen from 873 until 1962. Their period witnessed several tribal revolts.
To read more, click here.

The Minaean and Sabaean dynasties reigned from the 10th century BC until the 2nd century AD. Their power was derived from their control of important trade routes between the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.

The strategic position of Marib on the Incense route catalyzed trade and led later to the foundation of the kingdom of Saba.

Christian Abyssinians under the command of Abraha (533 AD) invaded Yemen and ended the Himyarite kingdom. The Himyaris sought the Persian emperor’s help, Khosrau I, who then drove out the Abyssinians and took over the country. In the 7th century, Yemen became an Islamic country.

Yemeni Government

Yemen is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula its neighbors are kingdoms or emirates.

The Yemeni executive branch consists of a president, a prime minister, and a cabinet. The president is directly elected he appoints the prime minister, with legislative approval. Yemen has a two-part legislature, with a 301-seat lower house, the House of Representatives, and a 111-seat upper house called the Shura Council.

Prior to 1990, North and South Yemen had separate legal codes. The highest court is the Supreme Court in Sanaa. The current President (since 1990) is Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ali Muhammad Mujawar is Prime Minister.

Yemen — History and Culture

Yemen is a culturally-rich country, with most of its influences coming from the Sheba Kingdom as well as from early Islam. The music and dance in the country also stems from these times though today’s Yemen traditions were primarily founded by the Yemenite Jews.


Yemen is linked to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, with the Semites of South Arabia being the first civilization to inhabit the land from the 3rd millennium BC to the 8th century BC. But the country’s history dates back before this to the 23rd century BCE, when it was dominated by the Qahtani Yemeni tribe of Jurhum. The Semites remained dominant until 800 BCE, when the Sabaens ruled what was then called ‘Arabia Felix’. The Sabaens made Ma’rib their capital, where they built the Dam of Ma’rib. There were three kingdoms in Yemen during Sabaen rule the Kingdom of Ma’in, the Kingdom of Himyar, and the Kingdom of Aksum.

The Sabeans ruled Yemen from the 8th century BCE to 275 CE and were the most influential rulers in terms of culture in the country. They created the Sheba Kingdom, the kingdom that left the biggest mark on the country. In the 4th century BC, the Ma’in, Himyar, and Qataban kingdoms achieved independence. The Romans moved in however, when they reached Seba (home of the Sheba Kingdom), they were repelled, giving the kingdom control of the entire incense route.

The Himayarite Kingdom came into Yemen history in around the 1st century AD, and in the 5th century AD, most of the kingdom converted to Judaism. It wasn’t until around 630 AD that Islam came to Yemen, during the rule of the Persians and the time of Mohammed the Prophet. After this, Yemen became part of the Arab-Islamic rule and was a province of the Islamic Empire. What used to be North Yemen was controlled by imams (Islamic leaders), who where believed to be the true descendants of Muhammad. The Egyptian Fatimids helped the imams to remain dominate until the 11th century, after which time the Rasulid Dynasty ruled the country and made the city of Zabid its capital.

By the 16th century, Yemen was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and in 1892, the Ottomans moved the capital city to Sana’a. During Ottoman rule, the Portuguese occupied the port city of Aden though in 1832, it was taken by the British East India Company to use as a coaling station for ships heading to India. Eventually, the British and the Ottomans agreed on a border between the north and the south, dividing the two occupied regions in the country, though no clear boundaries were ever set.

By the late 19th century, the Ottomans ruled Upper Yemen, while the Zaiddyah ruled Lower Yemen. In 1918, Yemen gained independence from the Ottomans and became a monarchy ruled by the Hamidaddin family. During their ruling (from 1918 to 1962), there were a number of revolutions, which eventually brought on the North Yemen Civil War. At the same time, South Yemen assumed a Communist government system. It wasn’t until May 22, 1990, that the two regions united, forming the Republic of Yemen.

In 1994 a civil war erupted between the north and the south, with the south getting support from Saudi Arabia. The war lasted from April 27th to July 7th, 1994, and ended with the capturing of the southern capital of Aden by northern forces. In 1999, the country held its first presidential elections and elected President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2006, he was re-elected to serve a second term. The 2011 Yemeni Revolution forced President Saleh to resign, making vice-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi the new and current President of Yemen. The drafting of a new constitution is underway, while tensions between the north and south remain.


The Yemenite Jews left a strong influence on the music in Yemen, with many Yemenite Jews becoming music stars. Yemenite music was traditionally performed in the home while under the influence of qat, a psychoactive stimulant leaf with mild effects. This form of music is called homayni and it can still be heard in Sana’a today.

The Ottoman Empire left its mark on the local food, with the Yemeni cuisine being most related to this empire as opposed to the typical Middle Eastern cuisine that is popular in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.

Soccer (football) is extremely popular in Yemen, with the Yemen national football team competing in famous leagues such as FIFA and AFC.


Bean saltah is a common dish in Yemen. Image credit: wong yu liang/Shutterstock

The food served in Yemen has been influenced by some foreign societies such as the Indians and the Ottomans. Indian influence is particularly common in meals prepared in the country's southern region, while foods prepared in the northern region of Yemen have a distinctive Ottoman influence. Kitchens in the different regions of Yemen have some similar features, but one of the essential ones is a circular clay oven necessary for preparing Yemeni flatbread which is typically eaten with saltah, a stew with meat vegetables, and sometimes eggs. Although saltah is the most well-known Yemeni dish, it has its roots in Turkey. The people of Yemen, however, made the recipe their own by using a unique blend of indigenous spices. Another well-known Yemeni dish is ogda, another type of stew which can be prepared in a variety of ways depending on what ingredients are available.

The most important fruits and vegetables in Yemen are potatoes, tomatoes, and onions since they are used in the preparation of most of the meals. Mutton and chicken are the most widely consumed meat varieties in the country. Pork is not eaten as it is prohibited by Sharia law, while beef is costly and consumed rarely.

Yemen Sunni and Zaidi Rulers

Yemeni boys gather around an elderly man as he recites the Koran, Islam’s holy book, at the Grand Mosque, the main mosque for Yemen’s Zaidi Shiite community, in the old city of Sanaa on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on August 22, 2009. (Photo by KHALED FAZAA / AFP)

Sunni Rulers of Southern Yemen

It was not until the 12th century that Yemen was again invaded. Under the command of Turan-Shah, brother of Saladin, and supported by a powerful army of Turks and Kurds, the Ayyubids from Syria pacified Yemen. The Ayyubids ruled and united southern Yemen as far north as Dhamar but never reached Sanaa.

They were succeeded by the local Rasulid dynasty, who ruled southern Yemen for two centuries and, at times, even controlled Sanaa. Zabid was the governing capital of Yemen throughout Rasulid times and has remained an important religious and academic centre ever since.

The Rasulids was succeeded by the Tahirids, originating in Rada, east of the mountains. The Tahirids were not as ambitious or successful as the Rasulids, although they did leave Yemen the Amiriya school in Rada, famous for its architecture it has recently been renovated.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks ended Tahirid rule and ruled more or less nominally for a century, moving the capital from Zabid to Sanaa and back to Zabid, after being defeated in Sanaa by Zaidi tribes from the north.

The Ottoman Turks remained in the coastal areas, where they subsequently tried to control the maritime superpowers Portugal, Holland, and Britain. The Ottomans would return briefly to Yemen in the 19th century.

The Zaidi stronghold and the Crown Colony of Aden

The Zaidi imams ruled northern Yemen from 873 until 1962, after local tribes invited the first Zaidi imam to come and settle tribal disputes. The Zaidi imam heads a Shia sect, referred to as ‘Fivers’, followers of Imam Zayd. They briefly established states in northern Iran, but their stronghold was in Yemen. From the 9th century onwards, the Zaidi imams were a constant factor in Yemeni politics, at times extending their rule as far as Taizz.

The Zaidi imams, who were theocrats rather than military leaders, never fully controlled the northern Yemeni tribes. During the eleven centuries of their rule –during which they moved the capital back and forth from Saada to Sanaa and on to Taizz – tribal revolts broke out frequently across the country. In the south and in distant Hadramawt, smaller dynasties, tribes, and sheikhs contested Zaidi rulership.

In the 19th century, the Ottomans returned briefly to power, but they too failed to rule the entire country. In the north, Zaidi tribes easily held out against the Ottomans, while the Crown Colony of Aden and its protectorates, in southern Yemen, had, since 1839, been in the hands of Great Britain. The British controlled Aden and its immediate surroundings in order to secure strategically located Perim island in the Bab al-Mandab – the entrance to the Red Sea –and with it the important sea route to Asia. Aden also possessed a natural port, where long-haul ships could refuel. British rule did not extend much beyond Aden, where they entered into an alliance with local sheikhs, called Ingram’s Peace.

The Ottoman Empire perished after its defeat in World War I. Yemen was then already governed by a Zaidi imam, Yahya, with the exception of the Crown Colony of Aden, which was controlled by the British. He and his successors ruled the country under the name of the internationally recognized Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen. In 1934, Yemen lost the northern province of Asir to Saudi Arabia. Imam Yahya and his son and successor Imam Ahmad cut off Yemen from external influence for nearly fifty years. By abducting tribal sons as a short-term means of enforcing obedience, Imam Yahya alienated the tribes on whom his military rule was based. There were several revolts, but the imams always prevailed. In 1962, however, a republican revolt – aided by the Egyptian army and aggrieved tribes – drove out the fourth imam, al-Badr, to Saudi Arabia. Imam al-Badr died in 1996 in Great Britain, to which he had emigrated on Saudi Arabia’s official recognition of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR commonly referred to as North Yemen before unification) in 1972. His eldest son, Ageel bin Muhammad al-Badr, who bears the title ‘King (Malik) of Yemen’, lives in exile in London.

South Yemen and North Yemen are unified as the Republic of Yemen

After 150 years apart, Marxist South Yemen and conservative North Yemen are unified as the Republic of Yemen. Ali Abdullah, president of North Yemen, became the new country’s president, and Ali Salem Al-Baidh, leader of the South Yemeni Socialist Party, vice president. The first free elections were held in 1993.

Situated at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen was divided between the British and the Ottomans in the mid-19th century. The Turks were expelled from the north in 1918, but the British continued to dominate the south until 1967, when the Arab world’s first and only Marxist state, the People’s Republic of South Yemen, was established.

The unification of Yemen in 1990 did not go as smoothly as hoped economic troubles in 1991 brought Yemen to the brink of collapse, and a civil war in 1994 between southern secessionists and Yemen’s northern-based government temporarily dissolved the Yemeni union. Free elections resumed in 1997. 

Yemen History - History

SANA'A, Dec. 09 (Saba) - The history of the Yemen stretches back over 3,000 years, and its unique culture is still in evidence today in the architecture of its towns and villages.

From about 1000 BC this region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula was ruled by three successive civilizations: Minean, Sabaean and Himyarite.

These three kingdoms all depended for their wealth on the spice trade. Aromatics such as myrrh and frankincense were greatly prized in the ancient civilized world and were used as part of various rituals in many cultures .

The chief incense traders were the Minaeans, who established their capital at Karna (now known as Sadah), before they were superseded by the Sabaeans in 950 BC .

With the rise of the great ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and along the Mediterranean Sea, historic Yemen became an important overland trade link between these civilizations and the highly prized luxury goods of South Arabia and points east and south .


The primary conflict in Yemen is between Ansar Allah, otherwise known as the Houthi movement, and a coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the U.S. and the exiled Yemeni government. Other armed groups, such as the Southern Transitional Council and al-Qaeda, have fought both the Saudi coalition and other domestic Yemeni groups to pursue their own goals.

While it is useful to understand the many sides and political factions involved in the war, the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition remains chiefly responsible for the current humanitarian crisis. Removing U.S. support from the coalition would go a long way toward reducing civilian deaths and enabling Yemeni self-determination.

Ansar Allah (“Assistants of God”) aka the Houthis

A social/political/(para)military movement that began in the north of the country in the 1990s. Often called the Houthis, in reference to their founder Hussain al-Houthi and the prominence of members of the Houthi tribe in the movement, they originated as a protest movement organizing to address discrimination against Shi’ite Zaidis within Yemeni society and political institutions. Zaidis comprise approximately 35-45 percent of Yemen’s total population. In the 2000s, the Houthis were targeted by the central government for repression. After a failed transition to create new political arrangements in the wake of the overthrow of long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis launched a military campaign and took control of the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014.

Southern Movement and the Southern Transitional Council (STC)

A separatist movement originating in the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in South Yemen. Some southern groups maintain the goal of full secession, while others favor a two-state federal structure based upon the former Yemen Arab Republic and PDRY borders. Today, the STC and their military arm, the Security Belt Forces (SBF), control much of the former PDRY territory, with support from the UAE and diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Republic of Yemen Central Government

Recognized as the legitimate government of the country by the United Nations (and members such as the United States) and led by Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi from exile in Saudi Arabia. Forces loyal to Hadi seek to regain territory lost to Ansar Allah and other groups and exert control over the country once again.


A “big-tent” Islamist political party with origins in the Muslim Brotherhood. A member of the party at the time, Nobel laureate Tawakol Karmen, gained prominence through her role in the Arab Spring protests that led to President Saleh’s resignation. Al-Islah has repaired their relationship with Saudi Arabia over the course of the war, by aligning with Hadi and against the Houthis, but they remain in conflict with southern separatists and the UAE.

Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP)

A powerful regional branch of al-Qaeda, which fought the Houthis before the war with limited support from President Saleh. Together with its offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP seized significant territory in the south in 2014 and still controls some territory there today. Over the course of the war, they have sometimes fought alongside U.S.-backed Saudi and Yemeni government forces against both the Houthis and the STC.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)

Gave Hadi protection and launched primarily an air war with a coalition of other states to return Hadi to power. The coalition also includes (or has included): UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and Sudan.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

A key member of the Saudi-led coalition. UAE has had a more significant on-the-ground military and political presence than KSA, which operates primarily from the sea and skies. It occupied the island of Socotra and the former southern capital of Aden, where it established a notorious detention and torture program. It also played a key role in funding and directing Yemeni government forces in their 2018 siege on Hodeida.

United States

A key supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, providing targeting and logistical support to Saudi fighter jets. Long-time primary arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. Has also been waging a drone war in the country since 2010 (there were several more limited strike and special forces raids in 2002).

Islamic Republic of Iran

Has supported the Houthis, albeit more recently and at a smaller scale than is commonly asserted in U.S. and other international media. The Houthi movement is not a proxy force created or controlled by the Iranian government.

Authentic Yemen Coffees Can Be Expensive

Due to the conditions in the land in which the coffee fruits are produced, the yield for crops is very low compared to other varieties of coffee produced in the western hemisphere. The low technological processing takes longer, producing fewer beans from what was grown and at a slower rate. Since Yemen coffee production is slow and low, and because of its unique and highly prized flavor profile, the demand for it internationally is very high. This combination of low supply and high demand make it very expensive.

There are similar varieties of Mocha-type coffees, and many which are not considered authentic, which are sold by Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. This keeps competition very high. It also presents a challenge to have true Yemen coffee authenticated, creating more expense for documentation. Additionally, exporting coffee from the Yemen area has always been challenging, partly due to growing in a mountain terrain, but also from economic and political unrest in the region. Various bans on trade, dangerous trade routes and transporting, tariffs and poorly regulated border procedure can create challenges to exporting the beans.

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