*** Yemen nodern Yemeni history

Modern Yemeni History

Yemen history
Figure 1.--This well armed Yemeni boy is shown un a 1938 photograph. All kinds of different weapons were circulating in Yemen by this time. The Arabian Peninsula was still very poor place. Oil had not yet bee developed in Saudi Areabia. The people who armed this kid were probably using guns that could be 20 or more years old. Way older then the boy. Yemen despite its location on important trade routes is one of the poorest most backward countries in the world. Its traditional culture has proven to be fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism. And as with other Muslim countries without oil, the combination has locked the country into perpetual poverty.

The modern history of Yemen began with British intervention. Yemen had for centuries been loosely bcontrooled by the Ottoman Empire. British interest was assiciated with safeguarding the sea lanes to India and with the eradication of the Indian Ocean slave trade. The Ottomon Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers. The British aided by the Arab Rebellion drove the Ottomans out of The Arabian Peninsula as well as the Levant and Mesopotamia. Ottomon control of Yemen and Arabia was tenous even before the War. The Ottoman Empire was firmally disolved after the War. The Kingdom of Yemen was established. Britain retained a naval base at Aden. The country than became involved in the Cold War. One faction was supported by Nasser's Egypt with an Arab socialist agenda and am associstion with the Soviets. Another faction was supported by the Saudis and a more conservative agenda. Yemen itself was a very conservative country, basrely toucvhed by the modern world. It has thus been a country in which Islamic fundamentalism has coinsiderable appeal. Little is left of Nasser Arab socialism. Rebels in the north staged attacks in Saudi Arabia which resulted in a Saudi military response. The northern Houthi rebels belonging to the minority Shia Zaidi sect have clased with the Yemeni Army (summer 2009). In the fighting, hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than a quarter million people civiliansd displaced. The government declared a ceasefire (February 2010).

Early-20th Century

The mmodern history of Yemen began with British intervention. Yemen had for centuries been loosely bcontrooled by the Ottoman Empire. British interest was assiciated with safeguarding the sea lanes to India and with the eradication of the Indian Ocean slave trade. This process began in the mid-19th century and focused on Aden with it important natural harbor. The Ottomans held defacto-control of most of the arabin Peninsula, expect for British Aden in the extreme south. Despite the British success, slavery persisted in conservative Arab socities like Yemen. And while the Britilsh could interdict large slavers and close substantial slave markts, small dows carrying a few slaves were virtyually impossible to control when tolerated by the local authorities and both Islam and traditional customs.

World War I (1914-18)

The Ottomans joined the Central Powers and entered World War I seeking to reverse centuries of reverses (October 1914). They believed that German power would help them retake lands lost to the Russians asell as Egypt--a former possession. In the process they brought the War to the Arabian Peninsula. Their invasion of British Egypt to seize the Suez Canal failed. Suez was a major link in the British imperial system. The British began building up their forces in Egypt. The Arabs began to see the possibility of real independence from the Ottomans for the first time. Sherif Hussein bin Ali launched the Arab Revolt (1916). The British decided to support the Arab Revolt to weaken the Ottomans. They sent sent limited small arms to Hussein. And not expecting much sent T.E. Lawrence, a quite academic with no militry experience, but who spoke Arabic. Sherif Hussein had the idea of a unified Arab nation. In fact, most Arabs were tribal people and the idea of an Arab nation entirely foreign to them. Britain was also concerned anout their important naval base in Aden. Rather than tie down British soldiers, they enlisted the fierce Yemeni tribal fighters against Turkish garrisons. Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din saw the War as an oppotunity to expel the Ottomns once and for all and to unite the Yemeni tribes. Further north, Colonel Lawrence and the Arab Army attacked Ottoman Hejaz railway. Becaue of British naval power, the railway was the only way the Ottomans coukld supply their garrison in Yemen. Imam Yahya quickly destroyed the Turkish expeditionary force once the railway was cut. Yemeni tribal fighters stormed the Ottoman positions. They suffered substantial losses but proceeded to slaughter the Ottoman soldiers and officials.

Imamnate (1920-48)

The Ottoman Empire was formally disolved after World War I. The Imamnate of Yemen was established in the aftermath of World war I. The Imamnate was essentially a kingdom. The Ottoman educated Imam Yahya ( a Zaidi Imam ) declared the imamnate and was the first independent Yemeni imam (1918). Britain recognized Yahya as King of Yemen in the Treaty of Sevres officially ending the War (1920). The Imamnate primarily controlled northern Yemen. fter the Ottoman evacuation (1918), Imam Yahya moved to expand Yemen's territory, but his only gain was the port and surrounding area of Hodeida. The border with Saudi Arabia was poorly defined and the Saidis were able to gain support from manhy tribes, especially in the south. Britain retained its naval base at Aden. There was some discontent, especially in northern Yemen where some wanted more contact with the outside world. Imam Yahya was less interested in such contacts. He sought to supress the oposition by a policy of supporting traditional society and keeping the country firmly isolated and backward. The Yemenis fought the bloody Saudi-Yemen War which finally ended ended (1932). There was a brief Saudi Arabian invasion and skirmishes with Great Britain (which had the protectorate of Aden) (1934). Yemen's boundaries were finally negotiated by treaty with Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. The peace treatly with the Sauis was the Taif Treaty (1934). This basically delineated their common border, although it did not prevent occasional flareups. Clashes on the Aden border also occurred sporadically. The traditional policy of isolation gradually moderated and Yemen began to become involved in foreign affairs. After World War II, Yemen joined the Arab League (1945) and the United Nations (1947). Yemen begn establishing diplomatic relations with fireign countries. Imam Yahya continued to be both king and Islamic spiritual leader and ruled Yemen as a theocratical dictator. lines. Opposition forces gradually surfaced with aesire to modernize the country and ending Yahya�s autocratic rule. The most prominant opposition groups were young intellectuals, traders, and various local figures. Imam Yahya permitted no opposition. Criics were arrested and jailed.

World War II (1939-45)

The Mutawakkilite Kingdom (Immannate) of Yemen which controlled the north of the country entered into an alliance with Fascist Italy (1936). This was just after Italy invaded and occupied neigboring Ethiopia. Yemen With the outbreak of World war II adopted an strictly neutral foreign policy. The southern areas of what is now modern Yemen, known as the Aden Protectorate, was controlled by the British who werre primarily interested in the port of Aden as naval base. Aden was an important British naval base during World War II. After Italy entered the War (June 1940), Italian aircraft bombed Aden and Port Sudan. The Italian carry out air attacks on Berbera, Aden, Burao and Zeila (August 1940). Italian troops occupied Zeila, sealing the border between French and British Somaliland and opened up the coastal route to Berbera, the capital of British Somaliland. Italian troops enter the Port of Berbera. RAF Blenheims attacked the Italian columns. The British evacuated 5,300-5,700 combat troops and 1,000 civilians to Aden (August 19). The Italians without significant naval forces, could not pursue the British into Aden. The British troops from Aden, as part of the larger offensive against the Italians in East Africa, landed at and captured Berbera (March 16, 1941). They quickly recaptured British Somaliland. As the British stopped the Afrika Korps at El Alemaine (July 1942). Japanese incursions in the Indian Ocean did not reach Aden and for thr most part ended after Midway (May 1942). A few German U-boars operated in the Indian Ocean from Japanese-occupied Malaya. The British brought in RAF units (1942). They conducted anti-submarine warfare operations and naval escort missions out of Aden. The opposition to Imam Yahya grew substantially by the time of the War. The major underground groups, Hai�at an-Nidal, the Free Yemeni Party, and the Gamiyat al-Islah combined to form the Free Yemeni Movement (1944).

Anti-Jewish Rioting (1947-48)

Arab mobs in Aden as news about the partition of {alestine circulated, began attacking Jews (December 1947). There were no regular British troops in Aden at that time. Jews hoped that the British would bring in forces to cintrol the rioting. The troops proved to be Arab Muslims. They not only turned a blind eye to the Arab violence, but fired indiscriminately on Jews. Many Jews were killed.

Rebellion (1944-48)

Opposition groups grew in strenth during World war II. A fator was increased contact with foreigners. The opposition formally lunched a rebellion against the Imamate (June 4, 1944). Four prominent Yemenis fled from persecution in Aden. Imam Yahya refused to negotiate wih the rebels and attempted to destroy them with force. The situation changed dramatically when one of the Imam�s sons joined the rebels in Aden (1946). He soon became the leading figure in the resistance. Dissatisfaction grew and a palace revolt occurred (1948). The rebels suceeded in assassinated Imam Yahya (1948). Crown Prince Ahmad drove out the insurgents and succeeded his father as imam. The new iman was a modernizing force. He accepted technical and economic assistance from both the West and the Soviet bloc.

Imam Ahmad (1948-62)

With the death of Imam Yahya, Abdullah bin Ahmed al Wazir was proclaimed as leader of the country and Yemeni head of the state. Yahya's oldest son, Prince Ahmad, escaped to Hajjah and organized an opposition. He staged a countercoup from his base in Hajjah which suceeded. Ahmed had Wazir executed publicly. Imam Yahya was thus succeeded by his eldest son Imam Ahmed. Yemnen joined the Arab League and the United Nations (1947). Prince Ahmad permitted his tribal warriors to plunder and burn Sana. Prince Ahmad proclaimed himself the new Imam and moved the capital from Sana�a to Taizz. One Yemeni source reports that Sana had always been a peaceful enclave, 'protected since the days of the Prophet'. Imam Ahmad ruled the country for 14 years. One source describes it as 14 'torturous years'. Another source describes him as 'cruel' leader, Ahmad 'the horrible'. He continued his father's policy of isolation and autocratic rule. He controlled every detail of statre policy. Even visa applications required his signature. Every air plane take-off required his permission. He enjoyed an opulent life style and the comopny of beautiful women. He received some foreign aid and used it for a variety of developing projects. He established diplomatic relations with Britain, the United States, and Egypt (1951) and the Soviet Union (1956). Yemen entered into theoretical political union as part of the United Arab Republic with Egypt and Syria (1958-61). When Imam Ahmed died, Yemen was still one of the poorest most backward nations in the world. There were still no paved roads, no doctors except a few forigners, no schools except Koranic madrassas, and no seculasr law. The only law was Shari�a law. There were no factories and virtually no public health effort. Discontent simmered. Some Yemenis wanted and end to the Imanate and the creaton of a republic., Imam Ahmad was wounded an assassination attempt (1961) and he died of his wounds (1962).

United Arab Republic (1958-62)

With the emergance of Nassar in Egypt, thevArabs began to consider a unified Arab nation. Yemen joined in the United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria). (1958-61) It was a union in name owber. None of the prners wanted to give up their soverignty. Disorders occured (1959). Imam Ahmad survived an assassination attempt (1961), but died (1962). Imam Ahmad was succeeded by Crown Prince Muhammad al-Badr (later Imam Mansur Billah Muhammad), who adopted a neutralist foreign policy.

North Yemen: Revolution and Civil War (1962-70)

The North Yemen Revolution and Civil War was was waged by royalist forces of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom (Imamnate) and republican supporters of the Yemen Arab Republic (1962-70). At the time, northern Yemen was often just refrred to as Yemen because southern Yemen was still the British colony of Aden. The revolution began at Tahrir square in Sana�a. Imam Ahmed was succeeded by his son Crown Prince Mohammed al Badr. Eight days later, a pro-Nassar coup against Prince Mohammed removed him from office and inprisoned him. The Republican leader was Abdullah as-Sallal. He launched a coup d'�tat which dethroned the newly crowned young Imam Muhammad al-Badr and declared Yemen a republic (1962). The Imam escaped to the Saudi Arabian border and rallied popular support from Northern Shia tribes to retake power, escalating shortly to a full scale civil war. He organized royalist tribes to resist the new government. Yemen became an intra-Arab battlefield. They established the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). This marked the start of the revolution and deep divisions in Yemeni society. The regime was headed by Co. Abdalla al Salal. Both the Soviet Union and the United States recoconized the regime. Imam Badr managed to escaped from prison and fled to to the north where there was tribal support. He raised tribal forces and got support from Saudi Arabia which oppopsed Nasser's Arab socialism. This launched a civil war which lasted nearly 8 years and would leave not only the country divided, but tribes, clans, and even families divided as well. Yemen discended into civil war. Egypt supporting the republicans and Saudi Arabia and Jordan the royalists. Egypt with Soviet arms supported the republicans. Egypt sent troops to support the Yemeni Republican government. The Saudis supported the royalists. The situation was further cmplicated when Yemeni republicans split into opposing factions separated by the issue of Egyptian support. The independent government of Premier Hassan al-Amri was ousted by pro-Egyptian elemebts (1966). al-Salal became premier. He ordered Al-Amri's supporters arrested or removed from office. Egypt withdrew its forces from Yemen to prepare for war with Israel (1967). The Saudis agreed to do the same. Al-Salal's government was overthrown while he was abroad (November 1967). A three-man republican council was formed with Qadi Abd al-Rahman al-Iryani (one of the anti-Egyptian leaders) as chairman; al-Amri resumed the premiership. Fighting between the republicans and the royalists continued until 1970, when Saudi Arabia recognized the republican giverment. They terminated assistance to the royalists. A Royalist offensive managed to surround Sana�a (1967). The seige last 70 days. The battle of Sana�a in the end was won by the fire power of Soviet supplied weapons as well as willingnees of the militia and people of Sana�a to resist. One man proved critical in the fight. Qassem Munassar, a key Royalist tribal general switched sides (1968) He brought his Beni Husheich tribe and 60,000 allied fighters over to the Republicans. He was disgusted with the 'tribe of arguing princes' who dominated the Royalist faction. Munassar concluded tkey hat the Imamnate simply could not be reformed into a modern, progressive government. Imam Al Badr left Yemen and went into exile in Saudi Arabia (March 1969). Tribal leaders killed Munassar (June 29, 1969).

South Yemen: War of Independence (1963-1967)

South Yemen fought its War of Independence (1963-67). The British called it the Aden Emergency. The South Yemen/Aden story begins when a British squadron appeared off Aden (1839). The British at the time were just beginning their campaign against the Indian Ocean slave trade and needed a safe base. Cannon fire from the Royal Navy overcame the ancient fortifications and the British seized control of the port. This left the British in firm control of the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. They gradually extended a degree of control over the interior. The situation in what is now Yemen was complicated. The Ottomans had a garrison in northern Yemen. The opening of the Suez Canal increased the strategic importance of Yemen (1869). Imam Yahya was an important local figure who wanted to expel the foreigners and sought to use the British to help expel the Ottomans. Fighting occurred between Turks and Yemenis. There was also infighting between imams as well as domestic resistance to them. All this infighting assisted the British as it deflected opposition to their colonial regime. After World War II, the Free Yemenis marched on Sana�a (1948). The nationalist movement, however failed to unify and the British continued their control of Aden. The independence effort was not rejuvenated until a decade later. Aden�s trade unions united to form the Aden Trade Union Congress (ATUC) (1956). The ATUC by the early 1960s was playing a leading role in the independence movement. Two key groups emerged, the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Nasserite Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSY). FLOSY pursued generally peaceful methods. The NLF was much more aggresive and received not only Egyptian aid, but East Bloc assistance. The charismatic leader of NLF, Qahtan Mohammed ash-Shaabi unified the independence movement (1963). Egypt and Saudu Arabia sponsored a peace plan (1965). This did not, however, end the infighting. For four long years street battles were fought in Aden�s Crater City and then throughout the interior. The British and the NLF decided to destroy the Nasserite FLOSY. If Britain had to withraw from Aden, the NLF seemed the better option. The Nassarite Pan-Arabic influence seem more of a threat. As a result, 3 murderous days FLOSY was largely destroyed. The British after 4 years of fighting decided to withdraw and leave NLF leader Ash-Shaabi in comtrol. Britain granted independence to South Yemen (1967). Ash-Shaabi became the the first Bedouin/peasant president of South Yemen. He demanded 100 million pounds as reparation for 128 years of colonial control. Of course it was an open question if Brotish rule actually cost Aden something or the population benbefited, but we supose that the it could have been justified as unpaid rent. The British offered only a pittance and involved controls over development projects. Independent South Yemen as a result opted for Soviet assitance. The last British regiment left Aden (November 29, 1967). South Yemen was independent, but basly fractured by politicl infighting. Despite the long period of control, Britain had done little to develop Aden or change the social fabric. It was less developed than most of the other Arab countries--largely a backward, medievel society. The ideal of Arab Socialism abd the Soviet aid resulted in the founding of the Marxist People's Republic of South Yemen which some believed would rapidly develop the country.

Northern and Southern Yemen Disputes (1967-90)

After independence there were frequent border clashes occurred between Southern and Northern Yemen. For the first time there were real dufferencesbeyound tribal disputes and Islamic theology. Agreement was finally achieved between Royalists and Republicans and after this the kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognized the Arab Republic of Yemen without conditions on (July 23, 1970). This finally ended nearly 8 years of conflict. And it left two neighboring Arab states with widely different social systems. The two sides signed and accord to unify Yemen by merging the North and South (1972). Actual implementation did not occur and border incients continued. Chairman al-Iryani resigned after he proved unable to resolve internal political differebces (June 12, 1974). A group of army officers led by Col. Ibrahim al-Hamidi staged a non-violent coup in Northern (June 13). The officers established a command council to govern the country. They suspended the constitution, and reestablished civilian rule. Al-Hamidi was assassinated (October 1977). He was succeeded by Lt. Col. Ahmad al-Ghashmi, who continued a civilian administration until he too was assassinated (June, 1978). Finally Lt. Col. Ali Abdullah Saleh seized control. He strengthened some democratic procedures. The endemic border fighting with neighboring Southern Yemen erupted into full-scale war (early-1979). Peace was quickly restired. Another unification agreement was devised. Saleh was elected for his third term in 1988. Southern Yemen

Unification (1990)

Yemen was finally unified (1990). The Yemen Arab Republic (North) joined with the People�s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South) to form the Republic of Yemen. Very little is left of the Cold war socialist ideoliogy.

Violence (2000s)

Violence hs become oervasive in Yemen and acts to perpetuate the cycle of poverty in which most Yemenis are locked. This impoverished nation is badly fractured along religious and tribal lines. The Arab Socialism of the 1960s is now virtually not existent. Rebels in the north staged attacks in Saudi Arabia which resulted in a Saudi military response. The northern Houthi rebels belonging to the minority Shia Zaidi sect have clased with the Yemeni Army (summer 2009). In the fighting, hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than a quarter million people civiliansd displaced. The government declared a ceasefire (February 2010). Ther is Shiite revolt in the north, a seccesionist movement in the south, and a strong and growing al-Qaeda movement. Al-Qaeda has strong symbolic appel, but ioffers little to address the factors that have made Yemen among the poorest in the world. The al-Qaeda strategy seems to be to make alliamces with tribal groups.


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Created: 10:40 AM 12/30/2011
Last updated: 12:40 PM 3/21/2016