Official language: Arabic.
Area: 203,850 sq. mi. (527,968 sq. sq. km). Coastline --about 1,020 mi. (1,642 km).
Elevation: Highest --12,336 ft. (3,760 m). Lowest --sea level.
Population: Estimated 2000 population --17,051,000; density, 84 persons per sq. mi. (32
per sq. km); distribution, 75 percent rural, 25 percent urban. 1994 census --14,587,807.
Chief products: Agriculture --coffee, fruits, grains, khat, vegetables. Manufacturing
--building materials, handicrafts. Mining --petroleum.
Flag: Red, white, and black horizontal stripes.
Money: Basic unit --rial.
is a country in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf of Aden borders Yemen
on the south and the Red Sea on the west. Most of the people of Yemen are Arab Muslims.
Sana is Yemen's capital and largest city. Aden is an
important port and oil center. Most of Yemen is hot and dry, though there are a few
fertile areas where the land can be farmed. The high interior of northwestern Yemen is the
most beautiful and best-cultivated part of Arabia.
Most of the workers in Yemen are farmers or craftworkers, but employment in modern
businesses is growing. The country is famous for its Mocha coffee. Yemeni craftworkers
have been famous for their textiles, leatherwork, and ironwork since ancient times.
In 1990, two nations--Yemen (Aden), also called
South Yemen or Southern Yemen; and Yemen (Sana), also known as North Yemen or Northern
Yemen--merged to form Yemen. Yemen's full name in Arabic, the country's official language,
is Al-Jumhuriyah al Yamaniyah (the Republic of Yemen).
National government. A president heads the government. In 1994, the president was elected
by the House of Representatives for a five-year term. Beginning in 1999, the president is
to be elected directly by the people. The president appoints a vice president, cabinet
members, and a prime minister. The prime minister heads the cabinet. The people elect the
301-member House of Representatives, which makes Yemen's laws.
Local government. Yemen has 20 provinces, which are headed by governors appointed by the
president. The provinces have smaller divisions called districts. In 1994, Yemen's
president appointed a committee to revise the provincial boundaries. Under the new system,
the governors and other local officials were to be elected by the people.
Most of Yemen's people are Arabs. The rest are Pakistanis, Eritreans, Somalis, or Indians.
Most of the people are Muslims of the Zaydi or Shafii sects. The Zaydis live in
northwestern Yemen. They have long been associated with the government and the military.
The Shafii sect has a powerful merchant class. The division between the politically
powerful Zaydis and the wealthy Shafiis has caused bitterness between them. Clan
relationships are also very important to most Yemenis. Feuds between rival clans divide
many areas of the country.
Way of life. Most people of Yemen make a living as farmers or herders. Farmers grow crops
in the highland valleys and scattered oases. Herders raise sheep in the drier regions.
Many people make a living by doing craftwork. These workers produce handicrafts in small,
one-room shops. They make such articles as inlaid jambiyas (daggers), wooden chests,
brassware, and jewelry.
On the coasts and on Socotra Island, many people live by fishing. The men spear fish near
the shore from dugout canoes called sambugs, or net them in deeper water from single-sail
Many of Yemen's young men leave the country to seek work. Most of them are employed in
Saudi Arabia or other countries of the Arabian Peninsula.
Some city people reside in modern houses or apartment buildings, and many others live in
one-story brick houses. Some farm families live in towns, such as Sayun, that have
mud-brick houses three or four stories high. Others live in small villages close to the
land they farm. Near the Red Sea coast, many people live in straw huts.
Food and clothing. Rice, bread, vegetables, lamb, and fish are the chief foods in Yemen.
The national dish is a spicy stew called salta.
Almost all the men of Yemen and many of the women chew the leaves of a plant called the
khat (also spelled kat or gat). These leaves contain a stimulant, and they produce a mild
intoxication or euphoria (feeling of well-being). Groups of men and groups of women get
together most afternoons for a session of khat chewing.
Some Yemenis, especially those in the cities, wear Western-style clothing. Many others
wear more traditional Arab clothing. The men's garments include cotton breeches or a
striped futa (kilt). Many men wear skullcaps, turbans, or tall, round hats called
tarbooshes. Many women wear long robes, black shawls, and veils.
Education. Less than half the people of Yemen 15 years of age or older can read and write.
For the country's literacy rate, see LITERACY (table: Literacy rates). Public schools
exist in cities and larger towns. In rural areas, most education takes place in Muslim
religious schools. Yemen's first university, the University of Sana, was founded in 1970.
Another university is in Aden.
Yemen has flat land along the west and south coasts and high land inland. Beyond the
inland hills and cliffs stretches the Rub al Khali (or Empty Quarter), a sandy desert that
extends into Saudi Arabia.
The coastal plain along the Red Sea is called the Tihamah. It extends inland from the Red
Sea for 20 to 50 miles (32 to 80 kilometers). The Tihamah is hot and humid, and few people
live there. Temperatures range from 68 °F to 130 °F (20 °C to 54 °C).
A few rocky hills border the Tihamah on the east. Then, cliffs rise steeply. Rains have
cut into the cliffs, forming deep valleys called wadis.
East of the cliffs is an area called the High Yemen. Broad valleys and plateaus lie 6,000
feet (1,800 meters) above sea level. They are surrounded by steep mountains that rise as
high as 12,336 feet (3,760 meters). The high altitude makes the region much cooler than
the Tihamah. East of the mountains, the land slopes toward the desert of Saudi Arabia.
The coastal plain along the Gulf of Aden is mostly sand but has a few fertile areas. It
varies from about 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) in width.
A dry, hilly plateau borders the Gulf of Aden coastal plain. The plateau is cut by wadis
that have some rich farmland. For example, the land between Sayun and Tarim in the
Hadhramaut region in eastern Yemen is a farming area. The desert lies north of the
Rainfall averages 5 inches (13 centimeters) in Aden on the south coast. The High Yemen
gets 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain a year. It is not uncommon for desert
areas to receive no rain for five years or more.
Much of the economy of Yemen depends on extensive foreign aid and on the wages sent home
by the many Yemenis who work in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Farming and the
petroleum industry also contribute to Yemen's income.
The hills and highlands of northwestern Yemen are the most productive farming area.
Farmers raise such food grains as wheat, barley, and durra (a sorghum). They also raise a
variety of fruits, including apricots, bananas, citrus fruits, grapes, papayas, and
pomegranates. They grow beans, lentils, onions, and tomatoes in gardens. People on the
Tihamah raise durra and some dates and cotton. Agriculture in southern Yemen is limited to
the few areas with underground water for irrigation. Farmers grow three or four crops a
year of barley, millet, sesame, sorghum, and wheat. Since the early 1980's, the Yemenis
have worked to turn desert areas into farmland by means of dams, irrigation, and other
water and agricultural development projects.
Khat is the leading cash crop of Yemen. It comes from the leaves of a woody shrub that
grows in the highlands. Coffee is another important cash crop. Coffee plants grow on
terraces cut into the hills. Ancient aqueducts (water channels) carry water to the
Aden's oil refinery and port provide Yemen with much of its income. The oil refinery
processes oil shipped from other countries, mostly those on the Persian Gulf. Ships of
many nations use the port for refueling, repairs, and transferring cargoes.
Until the early 1980's, Yemen had almost no other industry. But large petroleum deposits
were found in the northwestern part of the country, and petroleum mining is growing in
importance. Construction is also a growing industry. Construction projects include new
factories, hotels, office buildings, schools, and roads.
Many goods in the country are still made by hand. The people weave and dye cloth, and make
rope, glassware, harnesses, saddles, and pottery. They sell their goods in the village
Trucks and automobiles provide most of the land transportation in Yemen. But many people
still use camels, donkeys, and horses.
According to Arab tradition, Semitic people invaded what is now northwestern Yemen about
2000 B.C. They brought farming and building skills to the herders who lived there. About
1400 B.C., an important trade route began forming. Caravans carrying pearls and spices
passed through Yemen. Cities, castles, temples, and dams were built during this time. The
Queen of Sheba ruled Yemen during the 900's B.C.
Yemen's prosperity ended in the A.D. 300's. Local chieftains fought among themselves, and
Abyssinia (Ethiopia) invaded Yemen. The next 1,300 years were marked by fighting between
Yemeni tribes and religious groups, and against invading Egyptians and Turks. In the
600's, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, introduced Islam to the people. In A.D.
897, an imam (ruler) became the political and religious leader of Yemen.
The Ottoman Empire, centered in Asia Minor (now Turkey), took over Yemen in 1517, and it
had varying degrees of control for more than 400 years. The Treaty of Lausanne ended
Turkish rule in 1924. By that time, the Turks were holding only northwestern Yemen. The
rest of the country had been taken over by the British. The land freed from the Turks was
called Yemen, though it was only part of what is now the country of Yemen. It later became
Yemen (Sana), and the land under British control became Yemen (Aden).
Formation of Yemen (Aden). Great Britain seized Aden in 1839, after people from the town
robbed a wrecked British ship. Aden became an important refueling stop for British ships
going to India by way of the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Aden was ruled from British India
until 1937, when it became a British crown colony.
To protect Aden from take-over by the Ottomans, Britain extended its control to the tribal
states in the region around Aden. Britain signed treaties with the tribal leaders,
promising protection and aid in return for loyalty. The region came to be known as the
In 1959, six tribal states in the protectorate formed the Federation of the Arab Emirates
of the South. Britain signed a treaty with the federation, promising to grant
independence. The date for independence was later set for 1967. Meanwhile, the British
controlled the federation's foreign policy and provided military protection and economic
aid. In 1962, the name of the federation was changed to the Federation of South Arabia. By
1965, Aden and all but four of the tribal states in the protectorate had joined the
In the early 1960's, Britain tried to form a representative government that would rule the
federation after independence. But radical Arab nationalist leaders in Aden and tribal
leaders in the protectorate both wanted to rule. The radicals began a terror campaign
against the British and the tribal leaders. Two radical groups, the National Liberation
Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY), also fought
In late 1967, the federation government collapsed. Britain announced that it would
withdraw its troops and give power to any group that could set up a government. The NLF
emerged as the most powerful group in the federation. On Nov. 30, 1967, the last British
troops were withdrawn, and the NLF formed a government. The NLF proclaimed the federation
an independent country--the People's Republic of South Yemen. In 1970, the name was
changed to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The country was often referred to as
Yemen (Aden), South Yemen, or Southern Yemen.
After independence, the NLF became the National Front, which merged with several smaller
political groups in 1975 and formed the United Political Organization National Front
(UPONF). In 1978, the groups that made up UPONF reorganized as the Yemeni Socialist Party
(YSP). The leaders of Yemen (Aden) favored some political principles of Karl Marx, one of
the founders of Communism. Yemen (Aden) developed strong ties with the Soviet Union, Cuba,
and other Communist countries. These countries provided much aid to Yemen (Aden).
In 1986, civil war broke out in Yemen (Aden) between the government and a group holding
more extreme Marxist views than those held by the government. The extreme group won and
took control of the government.
Formation of Yemen (Sana). On Sept. 26, 1962, military officers supported by Egypt
overthrew the ruling imam in what is now northwestern Yemen--then called Yemen--and set up
a republic. The officers named the country the Yemen Arab Republic. It became informally
known as Yemen (Sana), North Yemen, or Northern Yemen. The imam's forces--called
royalists--fought from their bases in the mountains to try to regain control of the
government. They were supported by Saudi Arabia. But the republicans, supported by Egypt,
ruled most of Yemen (Sana). The fighting ended in 1970. The republicans set up a new
government that included republicans and royalists. In 1974, army leaders took control of
the government of Yemen (Sana). They were conservatives who opposed Communism.
Unification. In September 1972, strained relations between Yemen (Aden) and Yemen (Sana)
led to fighting along the border they shared. But an Arab League mission was able to bring
about a cease-fire. In October, representatives of the two countries signed a peace
agreement and an agreement on eventual unification. Committees were set up to discuss
details of the unification. But continued fighting through the 1970's interrupted the
talks. Yemen (Aden) also was involved in fighting with Oman, its eastern neighbor. These
clashes went badly for Yemen (Aden), and in the 1980's it adopted a more peaceful foreign
Unification talks between Yemen (Aden) and Yemen (Sana) continued through the 1980's, and
the two countries increasingly cooperated in economic and administrative matters. In 1990,
they officially merged and became the country of Yemen. But disagreements between
supporters of the united country's president, who was from North Yemen; and its vice
president, from South Yemen, led to a civil war between northerners and southerners in May
1994. The fighting caused thousands of deaths and much destruction. Troops loyal to the
president won the war in July, and the country remained united.