The history of Yemen dates back to the 8th century BC. characterized above all by the trade in incense and the kingdoms founded on it. The most significant of these was Saba with its capital Marib. Already long before the birth of Christ, the landscape of Yemen had reached a high level of prosperity with agriculture and trade. Fortified cities, castles and temples had risen. But during the Hellenistic period the country lost the main source of its prosperity, the monopoly of the Indian trade, and thus the glory days of South Arabia soon came to an end. Eventually, a slow decline began for the ancient kingdoms along the ” Incense Road.”. By the beginning of the Middle Ages, the center of gravity of the Arabian Peninsula’s political power had shifted north to the coastal Hijaz with the cities of Mecca, Medina and Taif.
The Roman Empire attempted to conquer Yemen in 24 BC, but failed to bring the Sabeans under the rule of Augustus. In the 2nd century, the Himyarites managed to unify the country once more, but were conquered in 525 by King Ela Asbeha of the Aksumite kingdom in Abyssinia. The South Arabian feudal aristocracy, unhappy with the foreign dependence, later turned to the Persian Empire for help. The Persian king Khusrov I sent a force of troops to the country and, in conjunction with the rebellious nobility, was able to drive out the Abyssinian ruler. After this Yemen was, admittedly almost only in name, under Persian rule.
According to CachedHealth, Yemen joined the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in 628 and the people quickly embraced Islam. Within the Caliphate, however, Yemen became a fringe state. This favored the rise of several ruling dynasties in the 8th century, the most important of which were the Shia Islamic Zaydis, who would rule in northern Yemen until 1962. When the center of gravity of the trade route between the Mediterranean and India in the 8th century shifted from Iraq to Egypt, it also began in Yemen economic recovery. The country experienced its heyday under the Rasulids right into the 15th century.
With the discovery of the sea route to India by the Portuguese, Yemen lost its importance for world trade, but with the opening of the Suez Canal in the 1800s, Yemen was once again in the spotlight of the great powers. In the mid-19th century, Britain occupied Aden and southern Yemen, while the Ottoman Empire occupied the northern part of the country. British rule lasted until 1967 when they left Aden and independent South Yemen was formed. North Yemen under the Zaydis was able to assert its independence from the Ottomans in 1911 and formed the Kingdom of Yemen at the end of World War I in 1918. The conservative regime of the Imams led to the overthrow of the Zaydis in 1962 and the proclamation ofYemen Arab Republic. After this, a modernization of the country was indeed started, but the economic problems could not in fact be solved due to the rapid population growth.
Through a merger between North Yemen and South Yemen, in 1990 they succeeded in uniting the countries into one kingdom, the Republic of Yemen. Joint president was Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been president of North Yemen since 1978.
Yemen after 1990
The first parliamentary elections after unification took place in 1993, when Abd Aziz Abd Ghani as leader of the General People’s Congress (GPC) won 123 seats. Islah, a coalition of Islamists and tribal chieftains won 62 seats and Yemen’s Socialist Party won 56 seats. In 1994, the president appointed Abd Aziz Abd Ghani to form a government with the support of the Islamist coalition. This led to a two-month civil war between North and South Yemen in 1994 that ended with the defeat of the southern forces and Saleh once again dominating all of Yemen. After this, freedom of press and organization has been severely curtailed in Yemen.
Terrorist groups in Yemen
Al-Qaeda cells have carried out attacks in Yemen since 1992. The Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan (IAA) was formed by returning Yemeni Afghan soldiers and has been al-Qaeda- affiliated since the late 1990s. The IAA carried out attacks on Western tourists and warships in Yemen between 1998 and 2002. Government crackdowns on al-Qaeda cells began in 2001.
In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches in Yemen merged and called themselves Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). They aim to establish an Islamic state on the Arabian Peninsula.
Since 2009, the United States has carried out several bomb and drone attacks against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, but has also hit civilians and American citizens. In an attack on an alleged Al Qaeda training camp in 2009, the US instead hit a village, killing 55 to 60 civilians, including 28 children. On January 14, 2010, Yemen declared open war against al-Qaeda. Fighting with al-Qaeda further escalated during the 2011 Yemeni uprising, with jihadists attacking Abyan Governorate and declaring it an emirate. A second wave of violence began in 2012.
The full-scale civil war of 2015 (see below) led to the rise of new Sunni Islamist groups (Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS) which carry out suicide bombings in Shiite Huthi mosques. Shiite Huthi rebels have accused Saudi Arabia of providing support to Salafist groups for to suppress Zaidism in Yemen. February 2016 saw al-Qaeda forces and Saudi coalition forces fighting side by side against Houthi rebels.
In June 2019, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, supported by the United States, captured the ISIS leader in Yemen, Abu Osama al-Muhajir.
The 2011 uprising
A peaceful uprising started in January 2011 and followed the same pattern as other contemporary revolts in the Arab world. On February 2, President Saleh vowed not to run again when his term expires at the end of 2013. The protests, which originated at the University of Sanaa and spread from the capital to Aden in the south and Saada in the north, continued. At least 41 protesters were reportedly killed and around 200 injured when pro-government forces opened fire on them during a protest in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on March 18, 2011. The protesters had gathered near the university after Friday prayers to demand the resignation of President Saleh. President Saleh was the victim of an attack on June 3, 2011 and left the country to receive emergency treatment in Saudi Arabia for the injuries he received at the time. He returned to Yemen after three months, which led to new fighting in Sanaa between the regime’s elite units and the opposition.
On 23 November 2011, Saleh handed over half of power to Vice President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi after an agreement was reached mediated by Saudi Arabia in which he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution. In the southern parts, al-Qaeda gained a strong foothold after Saleh’s departure, something that Saleh warned would happen, and possibly also contributed to. The United States cooperated with the new regime to fight al-Qaeda, which chose to call itself ansar al-sharia to attract support in the clan-based society.
Hadi was elected on February 21, 2012 as the country’s president and thus succeeded Saleh. He assumed the presidency in a ceremony on 25 February 2012 in the presence of Saleh.
The Houthi conflict and civil war
The Houthi movement in northern Yemen was a participating party in the 2011 uprising against Saleh primarily to accommodate Zaydi interests. They were therefore critical of Saleh being replaced by the Sunni Muslim Hadi.
In 2014, the Shiite Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa. After a period of negotiations, in which President Hadi admitted that he had lost power, he resigned as president in January 2015 and fled to Saudi Arabia. However, he re-established his rule based in Aden in the Sunni-dominated south of the country where AQAP also controls areas in the east. In March 2015, the Houthi militia captured the country’s third largest city Taiz and a few days later captured the airport in Aden.
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states began airstrikes against the Houthi rebels to restore Hadi and his government. In August 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states landed ground troops in the port city of Aden and drove the Houthis out of southern Yemen. It received support from the United States, Great Britain and France with logistics and intelligence.
In December 2017, fighting broke out in the capital Sanaa between the Houthi rebels and the GPC. The fighting resulted in the killing of GPC leader and Yemen’s former president Saleh. The Saleh loyalists joined the Saudi coalition and together they began an offensive against Hodeidah which is a port city for the main supply of Yemen. After six months of intense fighting, the parties agreed to a cease-fire.
In early 2018, fighting broke out in southern Yemen between President Hadi’s forces and the United Arab Emirates – backed Southern Transitional Council. During the course of the war, an extensive cholera outbreak occurred in the country.
In September 2019, drone attacks took place on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis claimed they had carried out the attacks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Iran was behind the attacks. He did not present any concrete evidence for this and Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied any involvement.
The Houthis attacked Marib in 2021, which is the government’s last stronghold in the north and center of the surrounding oil-rich province. The air war between the Houthis and the Saudi coalition escalated in 2022.
The Houthi rebels and its three main leaders were labeled terrorists in January 2021 by the United States.
According to the UN (2022), the conflict in Yemen has caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million people – 80% of the country’s population – in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.