Re-unified in 1990 after more than 150 years of division, Yemen is a poor country with declining oil reserves, tribal and religious divisions, and a weak government. Nevertheless, Yemen has a strong agricultural sector, a favorable location on world trade routes, and a fairly well educated urban population. Yemen has been particularly prominent as regards the militant Islamist movement. Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, is of Yemeni (Hadrami) origin, and prior to 2002 al-Qaeda and similar organizations operated rather freely in Yemen, where several well-known attacks on Western-associated targets, including the US Navy destroyer Cole, have occurred.
Yemen is now facing two conflicts—in the far north and in the former Southern Yemen—that may lead to its breakdown or becoming more of a failed state like its close neighbor Somalia. Yemen’s violence reached the United States when a Nigerian man, who took his orders from Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, tried to set off a bomb on an American-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009.
Lay of the Land: Yemen occupies the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to the south, and the Sultanate of Oman to the east. Yemen lies just north of Bab el Mandeb, the strategic passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, across which lie the African nations of Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. With an area of 203,837 square miles, Yemen is comparable in size to Thailand, and somewhat larger than the state of California. The country can be divided geographically into four main regions: the Tihama coastal plains in the west, the western highlands, the eastern highlands, and the Rub al Khali in the east. The Tihamah (“hot lands”) form a flat and arid coastal plain with extensive crescent-shaped sand dunes. Water evaporates there so quickly that streams from the highlands never reach the sea, but they do contribute to extensive groundwater reserves, which today are exploited for agriculture. The Tihamah ends abruptly at the escarpment of the western highlands. This region, heavily terraced for farming, receives the highest rainfall in Arabia, increasing with elevation to over 40 inches in Ibb. The diverse agriculture includes sorghum, cotton and fruit trees. The eastern highlands (notably Wadi Hadhramaut) are an extensive high plateau over 6,500 feet in elevation. Though drier than the western highlands, the eastern highlands receive sufficient rain to support farming. Water storage allows for irrigation and the growing of wheat and barley. Populated by Bedouin camel herders, the Rub al Khali (“Empty Quarter”) in the east receives almost no rain. Yemen’s capital and largest city is Sana’a, located in the western highlands, while the country’s commercial center, located on the Gulf of Aden, is the ancient port city of Aden. Normally abundant rainfall and an agreeable climate account for Yemen’s relatively heavy population density and make it potentially one of the more prosperous agricultural areas on the Arabian Peninsula.
: Arabic (official), Sanaani Arabic 38.0%, Taizzi-Adeni Arabic 33.8%, Hadrami Arabic 1.5%, Mehri 0.4%, Soqotri 0.3%, Judeo-Yemeni Arabic 0.001%, Bathari.
Yemen’s strategic location at the southern entrance of the Red Sea—for millennia a crossroads of trade and communications routes—has decisively influenced the country’s history, economy, culture, and population. In the ancient world, the states occupying modern-day Yemen controlled the supply of such important commodities as frankincense and myrrh, while they dominated commerce in other valuable items, such as the spices and medicines of Asia and various luxury goods produced in east Africa. Because of its fertility and its commercial prosperity, the ancients called Yemen Arabia Felix (Latin for “Happy Arabia”) to distinguish it from the vast arid regions of Arabia Deserta (“Desert Arabia”). This fertility and prosperity was maintained by the stable rule of various powerful kingdoms (Sabaean, Awsanian, Minaean, Qatabanian, Hadhramawtian, and Himyarite) that ruled Yemen through Classical antiquity. The decline of these local kingdoms was due to the large migration of Yemeni tribes to the Fertile Crescent and Arabian Peninsula after the partial destruction of in the the Marib Dam by flooding in the 3rd century.
Yemen Times (English)
Yemen Post (English)
Yemen Observer (English)
Yemen Portal (English)
In general, the US had good, if not close, relations with North Yemen, while relations with South Yemen were generally hostile. The US established diplomatic relations with North Yemen in 1946, and was one of the first countries to recognize the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962. A major US Agency for International Development (USAID) program constructed the Mocha-Taiz-Sana’a highway and the Kennedy memorial water project in Taiz, as well as many smaller projects. In 1967, North Yemen broke diplomatic relations with the United States in the wake of the Arab-Israeli conflict of that year; relations were not restored until 1972. Although the US recognized the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in December 1967, relations were strained from the beginning. The State Department place South Yemen on the list of nations that support terrorism in 1968, and October 1969, South Yemen broke diplomatic relations with the US. Relations were not reestablished until April 30, 1990, just 3 weeks before the announcement of Yemeni reunification. At that time, the US had a $42 million USAID program in Yemen, and from 1973 to 1990, the United States provided North Yemen with assistance with agriculture, education, health and water. There was a Peace Corps program with about 50 volunteers, and the US Information Service operated an English-language institute in Sanaa.
The USAID program, focused in the health field, was reinvigorated in 2003 with the re-opening of an office in Sana’a. Yemen has also received significant funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative, which have been spent on literacy projects, election monitoring, training for civil society, and the improvement of electoral procedures. Currently, the US government considers Yemen an important partner in the global war on Islamic radicalism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas. Since late 2001, Yemen has stepped up its counter-terrorism cooperation efforts with the United States, achieving significant results and improving overall security in Yemen. At the same time, however, the US has frequently criticized Yemen’s approach to terrorists tried and convicted by Yemeni courts, which often involves a rehabilitative approach, including short prison sentences and affirmative assistance in exchange for refraining from terror-related activities and helping the government in its efforts.
1,078 Yemeni visited the U.S. in 2006. The number of tourists has increased significantly since 2002, when 445 Yemeni came to America.
Although US crude oil imports from Yemen averaged $241 million between 2004 and 2007, in 2008 they fell to zero, yielding a corresponding decline in overall US imports of Yemeni goods from an average of $270 million to $8.2 million and $6.5 million in 2009. Of that $8.2 million, two product groups dominated: green coffee ($4.9 million or 60%) and civilian aircraft engines ($1.25 million or 15.1%).
Qat (khat) is a natural catalyst from the Catha Edulis plant, found in flowering trees which grow in East Africa and Southern Arabia. It reaches heights from 10 feet to 20 feet and its leaves resemble withered basil. Chewing Qat is popular among both Yemenis males and females. The chewing of Qat initially amplifies emotions, weakens the appetite and it causes insomnia, which leaves some users unable to stand on their feet. Yemenis spend around one quarter to one half of their money on Qat, they spend four to six hours buying and chewing Qat daily and they devote a third of their agricultural land to cultivate it.
(by Steve Erlanger, New York Times)
Yemen is a republic (the only one in the Arabian Peninsula) whose law provides that the president be elected by popular vote from among at least two candidates endorsed by parliament. In 2006 citizens re-elected President Ali Abdullah Saleh to another seven-year term in a generally open and competitive election, which was nevertheless characterized by multiple problems with the voting process and the use of state resources on behalf of the ruling party. Although there is a multiparty system, President Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party dominates the government. While civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, elements of the security forces occasionally act independently of government authority. During an ongoing internal conflict that began in 2004, the government has used heavy force in an attempt to suppress the al-Houthi rebels in Saada governorate, while Human Rights Watch reports numerous human rights violations associated with the conflict.
How Should the U.S. Deal with Yemen?
Yemen’s modern history is filled with ongoing conflicts that sometimes has led to US intervention. But lately, these conflicts reached American soil; the November 5, 2009, Fort Hood Incident and the unsuccessful attempt to blow up a Delta airplane on December 25, 2009, made it impossible for US officials to ignore the Yemeni challenge/threat. The United States’ ability to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen is compromised by the economic crisis it is facing, the over-extension of its military forces and the hesitancy among Americans for any further intervention. Nevertheless, here are some possibilities for dealing with the Yemeni problem that are neither expensive nor easy:
The Dilemma of US Engagement in Yemen: How to Avoid Our Most Perennial Policy Blunders (by James R. King, Truthout)
(by Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy)
J. Rives Childs
Appointment: Aug 22, 1946
Presentation of Credentials: Sep 30, 1946
Termination of Mission: Left Jidda, Jul 21, 1950
Note: Commissioned during a recess of the Senate; recommissioned after confirmation on Jan 13, 1947. Commissioned to the Kingdom of Yemen. Also accredited to Saudi
Arabia; resident at Jidda, Saudi Arabia. He also served as Ambassador to Ethiopia 1951 to 1953, and was an internationally recognized authority on Giacomo Casanova, about whom he published four books.
(by Jay Newton-Small, Time)
Gerald M. Feierstein, who has counterterrorism experience, assumed the position of U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, one of the centers of the U.S. counterterror effort, on September 17, 2010.
Stephen A. Seche became ambassador to Yemen in August 2007. He earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1974, and worked four years as a journalist before entering the Foreign Service in 1978. He spent the first seven years of his career in public diplomacy positions in Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia. Other overseas assignments have included four years (1989-1993) as Information Officer at the US Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, and four years (1993-1997) as Press Attaché at the Embassy in New Delhi, India. Following his service in India, he returned to Washington for the first of two years of Arabic language training, completing the program at the Foreign Service Institute’s Field School in Tunis. From 1999-2002, he was Counselor for Public Affairs and Director of the American Cultural Center in Damascus, Syria. Seche returned to Damascus in 2004 as Deputy of Chief of Mission. Following the February 2005 departure of the Ambassador in the wake of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Seche served as Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Damascus until August 2006. During the 2006-2007 academic year, Seche was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Southern California, where he taught in the recently established master’s degree program in public diplomacy. He speaks Spanish, French and Arabic.