Fanack Home / Yemen / Past to Present

History of Yemen from Present to the Past

Soldiers search evidences 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 north, south and the Houthis during the reign of 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 – who was a consultant of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthi movement came as a consequence of demonstrations that were 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 other several 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 fully tighten their military control over Aden; Saudi Arabia led an air military force to deny the Houthis control of the city.
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 the Saudi King Abdullah. A transitional government headed by Mohamed Basindawa (opposition politician) was formed.

After the presidential election that took place in February 2012, the new President Hadi began a campaign to trim Saleh’s influence and power. The new government set about to restructure security and military agencies, to proceed transitional justice issues, to hold a complete national dialogue and to make 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 reign of the Zaidi Imams Yahya and Ahmad, Yemen was cut off from external influence for nearly fifty years. In 1962, a republican revolt – aided by the Egyptian army – drove out Imam al-Badr to Saudi Arabia.
To read more, click here.

Only when the Egyptians withdrew in 1968, North Yemen established under the control of the Army 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 secession of the south 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, in addition to distributing public positions.
To read more, click here and here.

Saleh’s power did not face huge resistance, except for the conflict that erupted since 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) used to appoint rulers of Yemen. 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 hands of the Ottomans 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 the hands of Great Britain 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 help of the Persian emperor, Khosrau I who then drove out the Abyssinians and took over the country. In the 7th century, Yemen became an Islamic country.

To read more, click here.

Further Reading

In February 2008, French archaeologists discovered evidence for the earliest human presence in Yemen, in the mountain province of al-Mahwit, west of the capital city of Sanaa. These finds point to hominid occupation in the Palaeol...
Hadrami emigration, which for centuries went hand in hand with sea trade, was at its height during the 18th and 19th centuries, when many Hadramis settled in India, Malaysia, Singapore, and, especially, in what became the Dutch In...
The struggle for independence in North Yemen lasted five years (1962-1967). The main actors were the 'royalists', loyal to the Zaidi imams, and a coalition of aggrieved tribes and townspeople from the region of Sanaa and southward...
The two Yemens merged in 1990, but in reality the unification meant that the south was dominated by the north. On 21 May 1994, southern leaders declared secession, establishing the Democratic Republic of Yemen.
For more than two decades, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) was an interesting experiment in Arab socialism. Women were granted equal rights, a beer brewery was built, qat consumption was limited to weekends (qat i...
Before unification the YAR and PDRY merged their oil ministries, accelerated by the discovery of oilfields near their undefined border. Finally, in May 1990, the two Yemens were unified.
Yemen and the United States are officially co-operating in the battle against al-Qaeda. American CIA agents are believed to be operating in Yemen. In 2002, these agents hunted down and killed Qaid Sinan al-Harthi, better known as ...
The conflict centres on government penetration of the Saada region, a traditional stronghold of the Zaidis and the long-time capital of the imamate. The Houthi Faithful Youth movement started to rally wide support in the 1990s, as...
As in other countries, the Arab Spring in Yemen is a direct corollary of the growing economic and political crisis, with events in Tunisia and Egypt serving as a source of inspiration and catalysis.
While removing Saleh loyalists from their high-ranking posts was an important step to curb the power of the Saleh camp within the military, as head of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party Saleh retained significant pow...

© Copyright Notice

Please contact us in case of omissions concerning copyright-protected work. The acquired copyright protected images used on/as featured image of this page are: Xinhua ©Hollandse Hoogte

"The heritage of knowledge is more valuable than gold."
Yahya ibn Abi Kathir (769-848)

We are a Dutch not for profit organisation (NGO), financed solely by individuals who share our belief in the importance of publishing and disseminating reliable, unbiased information on the Middle East & North Africa region. To represent the voice of the region’s people, we carefully echo the region’s heartbeat by offering fact-checked and therefore credible information.

Your support is greatly appreciated and helpful!