The history of Yemen
describes the cultures, events, and peoples of what is one of the oldest centers of civilization
in the Near East
Its relatively fertile land and adequate rainfall in a moister climate helped sustain a stable population, a feature recognized by the ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy
, who described Yemen as Eudaimon Arabia
(better known in its Latin translation, Arabia Felix
) meaning "fortunate Arabia
" or "Happy Arabia
". Yemenis had developed the South Arabian alphabet
by the 12th to 8th centuries BCE, which explains why most historians date all of the ancient Yemeni kingdoms to that era.
Sabaean inscription addressed to the moon-god Almaqah
, mentioning five South Arabian
gods, two reigning sovereigns, and two governors, 7th century BCE
With its long sea border between early civilizations
, Yemen has long existed at a crossroads of cultures with a strategic location in terms of trade on the west of the Arabian Peninsula
. Large settlements for their era existed in the mountains of northern Yemen as early as 5000 BCE
Little is known about ancient Yemen and how exactly it transitioned from nascent Bronze Age
civilizations to more trade-focused caravan kingdoms.
Sabaean gravestone of a woman holding a stylized sheaf of wheat, a symbol of fertility in ancient Yemen
The Sabaean Kingdom
came into existence from at least the eleventh century BC.
There were four major kingdoms or tribal confederations in South Arabia
. Saba is believed to be biblical Sheba
and was the most prominent federation.
The Sabaean rulers adopted the title Mukarrib
generally thought to mean "unifier",
or a "priest-king".
The role of the Mukarrib was to bring the various tribes under the kingdom and preside over them all.
The Sabaens built the Great Dam of Marib
around 940 BCE.
The dam was built to withstand the seasonal flash floods surging down the valley.
Between 700 and 680 BCE, the Kingdom of Awsan
and its surroundings. Sabaean Mukarrib Karib'il Watar I
changed his ruling title to that of a king,
and conquered the entire realm of Awsan, expanding Sabaean rule and territory to include much of South Arabia
Lack of water in the Arabian Peninsula prevented the Sabaeans from unifying the entire peninsula. Instead, they established various colonies to control trade routes.
Evidence of Sabaean influence is found in northern Ethiopia, where the South Arabian alphabet
religion and pantheon, and the South Arabian style of art and architecture were introduced.
The Sabaean created a sense of identity through their religion. They worshipped El-Maqah
and believed themselves to be his children.
For centuries, the Sabaeans controlled outbound trade across the Bab-el-Mandeb
, a strait
separating the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa
and the Red Sea
from the Indian Ocean.
By the 3rd century BCE
became independent from Saba and established themselves in the Yemeni arena. Minaean rule stretched as far as Dedan
with their capital at Baraqish
. The Sabaeans regained their control over Ma'in
after the collapse of Qataban
in 50 BCE. By the time of the Roman expedition to Arabia Felix
in 25 BCE, the Sabaeans were once again the dominating power in Southern Arabia. Aelius Gallus
was ordered to lead a military campaign to establish Roman dominance over the Sabaeans.
The Romans had a vague and contradictory geographical knowledge about Arabia Felix
or Yemen. The Roman army of ten thousand men reached Marib
, but was not able to conquer the city, according to Cassius Dio
and Pliny the Elder Strabo
's close relationship with Aelius Gallus led him to attempt to justify his friend's failure in his writings. It took the Romans six months to reach Marib and sixty days to return to Egypt
. The Romans blamed their Nabataean
guide and executed him for treachery.
No direct mention in Sabaean inscriptions of the Roman expedition has yet been found.
A funerary stela
featuring a musical scene, 1st century CE
After the Roman expedition – perhaps earlier – the country fell into chaos and two clans, namely Hamdan
, claimed kingship, assuming the title King of Sheba and Dhu Raydan
Dhu Raydan (i.e. Himyarites
) allied themselves with Aksum
in Ethiopia against the Sabaeans.
The chief of Bakil
and king of Saba and Dhu Raydan
, El Sharih Yahdhib
, launched successful campaigns against the Himyarites and Habashat
), El Sharih took proud of his campaigns and added the title Yahdhib
to his name, which means "suppressor"; he used to kill his enemies by cutting them to pieces. Sana'a
came into prominence during his reign as he built the Ghumdan Palace
to be his place of residence.
According to Islamic traditions, King As'ad The Perfect
mounted a military expedition to support the Jews of Yathrib
. Abu Karib As'ad
, as known from the inscriptions, led a military campaign to central Arabia or Najd
to support the vassal Kingdom of Kindah
against the Lakhmids
However, no direct reference to Judaism or Yathrib
was discovered from his lengthy reign. Abu Karib As'ad died in 445 CE, having reigned for almost 50 years.
By 515, Himyar became increasingly divided along religious lines and a bitter conflict between different factions paved the way for an Aksumite
intervention. The last Himyarite king Mu'di Karab Ya'fir
was supported by Aksum
against his Jewish
rivals. Mu'di Karab was Christian and launched a campaign against the Lakhmids
in Southern Iraq
, with the support of other Arab allies of Byzantium
were a Bulwark of Persia
, which was intolerant to a proselytizing religion like Christianity.
After the death of Mu'di Karab Ya'fir in around 521 CE, a Himyarite Jewish warlord
named Yousef Asar Yathar
rose to power. His honorary title Yathar
means "to avenge". Yemenite Christians, aided by Aksum
, systematically persecuted Jews and burned down several synagogues across the land. Yousef avenged his people with great cruelty.
He marched toward the port city of Mocha
killing 14,000 and capturing 11,000.
Then he settled a camp in Bab-el-Mandeb
to prevent aid flowing from Aksum
. At the same time, Yousef sent an army under the command of another Jewish warlord, Sharahil Yaqbul, to Najran
. Sharahil had reinforcements from the Bedouins of the Kindah
tribes, eventually wiping out the Christian community in Najran.
Yousef or Dhu Nuwas
(The one with sidelocks
) as known in Arabic literature, believed that Christians in Yemen were a fifth column
Christian sources portray Dhu Nuwas
(Yousef Asar) as a Jewish zealot, while Islamic traditions say that he threw 20,000 Christians into pits filled with flaming oil.
This history, however, is shrouded in legend.
Dhu Nuwas left two inscriptions, neither of them making any reference to fiery pits. Byzantium
had to act or lose all credibility as protector of eastern Christianity. It is reported that Byzantium
Emperor Justin I
sent a letter to the Aksumite King Kaleb
, pressuring him to "attack the abominable Hebrew".
A tripartite military alliance of Byzantine, Aksumite and Arab Christians successfully defeated Yousef around 525–527 CE and a Christian client king was installed on the Himyarite throne.
was a local Christian lord, mentioned in an inscription celebrating the burning of an ancient Sabaean palace in Marib
to build a church on its ruins.
Three new churches were built in Najran alone.
Many tribes did not recognize Esimiphaios's authority. Esimiphaios
was displaced in 531 by a warrior named Abraha
, who refused to leave Yemen and declared himself an independent king of Himyar
. Emperor Justinian I
sent an embassy to Yemen. He wanted the officially Christian Himyarites
to use their influence on the tribes in inner Arabia to launch military operations against Persia
. Justinian I
bestowed the dignity of king
upon the Arab sheikhs
in central and north Arabia.
From early on, Roman and Byzantine policy was to develop close links with the powers of the coast of the Red Sea
. They were successful in converting Aksum
and influencing their culture. The results with regard to Yemen were rather disappointing.
prince called Yazid bin Kabshat
rebelled against Abraha
and his Arab Christian allies. A truce was reached once The Great Dam of Marib
had suffered a breach. Abraha
died around 555–565 CE; no reliable sources regarding his death are available. The Sasanid empire
around 570. Under their rule, most of Yemen enjoyed great autonomy except for Aden
. This era marked the collapse of ancient South Arabian civilization, since the greater part of the country was under several independent clans until the arrival of Islam
Advent of Islam and the three Dynasties
sent his cousin Ali
and its surroundings around 630 AD. At the time, Yemen was the most advanced region in Arabia
The Banu Hamdan
confederation were among the first to accept Islam
sent Muadh ibn Jabal
as well to Al-Janad in present-day Taiz
, and dispatched letters to various tribal leaders. The reason behind this was the division among the tribes and the absence of a strong central authority in Yemen during the days of the prophet.
Major tribes, including Himyar
, sent delegations to Medina
during the Year of delegations
around 630–631. Several Yemenis had already accepted Islam
, including Ammar ibn Yasir
, Al-Ala'a Al-Hadrami
, Miqdad ibn Aswad
, Abu Musa Ashaari
and Sharhabeel ibn Hasana
. A man named 'Abhala ibn Ka'ab Al-Ansi
expelled the remaining Persians and claimed to be a prophet
. He was assassinated by a Yemeni of Persian
origin called Fayruz al-Daylami
. Christians, who were mainly staying in Najran
along with Jews
, agreed to pay Jizya
, although some Jews converted to Islam, such as Wahb ibn Munabbih
and Ka'ab al-Ahbar
The first Zaidi imam
, Yahya ibn al-Husayn
, arrived to Yemen in 893 CE. He was the founder of the Zaidi imamate
in 897. He was a religious cleric and judge who was invited to come to Saada
to arbitrate tribal disputes.
Imam Yahya persuaded local tribesmen to follow his teachings. The sect slowly spread across the highlands, as the tribes of Hashid
, later known as the twin wings of the imamate
, accepted his authority. Yahya
established his influence in Saada
; he also tried to capture Sana'a
from the Yufirids
in 901, but he failed miserably. In 904, the newly established Isma'ili
followers invaded Sana'a
. The Yufirid emir As'ad ibn Ibrahim retreated to Al-Jawf
, and between 904 and 913, Sana'a was conquered no less than 20 times by Isma'ilis and Yufirids
As'ad ibn Ibrahim regained Sana'a
in 915 CE
. The country was in turmoil as Sana'a
became a battlefield for the three dynasties as well as independent tribes.
emir Abdullah ibn Qahtan attacked and burned Zabid
in 989, severely weakening the Ziyadid dynasty
The Ziyadid monarchs
lost effective power after 989, or even earlier than that. Meanwhile, a succession of slaves held power in Zabid
and continued to govern in the name of their masters
eventually establishing their own dynasty
around 1022 or 1050 CE according to different sources.
Although they were recognized by the Abbasid Caliphate
, they ruled no more than Zabid
and four districts to its north.
The rise of the Ismaili ShiaSulayhid dynasty
in the Yemeni highlands reduced their history to a series of intrigues.
Queen Arwa al- Sulaihi Palace
is still remembered as a great and much loved sovereign, as attested in Yemeni historiography, literature, and popular lore, where she is referred to as Balqis al-sughra
, that is "the junior queen of Sheba".
Although the Sulayhids were Ismaili, they never tried to impose their beliefs on the public.
Shortly after queen Arwa's death, the country was split between five competing petty dynasties along religious lines.
The Ayyubid dynasty
overthrew the Fatimid caliphate
in Egypt. A few years after their rise to power, Saladin
dispatched his brother Turan Shah
to conquer Yemen in 1174 CE.
Al-Abbas & al-Mas'ūd sons of Karam Al-Yami from the Hamdan tribe started ruling Aden for the Sulayhids, when Al-Abbas died in 1083 CE. His son Zuray, who gave the dynasty its name, proceeded to rule together with his uncle al-Mas'ūd. They took part in the Sulayhid leader al-Mufaddal's campaign against the Najahid
and were both killed during the siege (1110).
Their respective sons ceased to pay tribute to the Sulayhid queen Arwa al-Sulayhi
They were worsted by a Sulayhid expedition but queen Arwa agreed to reduce the tribute by half, to 50,000 dinars per year. The Zurayids again failed to pay and were once again forced to yield to the might of the Sulayhids, but this time the annual tribute from the incomes of Aden was reduced to 25,000. Later on they ceased to pay even that since Sulayhid power was on the wane.
After 1110 the Zurayids thus led a more than 60 years long independent rule in the city, bolstered by the international trade. The chronicles mention luxury goods such as textiles, perfume and porcelain, coming from places like North Africa
. After the demise of queen Arwa al-Sulayhi in 1138, the Fatimids
kept a representation in Aden, adding further prestige to the Zurayids.
The Zurayids were sacked by the Ayyubids in 1174 AD.
from the Mahdids
in May 1174 CE
, then marched toward Aden
in June and captured it from the Zurayids
The Hamdanid sultans
resisted the Ayyubid in 1175 and it was not until 1189 that the Ayyubids managed to definitely secure Sana'a
The Ayyubid rule was stable in southern and central Yemen where they succeeded in eliminating the mini-states of that region, while Ismaili and Zaidi tribesmen continued to hold out in a number of fortresses.
The Ayyubids failed to capture the Zaydis stronghold in northern Yemen.
In 1191, Zaydis of Shibam Kawkaban
rebelled and killed 700 Ayyubid soldiers.
Imam Abdullah bin Hamza
proclaimed the imamate in 1197 and fought al-Mu'izz Ismail
, the Ayyubid Sultan of Yemen. Imam Abdullah was defeated at first but was able to conquer Sana'a
in 1198 al-Mu'izz Ismail
was assassinated in 1202 Abdullah bin Hamza
carried on the struggle against the Ayyubid until his death in 1217. After his demise, the Zaidi community was split between two rival imams. The Zaydis were dispersed and a truce was signed with the Ayyubid in 1219.
The Ayyubid army was defeated in Dhamar
Ayyubid Sultan Mas'ud Yusuf
left for Mecca in 1228 never to return.
Other sources suggest that he was forced to leave for Egypt
instead in 1223.
The Rasulid Dynasty
was established in 1229 CE by Umar ibn Rasul
. Umar ibn Rasul was appointed deputy governor by the Ayyubids in 1223. When the last Ayyubid ruler left Yemen in 1229, Umar stayed in the country as caretaker. He subsequently declared himself an independent king by assuming the title al-Malik Al-Mansur
(the king assisted by Allah
Umar established the Rasulid dynasty on a firm foundation and expanded its territory to include the area from Dhofar
Umar first established himself at Zabid
, then moved into the mountainous interior, taking the important highland centre Sana'a
. However, the Rasulid capitals were Zabid and Ta'izz. He was assassinated by his nephew in 1249.
Omar's son Yousef defeated the faction led by his father assassins and crushed several counter-attacks by the Zaydi imams who still held on in the northern highland. It was mainly because of the victories which he scored over his rivals that he assumed the honorific title al-Muzaffar
After the fall of Baghdad
to the Mongols
in 1258, al-Muzaffar Yusuf I
appropriated the title of caliph
He chose the city of Ta'izz
to become the political capital of the kingdom because of its strategic location and proximity to Aden
al-Muzaffar Yusuf I died in 1296 having reigned for 47 years.
When the news of his death reached the Zaydi imam Al-Mutawakkil al-Mutahhar bin Yahya
he commented by saying:
The greatest king of Yemen, the Muawiyah of the time, has died. His pens used to break our lances and swords to pieces
13th century slave market in Yemen
The Rasulid state nurtured Yemen's commercial links with India
and the Far East.
They profited greatly by the Red Sea
transit trade via Aden
The economy also boomed due to the agricultural development programs instituted by the kings who promoted massive cultivation of palms.
It was during this period that coffee became a lucrative cash crop in Yemen.
The Rasulid kings enjoyed the support of the population of Tihama
and southern Yemen while they had to buy the loyalty of Yemen's restive northern highland tribes.
The Rasulid sultans built numerous Madrasas
in order to solidify the Shafi'i
school of thought which is still the dominant school of jurisprudence
amongst Yemenis today.
Under their rule, Ta'izz
became major international centers of Islamic learning.
The Kings themselves were learned men in their own right who not only had important libraries but who also wrote treatises on a wide array of subjects, ranging from astrology and medicine to agriculture and genealogy.
The dynasty is regarded as the greatest native Yemeni state since the fall of pre-Islamic Himyarite Kingdom
They were, of course, of Turkic
but claimed an ancient Yemenite origin to justify their rule. The Rasulids were not the first dynasty to create a fictitious genealogy for political purposes, nor were they doing anything out of the ordinary in the tribal context of Arabia.
By claiming descent from a solid Yemenite tribe, the Rasulid brought Yemen to a vital sense of unity in an otherwise chaotic regional milieu.
They had a difficult relationship with the Mamluks of Egypt
because the latter considered them a vassal state.
Their competition centered over the Hejaz
and the right to provide kiswa
of the Ka'aba
The dynasty became increasingly threatened by disgruntled family members over the problem of succession, combined by periodic tribal revolts, as they were locked in a war of attrition with the Zaydi imams in the northern highlands.
During the last twelve years of Rasulid rule, the country was torn between several contenders for the kingdom. The weakening of the Rasulids provided an opportunity for the Banu Taher
clan to take over and establish themselves as the new rulers of Yemen in 1454.
were a local clan based in Rada'a
. While they were not as impressive as their predecessors, they were still keen builders. They built schools, mosques and irrigation channels as well as water cisterns and bridges in Zabid
, and Juban
. Their best-known monument is the Amiriya Madrasa
which was built in 1504. The Tahiride were too weak either to contain the Zaydi Imams
or to defend themselves against foreign attacks. The Mamluks of Egypt
tried to attach Yemen to Egypt
and the Portuguese, led by Afonso de Albuquerque
, occupied Socotra
and launched an unsuccessful four-day siege of Aden
The Portuguese posed an immediate threat to the Indian Ocean trade; the Mamluks of Egypt
therefore sent an army under the command of Hussein Al-Kurdi
to fight the intruders.
The Mamluk sultan of Egypt sailed to Zabid
in 1515 and began diplomatic talks with Tahiride
Sultan 'Amir bin Abdulwahab for money that would be needed for jihad
against the Portuguese. Instead of confronting the Portuguese, the Mamluks
, who were running out of food and water, landed their fleet on the Yemen coastline and started to harass Tihama
villagers for what they needed.
Realizing how rich the Tahiride
realm was, they decided to conquer it.
The Mamluk army with the support of forces loyal to Zaydi
Imam Al-Mutawakkil Yahya Sharaf ad-Din
conquered the entire realm of the Tahiride
but failed to capture Aden
in 1517 CE. The Mamluk victory turned out to be short-lived. The Ottoman Empire
, hanging the last Mamluk Sultan in Cairo
It was not until 1538 that the Ottomans
decided to conquer Yemen. The Zaydi
Highland tribes emerged as national heroes
by offering a stiff, vigorous resistance to the Turkish
The Zaydis and Ottomans
The Ottomans had two fundamental interests to safeguard in Yemen: The Islamic holy cities of Mecca
and the trade route with India in spices and textiles, both of which were threatened and the latter virtually eclipsed by the arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea
in the early part of the 16th century. Hadım Suleiman Pasha
, the Ottoman governor of Egypt
, was ordered to command a fleet of 90 ships to conquer Yemen. The country was in a state of incessant anarchy and discord as Hadım Suleiman Pasha described it by saying:
Yemen is a land with no lord, an empty province. It would be not only possible but easy to capture, and should it be captured, it would be master of the lands of India and send every year a great amount of gold and jewels to Constantinople.
Imam al-Mutawakkil Yahya Sharaf ad-Din
ruled over the northern highlands including Sana'a
was held by the last Tahiride
Sultan 'Amir ibn Dauod. Hadım Suleiman Pasha stormed Aden
in 1538 CE, killing its ruler and extended Ottoman's authority to include Zabid
in 1539 and eventually Tihama
in its entirety.Zabid
became the administrative headquarters of Yemen Eyalet
The Ottoman governors did not exercise much control over the highlands, they held sway mainly in the southern coastal region, particularly around Zabid
Out of 80,000 soldiers sent to Yemen from Egypt
between 1539 – 1547, only 7,000 survived.
The Ottoman accountant-general in Egypt
We have seen no foundry like Yemen for our soldiers. Each time we have sent an expeditionary force there, it has melted away like salt dissolved in water.
was described by other Ottoman officials as corrupt and unscrupulous governor, he used his authority to take over a number of castles some of which belonged to the former Rasulid Kings
. Mahmud Pasha
killed a Sunni
scholar from Ibb
The Ottoman historian claimed that this incident was celebrated by the Zaydi Shia
community in the northern highlands.
Disregarding the delicate balance of power in Yemen by acting tactlessly, he alienated different groups within Yemeni society, causing them to forget their rivalries and unite against the Turks. Mahmud Pasha
was displaced by Ridvan Pasha in 1564 CE. By 1565, Yemen was split into two provinces: the highlands under the command of Ridvan Pasha and Tihama
under Murad Pasha. Imam al-Mutahhar
launched a propaganda campaign in which he claimed contact with prophet Mohammed
in a dream advising him to wage jihad
against the Ottomans. Al-Mutahhar
led the tribes to capture Sana'a
from Ridvan Pasha in 1567. When Murad tried to relieve Sana'a
, highland tribesmen ambushed his unit and slaughtered everyone of them.
Over 80 battles were fought, the last decisive encounter took place in Dhamar
around 1568 in which Murad Pasha was beheaded and had his head sent to al-Mutahhar
By 1568, only Zabid
remained under the possession of the Turks.
Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha
, the Ottoman governor of Syria
, was ordered by Selim II
to suppress the Yemeni rebels,
the Turkish army in Egypt
was reluctant to go to Yemen however. Mustafa Pasha
sent a letter with two Turkish shawishes
hoping to persuade al-Mutahhar
to give an apology and say that he did not promote any act of aggression against the Ottoman army, and claim that the ignorant Arabians
according to the Turks, acted on their own.
refused the Ottoman offer. Mustafa Pasha
sent an expeditionary force under the command of Uthman Pasha, the expeditionary force was defeated with great casualties.
Sultan Selim II
was infuriated by Mustafa's
hesitation to go Yemen, he executed a number of sanjak-beys
in Egypt and ordered Sinan Pasha
to lead the entire Turkish army in Egypt
to reconquer Yemen.Sinan Pasha
was a prominent Ottoman General of Albanian
He reconquered Aden
and besieged Shibam Kawkaban
in 1570 for 7 months, the siege was lifted once a truce was reached.
was pushed back but could not be entirely overcome.
's demise in 1572, the Zaydi community was not united under an imam; the Turks took advantage of their disparity and conquered Sana'a
Imam al-Nasir Hassan
was arrested in 1585 and exiled to Constantinople
, thereby putting an end to the Yemeni rebellion.
tribesmen in the northern highlands, particularly those of Hashid
, were a constant irritant to Turkish rule in Arabia
Justifying their presence in Yemen as a triumph for Islam, the Ottomans accused the Zaydis
of being infidels
Hassan Pasha was appointed governor of Yemen
, which enjoyed a period of relative peace from 1585 to 1597. Pupils of al-Mansur al-Qasim
suggested that he claim the immamate and fight the Turks. He declined at first but was infuriated by the promotion of the Hanafi
school of jurisprudence
at the expense of Zaydi Islam
. He proclaimed the Imamate in September 1597, which was the same year the Ottoman authorities inaugurated al-Bakiriyya Mosque
By 1608, Imam al-Mansur
(the victorious) regained control over the highlands and signed a 10-year truce with the Ottomans.
When Imam al-Mansur al-Qasim died in 1620 his son Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
succeeded him and confirmed the truce with the Ottomans. In 1627, the Ottomans lost Aden
. 'Abdin Pasha was ordered to suppress the rebels but failed and had to retreat to Mocha
After Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
expelled the Ottomans from Sana'a
in 1628, only Zabid
remained under Ottoman possession. Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
in 1634 and allowed the Ottomans to leave Mocha
The reasons behind Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
's success were the tribes' possession of firearms and the fact that they were unified behind him.
was Yemen's busiest port in the 17th and 18th century.
In 1632 CE, Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
sent an expeditionary force of 1000 men to conquer Mecca
The army entered the city in triumph and killed its governor.
The Ottomans were not ready to lose Mecca
after Yemen, so they sent an army from Egypt
to fight the Yemenites.
Seeing that the Turkish army was too numerous to overcome, the Yemeni army retreated to a valley outside Mecca
Ottoman troops attacked the Yemenis by hiding at the wells that supplied them with water. This plan proceeded successfully, causing the Yemenis over 200 casualties, most from thirst.
The tribesmen eventually surrendered and returned to Yemen. Al-Mu'ayyad Muhammad
died in 1644. He was succeeded by Al-Mutawakkil Isma'il
, another son of al-Mansur al-Qasim
, who conquered Yemen in its entirety, from Asir
in the north to Dhofar
in the east.
During his reign and that of his successor, Al-Mahdi Ahmad
(1676–1681), the Imamate implemented some of the harshest discriminatory laws (Ar. ghiyar
) against the Jews of Yemen, which culminated in the expulsion of all Jews
to a hot and arid region in the Tihama
coastal plain. The Qasimid
state was the strongest Zaydi
state to ever exist.
During that period, Yemen was the sole Coffee producer in the world.
The country established diplomatic relations with the Safavid dynasty
, the Ottomans of Hejaz
, the Mughal Empire in India
and Ethiopia. The Fasilides of Ethiopia
sent three diplomatic missions to Yemen, but the relations did not develop into a political alliance as Fasilides
had hoped, due to the rise of powerful feudalists in the country.
In the first half of the 18th century, the Europeans broke Yemen's monopoly on coffee by smuggling out coffee trees and cultivating them in their own colonies in the East Indies, East Africa, the West Indies and Latin America.
The imammate did not follow a cohesive mechanism for succession, and family quarrels and tribal insubordination led to the political decline of the Qasimi dynasty in the 18th century.
In 1728 or 1731 the chief representative of Lahej
declared himself an independent Sultan
in defiance of the Qasimid Dynasty and conquered Aden
thus establishing the Sultanate of Lahej
. The rising power of the fervently Islamist Wahhabi
movement on the Arabian Peninsula cost the Zaidi state its coastal possessions after 1803 CE. The imam was able to regain them temporarily in 1818, but new intervention by the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt in 1833 again wrested the coast from the ruler in Sana'a. After 1835 the imamate changed hands with great frequency and some imams were assassinated. After 1849 the Zaidi polity descended into chaos that lasted for decades.
Great Britain and the nine regions
Saint Mary's Garrison church in Aden
was built by the British in 1850 CE and is currently abandoned.
Postage stamp of the Kathiri state of Sai'yun with portrait of Sultan Jafar bin Mansur. Kathiri is Kingdom of Hadhramaut Protected/Controlled British Empire
The British were looking for a coal depot to service their steamers en route to India
. It took 700 tons of coal for a round-trip from Suez
. East India Company
officials decided on Aden. London tried to reach an agreement with the Zaydi imam of Sana'a
permitting them a foothold in Mocha
; and when unable to secure their position, they extracted a similar agreement from the Sultan of Lahej
, enabling them to consolidate a position in Aden
An incident played into British hands when, while passing Aden
for trading purposes, one of their sailing ships sank and Arab tribesmen boarded it and plundered its contents. The British India government
dispatched a warship under the command of Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines to demand compensation.
Haines bombarded Aden from his warship in January 1839. The ruler of Lahej
, who was in Aden at the time, ordered his guards to defend the port, but they failed in the face of overwhelming military and naval power. The British managed to occupy Aden
and agreed to compensate the sultan with an annual payment of 6000 riyals
The British evicted the Sultan of Lahej
and forced him to accept their "protection".
In November 1839, 5000 tribesmen tried to retake the town but were repulsed and 200 were killed. The British realized that Aden's prosperity depended on their relations with the neighboring tribes, which required that they rest on a firm and satisfactory basis.
The British government concluded "protection and friendship" treaties with nine tribes surrounding Aden, whereas they would remain independent from British interference in their affairs as long as they do not conclude treaties with foreigners (non-Arab colonial powers).Aden
was declared a free zone
in 1850 CE. With emigrants from India
, East Africa and Southeast Asia, Aden grew into a "world city". In 1850, only 980 Arabs were registered as original inhabitants of the city.
The English presence in Aden put them at odds with the Ottomans. The Turks asserted to the British that they held sovereignty over the whole of Arabia
, including Yemen as successor of Mohammed
and the chief of the universal Caliphate
The Ottomans were concerned about the British expansion from India
to the Red Sea
. They returned to the Tihama
in 1849 after an absence of two centuries.
Rivalries and disturbances continued among the Zaydi imams
, between them and their deputies, with the ulema
, with the heads of tribes, as well as with those who belonged to other sects. Some citizens of Sana'a
were desperate to return law and order to Yemen and asked the Ottoman Pasha in Tihama
to pacify the country.
Yemeni merchants knew that the return of the Ottomans would improve their trade, for the Ottomans would become their customers.
An Ottoman expedition force tried to capture Sana'a
but was defeated and had to evacuate the highlands.
The opening of the Suez Canal
in 1869 strengthened the Ottomans' decision to remain in Yemen.
In 1872, military forces were dispatched from Constantinople
and moved beyond the Ottoman stronghold in the lowlands (Tihama
) to conquer Sana'a
. By 1873 the Ottomans succeeded in conquering the northern highlands. Sana'a
became the administrative capital of Yemen Vilayet
The Ottomans learned from their previous experience and worked on the disempowerment of local lords in the highland regions. They even attempted to secularize the Yemeni society; Yemenite Jews
came to perceive themselves in Yemeni nationalist terms.
The Ottomans appeased the tribes by forgiving their rebellious chiefs and appointing them to administrative posts. They introduced a series of reforms to enhance the country's economic welfare. On the other hand, corruption was widespread in the Ottoman administration in Yemen. This stemmed from the fact that only the worst of the officials were appointed because those who could avoid serving in Yemen did so.
The Ottomans had reasserted control over the highlands for temporary duration.
The so-called Tanzimat
reforms were considered heretic by the Zaydi
tribes. In 1876, the Hashid
tribes rebelled against the Ottomans, the Turks had to appease them with gifts to end the uprising.
The tribal chiefs were difficult to appease and an endless cycle of violence curbed the Ottoman efforts to pacify the land. Ahmed Izzet Pasha
proposed that the Ottoman army should evacuate the highlands and confined itself to Tihama
and not to be unnecessarily burdened with continuing military operation against the Zaydi
The hit-and-run tactics of the northern highlands tribesmen wore out the Ottoman military. They resented the Turkish Tanzimat
and defied all attempts to impose a central government upon them.
The northern tribes united under the leadership of the House of Hamidaddin in 1890. Imam Yahya Hamidaddin
led a rebellion against the Turks in 1904, the rebels disrupted the Ottoman ability to govern.
The revolts between 1904 and 1911 were especially damaging to the Ottomans, costing them as much as 10,000 soldier and 500,000 pound
The Ottomans signed a treaty with imam Yahya Hamidaddin
in 1911. Under the treaty, imam Yahya was recognized as an autonomous leader of the Zaydi
northern highlands. The Ottomans continued to rule Shafi'i
areas in the mid-south until their departure in 1918.
Idrisid Emirate and Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen
Imam Yahya hamid ed-Din al-Mutawakkil
was ruling the northern highlands independently since 1911. After the Ottoman departure in 1918 he sought to recapture the lands of his Qasimid ancestors. He dreamed of Greater Yemen
stretching from Asir
. These schemes brought him into conflict with the de facto rulers in the territories claimed, namely the Idrisids
, Ibn Saud
and the British government in Aden
The Zaydi imam did not recognize the Anglo-Ottoman border agreement of 1905 on the grounds that it was made between two foreign powers occupying Yemen.
The border treaty effectively divided Yemen into "north" and "south".
In 1915 the British signed a treaty with the Idrisids guaranteeing their security and independence if they would fight against the Turks.
In 1919, Imam Yahya moved southward to liberate the nine British protectorates. The British responded by moving quickly towards Tihama
and occupying Al Hudaydah
. Then they handed it over to their Idrisi allies.
Imam Yahya attacked the southern protectorates again in 1922. The British bombed Yahya's tribal forces using aircraft to which the tribes had no effective counter.
In 1925, Imam Yahya captured Al Hudaydah from the Idrisids.
He continued to follow and attack the Idrisids until Asir
fell under the control of the Imam's forces, forcing the Idrisids to request an agreement that would enable them to administer the region in the name of the Imam.
Imam Yahya refused the offer on the grounds that the Idrisis were of a Moroccan descent. According to Imam Yahya, the Idrisids, along with the British, were nothing but recent intruders and ought to be driven out of Yemen permanently.
In 1927, when Imam Yahya's forces were 50 km away from Aden, Ta'izz
were bombed by the British for five days, and the Imam had to pull back.
forces mainly from the Madh'hij
confederation of Marib
, attacked Shabwah
but were bombed by the British and had to retreat.
The Italian Empire
was the first to recognize Imam Yahya as the King of Yemen
in 1926. Furthermore, the Italians in 1926 and 1927 aimed at taking control of the Farasan Islands
Italy had colonies of its own in the region: Eritrea
, both of low profitability. There was expectation that increased ties with Yemen would fuel increased trade with the colonies and bring the region into the Italian sphere of influence
. The Kingdom of Yemen at this point had its eye on annexing Aden and Imam Yahya also had aspirations for a Greater Yemen
, with the possible help from Italy.
This created a great deal of anxiety for the British, who interpreted it as clear recognition of Imam Yahya's claim to sovereignty over Greater Yemen
which included the Aden protectorate
The Idrisids turned to Ibn Saud
seeking his protection from Yahya. In 1932, however, the Idrisids broke their accord with Ibn Saud and went back to Imam Yahya seeking help against Ibn Saud himself, who had begun liquidating their authority and expressed his desire to annex those territories into his own Saudi domain.
Imam Yahya demanded the return of all Idrisi dominion.
That same year, a group of Hejazi
liberals fled to Yemen and plotted to expel Ibn Saud from the former Hashemite Kingdom of Hejaz
which was conquered by the Saudis
seven years earlier. Ibn Saud appealed to Britain for aid.
The British government sent arms and airplanes.
The British were anxious that Ibn Saud's financial difficulties may encourage the Italian Empire
to bail him out.
Ibn Saud suppressed the Asiri rebellion in 1933, after which the Idrisids fled to Sana'a
Negotiations between the Imam Yahya and Ibn Saud proved fruitless. After a military confrontation, Ibn Saud announced a ceasefire in May 1934.
Imam Yahya agreed to release Saudi hostages and the surrender of the Idrisis to Saudi custody. Imam Yahya ceded the three provinces of Najran
, Asir and Jazan
for 20 years
and signed another treaty with the British government in 1934. The Imam recognized the British sovereignty over Aden protectorate
for 40 years.
Yahya submitted to the Saudi and British demands out of fear for Al Hudaydah. According to Bernard Reich, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University
, Yahya could have done better by reorganizing the Zaidi
tribes of the northern highlands as his ancestors did against the Turks and British intruders and turn the lands they captured into another graveyard.
Although the imamate lost Asir, it was able to put down rebel tribes in the north using Iraq-trained Yemeni troops. With the country, now established within clearly defined territory, finally pacified, the urban nationalists began to assert themselves. These nationalists had long practiced non-Zaidi traditions (especially Shafi'i
), and were centered in the coastal province of Tahama, the city of Ta'izz
and the British-occupied Aden
. Many had been students in Cairo and had acquired connections with the Muslim Brotherhood
and Algerian nationalists. Muslim Brotherhood operatives in Yemen aligned themselves with the urban opposition and supported Zaidi prince Abdullah bin Ahmad al-Wazir, who joined those actively seeking to overthrow Imam Yahya. On February 17, 1948 the opposition revolted in Sana'a and killed Imam Yahya. Crown prince Ahmad
was able to rally northern tribes and retake the capital, quelling the revolt after a brief siege on March 12, 1948.
Imam Ahmad reversed the isolationist policies of his father and opened Yemen's economy and society to the outside world. It went as the theocratic and largely medieval Imamate which became the first Arab state to accept Soviet aid. Beginning in 1955 Yemen entered into various treaties of friendship and from 1957 began receiving large amounts of Soviet arms as well as Soviet and Chinese military advisers. When the imam went abroad owing to illness, crown prince Muhammad al-Badr
led a pro-Soviet party and communist activity increased. When the Imam returned in 1959, brutal repression ensued and communists were expelled.
In April 1956 Yemen joined a defensive pact with Syria and Egypt, and in February 1958 it federated with the United Arab Republic. In parallel, clan violence
erupted in Yemen and Aden, claiming hundreds of lives over 1956–60. The defensive pact move was conceived as a defensive measure against republican agitation, which urban nationalists still engaged in from British-occupied Aden. So long as Yemen was federated with the UAR, republicans would be deprived any assistance from Egyptian President Nasser
. Although the federation lasted only for three years, crown prince al-Badr continued to portray himself as an Arab patriot, often railing against "reactionary Arab monarchs."
influenced some circles that opposed the lack of modernization efforts in the Mutawakkilite monarchy. This became apparent when Imam Ahmad bin Yahya
died in 1962. He was succeeded by his son, but army officers attempted to seize power, sparking the North Yemen Civil War
The Hamidaddin royalists were supported by Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Jordan (mostly with weapons and financial aid, but also with small military forces), whilst the republicans were backed by Egypt. Egypt provided the republicans with weapons and financial assistance but also sent a large military force to participate in the fighting. Israel covertly supplied weapons to the royalists in order to keep the Egyptian military busy in Yemen and make Nasser less likely to initiate a conflict in Sinai. After six years of civil war, the republicans were victorious (February 1968) and formed the Yemen Arab Republic
Relations between the two Yemeni states fluctuated between peaceful and hostile. The South was supported by the Eastern bloc. The North, however, wasn't able to get the same connections. In 1972, the two states fought a war. The war was resolved with a ceasefire and negotiations brokered by the Arab League
, where it was declared that unification would eventually occur. In 1978, Ali Abdallah Saleh
was named as president of the Yemen Arab Republic.
After the war, the North complained about the South's help from foreign countries, which included Saudi Arabia.
In 1979, fighting erupted between the North and the South. There were renewed efforts to unite the two states.
After the invasion of Kuwait
crisis in 1990, Yemen's President opposed military intervention from non-Arab states.
As a member of the United Nations Security Council
for 1990 and 1991, Yemen abstained on a number of UNSC resolutions concerning Iraq and Kuwait
and voted against the "use of force resolution". The vote outraged the U.S. Saudi Arabia
expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 to punish Yemen for its opposition to the war.
Following food riots in major towns in 1992, a new coalition government made up of the ruling parties from both the former Yemeni states was formed in 1993. However, Vice-President al-Beidh withdrew to Aden
in August 1993 and said he would not return to the government until his grievances were addressed. These included northern violence against his Yemeni Socialist Party
, as well as the economic marginalization of the south.
Negotiations to end the political deadlock dragged on into 1994. The government of Prime Minister Haydar Abu Bakr Al-Attas
became ineffective due to political infighting
An accord between northern and southern leaders was signed in Amman
on 20 February 1994, but this could not stop the civil war.
During these tensions, both the northern and southern armies (which had never integrated) gathered on their respective frontiers.
The May – July 1994 civil war in Yemen
resulted in the defeat of the southern armed forces and the flight into exile of many Yemeni Socialist Party
leaders and other southern secessionists.
Saudi Arabia actively aided the south during the 1994 civil war.
In June 2000, the Treaty of Jeddah
was signed, defining the border with Saudi Arabia.
The Shia insurgency in Yemen
began in June 2004 when dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi
, head of the Zaidi Shia sect, launched an uprising against the Yemeni government. The Yemeni government alleged that the Houthis
were seeking to overthrow it and to implement Shī'a religious law
. The rebels counter that they are "defending their community against discrimination" and government aggression.
In 2005, at least 36 people were killed in clashes across the country between police and protesters over rising fuel prices.
A suicide bomber killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis in the province of Marib
in July 2007. There was a series of bomb attacks on police, official, diplomatic, foreign business and tourism targets in 2008. Car bombings outside the U.S. embassy in Sana'a killed 18 people, including six of the assailants in September 2008. In 2008, an opposition rally in Sana'a demanding electoral reform was met with police gunfire.
In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP). Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen, and many of its members were Saudi nationals who had been released from Guantanamo Bay.
Saleh released 176 al-Qaeda suspects on condition of good behaviour, but terrorist activities continued.
The Yemeni army launched a fresh offensive against the Shia insurgents in 2009, assisted by Saudi forces. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the fighting. A new ceasefire was agreed upon in February 2010. However, by the end of the year, Yemen claimed that 3,000 soldiers had been killed in renewed fighting. The Shia rebels accused Saudi Arabia of providing support to salafi groups
to suppress Zaidism in Yemen.
Saleh's government used Al-Qaeda in its wars against the insurgent Houthis
Some news reports have suggested that, on orders from U.S. President Barack Obama
, U.S. warplanes fired cruise missiles
at what officials in Washington claimed were Al Qaeda training camps in the provinces of Sana'a
on 17 December 2009.
Instead of hitting Al-Qaeda operatives, it hit a village killing 55 civilians.
Officials in Yemen said that the attacks claimed the lives of more than 60 civilians, 28 of them children. Another airstrike was carried out on 24 December.
The U.S. launched a series of drone attacks in Yemen to curb a perceived growing terror threat due to political chaos in Yemen.
Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from CIA.
The drone strikes are protested by human-rights groups who say they kill innocent civilians and that the U.S. military and CIA drone strikes lack sufficient congressional oversight, including the choice of human targets suspected of being threats to America.
Controversy over U.S. policy for drone attacks mushroomed after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan
, both U.S. citizens.
Another drone strike in October 2011 killed Anwar's teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki
In 2010 the Obama administration policy allowed targeting of people whose names are not known. The U.S. government increased military aid to $140 million in 2010.
U.S. drone strikes continued after the ousting of President Saleh.
Government instability 2011–present
The Yemeni Crisis
began with the 2011–12 revolution
against President Ali Abdullah Saleh
, who had led Yemen
for more than two decades.
After Saleh left office in early 2012 as part of a mediated agreement between the Yemeni government
and opposition groups, the government led by Saleh's former vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi
, struggled to unite the fractious political landscape of the country and fend off threats both from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
and Houthi militants
that had been waging a protracted insurgency in the north
In 2014, Houthi fighters swept into the capital of Sana'a
and forced Hadi to negotiate a "unity government" with other political factions. The rebels continued to apply pressure on the weakened government until, after his presidential palace and private residence came under attack from the militant group, Hadi resigned along with his ministers in January 2015. The following month, the Houthis declared themselves in control of the government
, dissolving Parliament
and installing an interim Revolutionary Committee
led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi
, a cousin of Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi
However, Hadi escaped to Aden
, where he declared he remains Yemen's legitimate president, proclaimed the country's temporary capital, and called on loyal government officials and members of the military to rally to him.
Protest in Sana'a, 3 February 2011
The 2011 Yemeni revolution followed other Arab Spring
mass protests in early 2011. The uprising was initially against unemployment, economic conditions, and corruption, as well as against the government's proposals to modify the constitution of Yemen
so that Saleh's son could inherit the presidency.
In March 2011, police snipers opened fire on the pro-democracy camp in Sana'a, killing more than 50 people. In May, dozens were killed in clashes between troops and tribal fighters in Sana'a. By this point, Saleh began to lose international support. In October 2011, Yemeni human rights activist Tawakul Karman
won the Nobel Peace Prize
and the UN Security Council
condemned the violence and called for a transfer of power. On 23 November 2011, Saleh flew to Riyadh, in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, to sign the Gulf Co-operation Council
plan for political transition, which he had previously spurned. Upon signing the document, he agreed to legally transfer the office and powers of the presidency to his deputy, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi
Hadi took office for a two-year term upon winning the uncontested presidential elections in February 2012, in which he was the only candidate standing.
A unity government – including a prime minister from the opposition – was formed. Al-Hadi will oversee the drafting of a new constitution, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.[needs update]
Saleh returned in February 2012. In the face of objections from thousands of street protesters, parliament granted him full immunity from prosecution. Saleh's son, General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh
continues to exercise a strong hold on sections of the military and security forces.
AQAP claimed responsibility for the February 2012 suicide attack on the presidential palace which killed 26 Republican Guards on the day that President Hadi was sworn in. AQAP was also behind the suicide bombing which killed 96 soldiers in Sana'a three months later. In September 2012, a car bomb attack in Sana'a killed 11 people, a day after a local al-Qaeda leader Said al-Shihri
was reported killed in the south.
By 2012, there has been a "small contingent of U.S. special-operations troops" – in addition to CIA and "unofficially acknowledged" U.S. military presence – in response to increasing terror attacks by AQAP on Yemeni citizens.
Many analysts have pointed out the former Yemeni government role in cultivating terrorist activity in the country.
Following the election of new president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi
, the Yemeni military was able push Ansar al-Sharia
back and recapture the Shabwah Governorate
Houthi takeover, Civil War and Saudi intervention
In 2014, the Houthi movement
, which had been waging an insurgency against the Yemeni government
since 2004, began a gradual takeover of Yemen
, defeating government forces in the Battle of Amran
and the Battle of Sana'a (2014)
. Their advance continued throughout Yemen, prompting the start of the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
. The Houthis attacked Aden on 25 March 2015, beginning the Battle of Aden (2015)
. Despite Saudi airstrikes, the Houthis managed to take advance into the Tawahi, Khormaksar, and Crater districts. The tide turned on 14 July, when an anti-Houthi counteroffensive managed to trap the Houthis on the peninsula. By 6 August 2015, the Hadi government had captured 75% of Taiz, and the Lahij insurgency
had expelled Houthis from the Lahij Governorate
. Hadi fortunes dissipated on 16 August, when Houthi forces successfully counterattacked and forced the Hadi forces to retreat from Al-Salih Gardens and the Al-Dabab Mountain region. Hadi forces attributed this reverse to a lack of military equipment.
In Hadramaut, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP) managed to take over Mukalla after winning the Battle of Mukalla (2015)
, and in December 2015 they took over Zinjibar and Jaar
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