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Country profile: Yemen

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Map of Yemen

The reputed home of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes.

The Romans knew this fertile and wealthy country as Arabia Felix, in contrast to the relatively barren Arabia Deserta to the north. And today it maintains its distinct character.


The modern Republic of Yemen was born in 1990 when traditionalist North Yemen and Marxist South Yemen merged after years of border wars and skirmishes. But the peace broke down in 1994 and a short civil war ended in defeat for separatist southerners and the survival of the unified Yemen.

Rock Palace, Sanaa, restored in 2005
Politics: President Ali Abdallah Saleh has been in power since 1978. Shia rebels led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi have been conducting a low-level insurgency in the north
Economy: Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East; economic difficulties have sparked unrest
International: Yemen has been co-operating in the US-led "war on terror", risking domestic resentment

Since unification Yemen has been modernising and opening up to the world, but it still maintains much of its tribal character and old ways. Tensions persist between the north and the south; some southerners say the northern part of the state is economically privileged.

Since the summer of 2009, hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands displaced by clashes between government troops and north-western rebels belonging to the Zaidi sect, a branch of Shia Islam in the mainly Sunni country. The conflict has acquired a regional dimension, with the Yemeni authorities accusing Iran of backing the rebels, while the rebels accuse Saudi Arabia of supporting the Yemeni government.

People wear traditional dress and the custom of chewing the narcotic plant khat in the afternoons is still widely observed. Yemen has attracted the curiosity of a growing number of tourists, although foreigners have been kidnapped by groups seeking to force concessions from the authorities.

The scene of attacks on a US warship and a French tanker, Yemen has gained a reputation as a haven for Islamic miltants. The authorities have arrested suspected al-Qaeda members and the US has supplied equipment and training for Yemen's security forces.

Thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa, including many Somalis, use Yemen as a staging post for the oil-rich Arab Gulf or Europe.


  • Full name: Republic of Yemen
  • Population: 23.6 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Sanaa
  • Area: 536,869 sq km (207,286 sq miles)
  • Major language: Arabic
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 64 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Yemeni riyal = 100 fils
  • Main exports: Crude oil, cotton, coffee, fish
  • GNI per capita: US $950 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .ye
  • International dialling code: 967


President: Ali Abdallah Saleh

Ali Abdallah Saleh, Yemen's longest-serving leader in recent times, was re-elected to another seven-year term in September 2006. It was the first time Mr Saleh had faced a serious challenge since coming to power 28 years earlier.

Yemeni president
Yemen under President Saleh joined the US-led "war on terror"

The opposition cried foul but international monitors said the vote was fair.

Mr Saleh became president of the new republic created by the merger of the two Yemens in 1990. He had led the Yemen Arab Republic - the northern part of present-day Yemen - since 1978 when he came to power in a military coup.

He is backed by the main pillars of power in Yemen, the tribe and the army.

He won the first-ever direct presidential elections in 1999 with more than 96% of the vote. The main opposition party, which was barred from fielding a candidate, described the poll as a sham.

President Saleh's government has cooperated with the US in its "war on terror" and has settled border disputes with its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

He joined the army when he was 16 and rose through the ranks to become field marshal.


The Ministry of Information administers all broadcasting through the Public Corporation for Radio and Television.

News stand in Yemen
The Yemeni press is strictly controlled

It controls most printing presses and funds some newspapers. The press is strictly controlled and newspapers have often been prosecuted over political articles.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said 12 opposition or independent journalists were arrested in 2007. Others were attacked in the street, it said.

TV and radio are vital news sources, given that illiteracy is widespread. Stations from Oman and Saudi Arabia can be picked up.

Around 320,000 Yemenis are online (ITU, March 2008). According to the OpenNet Initiative, which monitors internet censorship, internet filtering is "relatively broad in scope".

The press



  • Republic of Yemen Radio - state-run, operates the General programme from Sanaa, and the Second programme from Aden

News agency






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