History & Background
The Republic of Yemen (hereafter, Yemen) was formed on 22 May 1990 with the merger of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR, or North Yemen) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY, or South Yemen). The YAR, an Imamate (or kingdom), which had been under Ottoman rule until it achieved independence after World War I, was very insular and retained much of its traditional lifestyle and social structure until the 1980s. It became a republic after a civil war from 1962 to 1970, which also saw the involvement of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The YAR's traditional and conservative society contrasted sharply with the PDRY, which gradually became a British protectorate after the capture of Aden in 1843 and after the British left in 1967, adopted Marxism as its political system after declaring independence. The merger of the two very different countries can be traced to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic pressures of the late 1980s, as well as to an informal shared sense of ethnicity and nationhood among the people of both countries. A short but difficult civil war was fought for several weeks in 1994, largely along YAR-PDRY lines and led by elites of each side, over the issues of political power in the unified state and the disbursement of public funds and wealth from newlydiscovered oil fields.
Yemen is located in the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula; its Arabic name al-yaman, is derived from the old term al-yamanan meaning "south"(of Mecca, the center of the Islamic religion). Modern Yemen shares a border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the north, the Sultanate of Oman to the east, the Red Sea to the west, and the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to the south. The country includes the island of Suqutra in the Arabian Sea and several small islands in the Red Sea.
Yemen is 532,000 square kilometers in size. The western and northern parts of the country (the former YAR) are very mountainous, apart from thin stretches of coastline, with the highest peak reaching more than 3,600 meters and a number of peaks over 3,000 meters. The sandy western coastline (the Tihama) is extremely hot and humid. To the east in the former PDRY are more mountains, which descend into a rocky plain in the central east part of the country before merging into one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world, the rub' alkhali ("Empty Quarter"). There are patches of relatively fertile valleys in the east as well.
The Yemeni people are mostly Arabic by descent, although some remote tribes have their own languages and cultures that set them apart. The country's proximity to Africa and its position on sea routes to and from India and Africa has provided it with a diverse cultural mix; its foods and architecture, for example, are distinctly separate from neighboring Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia. The country's population is around 15.4 million, according to a 1994 census, about three-quarters of which are located in the former YAR. The people are predominantly rural; they often live in small villages or hamlets and usually identify with a larger tribal group, although the urban population is rising steadily. There are sizeable Yemeni communities overseas, including in the Middle East, Britain, and the United States.
Modern Yemen is a very poor country, with GDP per capita of US$750 in 1999. The country has few export industries of note apart from oil, although there is potential in light manufacturing, shipping, and tourism. Very low inward investment, limited mostly to the oil sector, is a result of poor infrastructure and perceived political instability. In 1996 the Government began a series of International Monetary Fund (IMF)-sponsored economic reforms, which continue to the present time.
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