Thursday, April 30, 2015

Yemen (2) History

Saudi Arabia has started an air war against is southern neighbour Yemen. The irony is that Saudi Arabia which is ruled by and autocratic king claims to be fighting for democracy in Yemen.

The roots of this struggle go back a long way, as Yemen has a very long history. It was the home of the Sabeans (biblical Sheba) a trading state that lasted for more than a thousand years. They Ottoman Empire controlled the western part of Yemen up until the beginning of World War 1.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Imam Yahya Muhammad declared himself king of northern Yemen. He was recognised as the spiritual leader of the Zaidi sect of Islam. The border with Saudi Arabia was agreed after a war in 1934. When Yahya’s son died in 1962, a civil war developed between forces loyal to his successors and others wanting a republic. The republic of Yemen was eventually established in 1970.

The British Empire took control of southern Yemen and established a military base in in Aden in the 19th century, as a coal station to refuel the steamers sailing to India. Following World War 1, Britain continued to control southern Yemen through a series of treaties of protection with the local sheikhdoms and emirates. After the Suez Canal was nationalised, the British began to withdraw from Yemen. An independent republic was established in 1967 and a Marxist government was elected in 1970.

The two republics amalgamated in 1990. For the next two decades, it was ruled by President Saleh.

Al Qaida has been active in Yemen for a long time. The US has launched many drone attacks against it. These US drones are launched from Saudi Arabia, which increases the hatred towards the Saudis.

Although Yemen is one of the poorest nations in the world, it sits in a very strategic spot by a narrow straight between Djbouti and Yemen that leads into the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. A huge numbers ships through this 30 mile wide strait called the Nab el Mandeb, which means Gateway of Anguish. An island in the middle narrows it even further. According to reports, a billion barrels of oil pass through this strait every day.

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