Yesterday I learned that my best friend is moving to Yemen. She’s joining the UN Mission. What do we know about Yemen? Well, I started with the CIA World Factbook.
-In 1918, North Yemen established its independence from the Ottoman Empire.
-In 1967, the British withdrew from a protectorate they established around the southern port of Aden (located in a “dead” volcano, mind you). This became South Yemen, which adopted a Marxist government three years later.
-A massive exodus from South to North ensued, causing massive social strive and conflict.
-In 1990, the two countries were unified as the Republic of Yemen, but a secessionist movement emerged in South Yemen in 1994.
As it turns out, the CIA are skirting the issue calling it a “secessionist movement.” A straight-up civil war started in 2004, between (Northern) Yemeni government forces and Shiite Houthi rebels from the south. Both CNN and BBC have reported that this civil war is increasingly become a danger to stability in the region, and several countries are said to be involved, including (and it’s an all-star list) Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the U.S. The UN and UNDP Yemen both report civilians are fleeing from the region, which is said to have more than 60 million guns. Here’s what Nabeel Khoury, deputy head of mission at the US Embassy in Sanaa said to the Christian Science Monitor: “The danger is that terrorist groups can use Yemen as a shopping center. A Yemeni or a foreigner can buy a weapon almost anywhere in Yemen.” Awesome.
And as to the U.S.’s involvement:
Some news reports have suggested that, on orders from President Barack Obama, US warplanes fired cruise missiles at what officials in Washington claimed were Al Qaeda training camps in the provinces of Sana’a and Abyan on December 17, 2009.  Other reports suggest that the airstrikes were carried out by Yemeni Mig-29 aircraft, probably helped by US intelligence, or that cruise missiles were launched from warships offshore. 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 December 24.
On January 3, 2010 the US and British embassies in Yemen closed for security reasons after the failed plot to bomb a plane in Detroit and after reports of eight individuals planning an attack on the embassy itself. One was arrested with a suicide vest, while three others were killed. Four remain at large as of January 4, 2010.
They’re doing a pretty crappy job protecting human rights in Yemen.
The government and its security forces, often considered to suffer from rampant corruption, have been responsible for torture, inhumane treatment and extrajudicial executions. There are arbitrary arrests of citizens, especially in the south, as well as arbitrary searches of homes. Prolonged pretrial detention is a serious problem, and judicial corruption, inefficiency, and executive interference undermine due process. Freedom of speech, the press and religion are all restricted. (Report here)
As you might expect, there’s rampant disrespect and mistreatment of women including the abolition of a minimum marriage age. Which was set at 15 years old.
As you can see in the CIA map below, it borders Saudi Arabia, Oman, and is across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia and its neighbors. This gulf hosts those adorable, blood thirsty pirates we keep reading about in the news.
-Current climate and resource issues?: “Limited natural fresh water resources; inadequate supplies of potable water; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification.” Awesome, so we’ve got hungry, thirsty people living in a post-colonial context wrought by regional conflict and in an extremely strategic geographic location.
-43.9% of the population is under 14 years old. States with bottom-heavy age distributions tend to be unstable, especially if matched by resource deprivation and the presence of military organizations willing to recruit the youth. The unemployment rate was estimated to be 35% in 2003. In that year, they estimated that more than 45% of people were living in poverty.
-Life expectancy of men is 61 years of age, women, 65. For comparison’s sake, in the US it is 76 and 81 years old.
-The risk of major infectious diseases is “high”, according to the CIA. Many of the big ones have to do with the absence of basic health services and clean water in particular (bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria).
Kidnapping of foreign tourists by tribes has been an ongoing problem throughout the modern period. In many instances, the kidnappers attempted to use hostage taking to gain leverage in negotiations with the government. One victim of kidnapping was former German Secretary of State Jürgen Chrobog, a man who himself had conducted negotiations with kidnappers while in office. In June 2009, a group of nine foreign tourists were kidnapped near the city of Saada. Seven were killed and two children survived.