The Republic of Yemen, commonly known as Yemen, is one of the oldest civilizations in history. Its position as a crossroads between Arabia, Africa and India has created a culturally rich history.
The Qahtanis, descendants of Qahtan, were the earliest known rulers of Yemen. Possibly as far back as the 3rd millennium BC the Qahtanis built simple earth dams, canal networks and established trading routes.
In 9 BC the Queen of Sheba, known as Bilqis in Arabic, is thought to have ruled one of the ancient cities. Around this time an alphabet came into use which heralded the beginning of recorded history in Southern Arabia.
From 8th BC to the 6th century the kingdoms of Ma’in, Saba, Hadhramaut, Awsan, Qataban, and Himyar dominated the region.
The Sabaens built the Great Dam of Marib which allowed improvement in agriculture. The dam lies around 3kn from the present day Marib dam.
In 630 BC Mohammad was spreading the message of Islam and Yemen ultimately followed this new religion and became part of the Islamic Empire.
The majority of Yemenis are Sunnis, adhering to the Sunni branch of Islam. A significant portion of the population is Shi’a following the Shiite branch of Islam. Sharia law prevails in most court proceedings. Large cities have mixed populations but in the south and south east people are mostly Sunni and the north and northwest is more principally Shi’a.
Yemen is an orthodox country and the Muslim principle of modest dress is adhered. Women wear long black abayas (also referred to as a balto in Yemen) and sometimes face veils also. Men wear long robes and may also wear headscarves.
Although tourists arriving on Middle East cruises are not required to conform to the ultra conservative forms of dress as much as Yemeni people it is still required to be respectful of the society and its principles. Both men and women should choose garments which cover the arms and legs and do not reveal form and hug the body. Women may feel more integrated if they cover their hair.
Most Yemenis chew Khat or Qat a plant which produces a stimulating effect. This substance is illegal in many other countries (banned in Saudi Arabia for example) but an integral part of Yemeni life and culture.
As in many Arab countries although freedom of religion has been established proselytizing is forbidden so tread carefully if discussing religion.
Yemen cuisine is very varied and more distinctive than other areas of the Middle East.
Beef is expensive and not as common as chicken or lamb. Bean dishes such as fuul are popular. Breads come in many varieties such as Bint al shan, bread and honey, or shafout, bread with yogurt and coriander. Flat breads such as Malooga and Laxoox are common.
Traditional dishes include Marag Iahm which is a meat soup. Kabsa, rice with lamb, Haradha, mincemeat and pepper and Hanid which is spiced lamb. Look for the famous dish of Salta which is a broth made with meat or chicken and served with a flat piece of flaky bread to dip in.
Cuisine and traditions vary greatly around the different regions of Yemen. A native Hadhramaur province dish which is famous all over the Arabian Peninsula is Mandi, tandoor cooked lamb (or chicken) with basmati rice and spices.
When visiting a restaurant in Yemen wash your hands at the sinks provided before sitting down and only use the right hand for eating with. Many restaurants have cutlery available on request even if the majority of local customers are eating with their hands.
Alcohol is banned under Islamic law and is not available in the country. Tea, coffee and juices are widely consumed and come in many varieties of flavors and infusions.
In the 19th century North Yemen was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. After the Arab Revolt North Yemen was ruled by imams and then in 1962 the area became the Yemen Arab Republic. South Yemen was occupied by the British Empire who had formed protectorate agreements centered on the port of Aden. South Yemen became independent from Great Britain in 1967 after guerrilla campaigning against British forces escalated. The region then became the Marxist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.
The relationship between traditionalist North Yemen and Marxist South Yemen was an uneasy one due to their differing political standpoints. War broke out between North and South Yemen in 1972 and again in 1979. In 1986 a short civil war broke out in the south.
Unification of the two nations occurred in May 1990. The leader of the Yemen Arab Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the leader of People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen became President and Vice President respectively. The nation of Yemen was now politically unified. In 1994 a civil war broke out due to resurgent tensions between the north and south. Reunification occurred shortly afterwards.
In 2011 protests erupted in Yemen calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh agreed to step down and talks continue to progress over administrative and constitutional issues.
Yemen is the only democratic republic in Arabia. The government is comprised of an executive branch with a directly elected President, who then appoints the Prime Minister. The President is head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. This election has to be approved by the House of Representatives and the Shura Council which form the bicameral legislature of the government. The House of Representatives has 301 seats and the Shura Council has 111 members.
Since 1990 the President was Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Prime Minister had been Ali Muhammad Mujawar. Both were injured in recent clashes between pro and anti government forces and have now stood down.
The mountain areas of Yemen receive significant rainfall between March and September. The higher regions also have lower temperatures than desert regions of the country. In the mountains winters are mild and the summers warm.
On the southern coast the rainfall is low and the humidity high. June through to September is the hottest time of year. Midday temperatures can hit 38C during these months. The Red Sea coast is similarly hot and humid with low rainfall.
Yemen has such geographically diverse regions, offering great variation in the wildlife of the country. From the mountains to the coastal regions, the plains and desert there is great variety in the species of flora and fauna that can be seen across these regions.
Large numbers of migratory birds can be seen in Yemen during the spring and autumn. Species to watch out for include the grey headed kingfisher, flamingos and ibises. Endemic species include the Arabian Partridge, Yemen Serins and the Yemen Linnets. The trees of the highlands provide habitat for many species of birds fore example the Acacia tree in the favored home of the Yemen Warbler.