Today’s Yemen was built during the reign of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, following the merger between North and South Yemen. The constitution that still applies formally was written after the country’s unification in 1991. According to it, Yemen is a republic with multi-party systems, but since Saleh was overthrown in 2011, Yemen has been in a state of political chaos.
The Arab Spring of 2011 contributed to sharpened contradictions in Yemen, with pronounced demands from various political camps. So far, most political movements have driven their demands with peaceful methods. The Gulf States Regional Cooperation Council (GCC), with US support, presented an agreement for a transitional solution, under which Saleh would hand over power to its Vice President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi. Saleh signed the agreement in 2011 and Hadi was elected president the following year. From March 2013 to January 2014, a so-called national dialogue conference was held, which agreed on a number of principles and a constitutional committee presented a draft new constitution in early 2015.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Yemen for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
The proposal had a clear democratic profile and was more liberal than the 1991 constitution. This was also true of issues relating to the role of religion and women’s rights, despite the Islamists’ strong position in the country. It states that the country should have a multi-party system, but that political parties must not be formed on ethnic or religious grounds. Nor are they allowed to receive money from abroad. According to the proposal, Islam should be state religion and “Sharia should be a source of legislation” instead of “the only source” as it was in the old constitution (see also Current Policy).
According to the GCC initiative, the basic proposal would be approved in a referendum, but it is unclear if and when it can be eliminated. Instead, political turmoil has increased further since the Shiite Muslim Hire movement in the fall of 2014 took control of the capital Sanaa. In early 2015, President Hadi and the government were forced to resign after the Hutians rejected the new draft constitution, although Hadi later refused to accept that he had been forced out of power. The Huthis dissolved the parliament and announced that a presidency council would rule the country. The UN tried to mediate between the various groups, and several compromises were discussed, including allowing a new Assembly and the old Parliament from 2003 to work in parallel.
Short for YE by Abbreviationfinder, Yemen is thus in a kind of constitutional vacuum, where no one is really sure which rules of the game apply and new political agreements are improvised gradually. In practice, it is unlikely that the proposed constitution will solve Yemen’s problems. Instead, violence has escalated around the country.
Even before 2011, Yemen was a difficult-to-control country, where the government had limited power. The laws were often circumvented and there were a number of minor uprisings in the country. No central government has succeeded in gaining full control over Yemen. In some inaccessible rural areas, the government had limited influence even when Yemen was at its most stable. In practice, these areas are controlled by local clans.
Clan and tribal loyalty is an important part of social life. The tribe is a larger group, which includes many related clans. Political groups often consist of clan leaders and their supporters. During Saleh’s long tenure as president, political power was highly concentrated on him and his immediate relatives, as well as his clan. The Sanhlan clan belongs to the great northern tribal federation Hashid, led by members of the mighty Ahmar family.
The political scene
There are a number of political parties in Yemen, but three are particularly important: Saleh’s old ruling party The General People’s Congress (AFK, al-Mutamar al-Shaabi al-Amm; in English abbreviated GPC), Yemen’s Socialist Party (al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al- Yamani, JSP) and the Islamist party Islah (Yemeni Reform Assembly).
AFK was founded by Saleh in 1982 in what was then North Yemen. It was an umbrella organization that dominated the entire state apparatus from the government down to the municipalities, and included everything from Arab nationalists to Islamists and clan leaders. The party is more populist than ideological.
Islah was formed in 1990 as a Saudi-backed, Islamist outbreak group from AFK under the leadership of Abdullah al-Ahmar (1933–2007). Through Islah, Ahmar’s northern (mainly Zaydite) clan followers allied themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi-backed groups and other Islamist movements. During most of the 1990s, Islah collaborated with President Saleh and AFK. Thereafter, the party gradually joined the opposition, although some factions remained close to the regime until 2011.
The Yemeni Socialist Party (JSP) was formed in 1978 in former South Yemen as a Marxist-Leninist party. The staff of the government until the civil war in 1994. The then party leadership went into exile after the South Yemen lost the war and the party boycotted the election in 1997. JSP continues to have support in the south, but has been overshadowed by other groups, who Sydrörelsen (often just called al-Hirak, the “movement”). This loosely organized insurgency began in 2007 to protest against Saleh’s government and the North Yemeni domination of the country.
Several large political groups are not represented by any party and do not sit in Parliament, because they were weaker or not even when the last election took place in 2003. But they still exert a significant influence. The clearest example is the hut movement, which since autumn 2014 controls large parts of Yemen including Sanaa, but which has not had a strong political branch. In 2011, the movement changed its official name to Ansar Allah (roughly the “helper of God”. Ansar was called the city dweller in Medina who assisted Prophet Muhammad and the first Muslims when forced to flee Mecca. They are often seen as ideals in the contemporary Muslim world).
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) is the local branch of the international terrorist network. Al Qaeda was also active in the area in the early 2000s, but weakened after severe blows in Saudi Arabia from 2003-2004 and to some extent also in Yemen. In 2006, however, many members escaped from the prison in Sanaa, which became the start of a new start for the group, which could also exploit the government’s growing weakness and anger over US policy in the region (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Aqap took its current name in 2009.