Unification of Yemen
Part of the end of the Cold War
North & South Yemen, prior to the Yemeni unification
Native name al-waḥda al-Yamaniyya
الوحدة اليمنية
DateMay 22, 1990 (1990-05-22)
Location North Yemen
 South Yemen
OutcomeUnification of Yemen
  • Sanaa becomes the capital of unified Yemen

Yemeni unification (Arabic: الوحدة اليمنية, romanizedal-waḥda al-Yamaniyya) took place on May 22, 1990, when the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) was united with the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen), forming the Republic of Yemen.[1]

Background (1918–1990)

North Yemen became a state in the context of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire in November 1918. Aden, in South Yemen, was administered as part of British India, and in 1937 became a British colony in its own right. The larger part of South Yemen was a British protectorate, effectively under colonial control. In one of the many proxy conflicts of the Cold War, a South Yemeni insurgency (with the support and backing of the Soviet Union) led by two nationalist parties revolted, causing the United Kingdom to unify the area and in 1967 to withdraw from its former colony.

Following the North Yemen Civil War, the north established a Nasserist republican government led by a military junta that included tribal representatives. It enjoyed modest oil revenues and remittances from its citizens working in the oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Its population in the 1980s was estimated at 12 million as opposed to 3 million in South Yemen.[2]

South Yemen developed as a mostly secular[3] society ruled first by the National Liberation Front, which later morphed into the ruling Yemeni Socialist Party. The only avowedly communist nation in the Middle East, South Yemen received significant foreign aid and other assistance from the Soviets.[4]

Main article: Yemenite War of 1972

In October 1972, fighting erupted between north and south; North Yemen was supplied by Saudi Arabia, and South Yemen was supplied by the Soviet Union. Fighting was short-lived, and the conflict led to the October 28, 1972 Cairo Agreement, which set forth a plan to unify the two countries.[5][6]

Main article: Yemenite War of 1979

Fighting broke out again in February and March 1979, with South Yemen allegedly supplying aid to rebels in the north by the National Democratic Front and crossing the border.[7] Southern forces made it as far as the city of Taiz before withdrawing.[8][9] Again, North Yemen was supported by anticommunist Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, by Saudi Arabia and secretly in the name of the Royal Saudi Air Force from 1979 to 1990. This conflict was also short-lived.[10]

In the late 1980s, oil exploration near the border between the two nations – the Marib Governorate in the North and the Shabwah Governorate in the South – spurred interest in developing agreements to exploit resources there and lift both nations' economies.[11] In May 1988, the two governments came to an understanding that considerably reduced tensions, including agreements to renew discussions concerning unification, to establish a joint oil exploration area along their undefined border, now called the Joint Investment Area, by the Hunt Oil Company and Exxon.[12] The same month, they formed the Yemeni Company for Investment in Mineral and Oil Resources (YCIMOR).[13]

In November 1989, Ali Abdullah Saleh of North Yemen and Ali Salem al Beidh of South Yemen jointly accepted a draft unity constitution originally drawn up in 1981, which included a demilitarized border and border passage by Yemenis on the sole basis of a national identification card and a capital city in Sanaa.


Ali Saleh raising the Yemeni flag, behind him Ali Salem al Beidh.

The Republic of Yemen was declared on 22 May 1990.[1] Ali Abdullah Saleh of the north became Head of State, and Ali Salim al-Beidh of the south became Head of Government. A 30-month transitional period for completing the unification of the two political and economic systems was set. A presidential council was jointly elected by the 26-member Yemen Arab Republic advisory council and the 17-member People's Democratic Republic of Yemen presidium. The presidential council appointed a Prime Minister, who formed a Cabinet. There was also a 301-seat provisional unified parliament, consisting of 159 members from the north, 111 members from the south, and 31 independent members appointed by the chairman of the council.

A unity constitution was agreed upon in May 1990 and ratified by the populace in May 1991. It affirmed Yemen's commitment to free elections, a multiparty political system, the right to own private property, equality under the law, and respect of basic human rights. Parliamentary elections were held on April 27, 1993. International groups assisted in the organization of the elections and observed actual balloting. The resulting Parliament included 143 General People's Congress, 69 Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), 63 Islah (the nation's largest Islamist party), 6 Ba'athists, 3 Nasserist Unionist People's Organisation, 2 Al Haq, and 15 independents. The new parliament represented the North strongly. The YSP, though it had won the most seats in voting in the less populated south, was considered a minor part of the new coalition government.[14] The head of Islah, Abdullah ibn Husayn al-Ahmar, became the speaker of Parliament. Islah was invited into the ruling coalition, and the presidential council was altered to include one Islah member.

As a new oil field was brought online in the Hadhramaut Governorate in the south, southerners began to feel that their land, home to the majority of the country's oil reserves, was illegally appropriated as part of a planned conspiracy by the rulers of North Yemen.[15][16][17]

Finally, the newly unified nation faced political crisis when an estimated 800,000 Yemeni nationals and overseas workers were sent home by Saudi Arabia following Yemen's decision not to support Coalition forces in the Gulf War. Remittances from these workers, an important part of the economy, were slashed and many Yemenis were placed in refugee camps while the government decided where to house them and how to re-integrate them into the workforce. The repatriation of these Yemenis immediately increased the nation's population by 7%.[18][19]

Civil war

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Main article: Yemeni Civil War (1994)

Conflicts within the coalition resulted in the self-imposed exile of Vice President Ali Salim al-Beidh to Aden beginning in August 1993 and a deterioration in the general security situation as political rivals settled scores and tribal elements took advantage of the unsettled situation. Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas, the former Southern Prime Minister, continued to serve as Yemen's Prime Minister, but his government was ineffective due to political infighting. Continuous negotiations between northern and southern leaders resulted in the signing of the document of pledge and accord in Amman, Jordan on February 20, 1994. Despite this, clashes intensified until civil war broke out in early May 1994. Significantly, one of the institutions that had not yet unified was the military arms of both nations.

Southern leaders seceded and established the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY) on 21 May 1994, but the new state was not recognized by the international community. Ali Nasir Muhammad, the exiled South Yemen leader, assisted military operations against the secessionists.[20]

Aden was captured on 7 July 1994. Other resistance quickly collapsed and thousands of southern leaders and military went into exile.

In the aftermath of the civil war, Yemeni Socialist Party leaders within Yemen reorganized the party and elected a new politburo in July 1994. However, the party remained disheartened and without its former influence. Islah held a party convention in September 1994. The General People's Congress did the same in June 1995.

In 1994, amendments to the unity constitution eliminated the presidential council. President Ali Abdallah Saleh was elected by Parliament on 1 October 1994 to a 5-year term. The constitution provided that henceforth the President is to be elected by popular vote from at least two candidates selected by the legislature.


Adopting a Western style governmental system, Yemen held its first direct presidential elections in September 1999, electing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a 5-year term in what were generally considered free and fair elections[citation needed]. Yemen held its second multiparty parliamentary elections in April 1997. Constitutional amendments adopted in the summer of 2000 extended the presidential term by two years, thus moving the next presidential elections to 2006. The amendments also extended the parliamentary term of office to a 6-year term, thus moving elections for these seats to 2003. On 20 February 2001, a new constitutional amendment created a bicameral legislature consisting of a Shura Council (111 seats; members appointed by the president) and a House of Representatives (301 seats; members elected by popular vote). Yemen is now a dominant-party system with the General People's Congress in power.

Friction and troubles continued, elements in the south perceive unfair treatment by the north.[21] This has given birth to a popular movement called the South Yemen Movement which calls for the return of an independent southern state.[22] In 2015, this time as a pawn in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Yemen again was engulfed in civil war, which continues to this day.


See also


  1. ^ a b "2 Yemens Become One, and Celebrate". New York Times. Reuters. 23 May 1990. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  2. ^ Jonsson, Gabriel, Towards Korean reconciliation: socio-cultural exchanges and cooperation, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006, pages 38-48
  3. ^ Laessing, Ulf, Women of southern Yemen port remember better times Reuters, January 22, 2010
  4. ^ Gart, Murray, South Yemen New Thinking in a Marxist Land, Time, January 09, 1989
  5. ^ CIA Study on Yemeni Unification, 1990
  6. ^ Gause, Gregory, Saudi-Yemeni relations: domestic structures and foreign influence, Columbia University Press, 1990, page 98
  7. ^ Hermann, Richard, Perceptions and behavior in Soviet foreign policy, University of Pittsburgh Pre, 1985, page 152
  8. ^ Hoagland, Edward, Balancing Acts, Globe Pequot, 1999, page 218
  9. ^ Interview with Al-Hamdani Middle East Research and Information Reports, February 1985
  10. ^ Burrowes, Robert, Middle East dilemma: the politics and economics of Arab integration, Columbia University Press, 1999, pages 187 to 210
  11. ^ Whitaker, Brian, The Birth of Modern Yemen Archived 2011-01-23 at the Wayback Machine, e-book available at Al-Bab, 1979
  12. ^ CIA, page 3
  13. ^ Ismael, Sharif, Unification in Yemen: Dynamics of Political Integration, Thesis paper written for Wadhamn College, 2001, page 24
  14. ^ Enders, Klaus-Stefan, Republic of Yemen: selected issues, International Monetary Fund Report, 2001
  15. ^ Enders, 2001, page 10
  16. ^ May 2009 speech by former South Yemen President Ali Salim al-Beidh Archived 2012-07-12 at archive.today
  17. ^ Enders, Klaus-Stefan, Yemen in the 1990s: from unification to economic reform, International Monetary Fund, 2002, page 4
  18. ^ Foad, Hisham, The Effect of the Gulf War on Migration and Remittances Archived 2012-03-15 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Economics paper, San Diego State University, December 2009
  19. ^ Whitaker, Brian, Pawns of War live in forgotten Yemen camps Archived 2010-11-19 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, repreinted in Al-Bab, 7 January 1993
  20. ^ Hedges, Chris, In Yemen's Civil War, South Fights On, Gloomily, New York Times, May 16, 1994
  21. ^ Haley Edwards, "In south of Yemen, talk of rebellion is rife" in Los Angeles Times (May 18, 2010) at page 3.
  22. ^ "Is South Yemen Preparing to Declare Independence?". Time. 2011-07-08. Archived from the original on July 11, 2011.
  23. ^ In a joint letter to the UN Secretary-General sent just prior to unification, the Ministers of Foreign affairs of North and South Yemen stated that "All treaties and agreements concluded between either the Yemen Arab Republic or the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and other States and international organizations in accordance with international law which are in force on 22 May 1990 will remain in effect, and international relations existing on 22 May 1990 between the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic and other States will continue."Bühler, Konrad (2001). State Succession and Membership in International Organizations. Martinus Nijhoff Publisher. ISBN 9041115536.