May 22 – Unity Day in Yemen

Posted on May 22, 2014


I didn't know much about Yemen, other than the fact that it is a fairly small nation on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. On the map below, Yemen is colored darker orange.


When I read that Yemen was considered a kleptocracy, I had two thoughts:
  1. What's a kleptocracy?
  2. I bet it's NOT a good thing.

On this date in 1990, North and South Yemen unified, becoming the Republic of Yemen. The first president of the republic was Ali Abdulla Saleh. And apparently he wasn't as honest and democratic a leader as Yemenis could have hoped for!

Because here is the definition of a kleptocracy:

A corrupt government, in which the government exists to increase the personal wealth and power the officials, at the expense of the people of the nation, usually while pretending to provide services to those people.

The word comes from the same Greek root word, kleptes (thief), as the word kleptomaniac.

I live in the U.S., and many of us are worried about the amount of money and corruption in government. I think we are right to worry – we don't, after all, want our country to be listed in Wikipedia as a kleptocracy! – but when I read about some other nations, I again realize how lucky I am (and many other peoples of the world) to live in a relatively well-run nation.

For example, as I said, Saleh was Yemen's first president in 1990. What I haven't told you yet is that he was president until 2012 – that's 22 years! And he was attempting to change the nation's constitution so that he could stay president for life. And many Yemenis feared that he was trying to have his son Ahmed Saleh in a position to become president after he died.

Umm...how is this a "president"? Isn't this more like a king?

Many Yemenis protested against the unemployment in their nation and especially against the lack of democracy and the corruption in the government. The government's police fired on some of the protestors, killing 50 Yemenis. At this point international pressure was put on Saleh, and the U.N. called for Saleh to give up the presidency.

So far this hasn't led to a blissful democratic nation. Saleh gave up his power, but his vice-president was unopposed as he ran for (and, of course) won election as the next president. And Saleh was given immunity from prosecution for any of his crimes against his people, to the disgust of thousands of street protestors.

What's Yemen like?

Its economy is lopsided!
I've shown some of these “export trees” for other nations in earlier posts, but look how much petroleum and natural gas dominate Yemen's economy! And you know that the gas won't last forever!




There are some areas in Yemen that are very, very arid—that is, dry—and that cannot be used to grow food. The Rub al Khali desert is populated only by camels and their herders.

Some of the islands in the Red Sea belong to Yemen. Some of them are volcanic; one volcano created a new island in December 2011 (seen below in a NASA satellite image).


The kingdom of Sheba, which is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible (also known as the Hebrew scriptures) and the Koran, was probably roughly where Yemen is now. The Queen of Shaba was supposed to have traveled to visit the Israeli King Solomon. She is described as arriving in Jerusalem in a large caravan with precious stones, spices, and gold. This sort of wealth is probably appropriate for a kingdom that lay in a great spot to promote and control trade between Africa, India, and the European/Asian continent.


Check out these pictures of the Queen of Sheba. Archeologists and historians are not positive about the location of Sheba, but as I said, they think it is likely that it was located in the southern region of the Arabian peninsula, and that its queen had skin of a medium brown -- somewhere between these two depictions.
Did you know...?

The Red Sea is a rift zone, in which two of Earth's tectonic plates are slowly ripping apart, allowing hot magma to rise upwards and make new seafloor.

Actually, Yemen lies close to a triple-rift zone, called the Afra Triple Junction: the Red Sea Rift meets the Aden Ridge meets the East African Rift.


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