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Yemeni History 101

Yemeni History 101
Yemen is often in the news. But few of us are able to actually understand what is happening there, as we are unaware of that country’s long and rich history. Without such knowledge, it is impossible to assess current events correctly.

Brecht Jonkers, a journalist for Al-Masdar News and chief editor of Yemen Resistance Watch joins the program and gives his view of Yemen's history.

Brecht's starting point in his whistle-stop journey of Yemen's past, is the Kingdom of Sheba, when Yemen enjoyed a sort of mythical status and was very well known amongst the Greeks and the Romans as 'Fortunate Arabia,' to differentiate it from the desert parts of most of the rest of the Arabian peninsula. Brecht describes how Yemenis developed their own version of the Arabian alphabet around the 12th century BCE, when most historians consider Yemen to have come into existence. This was a highly developed civilization with advanced water engineering works. "The land was very attractive for foreign invaders, one of them being the Romans who sent 10,000 Roman soldiers which at that time, 25BC, was a massive force. But these forces, according to records never even made it to Sheba."

Brecht describes Yemen's religious history, "Around 275 AD, Yemen converted to a very distinct form of monotheism, to a religion as called Rahmanism, an Arabic word meaning ‘the merciful.' This is one of the two main names attributed to Allah in Islam…" The country was apparently also a center for early Christianity as well a center of Judaism, and this interestingly led to persecution of Christians by Jews at one stage, Brecht mentions.

Brecht stresses that religion has always played a pivotal role in Yemen, and became all the more important once Islam came into the picture. "Yemen, without Islam is difficult to imagine… Yemen was one of the first nations to convert to Islam, and one of the reasons for this was the country's strong Judaist roots." 

Brecht describes in some detail Yemen's modern history as starting in 1948 "when what a lot of Yemenis called the last legitimate Iman was murdered," and this led to a conflict within a number of families who believed they could deliver the new Iman. This set into motion a chain of events which undermined the old theocratic, democratic order, and an attempt to establish a military republic. At the same time the power politics of surrounding countries and powerful European nations affected Yemen in a mostly negative way as they were not consistent in which section of Yemeni society they backed. "This was witnessed by the fact that there were 4 coup d'états from 1970 to 1990, and two of the presidents were assassinated by a military coup, which paved the way for the extreme poverty that most Yemenis find themselves in now."

Brecht finishes the program by tracing recent history from 1990 onwards, and explains how the Houthis, which are apparently very popular, were formed.  Brecht stresses that the idea that the Houthis are Iranian agents is simply not true as they do not even belong to the same branch of Islam. "The idea that Iran is meddling seems to be very wrong, the only countries that are meddling are certain countries which have interests there, in particular some of the oil rich nations in the north, so the idea that if we don't do anything then the Iranians will take over is completely wrong…"

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