The national media landscape in Yemen was and is, albeit currently with situation-related restrictions, broadly diversified, especially in the area of print media. In addition to numerous Arabic-language newspapers, most of which are published daily, there are also (weekly) newspapers in English. The Yemen Times, founded in 1991 by Abdul Aziz as-Saqqaf, has the highest circulation in the private sector. Also of importance are the Yemen Observer (founded in 1996) and the Yemen Post (founded in 2007). Many newspapers currently only appear online.
The Yemen News Agency (SABA) – now under the control of the Huthi rebels – had an up-to-date and informative website in English (see chapter “Overview”). Important daily newspapers of the country, such as the organ of the General People’s Congress (AVK) ath-Thawra (see chapter “Overview”) and the oppositional Yemeni Socialist Party (JSP), October 14, or the currently most popular daily al-Ayyam in southern Yemen (based in Aden, supports separation efforts in the south), are only published in Arabic. Western daily newspapers and magazines were and are not officially available.
In the last few years of Ali Abdallah Saleh’s presidency, reporting, which had previously been relatively free, was increasingly restricted. Criticism, especially of the president’s administration, had repeatedly led to reprisals against the journalists concerned. Negative-critical statements of any kind on Islam were/are completely taboo. The aforementioned invasion has also led to a polarization of opinion in the Yemeni media about the pros and cons of military intervention. Quite a few journalists have lost their lives. In terms of freedom of the press, Yemen ranked 167th out of 180 (2017: 166) led countries in 2018 and is considered “not free” in this respect.
The initial euphoria about the unity achieved was soon followed by disillusionment: deep differences between the representatives from the other part of the country over further political development and enormous economic problems escalated into a two-month civil war in May 1994, in which the North emerged victorious. The result was an intensified Islamization of life in the South, combined with the enforcement of Sharia law as the sole source of jurisdiction and the expulsion of all women from leading positions. Since then, the unitary state has stood on shaky feet, as the sometimes serious economic, social and political differences between the two parts of the country have not been overcome.
Domestic political situation
Especially in the second half of the 1990s there were numerous kidnappings of foreigners. Tribesmen were responsible for this, mostly in the provinces of Marib and Shabwa. Since the demands were realized by the state or their realization was promised, most of the abductees were released without physical harm. A few kidnappings, however, had an Islamic-terrorist background and were the responsibility of the so-called Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan. Taking advantage of the state vacuum in some parts of the country (above all in/around Marib), the country increasingly developed into a retreat area for al-Qaida and its offshoots on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other Islamist terrorist groups in the years after 2006. Attacks resulting in death against civilian and military state institutions as well as foreigners became more frequent.
The conflict in the northern province of Saada, which had lasted since June 2004, became a particularly serious problem. Religiously oriented Shiite forces led by the Huthi clan fought against the central government in Sanaa, allegedly supported by Iran. All attempts at mediation were mostly without visible success. After parts of the Huthi rebels penetrated into the capital and temporarily occupied state institutions (including ministries), a peace agreement was signed between the government and Huthi representatives in Sanaa on 21 September 2014. Nevertheless, the latter continued their military advance, supported by Saleh loyal army units, and soon controlled the northern and western parts of the country, including the capital, as well as Hodaida, Taiz and, for a short time, Aden.
In order to prevent the Huthi rebels from advancing further or to push them back and to support the de facto deprived Hadi government, Saudi Arabia intervened in the inner Yemeni conflict and on 26 March 2015 began a military invasion (Operation Decisive Storm, since 22 April 2015: Operation Restoring Hope) in which other Arab states (including Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and the UAE) participated. The official goal of the military operation is to protect the government under Hadi from complete collapse, to prevent the Huthi movement from taking over power throughout the country, and ultimately to stabilize Yemen. Depending on their respective positions, either Saudi support for the liberation of the Huthi rebels or (pro-Huthi) aggression by Saudi Arabia against the Yemeni people has been mentioned. The goals achieved so far are rather doubtful, as they have led to immense material damage and great human suffering, especially due to the numerous bombings. The number of internally displaced persons alone is now around 2 million, more than half of whom are children. More than 18.8 million Yemenis are now dependent on humanitarian aid.
In addition to the Southern Movement (see above), which is mainly present in Aden and the surrounding area, areas of the provinces of Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramaut are or were partly under the control of the group “Ansar Ash-Sharia”, which is close to al-Qaida. Also forces of the so-called “Islamic State” (Arabic: داعش Daesh) operate in a few areas of the country. Among other things, the attack on the Aden governor Ja’far Mohammed Sa’d on 06.12.2015 is to be attributed to the IS.
The death of Ali Abdallah Saleh has brought about a new and dramatic development for Yemen. As an ally of the Huthi rebels, he had terminated his military alliance with them at the beginning of December 2017 and signalled his willingness to negotiate with the legitimate government. As a result, he was shot dead by the rebels on December 4. It is still unclear whether and to what extent his death will influence the overall situation in the country.