The reputed home of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes. The Romans knew this fertile and wealthy country as Arabia Felix, in contrast to the relatively barren Arabia Desert to the north. Until today it maintains its distinct character.
The modern Republic of Yemen was born in 1990 when traditionalist North Yemen and Marxist South Yemen merged after years of border wars and skirmishes. But the peace broke down in 1994 and a short civil war ended in defeat for separatist southerners and the survival of the unified Yemen. Since unification Yemen has been modernising and opening up to the world, but it still maintains much of its tribal character and old ways. Tensions persist between the north and the south; some southerners say the northern part of the state is economically privileged. Hundreds have been killed in a recent uprising in the north-west among some members of the region's Zaidi sect, a branch of Shia Islam in the mainly Sunni country. The president has accused the rebels of trying to overthrow the government.
People wear traditional dress and the custom of chewing the narcotic plant khat in the afternoons is still widely observed. Yemen has attracted the curiosity of a growing number of tourists, although foreigners have been kidnapped by groups seeking to force concessions from the authorities. The scene of attacks on a US warship and a French tanker, Yemen has gained a reputation as a haven for Islamic militants. The authorities have arrested suspected al-Qaeda members and the US has supplied equipment and training for Yemen's security forces. Thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa, including many Somalis, use Yemen as a staging post for the oil-rich Arab Gulf or Europe.
President Ali Abdallah Saleh has been in power since 1978. Rebels led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi have been conducting a low-level insurgency in the north, allegedly to install Shi'ite religious rule.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East; economic difficulties have sparked unrest.
Yemen has been co-operating in the US-led "war on terror", risking domestic resentment.
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Thank You, Lord, for "Arabia Felix", the "Happy Arabia", a fertile country where Africa, the Middle East and Asia meet. Thank You for the rich cultural and historical heritage. We pray that this fascinating nation will become increasingly more open towards Christian influence, that Your peace will overcome human terror and that Your word will bring godly happiness to the people.
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