People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF YEMEN
The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) spanned the twenty years between the constitution that ended the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen and the unification of the two Yemens in May 1990. South Yemen had been created politically on 30 November 1967, when the victorious National Liberation Front (NLF) assumed power upon Britain's departure from Aden colony and the Aden protectorates. Britain had first occupied Aden in 1839. For the next century, Britain was preoccupied with the port of Aden, while neglecting the dozens or so states in the interior with which it signed treaties of protection only in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. As a consequence, no single political entity in modern times except the stillborn South Arabian Federation of the mid-1960s embraced even most of what was to become an independent South Yemen in late 1967. Instead, what existed was the 75-square-mile (194 sq km) Aden colony—a city-state, a partly modern urban enclave, and, by some measures, the world's second or third busiest port in the late 1950s—and the vast, mostly distant, politically fragmented interior states, which were, for the most part, based on subsistence agriculture and traditional sociocultural institutions. Neither the British administration nor the nationalists who first stirred in Aden in the 1940s had much knowledge of, interest in, or impact on these states, despite Britain's adoption of a new "forward policy" during the last decades of imperial rule. As a result, the people of Aden were closer, in more ways than just geographically, to the city of Taʿiz in North Yemen than to the Hadramawt, which lay far to the east of Aden and had its strongest business and familial ties with people in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, India, Indonesia, and East Africa.
The infrastructure barely holding together the major settlement areas of South Yemen at independence in 1967 consisted of dirt tracks, unpaved roads, a number of airstrips, and the telegraph. The country consisted of many microeconomies, most of them agriculturally based and largely self-sufficient; isolated Wadi Hadramawt was an odd case, dependent as it was upon emigration to and remittances from the Gulf and Southeast Asia. What little market economy existed during the British period mostly centered on the port of Aden and its environs, and this in turn was plugged less into the surrounding states than into the international economic system via its sea-lanes. This fragile modern sector was dealt devastating blows near the time of independence when the blockage of the Suez Canal during the Arab–Israel War of 1967 nearly brought port activities to a halt, and Britain's rapid withdrawal ended both subsidies from London and the significant economic activity tied to the large British presence.
The history of South Yemen since independence is distinguished by five major periods: (1) During the period of political takeover and consolidation (1967–1969), the NLF established control in Aden and over the interior at the same time that the party's balance of power passed from the nationalists led by Qahtan al-Shaʿbi to the party's left wing. (2) The long period of uneasy leftist coleadership of Salim Rabiyya Ali and Abd al-Fattah Ismaʿil (1969–1978) was distinguished by the efforts of these two rivals both to organize the country in terms of their versions of Marxist-Leninist "scientific socialism" and to align the country with the socialist camp and national liberation movements around the world. (3) The Ismaʿil interlude (1978–1980) began with the violent elimination of Salim Rabiyya Ali by Ismaʿil and was notable for the firm establishment of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) and bitter conflict between a militant PDRY and the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), the other Yemen. (4) During the era of Ali Nasir Muhammad (1980–1986), the consolidation of power in this single leader was paralleled by increasing moderation in both domestic affairs and external relations, especially with the YAR. (5) The final period of collective leadership and political weakness (1985–1990) began with the intraparty bloodbath that ousted Ali Nasir and otherwise decapitated the YSP. It ended with the merger with the YAR to form the Republic of Yemen. During the transition period that followed formal unification in May 1990, the YSP shared power with the ruling party of the YAR, the General People's Congress, under their respective leaders, Ali Salim al-Baydh and Ali Abdallah Salih.
Despite this pattern of bitter and sometimes lethal intraparty conflict, between 1967 and 1990 the PDRY regime did maintain rule and order throughout the country, made progress in bridging the gap between Aden and the rest of the country, pursued social goals with some success, and made good use of limited resources in efforts to develop a very poor country. Despite pressures toward fragmentation, especially urgings from Saudi Arabia that the Hadramawt go its separate way, South Yemen held together during difficult political and economic times. This was largely the result of political will, agitation, and organization. The gap between city and countryside remained a constant concern of the leadership, and progress was made in extending education, medical care, and other social services beyond Aden and the other urban centers. In addition, a campaign was waged to extend women's rights and other progressive ideas and institutions to the countryside. Great differences in wealth and property were eliminated, and the economy was organized along socialist lines, most notably in terms of a variety of agricultural and fishing collectives and cooperatives. In the end, however, the socialist experiment, short of time as well as money, failed; the discovery of oil, in 1986, simply came several years too late. Moreover, there was neither time nor resources to push the modern ideas and institutions into the countryside where entrenched tradition prevailed. Nevertheless, the regime remained relatively committed, egalitarian, and free of corruption.
In many ways, the PDRY of the 1970s and 1980s, like Cuba, became both heavily dependent and a great burden upon the Soviet Union. The sudden collapse of the latter and its socialist bloc in the late 1980s left the PDRY weak and in isolation, shorn of fraternal and material support. This as much as the bloodbath that decapitated the YSP in early 1986 left South Yemen unable to resist North Yemen's call for unification in late 1989.
see also ali nasir muhammad al-hasani; arab–israel war (1967); baydh, ali salim al-; ismaʿil, abd al-fattah; salih, ali adullah; rabiyya ali, salim; wadi hadramawt; yemen arab republic; yemeni socialist party.
Auchterlonie, Paul, compiler. Yemen. Oxford, U.K., and Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1998.
Ismael, Tareq Y., and Ismael, Jacqueline S. The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen: Politics, Economics, and Society: The Politics of Socialist Transformation. London: F. Pinter; Boulder, CO: Lynn Rienner Publishers, 1986.
Long, David E., and Reich, Bernard, eds. The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, 4th edition. Boulder, CO, and Oxford: Westview, 2002.
robert d. burrowes