HUMAN AND ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHY
State of southwestern Asia, in the Arabian Peninsula. Despite the fact that over the course of fifteen years the population growth rate has decreased (from 4.7 % in the 1990-1998 period to 3.2 % in the 2000-2005 period), it still remains the highest among the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. According to Homosociety, the population, which at the 2004 census was equal to about 19.7 million residents, has now exceeded the threshold of 21 million, a much too high figure, being the Yemen endowed with modest resources (it is the poorest country of the Gulf area) and with social problems.
In the early 21st century, the economy has made weak progress and international aid remains fundamental, especially since investments, both foreign and domestic, are scarce. Oil (20.2 million tonnes produced in 2005) completely dominates the Yemeni production landscape, ensuring a third of GDP and over 90% of export revenues, even if the country remains a modest producer (thirtieth place in the world ranking), especially when compared to its powerful neighbors. The intense exploitation of the fields is running out of reserves and this exposes the economy to serious difficulties; consequently, attempts are made to focus on the exploitation of natural gas, which should begin to be exported from 2008. Great importance is given to breeding and agriculture. The latter sees a clear prevalence of qat, whose leaves are used by the local population as a mild narcotic: however, its intensive cultivation monopolizes one third of the area destined for arable land and 85% of irrigation water, a precious commodity in a desert country, to the detriment of other crops, so much so that the Yemen is forced to import foodstuffs. To promote growth it appears essential to diversify productive activities, however the announced economic policies (reduction of defense spending, reform of the public sector and also of the tax system) to modernize and rationalize the economy are slow to start, while young people are pressing on labor market and neither industry nor the service sector are able to secure new jobs.
The internal situation of the Yemen was marked, at the beginning of the 21st century, by a return of terrorism: on 12 October 2000, in the port of Aden, a suicide attack against the US warship Cole caused the death of seventeen sailors ; a few days later a bomb was dropped at the British embassy in Ṣan̔ā̓. The fear of an attack reappeared again in October 2002, when a French oil tanker exploded off the Yemen The Yemeni authorities decided to react with determination to the terrorist offensive, collaborating with the United States itself also and above all in an attempt to break the international isolation that condemned the country for its previous choices in foreign policy: the Yemen had taken sides, in fact, with Ṣ. Ḥusayn on the occasion of the invasion of Kuwait (1990), but above all from Yemen thousands of supporters had left to fight alongside the Afghan Ṭālibān . And even after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001in New York and Washington, several police operations were carried out in the country against alleged members of the al-Qā̔ida organization (December 2001 and February 2002).
In February 2001 a referendum on constitutional reforms was held in the country: according to official estimates, over 70 % of voters approved the extension of the presidential mandate from five to seven years and that of Parliament from four to six. Riots and violence accompanied the conduct of the referendum and the administrative elections, which took place at the same time and which, being boycotted by the main opposition parties, registered the success of the General Peoples’s Congress (GPC), the party of President ̔A.A. ṣāliḥ. In the general elections of April 27, 2003, the GCP won 228 seats, while 47 went to the Yemeni Islah Party , the guarantor of religious orthodoxy in the country. The oppositions once again complained of violence, boycott by the main media and severe intimidation of the electorate, but EU observers expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the electoral competition. President ṣāliḥ, meanwhile, tried to guarantee political stability in the country, where the sense of tribal belonging remained strong, even in contrast to national identity and state authority. The path taken by ṣāliḥ on the way to an effective democratization of the country was not, however, free from contradictions, delays and dangers, as demonstrated by widespread corruption, strong censorship of the press.
The presidential elections of September 20, 2006 confirmed ṣāliḥ with about 77 % of the votes. About 21 % went to his main challenger, F. ̔U. bin Šamlān (an independent politician, minister in 1994-95 in the socialist government of the Yemen of the South), supported by the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), a coalition of five opposition parties dominated by the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP). The electoral results, while confirming the predictable victory of ṣāliḥ, confirmed the vitality of the opposition and their role in national political life.
In foreign policy, relations with Saudi Arabia, normalized starting from 1995, underwent a further deterioration in February 2000 due to the clashes that occurred at the borders between the two countries. In June 2000, after more than 65 years of disputes over the definition of land and sea borders between the two states, a permanent agreement was signed to establish and delimit the borders, but new tensions arose during 2004.