South Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arabian Peninsula, gave birth to its most radical government in the 1960s and ’70s. The achievements and failings of Yemeni socialism are a vital case study as Yemen seeks to recover from a catastrophic war.
Helen Lackner is the author of Yemen in Crisis: The Road to War (2019) and Yemen: Poverty and Conflict (2022). She worked in rural development and lived in the three Yemeni states for fifteen years.
Yemen’s rich and complex history was upended by its catastrophic civil war beginning in 2014. A peace agreement could help Yemenis recover the frustrated hopes of the 2011 uprising — if Saudi Arabia stops demanding victory for its allies.
Ten years ago, inspired by revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemenis challenged an authoritarian ruler and dared to dream of a new future for their country. But a backlash by Yemen’s old guard and interference by foreign powers crushed those hopes and plunged the country into war.
Thirty years ago today, Yemen united as one country in a mood of optimism about the future. Those hopes were to be cruelly disappointed, thanks to the destructive, self-serving record and rivalry of Yemen’s political elites.
The Saudi-led, US-backed war in Yemen has produced a humanitarian hellscape. And there’s no end in sight.
Yemen had the longest and deepest Arab Spring — why did the country collapse into civil war?