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Yemen Today
by SULAIMAN GHANEM, Yemen Embassy, London
The Republic of Yemen, now a country with a population of just under eleven and a half million and a land area, excluding the Rub' al-Khali, of 555,000 square kilometres, has witnessed many events since the heginning of this year which have deepened and consolidated the democratic experiment and laid foundations for economic, social and cultural development.

The democratic experiment

The first free elections in modern Yemeni history took place on 27th April 1993, with seven parties and a number of independent candidates competing for the 301 seats in the parliament. Some 8500 of the registered electorate voted resulting in a victory, but not an overall majority, for the General Peoples Congress with 121 seats, followed by the Socialist Party with 72 and Al-Islab with 68. This enabled the establishment of a broad coalition government including all three major parties and some independent members, under the premiership of Haydar Abu Bakir Al-Attas.

The success of the elections amazed both foreign and local observers, many of whom had been extremely sceptical about both the timing and the chances of success in view of the riots in Sanaa at the end of 1992. With this national aim achieved, there is great optimism about the future and the prosperity of Yemen. There is now a general conviction that there is no other option for progress in Yemen except by this civilised method, which creates stability, and establishes the necessary secure base for development in any field of human endeavour.

Economic development

The GNP per capita in 1991, the last year for which figures are available, was YR 7807 (307), oil production for the last three years has been running at 180,000 barrels per day and this year is rising to an estimated 300,000 barrels per day. Non-oil exports, mainly agricultural, livestock and fisheries produced, in 1991, approximately 240,000,000.

The Yemeni government has decided to introduce market economy policies gradually, thereby aiming to provide both stable conditions and incentives for economic growth. To this end it is following a twin pronged programme of encouraging investment in various spheres through a new Investment Law and establishing free trade zones, starting with the Aden Governorate.

The Investment Law is designed to attract both foreign and local investors to start new ventures and some new enterprises in various parts of the country have been set up under it, largely in the oil and energy sectors. These sectors are seen as the main artery of the Yemeni economy in the near future, supported by traditional sectors of agriculture, fisheries and construction.

The feasibility studies for the Aden Free Zone have now been completed, so the way is paved for this important port to become a free area linking East and West and to add a strategically important economic asset to the whole Yemeni economy.

Social and cultural development

Due to the political and economic changes Yemen is undergoing, international interest in the country has increased considerably, especially since the new parliament and the government have, since the election, been developing policies to consolidate security and stability, to improve the standard of living and to increase the prospects for employment.

Both the legislative and the executive authorities regard these policies as necessary prerequisites for any social or cultural advance in the country and for the gradual eradication of the political and social evils that have cast their dismal shadows over the Yemeni people for so many centuries. Thus they hope to foster the virtues and traditions of the cultured and civilised heritage of Yemen: the inheritance from the ancient kingdoms of Ma’in, Qataban, Sheba and Himyar, whose good government allowed their incense merchants, trading between east and west, to fill the tombs and temples of Pharaonic Egypt with Yemeni frankincense and build skyscrapers in the desert at Shibam.

November 1993