Yemen Briefing Notes



2015-04-29 Suggestions that Saleh is helping orchestrate the Houthi advance. Saleh could facilitate a comeback by causing chaos, or installing his son Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh as Yemen’s next president.

2015-03-28 Saudi Arabia is bombing targets in Yemen aimed at overthrowing the Houthi government. (AlJazeera) For analysis, see below.


Yemen is a country just to the south of Saudi Arabia with a population the size of Australia (roughly 24 million) in a land mass one-third the size of Queensland. There’s another 800,000 – 1,000,000 Yemenis living in Saudi Arabia.
Ninety-nine percent of the population are Islamic – 60%–65% of the Muslim population is Sunni and over 35%–40% is Shia.
Yemen is estimated to have the second-highest gun ownership rate in the world, ranking behind only the United States, and its bazaars are well stocked with heavy weaponry.


The country was divided between the Ottoman and British empires in the early 20th century. The Zaydi Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen was established after World War I in North Yemen before the creation of Yemen Arab Republic in 1962. South Yemen remained a British protectorate until 1967 when they withdrew after nationalists groups began an armed struggle for control. South Yemen then became a Marxist state with ties to the USSR.

The two Yemeni states united to form the modern republic of Yemen in 1990 under the corrupt military dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh who controlled the country until the Arab Spring / Yemeni Revolution of 2011. He abdicated power in 2012, handing government over to his Vice-President Hadi (who has since also been evicted from the country) and managed to get full immunity from prosecution for his crimes.

The Yemeni government was overthrown by a coup in September 2014 by the Houthis, a Zaidiyyah Shi’a revolutionary party, whose leader was killed by the Saleh armed forces in an earlier struggle.  On September 20, 2014, an agreement was signed in Sana’a under UN patronage essentially giving the Houthis control of the government. This affects the broader power balance in the Middle East, tilting the country from Saudi to Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia has exercised the predominant external influence in Yemen since the withdrawal of Nasser’s Egyptian expeditionary force.


Saleh ruthlessly suppressed opposition groups, especially those with a religious or sectarian orientation (in this case, the Houthis, who are Shiite).

But that didn’t stop the US supplying him with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of money, arms and training to “fight the war on terror”.

In 2006, he was invited to the White House to meet with Bush, who said:

 I have gotten to know the President over the past six years of my presidency. I feel comfortable saying, welcome, my friend. I had the privilege of calling President Saleh after the elections of Yemen. I told him, I said it was a remarkable occurrence that his great country had a free and open election. I’ve had a chance to congratulate him and thank him in person today.

This was despite the nephew and campaign manager of the main opposition candidate Ahmad Al Majeedi being gunned down in his house by “unidentified gunmen” during the campaign, and violence on the day of the election, with Khaled Hassan, an opposition candidate being killed by supporters of Saleh.

During 2012 alone, the US was responsible for at least 38 drone strikes in Yemen. When civilians were killed, such as the attack on a vehicle that left 11 passengers dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old boy, the Yemeni government tried to cover up US involvement, blaming the attacks on Al Qaeda. Instead, the local people handed out fliers that said “See what the government has done? That’s why we are fighting. . . . They are the agents of America and the enemy of Islam. . . . They fight whoever says ‘Allah is my God,’ according to America’s instructions.” 

The brother of one of the people killed in the vehicle attack said “If there’s no compensation from the government, we will accept the compensation from al-Qaeda. If I am sure the Americans are the ones who killed my brother, I will join al-Qaeda and fight against America.”

In September 2014, Obama called the Yemen war on terror “a great success”.

In 2015, the Pentagon announced it was unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen, amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

In February 2015, a panel of U.N. experts released a report, alleging that, during his time in power, Saleh amassed a fortune worth between $30 billion to $62 billion. The reports claims the assets, including cash, gold, property and other commodities, are held under various names in at least 20 different countries.


Yemen’s industrial sector is centered on crude oil production and petroleum refining and natural gas production. Yemen’s first liquified natural gas plant began production in October 2009.

Yemen LNG (also called YLNG) is the first ‘natural gas liquefaction (LNG) project in Yemen.

The contractors for the construction of LNG trains were Technip, JGC, and KBR (aka Kellogg Brown & Root) – a subsidiary of Halliburton.

The consortium is led by Total S.A. (39.62%) in cooperation with Hunt Oil Company (17.22%), Yemen Gas Company (YGC; 16.73%), SK Corp. (9.55%), Kogas (6.00%), Hyundai Corporation (5.88%), and the General Authority for Social Security & Pensions of Yemen (5.00%).

The second largest shareholder, Hunt Oil, is a privately-held company—“one of the big money Texas donors behind the Bush family political empire” who in 2007 signed a production-sharing contract for petroleum exploration in northern Iraq, the first such deal since the Kurds passed their own oil and gas law in August (after the Bush administration conveniently removed Saddam Hussein).

The CEO Ray L. Hunt was a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Bush.

Hunt discovered oil in Yemen in 1984, and opened a refinery at Maarib in 1986. The refinery was inaugurated by then Vice-President George H. W. Bush in April 1986. In November 2005, the government of Yemen attempted to nationalize the operation of the concession, which is known as Block 18. Hunt Oil responded by filing arbitration against the Yemeni government at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

Ray Hunt joined the Halliburton Company Board in 1998. He also serves as a member of the boards of directors of PepsiCo, Inc., King Ranch, Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corporation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Security Capital Group Incorporated. Hunt currently serves as a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.; the Board of Trustess for the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation; the Board of Directors of the Texas Research League; the executive committee of the Southwestern Medical Foundation in Dallas; and the Board of Trustees of Southern Methodist University. Hunt has served as chairman of the National Petroleum Council in Washington, D.C. (an industry advisory organization for the Secretary of Energy) and served as its chairman from June 1991 to July 1994. In 1980-81 he served as president of the Domestic Petroleum Council. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the American Petroleum Institute.


Apart from the gas and oil reserves, Yemen also has a lot of external debt which various parties want to see repaid.

As of 2013, the nation’s external debt totalled $7.806 billion. Just over half of this debt was owed to multilateral creditors (including $2.1 billion owed to the World Bank, $0.6 billion owed to the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development (AFESD), and $170 million outstanding to the IMF), and the other half was owed to bilateral creditors (of which $1.2 billion to Russia, $0.3 billion to Saudi Arabia and $240 million to Japan). 

The Arab Monetary Fund, International Monetary Fund, the OPEC Fund for International Development and others make up the other largest creditors. 

See the earlier note about Saleh’s hidden wealth and immunity from prosecution. Who is going after him for the debt? No-one. He’s currently seeking refuge in Ethiopia, after a cozy visit to the US in early 2012.


Saudi Arabia and Yemen were both majority Sunni, however the Houthi are Shi’a, backed by Iran.

The Saudis and the Iranians are fighting a battle for Sunni v Shi’a dominance in the Middle East – if you want to understand that, just think about the centuries that the Catholics and the Protestants fought each other – it’s the same kind of bullshit. So in some ways, the existing struggles are sectarian in nature. However we shouldn’t discount the role that oil, natural gas and debt play in terms of how the rest of the world (e.g. NATO and the UN) gets involved.

Remember that Saudi Arabia is a very close ally of the US, despite its “worst of the worst” human rights record.


The GCC is coordinating the attacks on Yemen. Its an economic and political union of mostly repressive and brutal Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Its member states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. All current member states are monarchies. With the exception of Kuwait, the member countries all rank at the bottom of the UN’s freedom index. These monarchies have, of course, plenty of reasons to shut down with extreme force any “Arab Spring” uprisings against brutal regimes.