South Yemen

Coordinates: 12°48′N 45°02′E / 12.800°N 45.033°E / 12.800; 45.033
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

People's Republic of South Yemen
جمهورية اليمن الجنوبية الشعبية

People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
جمهورية اليمن الديمقراطية الشعبية

Motto: وحدة ، حرية ، إشتراكية
Waḥdah, Ḥurrīyah, Ishtirākīyah
("Unity, Freedom, Socialism")
Anthem: النشيد الوطني لجمهورية اليمن الديمقراطية الشعبية
n-Našid al-Waṭane al-Jomhuriyat l-Yaman d-Dimoqrâṭiya š-Šaʿbiya
"National Anthem of People's Democratic Republic of Yemen"
Location of South Yemen
Location of South Yemen
and largest city
12.7855° N, 45.0187° E
Official languagesArabic
State atheism
GovernmentUnitary Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic[1]
General Secretary 
• 1978–1980
Abdul Fattah Ismail
• 1980–1986
Ali Nasir Muhammad
• 1986–1990
Ali Salim al-Beidh
• 1967–1969 (first)
Qahtan al-Shaabi
• 1969–1978 (second)
Salim Rubai Ali
• 1986–1990 (last)
Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas
Prime Minister 
• 1969
Faysal al-Shaabi
• 1969–1971
Muhammad Ali Haitham
• 1971–1985
Ali Nasir Muhammad
• 1985–1986
Haidar al-Attas
• 1986–1990
Yasin Said Numan
LegislatureSupreme People's Council
Historical eraCold War
• Independence declared
30 November 1967
14 December 1967
• Constitution adopted
31 October 1978
22 May 1990
• Total
360,133 km2 (139,048 sq mi)
CurrencySouth Yemeni dinar (YDD)
Driving sideright
Calling code969
ISO 3166 codeYD
Internet TLD.yd
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Federation of South Arabia
Protectorate of South Arabia
Today part ofYemen

South Yemen,[2] formally the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen,[3][note 1] was a state that existed from 1967 to 1990 as the only communist state in the Middle East and the Arab world.[4] It was made up of the southern and eastern Governorates of the present-day Republic of Yemen, including the island of Socotra.

South Yemen's origins can be traced to 1874 with the creation of the British Colony of Aden and the Aden Protectorate, which consisted of two-thirds of the present-day Yemen. Prior to 1937 what was to become the Colony of Aden had been governed as a part of British India, originally as the Aden Settlement subordinate to the Bombay Presidency and then as a Chief Commissioner's province. After the collapse of Aden Protectorate, a state of emergency was declared in 1963, when the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) rebelled against the British rule.

The Federation of South Arabia and the Protectorate of South Arabia merged to become the People's Republic of South Yemen on 30 November 1967, which later changed its name to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. It became a Marxist–Leninist one-party state in 1969 and was supported by Cuba, East Germany, North Korea and the Soviet Union. Despite its efforts to bring stability into the region, it was involved in a brief civil war in 1986. Following the collapse of the USSR, South Yemen was unified with the Yemen Arab Republic, commonly known as "North Yemen", on 22 May 1990 to form the present-day Republic of Yemen.


The legislative body, the Supreme People's Council, was elected by the people for a period of 5 years. The collective head of state, also known as the Presidium of the Supreme People's Council, was elected by the Supreme People's Council for a period of 5 years as well.

The executive body was known as the Council of Ministers, and was formed by the Supreme People's Council. Local representative bodies were the people's councils, and their decisions were taken into account when the members of the Supreme People's Council were governing. Local executive bodies were the executive bureaus of the people's councils.

The highest court was the Supreme Court of South Yemen, other courts in the country included courts of appeal and the provincial courts, and the courts of first instance were known as the district courts or magistrate courts.

The only political party was the Yemen Socialist Party.


British rule[edit]

In 1838, Sultan Muhsin Bin Fadl of the state of Lahej ceded 194 km2 (75 sq mi) including Aden to the British. On 19 January 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to occupy the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. It then became an important trading hub between British India and the Red Sea, and following the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, it became a coaling station for ships en route to India. Aden was ruled as part of British India until 1937, when the city of Aden became the Colony of Aden. The Aden hinterland and Hadhramaut to the east formed the remainder of what would become South Yemen and was not administered directly by Aden but were tied to Britain by treaties of protection with local rulers of traditional polities that, together, became known as the Aden Protectorate. Economic development was largely centered in Aden, and while the city flourished, the states of the Aden Protectorate stagnated.


In 1963, Aden and much of the Protectorate were joined to form the Federation of South Arabia with the remaining states that declined to join, mainly in Hadhramaut, forming the separate Protectorate of South Arabia. Both of these polities were still tied to Britain with promises of total independence in 1968. Two nationalist groups, the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the National Liberation Front (NLF), began an armed struggle known as the Aden Emergency on 14 October 1963 against British control and, with the temporary closure of the Suez Canal in 1967, the British began to withdraw. One faction, NLF, was invited to the Geneva Talks to sign the independence agreement with the British. During its occupation of Aden, the British had signed several treaties of protection with the local sheikhdoms and emirates of the Federation of South Arabia; however, these parties were excluded from the talks, and thus the agreement stated "...the handover of the territory of South Arabia to the (Yemeni) NLF...". Southern Yemen became independent as the People's Republic of Yemen on 30 November 1967, and the National Liberation Front consolidated its control in the country. On 14 December 1967, the PDRY was admitted into the United Nations as a member state.

1969 establishment of a Marxist-Leninist state[edit]

In June 1969 a radical Marxist wing of the NLF gained power in an event known as the Corrective Move. This radical wing reorganised the country into the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) on 30 November 1970.[5] Subsequently, all political parties were amalgamated into the National Liberation Front, renamed the Yemeni Socialist Party, which became the only legal party. The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen established close ties with the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Cuba, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. East Germany's constitution of 1968 even served as a kind of blueprint for the PDRY's first constitution.[6]

The new government embarked on a programme of nationalisation, introduced central planning, put limits on housing ownership and rent, and implemented land reforms. By 1973, the GDP of South Yemen increased by 25 percent.[7] And despite the conservative environment and resistance, women became legally equal to men, polygamy, child marriage and arranged marriage were all banned by law. Equal rights in divorce were also sanctioned. The Republic also secularised education and sharia law was replaced by a state legal code.[8]

Russian/Soviet tank half-buried in sand on the beach on the island of Socotra in modern Republic of Yemen
Abandoned Soviet tank on coast of Socotra

The major communist powers assisted in the building of the PDRY's armed forces. Strong support from Moscow resulted in Soviet naval forces gaining access to naval facilities in South Yemen.[9][10][11] The most significant among them, a Soviet naval and air base on the island of Socotra for operations in the Indian Ocean.[12][13][9]

Disputes with North Yemen[edit]

Official map of the British Aden Protectorate, 1948

Unlike the early decades of East Germany and West Germany, North Korea and South Korea, or North Vietnam and South Vietnam, or China and Taiwan, the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and South Yemen (PDRY) remained relatively friendly, though relations were often strained.[vague][citation needed] Fighting broke out in 1972, and the short-lived conflict was resolved with negotiations, where it was declared unification would eventually occur.[14][15]

However, these plans were put on hold in 1979, as the PDRY funded Red rebels in the YAR, and war was only prevented by an Arab League intervention. The goal of unity was reaffirmed by the northern and southern heads of state during a summit meeting in Kuwait in March 1979.

In 1980, PDRY president Abdul Fattah Ismail resigned and went into exile in Moscow, having lost the confidence of his sponsors in the USSR.[16] His successor, Ali Nasir Muhammad, took a less interventionist stance toward both North Yemen and neighbouring Oman.

The revolution monument in Aden, 1985

1986 Civil War[edit]

On 13 January 1986, a violent struggle began in Aden between Ali Nasir's supporters and supporters of the returned Ismail, who wanted power back. This conflict, known as the South Yemen Civil War, lasted for more than a month and resulted in thousands of casualties, Ali Nasir's ouster, and Ismail's disappearance and presumed death. Some 60,000 people, including the deposed Ali Nasir, fled to the YAR. Ali Salim al-Beidh, an ally of Ismail who had succeeded in escaping the attack on pro-Ismail members of the Politburo, then became General Secretary of the Yemeni Socialist Party.[17]

Reforms and attempts for unification[edit]

Against the background of the perestroika in the USSR, the main backer of the PDRY, political reforms were started in the late 1980s. Political prisoners were released, political parties were formed and the system of justice was reckoned to be more equitable than in the North. In May 1988, the YAR and PDRY governments came to an understanding that considerably reduced tensions including agreement to renew discussions concerning unification, to establish a joint oil exploration area along their undefined border, to demilitarise the border, and to allow Yemenis unrestricted border passage on the basis of only a national identification card. In November 1989, after returning from the Soviet–Afghan War, Osama bin Laden offered to send the newly formed al-Qaeda to overthrow the South Yemeni government on behalf of Saudi Arabia, but Prince Turki bin Faisal found the plan reckless and declined.[18] In 1990, the parties reached a full agreement on joint governing of Yemen, and the countries were effectively merged as Yemen.[citation needed]


South Yemen's ethnic groups were, as of 2000, ethnic Yemeni Arabs (92.8%), Somalis (3.7%), Afro-Arab (1.1%), Indians and Pakistanis (1%), and other (1.4%).[19]

Stamp from 1989

Politics and social life[edit]

South Yemen developed as a Marxist–Leninist, mostly secular society ruled first by the National Liberation Front, which later morphed into the ruling Yemeni Socialist Party.[20]

Foreign relations[edit]

The only avowedly Marxist–Leninist nation in the Middle East, South Yemen received significant foreign aid and other assistance from the USSR[21] and East Germany, which stationed several hundred officers of the Stasi in the country to train the nation's secret police and establish another arms trafficking route to Palestine.[22] The East Germans did not leave until 1990, when the Yemeni government declined to pay their salaries which had been terminated with the dissolution of the Stasi during German reunification.[23]

Relations between South Yemen and several of nearby states were poor. Saudi Arabia only established diplomatic relations in 1976, initially hosting pro-British exiles and supporting armed clashes in the border regions of South Yemen. Relations with Oman declined through the 1970s as the South Yemen government supported the insurgent Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO). Relations with Ba'athist Iraq were also low, as South Yemen offered asylum to a number of Iraqi communists.[24]

Legislature and judiciary[edit]

The Supreme People's Council was appointed by the General Command of the National Liberation Front in 1971.

In Aden, there was a structured judicial system with a supreme court.[citation needed]

Living standards[edit]

Despite a poor economy, the government ensured a basic level of living standards for all citizens and established a welfare state.[24] Income equality improved, corruption was reduced, and health and educational services expanded.[7][25] Overall the population was assured of a basic but adequate living standard for all.[26]

Education was paid for through general taxation.[citation needed]

There was no housing crisis in South Yemen. Surplus housing built by the British meant that there were few homeless people in Aden, and people built their own houses out of adobe and mud in the rural areas.[citation needed]


In 1976, the South Yemen national football team participated in the Asian Cup, where the team lost to Iraq 1-0 and to Iran 8–0. They entered their only World Cup qualification campaign in 1986 and were knocked out in the first round by Bahrain. On 2 September 1965, South Yemen played their first international match against the United Arab Republic, to whom they lost 14–0. On 5 November 1989, South Yemen played its last international match against Guinea, to whom they lost 1–0. The team stopped playing when the North and South united in 1990 to form the modern state of Yemen.

In 1988, the South Yemen Olympic team made its debut in the Summer Olympics in Seoul. Sending only eight athletes, the country won no medals. This was the only time the country went to the Olympics until unification in 1990.

Women's rights[edit]

Women's rights under the socialist government were considered the best in the region. Women became legally equal to men and were encouraged to work in public; polygamy, child marriage, and arranged marriage were all banned; and equal rights in divorce received legal sanction.[27][28][29][30][31]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Following independence, South Yemen was divided into six governorates (Arabic sg. muhafazah), with roughly natural boundaries, each given a name by numeral. From 1967 to 1978, they were named officially by numerals only; from 1979 to 1990, they were given new official names. The islands: Kamaran (until 1972, when it was seized by North Yemen), Perim, Socotra, Abd-el-Kuri, Samha (inhabited), Darsah and others uninhabited from the Socotra archipelago were districts (mudiriyah) of the First/Aden Governorate being under Prime-Minister of the state supervision.[32]

Numeral Name Approximate Area (km.²) Capital
Map of the governorates
Map of the governorates
I Aden 6,980 Aden
II Lahij 12,766 Lahij
III Abyan 21,489 Zinjibar
IV Shabwah 73,908 Ataq
V Hadhramawt 155,376 Mukalla
VI Al Mahrah 66,350 Al Ghaydah


During British rule, economic development in South Yemen was restricted to the city of Aden, focused mainly on the port and on the British military bases. As a result, following the British withdrawal, there here was little to no industrial output or mineral wealth exploitation in the country until the mid-1980s, when significant petroleum reserves in the central regions near Shibam and Mukalla were discovered. Foreign aid was minimal, as the British government did not fulfill promises of aid and the Soviet Union offered only US$152 million from 1969 to 1980.[24]

The main sources of income were agriculture, mostly fruit, cereal crops, cattle and sheep, and fishing. The government guaranteed full employment in agriculture for rural citizens, and established a number of collective farms, however, those set up following the Soviet model produced poorer results than cooperative-run farms.[24]

The national budget was 13.43 million dinars in 1976, and the gross national product was US$650 - 500  million. The total national debt was $52.4 million.


The following airlines had operated from the PDRY:[33]

Movements to revive South Yemen[edit]

Protesters in Aden calling for reinstatement of South Yemen in October 2011

After three years from the unification of Yemen a political crisis arose between the YSP and the GPC and Islah parties after the parliamentary elections in 1993. South Yemen declared its secession from Yemen in 1994 as the Democratic Republic of Yemen. This effort ended after Yemen occupied the area as a result of the 1994 civil war.

Since 2007, some Southerners have been actively protesting for independence, in a movement known as 'Al Hirak' or the Southern Movement. During the Yemen Civil War, in response to incursions by the Houthis and military forces loyal to deposed Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, members of the Southern Movement formed 'Popular Resistance' militias.

In late January 2018, separatists loyal to the Southern Transitional Council seized control of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government headquarters in Aden in an apparent coup d'état against the Hadi government.[35][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ also referred to as:
    • Democratic Yemen (اليمن الديمقراطي, al-Yaman al-Dīmuqrāṭīyy)
    • Yemen (Aden) (اليمن (عدن), al-Yaman ('Adin))


  1. ^ Clark, Victoria. Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes, Yale University Press: 2010, page 112-130.
  2. ^ (Arabic: اليمن الجنوبي, romanized: al-Yaman al-Janubiyy)
  3. ^ (جمهورية اليمن الديمقراطية الشعبية, Jumhūriyat al-Yaman al-Dīmuqrāṭīyah al-Sha'bīyah)
  4. ^ "Saudi Arabia and the civil war within Yemen's civil war". Brookings.
  5. ^ "Yearbook of the United Nations 1970". United Nations Office of Public Information. 31 December 1970. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  6. ^ Müller, Miriam M. (2015). A Spectre is haunting Arabia – How the Germans brought their Marxism to Yemen. Bielefeld: Transcript. pp. 257ff. ISBN 978-3-8376-3225-5. Archived from the original on 30 May 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  7. ^ a b Bayat, Asef (2017). Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring. California, US: Stanford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780804799027.
  8. ^ Molyneux, Maxine; Yafai, Aida; Mohsen, Aisha; Ba'abaad, Noor (1979). "Women and Revolution in the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen". Feminist Review (1): 4–20. doi:10.2307/1394747. JSTOR 1394747.
  9. ^ a b "32. South Yemen (1967-1990)". Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  10. ^ Cohen, Saul Bernard (2003). Geopolitics of the World System. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-8476-9907-0.
  11. ^ "Jimmy Carter and the Second Yemenite War: A Smaller Shock of 1979? | Wilson Center". Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  12. ^ Mirovalev, Mansur. "Russia language". Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Soviets bolster an Arab ally. Military buildup in South Yemen worries US officials". Christian Science Monitor. 11 March 1988. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  14. ^ "North and South Yemen: In Search of Unity", CIA Study on Yemeni Unification, Central Intelligence Agency, 19 January 1990, archived from the original on 5 March 2016, retrieved 14 September 2017 – via Scribd
  15. ^ Gause, Gregory (1990). Saudi-Yemeni relations: domestic structures and foreign influence. Columbia University Press. p. 98. ISBN 9780231070447.
  16. ^ Halliday, Fred (2002). Revolution and Foreign Policy: The Case of South Yemen, 1967–1987. Cambridge University Press. p. 35.
  17. ^ Katz, Mark (Fall 1986). "Civil Conflict in South Yemen" (PDF). Middle East Review. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 July 2011.
  18. ^ Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower : Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (1 ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41486-2. OCLC 64592193.
  19. ^ "Middle East :: Yemen — The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  20. ^ Laessing, Ulf (22 January 2010). "Women of southern Yemen port remember better times". Reuters. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  21. ^ Gart, Murray (9 January 1989). "South Yemen New Thinking in a Marxist Land". Time. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  22. ^ Müller, Miriam Manuela. A Spectre Is Haunting Arabia: How the Germans Brought Their Communism to Yemen. Transcript, 2015.In-text Citation
  23. ^ Stokes, Lee. "East German Security Quit South Yemen". United Press Agency, 11 May 1990.In-text Citation
  24. ^ a b c d Lackner, Helen (4 July 2017). "The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen: Unique Socialist Experiment in the Arab World at a Time of World Revolutionary Fervour". Interventions. 19 (5): 677–691. doi:10.1080/1369801X.2017.1336465. S2CID 159661566.
  25. ^ Lackner, Helen (8 April 2022). "Yemen's Socialist Experiment Was a Political Landmark for the Arab World". Jacobin. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  26. ^ Lackner, Helen (4 July 2017). "The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen: Unique Socialist Experiment in The Arab World at a Time of World Revolutionary Fervour". Interventions. 19 (5): 689. doi:10.1080/1369801X.2017.1336465. ISSN 1369-801X.
  27. ^ Bayat, Asef (2017). Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804799027. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  28. ^ Times, Marvine Howe; Special to The New York (26 May 1979). "Marxist Regime in South Yemen Showing Improvement in Quality of Life in Villages (Published 1979)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ "Women's rights in Yemen". 4 July 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  30. ^ "How Yemen's Dream of Unity Turned Sour". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  31. ^ Wadekar, Neha (20 November 2018). "'We Are Willing to Die Here': The Fight for Women's Rights in Yemen (Published 2018)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  32. ^ Ismael, Tareq Y.; Jacqueline S. Ismael (October 1986). The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen: Politics, Economics, and Society; The Politics of Socialist Transformation. Lynne Rienner Pub. ISBN 978-0-931477-96-6.
  33. ^ "Airlines – South Yemen". The World's Airlines. David Lyall. Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  34. ^ "History". Aden Airways. Peter Pickering. Archived from the original on 27 April 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  35. ^ "Separatist clashes flare in south Yemen". BBC News. 30 January 2018. Archived from the original on 29 January 2018. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  36. ^ "Yémen: les séparatistes sudistes, à la recherche de l'indépendance perdue". Le Point. 28 January 2018. Archived from the original on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from The World Factbook. CIA.

External links[edit]

12°48′N 45°02′E / 12.800°N 45.033°E / 12.800; 45.033