To understand present-day Yemen, it is essential to reach back to its past. Semitic people lived on the Arabian Peninsula for three thousand years before the conquest of Islam in a.d. 628.
The last ruling power before Islam was the Sabaean Empire. Worshipers of the Sun, Moon, and Venus, Sabaeans introduced irrigation, constructed dams, and channeled the water to the fields. They built the earliest mud brick high-rises. Queen Sheba ruled the capital, Marib, where part of the ancient dam is still intact. Frankincense and myrrh are grown almost exclusively along Yemen's southern shores, and the Sabaeans traded with Egypt, Babylonia, and later empires. After the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians discovered the monsoon patterns leading to India, they built better boats and shipping replaced the long desert trek.
Most armies failed to conquer the country, protected as it was by the harsh climate and vast desert, but the Ottomans ruled northern Yemen twice: from 1549 to1635 and from the nineteenth century through World War I. They occupied the Hadramawt and the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter).
The British captured Aden and its environs in 1839 and hung on until 1967. …