Back To Top
Beach Grit

mobile banner

Yemen: Only the good die young!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Chapter 2: A history of dubious veracity.

(I am writing a series about Yemen because what is currently happening there is terrible beyond. My inaction disgusts me and so I am going to introduce you to to the country because… the place, people, culture all deserve to be saved. We’ll get into the meat so soon but first very brief historical jaunt. If history ain’t your jam though skip it!)


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Yemen has a history as deep as and substantial as almost anywhere on earth but seeing this is a surf gossip n scandal website let’s just enter during the 11th century B.C. when the Sabaeans, a clan covering the territory of modern day Sana’a and Marib, consolidated power and became like Da Hui of old. If you are a Christian, Jew or Muslim you’ll certainly have heard of the Queen of Sheba (Saba). According to the Bible (1 Kings 10), she traveled from Yemen to Jerusalem to test King Solomon, was overwhelmed by his fabulousness and gave him lots of gold and spices.

The account is challenged by modern archeology but modern archeologists are total killjoys.

Marib, in particular, has fantastic Sabaean ruins and a violently proud population who, before the current Ugly War, were famous for kidnapping Yemeni troops and ransoming them back to the government. I’ve been in two perfectly tense social bombs in Marib, one of which is mentioned in the PEN award nominated Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell. (Motorcycles and the stench of panic and bang bang death.)

The region is also mentioned in the Qur’an and even though that book was never nominated for a PEN award, Mohammed specifically praises Yemenis (likely those living in Marib) for their true belief. The various tribes around Marib, Sana’a and even into the Hadramawt did accept Islam rocket fast, while Mohammed was still alive, and the various tribal rulers built great mosques etc. in their growing towns.

Later the true believers split down what we call Sunni/Shia fault lines with 55% of the country Team Sunni and 45% Team Shia and 5% Team Angie and a surprising 33% Team Brad. The Houthi rebels, in the north of the country and the ones that Saudi Arabia is ostensibly trying to rout, are Zaidi (Shia). The Saudis are Sunni. The Saudis are also Team Angie.


The middle ages saw Yemen pass through a grab bag of dynasties. The Ottoman Empire snatched what they could in the 1500s in order to preserve trade routes to India and pilgrimage routes up to Mecca and Medina. They were semi-benevolent, if not corpulent, rulers for a few hundred years with the Yemeni tribes constantly poking, prodding, kidnapping and killing.

The British decided they wanted the southern port of Aden in 1839 and bombed its ruler away and included it alongside India and Hong Kong in their empire, mollifying the surrounding tribes by telling them they wouldn’t expand outside of Aden as long as no one signed treaties with unpalatable countries like Germany.

Then in the early 1900s an Imam by the name of Yahya hamid ed-Din decided it was time for a “Greater Yemen” and sought to unite the tribes under his leadership. He scratched and clawed much territory from the crumbling Ottomans and almost pulled Aden from the British.

Yahya died in 1962. Arab Nationalism was in full swing and split Yemen between north and south during a six-year civil war. When it was over, the north identified with Egypt and was called the Yemen Arab Republic. The south identified with the Soviet Union and was called The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

And there they all sat until 1990 when the two were re-unified just in time to accidentally side with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War and get massively fucked by Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of Yemenis were ejected from Saudi Arabia, funds dried up and so did any international anything.

It was the Saudi’s decision to let U.S. military forces into its territory that enraged Osama Bin Laden most. He had just returned from Afghanistan, a famous mujahedeen, who had smashed the Soviet Union under heel with help from my uncle’s Stinger Missiles. And he thought a foreign power had no right bunking in the country that held the two holist sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina. Osama let his rage be known and was banished from the kingdom so he moved to Sudan.

Because so would you if you have ever been to Khartoum.

Enter what later became known as Al-Qaeda. Though not officially a super group yet, a loose collection of likeminded individuals scattered around the middle east began to plot together and carry out various shenanigans together and one autumn day in 2000 bombed the USS Cole in Aden’s harbor together.

The attack left 17 sailors dead and was a massive blow to the notion of untouchability that pervaded the United States after its routing of Saddam Hussein. Following an exhaustive study of the event, the Navy changed protocols for docking and refueling in foreign ports.

The Cole incident received much more attention one short year later when the World Trade Center was brought low. Critics were furious that neither the Clinton nor George W. Bush administrations didn’t bomb the hell out of Yemen as a consequence. They claimed that the lack of military action emboldened Osama Bin Laden to think bigger.

And one even shorter year after that my best friend in the world were looking at Yemen’s coastline.