People of Yemen

People of Yemen Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

Yemen is one of the world's most ancient countries and played an important part in Middle Eastern trade, supplying the ancient world with such exotic items as frankincense, myrrh, spices, condiments and other luxury items. The southwestern coastal strait known as Bab El-Mandeb, which links the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea, was an important trade corridor for about 3,000 years.

Yemen is a strongly Arab country in both language and culture. There are many tribal and religious distinctions with regard to location. The people of the Tihamah coastal plain are of mixed Arab and African descent, while other groups are mainly of Arab origin. The Zaidi tribe are Shi'ite Muslims, who inhabit the northern mountain region and whose religious and political beliefs exerted a great influence on Northern Yemen from the 9th century onwards.

The northern and southern lowland regions are dominated by the Shafii community of Sunnite Muslims, who are widely different in their culture and economic structure and have often been at variance with the Zaidi over social and political issues.

Yemen was closed to the outside world for hundreds of years, but is now opening its doors to deal commercially with other nations. Although Islamic culture and customs are still observed very strictly by Muslims, western visitors are allowed to consume alcoholic drinks in hotels and in private houses.

Much Yemeni business is conducted while chewing qat, a leaf which is grown locally and much enjoyed by the Yemeni people as an aid to thought and decision-making. Westerners in business meetings are not expected to participate in the qat-chewing ritual, unless they so wish.

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