According to the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its sole official language. The Constitution does not provide explicit protections to religious or ethnic minorities. Muslims and followers of religious groups other than Islam are free to worship according to their beliefs. The government does, however, forbid conversion from Islam and the proselytizing of Muslims. According to statistics released by the UN news agency IRIN, Yemen's population is predominantly Muslim Arab, with Sunnis constituting 53 per cent of the population and Zaydi Shias 45 per cent.
Once a sizeable minority of 50,000-60,000 people, the majority of Yemeni Jews were flown to Israel after its establishment in 1948 as part of an international airlift known as 'Operation Magic Carpet'. The lifting of a subsequent travel ban in 1991 prompted about 1,200 Jews to emigrate, mainly to Israel. Only 370 Jews remain in Yemen today and their numbers are in steady decline. The majority of Yemen's Jews reside in Amran, a region in the north of the country, and there is a smaller community of about 60 Jews in the Yemeni capital Sana'a. At least two functioning synagogues remain in the Amran Governorate.
Hostility towards the country's small Jewish community has increased over the years. NGOs and community organizations have reported incidents of threats and murder. Although the perpetrator of one such crime was eventually sentenced to death in June 2009, the government's inability to protect this endangered community adequately from increased threats by Muslim extremists is reportedly forcing Yemen's remaining Jews to emigrate. In October 2009, the Wall Street Journal, the US-based international daily newspaper, published a report on a secret mission to bring some of Yemen's last remaining Jews to the United States. About 60 Yemeni Jews have resettled in the US since July 2009. Officials have indicated that another 100 could follow.
North Yemen faced what the UN described as a 'humanitarian catastrophe', with the number of displaced reaching 250,000 over the six-year conflict between the government and al-Houthi rebels. The militant group consists of followers of the late rebel cleric Hussein Badr Eddine al-Houthi, who led a rebellion against the government before being killed in 2004. The rebels denounce years of discrimination against the minority Shia community in the north.
The Yemeni government accuses the Houthis of wanting to re-establish imamate rule and seeking the autonomy of the northern Sa'adah province. To quash these aspirations, the government launched an offensive against the rebel group in August 2009. Fighting escalated again in November, when some Houthis infiltrated Saudi Arabia, drawing it into the conflict. At the end of the year, there were reports that the militant group's leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, had been severely wounded by Yemeni government forces. The fighting was ongoing in January 2010.
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