The ancient walled Yemenite city of Sana'a is said to be the oldest city in the world, founded by Noah's eldest son, Shem, the forefather of Yaman, from which the country’s name is derived. Yemen was only united as one country in 1994 following a civil war. Uprisings last year meant the President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to resign, however the situation remains far from stable. Last year, Yemeni Tawakel Karman won the Nobel Peace Prize for her ‘struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights’.
The richness of medieval culture in Yemen is evident from the wealth of religious, geographical and historical works which remain extant including agricultural almanacs, astronomical documents and poetry. Today, Yemenite literature is forced to negotiate the complexities of the strict religious and political laws in the country; Muhammad Abdalwali’s They Die Strangers and Sana'a is an Open City were celebrated works, but for the latter Abdalwali was charged with blasphemy in 2001.
Poetry is still the most popular art form. It is spoken, sung, and improvised during social events, at performances, and in competitions. Traditional performances include musical-poetical improvisations where singers chant a tune without words and poets create the words on the spot. Hoda Ablan has published three collections of her poetry in Arabic and her translated work is beginning to circulate as well.
The cinema of Yemen is in its early stages, with only a handful of films ever produced. The 2005 release A New Day in Old Sana'ais the most notorious due to the considerable problems it faced from the government. In 2008, Yemen’s government supported the launch of a new feature film, The Losing Bet, which aims to educate the public about the consequences of Islamist extremism.