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The Yemeni developments: A step backward

The deterioration of the situation in Yemen has raised calls for the secession of southern Yemen, but that step is neither easy nor straightforward

Hassan Abou Taleb , Sunday 11 Jun 2017

I was not surprised by the development which took place last month in Yemen, or rather in its southern governorates, where Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, Aden's former governor, who was dismissed by President Mansour Hadi, formed a transitional council for the south of Yemen under the name “the Southern Transitional Presidential Council.”

This council comprises 26 members, and Al-Zubaidi considers himself the only representative of the southern people in home and abroad.

It is a development that embodies the desire of a significant section of the southern governorates’ inhabitants to secede and re-establish the old state known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Speaking by phone with one of the academics living in Aden, he told me that this is the best solution because the southerners cannot endure the repercussions of the conflict between the northern political forces which makes the unity state just an illusion, or rather a big burden destroying the wealth of the south for the sake of a war that has no end.

He said that secession is not just a solution for the south but could be one for the north, the Arab states managing the Yemeni affairs, and for the security of the Red Sea as well. Such a viewpoint has now become quite common among a section of the southern governorates' elite. They see that the existence of President Hadi at the top of the state, although he belongs to the south, does not mean a thing for the aspirations of the southerners.

Although 80 percent or more of the diplomatic corps’ high level positions are occupied by the southern Yemenis and 60 percent of ministers are from the south, southerners do not care much about these numbers and percentages; they are interested that peace and stability prevail.

Such political logic means that the south has not recovered from what the northerners describe as the aftermath of the Unity War in 1994 which took place during Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule. This led to the violation of all the customs and sanctities of the south as a whole, caused an enormous number of individual and collective grievances, and entrenched a feeling of injustice and humiliation, the repercussions of which are found to this day in the psyches of many.

This situation facilitated the emergence of what's known as the Southern Movement in June 2007. The popular movement began spontaneously then developed into an organised movement seeking to right wrongs and end grievances while staying within the federal state.

With Saleh's regime deliberately overlooking their demands, the movement raised their demands to the level of returning to the pre-unity stage. Many began to view the northern Yemenis as an occupation force that one day will be made to leave the south.

After the Youth Revolution in March 2011, President Saleh’s rule was terminated and he officially exited the political equation while on a practical level continuing to play a role, as was obvious in his alliance with the Houthis and their rebellion against the legitimacy of President Hadi.

After all this, the Yemeni state acknowledged the grievances which befell the southerners and pledged--as was established during the National Dialogue that took the whole of 2013 and several months in 2014--to recompense them, restore their material and moral rights and allocate a suitable space for the southerners in governance and decision-making.

However, the feelings of injustice remained prevalent among southerners, or at least the feelings of doubt in the state's capacity to fulfill its promises.

I participated in a workshop held in Sanaa in the summer of 2013 to discuss conclusions related to the south with a number of southern intellectuals, who were representatives of groups that contributed to the national dialogue. There were also representatives of the UN Security Council’s permanent members sponsoring the Yemeni national dialogue as well as representatives of European countries among the participants.

I noticed in the interventions of the intellectuals and academics from the southern governorates a kind of nostalgia for the Democratic Yemen’s experience and a feeling of that they bore much for the sake of unity before its establishment and bore much, much more after its establishment.

It is important to notice that the Houthi coup and its ally, the deposed President Saleh, has offered the southerners an opportunity they did not dream of, for the state with its official authority was entangled in confronting the Houthi coup’s repercussions; then the Operation Decisive Storm came and there was no Yemeni army in the south, for what remained of it was still loyal to President Hadi and was engaged in pursuing Houthis in northern governorates.

A widespread power vacuum occurred, which was exploited by extremist groups working freely and firmly to establish their existence in more than one southern city. Hence, this drove the southerners to return to their heritage in administering the state away from the influence of the capital Sanaa, which now has no impact whatsoever on Yemeni affairs.

Rumours began to circulate about Arab countries in the Arab alliance backing and supporting the independence of the south of Yemen as an exit from the Yemeni crisis.

In the light of both this environment and the limited presence of the legitimate president’s symbols and ministers in the capital, Aden, the call for secession became more and more reinforced based on southerners’ actual administration of their lives with their own hands, while at the same time they are excluded from controlling the resources and wealth lying in their lands. Thus, secession became bigger than a movement for demands that didn’t achieve anything.

However, realising secession isn’t an easy matter, for it isn’t only a Yemeni decision, it is in the first place an international and regional decision one and the prevalent current is against secession. The priority is to end the Houthi coup and regain Sanaa as a capital for the whole of Yemen. It may take some time to materialise and in the meantime the southern secession demand will be further entrenched, especially in the light of President Hadi’s government’s weak political and developmental performance.

The writer is a political commentator.


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