Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Before Yemen Disintegrates | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There was a country called the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and this state endured for around 23 years. However in the early nineties this state [along with the Yemen Arab Republic] unified to become the Republic of Yemen. There are many powers today calling for a return to secession and the abolishment of everything that has taken place over the past decade and a half. There is a movement in the south calling for the secession of south Yemen from the Republic of Yemen. This movement may not achieve any of its major demands, and Yemen will most likely remain unified, but at the very least this is something that will cause a big headache in Sanaa and to the political leadership there.

There are many worse possibilities than this, especially as the Yemeni military failed to achieve a decisive victory over the Houthi insurgents, and the Yemeni government agreed a truce with the Houthis that is not going to last. There is also Al Qaeda which has managed to sow its ideologies and station its men throughout Yemen, not to mention occupy part of northern Yemeni territory. The vanguard of US troops are now arriving in Yemen to counter Al Qaeda regardless of the toll that this war will take on America’s allies in Sanaa. The Yemeni government is therefore facing a dangerous situation that may persist for at least two years. During this time, it is expected that the southern secessionists will give their support to the Houthi rebels.

The reason that the southern secessionists have begun moving now is because this coincides with the Houthi rebels successfully creating chaos in the north. The southern unrest has been growing over the past two years without the official authorities showing any concern. The desire in the south to secede from unification cannot be described as overwhelming; this is simply a marginal movement with limited demands therefore it wouldn’t hurt the government to listen to the southerners and attempt to address their needs. The Yemeni leadership would be making a big mistake if it ignores this movement, or if it makes empty promises such as the promise of holding bilateral dialogue or appointing a handful of southern politicians to the government in the hopes of appeasing them while neglecting their key demands.

According to the citizens of the former republic, the problem is that Sanaa, in addition to dismissing thousands of military officers and civilians from their posts, has also neglected the entire region as a whole, and southern Yemen has been plunged further into poverty. Other opponents believe that the political leadership has prevented Yemeni investors living abroad from investing in the south, as well as putting an end to the Aden Free Zone project, and preventing those who fled the country during the civil war from returning, in addition to banning those who were allowed to return from engaging in politics. This is just to mention a few of their countless complaints.

There are opposition politicians abroad who have only recently boarded the opposition train however the main challenge facing the Yemeni government right now exists from within the country itself. The opposition is growing steadily each day, and there is fear that Yemen will reach a point of clash and division that is beyond healing. Yemen is a large country and if there is a public desire for secession then the armed forces will not be able to impose control on the south which was, until very recently, an independent state.

The south is undoubtedly a chief partner in unification, and in Al Mukla in southern Yemen the southern leadership, which at that time was led by Ali Salim al Beidh, accepted the idea of unification between Aden and Sanaa. This came as a result of favourable conditions due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary sponsor of the Marxist government of southern Yemen. Although the course of events led to war, the south eventually accepted Ali Abdullah Saleh as president. Saleh made many promises to the people in the south, and he vowed to promote comprehensive development in the south; a development that never took place.

However to be frank, the problem is not limited to the south. Yemen as a whole is suffering from a lack of development and poor management, and this is not something that affects one region of Yemen more than another. This is something that is well-known to many of those in the south. As a result of this, helping Yemen get back onto its feet is something that would be extremely beneficial to the entire country, its unity, and the region as a whole. Therefore it is important for the government in Sanaa to listen carefully to those in the south who are criticizing it, rather than confronting them, as long as they are demanding development rather than secession.