Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The risk of secession which accompanies the movements for change - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

Sometimes events are full of detail; frantic developments day by day, even hour by hour. However, this does not mean such events are exempt from closer examination, or from looking a little into the future.

By merely observing developments, we see stances, we see opinions, and we see clashes. But with a more comprehensive analysis, we begin to see hidden risks and this determines the results and allows us to determine whether what will happen will be positive or negative.

I say this because of what is happening around us, in more than one Arab capital, where demonstrations are reaching boiling point. I also say this because of the danger looming in front of our eyes, which sometimes appears faint and other times appears strongly. It is the possibility of division, separation and fragmentation.

We begin in Libya, where we see not only Libyans, but Arabs and international forces. There is a popular uprising against a unique type of ruler, who does not hesitate to respond to the rebellion of his people with aerial bombardments and mortar fire. This is one side of the picture. The other side is that the country is threatened by division. It seems that getting rid of the ruler or dividing the country are the final two options. I am not saying this as a moral or political conclusion, but as to what will likely happen, and this is stronger than being a mere possibility. In Libya there is the east and the west, the east is controlled by the rebels, and the west is controlled by the regime. In the middle of that is the area of conflict and attraction for both sides, an area where people are dying, and infrastructure, factories and houses are being destroyed. This is where the international forces are intervening. The superpowers came with their aircraft and (NATO) military alliances. They said they would intervene to protect civilians. The rebels rejoiced at such news, and the bombardment commenced. Hence, this picture seems to favor the rebels. Yet suddenly the bombardment stopped, the superpowers withdrew from conflict, saying that there must be a political solution to the crisis. The equation was disrupted, and the Libyan ruler returned to take control here and there. If we freeze the picture, with the rebels in the east and the regime in the west, you could almost draw a line in the sand depicting two countries, or two regions. Now we begin to hear Western analysis saying that the war in Libya may be a long one. This means that on the ground, the rebels will remain static in their control of the east, and Gaddafi will maintain his control of the west.

Here we can recall the first Western meeting which took place after the events in Libya had been spiraling out of control for two or three days. Westerners met to discuss how they could protect civilians. A German envoy, pictured on television, said that Libya throughout its history had consisted of three regions. After saying this, the events developed further, and we began to imagine an eastern region, and western one, and then expectation met with reality. Here, the question is: Was this division merely an unwanted probability, or did those behind this popular uprising want it to stall at the point of division or secession?

Let us move from North Africa to the southern Middle East, from Libya to Yemen. Here we can see a unique form of popular activity, where there are tens of thousands demonstrating in the streets every day demanding the departure of the president, and tens of thousands demonstrating on different streets demanding that the regime remains in power. The scene has been repeated day after day, for weeks. Meetings have been held between those on both sides, and it was a surprise to observe the U.S. ambassador sitting in the audience. Why is the U.S. ambassador attending a meeting such as this? They say that the Yemeni ruler is an ally of America, whilst others say that America has abandoned him. But none of this matters, for the facts speak for themselves.

Television crews began moving from one leader to another, from a demonstration in the “north” to a demonstration in the “south”. From Sana’a to Aden, from Taizz to Lahij, and Abyan. The slogan of a renewed north-south division was publicly raised, as was the case throughout the period of British occupation, until the announcement of a unity agreement in 1990. This was followed by a period of military confrontation [1994 civil war] which ended with the consecration of unity, and defeat for those who wanted the southern part to return to independence.

The [Yemeni] southerners and northerners achieved unity solely through dialogue and negotiations, they agreed upon a constitution without being coerced or placed under duress. Following this they began to differ, clash and fight, but they maintained their unity, however this gave rise to a defect. The [political] leaders in the north, “the winners”, began to behave as if they had been victorious over an enemy, and thus initiated a period of ill-treatment towards the people of the south. They began to ostracize the southerners from political life, removing this “enemy” from all tasks of governance or state administration. This included the entire system that previously governed southern Yemen, from top to bottom, from rulers to soldiers, leaders to followers. Eradication and exclusion became the basis of the political relationship between the north and the south. The south responded to this terrible practice with another big mistake. Instead of demanding that the errors be fixed, and that southern social and political forces be dealt with objectively, away from the mentality of eradication and exclusion, the south raised renewed slogans of secession. Once the threat of a new explosive popular uprising began to loom on the horizon, those who were angry in the south merged with angry citizens in the north, and each side found that the efforts of the other aided it in their quest. Thus, a state of anger grew from within against the ruler, with calls for secession, and calls for Yemen to return to “two parts”, whether as part of an official secession [of southern Yemen], or implied under the title of “autonomous regions”. The protestors also demanded that the president step down, in accordance with the constitution or contrary to it, and many considered this a victory. But is it a victory for Yemen? Will Yemen succeed when it is divided? Is it inevitable that the price for democracy is the fragmentation of the country?

Let us recall that the same thing has happened in Sudan, where the south has seceded from the north. Sudan continues to live under threat of crisis, particularly in the Darfur region (western Sudan) where local voices have been raised, followed by international voices, calling for rationality [in dealing with the situation in Sudan], and the protection of civilians. These calls would see the once united Sudan split into three countries. Let us recall that before this a similar scenario also unfolded in Iraq, where we were introduced to the notorious Paul Bremer. An Iraqi constitution was established, dividing the country into three regions, and dividing Iraq into different sects and ethnic groups.

All of these examples, which are very serious cases, pose a strategic question: Is this what will happen throughout the Arab region? Is it natural for a struggle for freedom and democracy to lead to the division of Arab countries? Why is there always a sense of division when an American factor is present? Why is there always a sense of division when an Israeli factor is active?

Many questions must be heeded by those advocating change, no matter what their patriotic motives are. The small picture may in fact sometimes be part of a larger picture, not of our making.

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

More Posts