Southern separatist ambitions in Yemen are not recent news but have been in the backdrop of the Gulf country’s 1994 civil war.
At the time, one of the vital factors in stoking conflict between the north and south was the role played by the then president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Southern political figures largely blamed the now-ousted president Saleh for marginalizing the south after Yemen declared its unification in 1990.
Albeit separatists putting forward objective and understandable arguments, realizing those ambitions remains near impossible. The international system in power will not allow for Yemen to be divided.
Mr. Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, had given insightful details as to why a separation in Yemen is unlikely in his May 9 opinion piece “The Separation of the South in Yemen”.
Additionally, there are the two clear-cut United Nations Security Council resolutions 2014 and 2051 that recognize and value Yemen’s unity. Not to mention that sponsor states undertaking the South dilemma have, over and over again, affirmed that a settlement must manifest within the context of a unified Yemen.
British and Russian diplomats have openly announced their countries’ support for a united Yemen, which at a point in time shocked separatists who relied on the two powers backing their cause. They had hoped for deep-rooted ties linking Britain and Moscow to southern Yemen to garner enough support for the South to gain autonomy.
Advancing separatist ambitions, the southern movement has arrived at a forked path. A faction of independence-seekers — in light of the upheaval caused by Iran-backed Houthis leading a coup in Yemen– have understood that priorities have been reshuffled.
Taking into account rapid developments on the Houthi-led civil war, restoring Yemen’s legitimate government led by Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power takes precedence over eventual independence, as conceded to by the South overwhelming majority.
After the government would return to full control, a safe and gradual separation and ultimately independence could be negotiated under unanimous Yemeni agreement. Nevertheless, a faction of the southern movement has opted for a more dramatic approach that is an uncalculated and rushed separation.
Personally speaking, a recent declaration released by Aden leaders provides a precise and elaborate answer to southern momentary autonomy. It simply is impossible under the current circumstances and conditions experienced by the nation.
In the meantime, these ambitions are announced for reasons of political leverage and interests. The south perhaps is looking out to secure a score of political gains—particularly that Hadi recently sacked Aden’s now-former governor Aidarous Al-Zubaidi. He also dismissed the Hani Ali Breik, the former Secretary of State and ordered that he be investigated for several charges including political disobedience and involvement in corruption.
It is worth nothing that any internal political gains to the southern leaders’ account will be temporary and fleeting mindful of a wider strategy fixed on driving Houthi militants and armed loyalists backing Saleh out of Sana’a.
Gulf states–leading a coalition which freed Aden from the control of Houthi and pro-Saleh militias– have been clear in demanding Yemenis in general, and southerners in particular, to stand in solidarity with pro-legitimacy forces “to instate full state authority and sovereignty, restore security and stability across all Yemen.”
That comes as a clear message that any moves to resolve the southern issue “must be carried out through Yemeni legitimacy and consensus represented by the outcomes of national dialogue. ”
Perhaps after terminating the Houthi – Saleh staged coup, Yemen could reopen the southern and also provide an alternative– a previously reviewed and conceded draft solution based on establishing a federal state consisting of six regions.
A federal state is the only way out for southerners, whose demand for secession was not an end or an objection to unity. It was a protest fueled by a rejection of marginalization, tyranny, and expropriation exercised by the deposed Saleh since the 1994 war.