Yemen: 30 years of unity, which was not

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Yemen celebrates the anniversary of its unification against the backdrop of an ongoing war, heavy internal strife and overt external intervention.

On May 22, 1990, the Republic of Yemen was formed through the merger of the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Over the past three decades, it has experienced a lot: internecine conflicts escalated and erupted, the country was shocked by high-profile terrorist attacks from first al-Qaeda and then the Islamic State. in fact, paving the way for the next fall of the state into the abyss of new wars and upheavals. Celebrating its “pearl” anniversary, Yemen continues to dream of unity.

Recalcitrant south

South Yemen, formerly under the British protectorate since 1839, gained independence in 1967. Almost immediately, the leadership of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen adopted a pro-Soviet orientation and, with the assistance of the USSR, began the transformation. Ports, industrial enterprises were nationalized, collectivization in the agricultural sector took place, factories, houses, cinemas, houses of culture and sports were built. Thousands of Soviet specialists worked in this country, and the Soviet Union hosted and trained southerners.

But this socialist experiment ended 30 years ago after unification into a single state, headed by the president of North Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh (North Yemen became an independent state since 1918 against the backdrop of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire). In 1994, separatist tendencies turned into an armed confrontation between the army units of the North and the South, which ended in the victory of the northerners. Southerners then paid for the attempted schism with hundreds of lives.

The unification of 1990 and the 1994 war with North Yemen were not in vain for the South – it began to change and live according to other rules and procedures. Islamic customs gradually returned, in accordance with which women, dressed in European style, were forced to put on black long-haired dresses – “abai” – and hide their faces in niqab. Hotels and restaurants serving alcoholic drinks were closed, and the famous Syrah brewery, built during the time of British colonization, was destroyed. But even now the indigenous inhabitants of the South speak with awe about the not-so-distant past, and many dream of returning to it.

The southern part of the country with a population of 4 million continues to seek independence and the return of the status quo that existed before unification with the North. Already in the new realities in 2017, the separatists formed the Southern Transitional Council (UPS). He was led by the ex-governor of the province of Aden, Idarus az-Zubeidi. He was dismissed from his post by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi just for the support of the southern separatists. President Hadi himself fled to Aden from the Ansar Allah (Houthis) captured by supporters of the rebel movement, the capital of Sana’a.

In August last year, armed clashes broke out between pro-government forces and supporters of the UPS in the temporary capital of Aden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accused the authorities of financial and military support. The separatists, who demanded the removal of the president, whom they called the protege of the Islamist party Al-Islah (the Yemeni wing of the Muslim Brotherhood Association), managed to take control of state institutions, army bases and the presidential palace. A few days after the Saudi intervention, the southerners formally agreed to leave their positions and negotiate with the authorities.

Their result was the signing in Riyadh on November 5 last year of a conciliation agreement, which, in particular, provided for the creation of a single government consisting of 24 ministerial portfolios that would be equally distributed between the southern and northern provinces. In addition, the parties agreed to merge all the armed detachments and power structures under their control, subordinate them to the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and also join forces under the leadership of the Arabian coalition in order to counter the Houthis and the Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorist groups holding Sana’a.

The new “union” collapsed again due to further disagreements, and at the end of April this year, the UPS announced self-government in the regions it controls, including the city of Aden, also introducing a state of emergency in these territories. Such actions have caused sharp criticism of both the internationally recognized authorities and Riyadh and the international community. Meanwhile, few people tried to figure out the true causes of what was happening, indiscriminately accusing the southerners of another act of separatism.

“We want peace and our rights”

UPS official representative Nizar Heysham expressed confidence that the southerners “simply had no other choice.” “We took this position after we provided the legitimate government with enough time to implement the Er-Riyadh agreement,” he said. “However, in practice there has been a significant delay in the implementation of its political and economic provisions, and since the situation in the southern regions has seriously worsened, the council “intervened and announced self-government in order to pay people salaries and provide all the necessary services.”

According to him, the main reason for the inability to complete the deal is the dominance of the Al-Islah party in the political decisions of the legitimate Cabinet. “They reject any participation of the council and, in spite of the signing of the agreement, deliberately undermine it,” said Hayesam. “The pro-Tatar and pro-Turkish wing of the Islamists receive huge funds to disrupt the implementation of the deal, sow discord and transfer their forces from Marib to the southern regions, which only contributes to the deterioration of the situation.”

“The humanitarian situation is very bad, the southern regions need support from international institutions. After all, everyone knows that in the past the authorities of the North deliberately destroyed the infrastructure of the South, and the current situation is extremely joyless,” he recalled. “Yes, we are calling for the restoration of our political education since 1994, but now we’re talking about an agreement signed by both the Transitional Council and the government, which requires both parties to take responsibility for its implementation, however, this is our land and wealth, and they should be used to serve the citizens.”

“Our hands are extended to peace, we support the initiatives of the UN envoy urging to sit at the negotiating table to find a solution that would guarantee the southerners the restoration of their political education,” the agency’s source said. “But, unfortunately, the plans of external parties that serve the interests of “brothers” have always set themselves the goal of confusion, and this is happening not only in Yemen, but also in the Persian Gulf and Egypt.

The Transitional Council will not cooperate with this structure, which has terrorized our country. We e can assume that our land is transferred to the associated Islamist formations and groupings. Aden, with its geographical position, it is an international interest, and if it falls into the hands of “brotherhood”, and the North eventually will have Houthis, it will be a disaster.”

“Historical mistake”

The UPS speaker considers the union a “historical mistake.” “This process did not stem from the will of the people, so the perfect mistake must be corrected,” he said, pointing out that, according to the southerners, the situation where two states “live side by side in peace and security, without hatred and anger, quite natural.”

“The UPS was created in accordance with clear objectives to express the will of the people of the South, demanding sovereignty over the entire territory and their complete independence. However, due to the current situation and external interference, the council considers itself a strategic coalition partner to counter Iranian, Turkish and Qatari projects,” said Hayesam.

As for the settlement and peace with the Hussites, in his opinion, this would be possible if the rebels would accept the dialogue and not try to settle their problems differently. “I’m sure that the northern regions are mired in inter-confessional conflicts, which requires the preservation of the Arab identity in Yemen,” he said.

“The real problem is that the parties in the North are formed on an ideological basis, and this causes new battles and armed conflicts. The only the exit is a comprehensive UN-led settlement involving existing and influential local players.”

Failed project

Many in Yemen and beyond believe that unity has collapsed. “The unity project was a great failure, and today everyone in the North and South pays his own price,” said Yemeni political scientist Yasser al-Yafi. “It will be very difficult for the Yemenis to become united again, as happened 30 years ago.”

So, according to him, the situation as a whole is complicated as a struggle for control over the northern territories between the Hussites and their worst opponents – supporters of Al-Islam, armed conflicts between these various groups, as well as the spread of coronavirus, the crisis in the South, attempts by the “brothers” “dominate a legitimate government. “In such an atmosphere, it is difficult to conduct a dialogue between the Yemeni factions,” he said.

He did not rule out that a way out can be sought in the initiative put forward by a number of southern politicians, calling for the proclamation of a federal state for two years and a state divided into two regions, in which the southerners would have the right to self-determination. “But still, the current state of affairs and views on the future make us look more towards the two states, since the continued existence of a united Yemen seems difficult,” the expert believes.

Artificial unity

Mustafa al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, calls the “one Yemen” project artificial. “To a large extent, this was exactly so – unity was given a chance thanks to the military intervention of the northerners, and what was agreed with the southerners was never realized, and therefore voices requiring separation began to sound louder,” he said.

“Regional and international “Intervention is not the only cause of the crisis. It also lies in the differences between the Yemenis themselves, who cannot agree, which leads to such a tragic situation in Yemen.”

He pointed out that the conflict between the Hussites and the so-called legitimate government “forces the southerners to secede and distance themselves from these disputes.” The rebels, in his opinion, do not agree to participate in the Cabinet, which is led by someone else, and are not ready to lose the power that they have gained in some areas of the republic.

“The current atmosphere absolutely does not contribute to the revival of a single country, and this will remain a pipe dream if the Yemeni parties do not show the necessary wisdom in overcoming differences,” he concluded.


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