War That Has Divided Yemen

Photo Source: Middle East Eye

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

As Southern Transitional Council has declared self rule in the southeast part of Yemen, on April 26, 2020, a north – south regional divide once again has come to the forefront. Now, it seems likely that there will be new conflicts emerging, not only within warring sections in the country, but also involving Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran, signaling a proxy war.

The division between the two supposed allies is another facet of the Yemen’s complicated civil war: on one side there are the separatists, strong in and around Aden, and on the other are forces loyal to former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Both have fought together in the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels, particularly in northern Yemen.

The move was condemned by United Nations  recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Saudi Arabia has called the move as an ‘escalatory action’. It has urged the STC to return to the terms of the Riyadh agreement signed in November 2019. That deal had called for both factions to remove heavy military artillery from Yemeni cities under their command, and form a unity government that included equal representation. But, that deal was not implemented as the war continued, and massive floods struck Aden.

However, several local and security authorities in the provinces of Hadramout, Abyan, Shabwa, al-Mahra and the remote island of Socotra dismissed the move as a ‘clear and definite coup’. Some of these provinces made their own statements condemning it.

Also, as of now, the war against the Houthis is held up because of recent ceasefire announcement by Saudi Arabia. But, another conflict that is between Hadi government (backed by Saudi Arabia) and southern separatists (backed by UAE) is certain to gain an impetus in coming time. Infact, in August 2019, both of these factions clashed when STC took control of Aden.

Currently, Yemen is split between political, tribal and regional lines: it has been five years since the north and south remain divided. So, the self-rule declaration is only a step further for all practical purposes. It will give the STC the administrative privileges for areas they control.

In history, northern and southern Yemen became united in 1990. While northern Yemen traced backed its origins to Shiite Imamate of Zaydi dynasty, under patronage of Imam Yahya, southern Yemen was ruled briefly by Ottomans and Abbasids. In 19th century, the British colonised the southern Yemen peninsula, so that they could service ships enroute to India.

The unification, particularly for southerners, has left them with unaddressed grievances, in the new central government, and distribution of resources. These grievances largely embodied briefly in 1994 secessionist civil war, when southern separatists were beaten, and in the rise of Hirak movement, calling for independence, in 2007.

In the south, time and again, there have been complaints over food shortages, a sharp depreciation of the currency, and a lack of funds to pay public sector employees, thereby igniting public sentiment.

In the conflict, It has been noted that the STC backers often fly the flag of former Communist south Yemen, and have pushed to break apart the country into two, like it was between 1967 to 1990.

A divided Yemen, where there is an on and off war, between the northern and southern Yemen, will be become a safe haven for militant Salafi groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This will be catastrophic, as Yemen has an important geo-strategic position, along one of the world’s important trade routes.

The new declaration has also threatened efforts to revive talks between Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. It will only promote instability: now, much more political mantle will be required to revive political negotiations between the government and Houthi rebels. It has made even more complicated situation for the UN special envoy for the region. Infact, Martin Griffins, the UN envoy, calls the move as ‘concerning’.

The separatists have accused Saudi Arabia of corruption and mismanagement. It also believes Hadi government to be dishonest, and accuse them of not being loyal to their duties, thereby refusing to pay salaries to public sector employees. In the past, the Saudis intervened in the civil war, in March 2015, against the Houthis, who have been in control of Saana, since 2014, and control most big cities and towns. For five years, Riyadh has been lending its air power in an attempt to reinstate Hadi government to power across the country. Although, due to friction within its own ranks in the forces, in handling the war in Yemen, it is believed that Saudis might end the war, if Houthis compromise. There have been some back channel talks with the rebels, but Houthis largely have seen it as a ploy.

The UAE, which has withdrawn its forces from Yemen over past twelve months, still retains control over commercial ports across the south. By supporting southern Yemeni separatists, the UAE also ensures that the Saudi-backed Islah party, the transnational Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen, won’t grow and become too powerful. The UAE, infact, opposes Brotherhood allies and partners throughout the Middle East.

While Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates both loathe Iran’s anticipated long presence on their borders, the sub strategy employed by the United Arab Emirates is to recreate a southern Yemen State.

According to a report in the Guardian: ‘the foreign minister of the UN-recognised Yemen government, Mohammed al-Hadrami, condemned the STC’s move as a resumption of its armed insurgency … and an announcement of its rejection and complete withdrawal from the Riyadh agreement.’

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano told press reporters that the EU has taken note of the developments in southern Yemen, which he said undermine the Riyadh agreement, a key to de-escalation.

As many as hundred thousand people have been killed in the past five years. Another million or so have been either displaced, or pushed to the brink of famine and starvation. Neighbouring Muslim countries such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have lot to answer. And the so-called alliance of forty Muslim countries: they have not been able to end the political stalemate, and the ravaging war.


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