The article below begins with an introduction from Nadwa al-Dawsari, an independent consultant and researcher, who contextualizes the Southern Question in Yemen’s current crisis. It is followed by an article from Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent voice in the Southern movement, explaining the importance of addressing the Southern Question in UN negotiations aimed at resolving the Yemen conflict, which began in 2014:
In mid-March 2015, when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi forces pushed into Aden and wreaked havoc on its infrastructure and homes, it wasn’t the first time the city, once the capital of South Yemen, was invaded by Northern forces. Aden, which became the temporary capital of Yemen after President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced out of Sanaa’ by Houthi forces in 2015, was first invaded in 1994 when Saleh, then president, and his Northern allies mobilized forces under the banner “unity or death” to prevent a secession attempt by Southern leaders.
Four years earlier, in 1990, South Yemen had voluntarily unified with North Yemen. The unification was done hastily and the countries’ two militaries were never integrated. With only 20% of the population, South Yemen soon lost much of its political power to the Northern elite. Tensions built up and civil war broke out in April 1994. By July of that year, Saleh’s force had invaded and wrested full control of Aden, defeating the Southern resistance.
In 2007, the Southern Movement, known as Hirak, started organizing peaceful protests demanding reforms. As protests were met with excessive force and Southerners lost hope in being treated equally, their demands escalated to calls for secession.
As Saleh entered Aden under vastly different circumstances in 2015, many civilians picked up arms and fought back, pushing Houthi forces out of the South and creating a new reality — one that the international community has chosen to overlook.
The entire South is currently controlled by Southerners and they plan to determine their own fate this time around. In the article below, Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent Southern Hirak leader, who was jailed, tortured, and forced into exile by the Saleh regime in 2009, explains why it is imperative the South’s demands are addressed in any future plans for Yemen. The text has been translated from the original Arabic.
Through its two special envoys to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who served between 2011 and 2015, and Ismail Ould Chiekh Ahmed, who took over for Benomar, the United Nations, which has been leading efforts to resolve the current Yemeni crisis, continues to completely ignore one very critical element of the conflict: the Southern issue. The UN’s failure to effectively recognize the genuine grievances and fair demands of the Southern Movement (Hirak) will hamper its efforts to resolve the civil war, which recently marked its second year.
Ever since unification with the North, Southerners have felt marginalized and disadvantaged by the central government. The Southern issue, as it stands today, represents the rights and legitimate political, economic, and social demands of Southerners to reclaim their State.
Southern factions have expressed their belief in dialogue as a means to resolve political differences, no matter how difficult or complex these divergences may be. We have made clear our willingness to enter negotiations with Northerners under the auspices of regional and international bodies, in order to find a permanent solution to the Southern issue, provided these negotiations occur without pre-imposed conditions.
But UN-supported processes, including the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a transitional dialogue held in Sana’a from March 2013 to January 2014 following Saleh’s forced resignation as president, have all been designed to marginalize Southerners, or at least to refrain from recognizing them as equal to Northerners.
The NDC’s decision-making mechanism was, for example, developed in a way that would leave Southerners at a disadvantage. As a result, during the NDC process, protests in the South only increased, as millions of Southerners rallied in Aden to demand secession. The vast majority of Southern political forces determined that these conditions made negotiations unworkable, and, so, most Southern factions officially refused to participate in the NDC.
The one faction that did participate, eventually withdrew. Trying to prevent a total Southern withdrawal, Benomar and the NDC approached a few members of this faction and convinced them to participate; these few individuals were, then, treated as representatives of the entire South, a move that contradicted the basic principles of dialogue and disrespected the will of the people of the South.
After the Saudi-led coalition pushed the Houthis and Saleh out of the South in July 2015, UN peace talks were mainly held between two parties, President Hadi’s government and the Saleh/Houthis coalition. Southerners remained excluded from the negotiations, even though they controlled the area of the former state of South Yemen. An important fact many do not understand is that when Southerners fought during the current war against pro-Saleh forces and the Houthi rebels, they fought under the South Yemen flag and not to support Hadi’s government.
The parties currently represented in UN talks have no control or influence over any part of the South. In his speech at the opening ceremony for the recent round of peace negotiations in Kuwait, UN envoy Ould Chiekh Ahmed mentioned the Southern issue as one that had to be resolved with participation from Southern leaders. Yet, the talks continued without any Southern leaders invited to participate.
Most recently, on May 4, 2017, a exiled President Hadi dismissed the governor of Aden, popular Hirak leader Aidarous al-Zubaidi, from his post, creating backlash and leading to mass demonstrations protesting his removal and calling for secession. A week later, on May 11, al-Zubaidi announced the formation of a transitional political council to govern South Yemen.
Even before this incident, various Southern parties had repeatedly made clear they would not accept any negotiated agreement they did not participate in and will not allow any other party to control their land. Southerners are keen to engage in the current negotiations, but, in order for that to happen, the UN must provide conditions for their participation.