The Fate of South in Light of the Political Settlement in Yemen


Sun, 17-10-2021 12:40 AM, Aden Time

Badr Mohammed (South24) 

Since the declaration of the Yemeni Unity in the 1990s until the current moment, in which the international community intensifies its efforts for a comprehensive political settlement that ends the current struggle in Yemen, the new Yemeni state has witnessed a messy record of political agreements which have not been implemented, and usually lead to the eruption of wars. The Yemeni people, in general, and Southerners in particular are accustomed to such inverted arrangements that sign agreements before the war not after it. 

Top political settlements after the Yemeni Unity:

It is not the first time in which the international community stresses the political solution in Yemen. There are many political settlements which worth mentioning and reconsideration:

1- The "Unity Agreement" between the North and South Yemeni States in May 1990. It failed to merge the two Arab states into one as part of peaceful partnership tracks, as the disputes quickly erupted causing a security and political crisis between the two parties that led to assassinating tens of Southern cadres and politicians.

2- To solve the escalating disputes between the "Unity" partners, "the Document of Pledge and Accord" was declared on January 18, 1994 in the Jordanian capital city of Amman (1). However, the agreement failed to bridge the gap and to bury the escalatory political dispute between the two parties, which led to the eruption of a war that resulted in the Northern hegemony over South Yemen and invading Aden on July 7th, 1994.

3- The "Gulf Initiative" in November 2011, signed by the then Ali Abdullah Saleh regime with Yemeni opposition parties. It stipulated shifting power to Current President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who said that the republican flag is the only thing he had received (2). In return, the control of the former President over the military and civil institutions had lasted in the subsequent years.

4- The "National Dialogue" in Sanaa, March 2014, in which all Yemeni forces and parties agreed to make a  political shift for Yemen  from the central state system to the federal one. However, the Houthis, who allied politically and militarily with Saleh and his party, toppled down the capital city of Sanaa on September 21st 2014 in a military move that has been considered by the other parties as a coup against the outcomes of the National Dialogue and the legitimacy of President Hadi as well as the Gulf Initiative.

5- "the Riyadh Agreement" November 2019 between the Yemeni government and the STC in the wake of military clashes in August of that year resulted in the control by the latter which calls for South’s independence in Aden and several Southern governorates. The agreement, which aimed to pave the way for the nominal allies to focus on fighting the Houthis, failed to achieve its goals. Instead, the forces, affiliated with the government, launched the Abyan Battle on May 11th, 2020 which lasted until late July of that year.

The failure has not been limited to the local agreements. At the external level, the local parties didn’t comply with the UN resolutions and the international recommendations. In the 1994 War, the UN issued Resolutions 924 and 931 calling the disputing parties for a ceasefire and a political solution. This was the same formal Arab and Gulf positions but the Northern forces continued their progress and controlled the areas of South Yemen.

Such Arab and international positions recurred in the 2015 War, launched by the Houthis and Saleh supporters on Aden in South Yemen. However, the Arab attitude has been stricter for reasons related to sectarian dimension and the danger of the Iranian intervention in Yemen, as well as the navigation security threats in Bab-el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden. 

Accordingly, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, militarily intervened in Yemen. On the other hand, the Houthis, based in North Yemen, continued rejecting the Security Council resolutions, not to mention their refusal to respond to peace negotiations as well as the international calls for putting an end to the war.

There is a prevailing belief among the North Yemen elites that the military unilateral victories are the only way to establish peace. Although this contradicts the principles of good governance, political parity and democracy, on the other hand, it completely violates the bases of the “Unity Agreement” between North and South.

The Yemeni Unity in light of unilateral narratives:

Prior to signing the Unity Agreement, North Yemen was under the control of the so-called “Upper Yemen” or “North of North”, the home of the Zaidi community.  

Although this control focused on the rule of the imams of the Zaidi state over nearly 1000 years, its tacit impact on the top political scene has continued until now.

The nature of events which accompanied and followed the revolution against the Zaidi Royal regime in September 1962 produced a republican system, with military, religious and tribal leadership from the same Zaidi area so as to secure extending their control of North in what Yemenis describe as the "holy center." 

After North Yemen engaged in the "Unity" project with South, the old forces in North Yemen continued monopolizing the rule and power, as they resumed their extension in light of several unilateral narratives such as putting the Yemeni unity within a national context that promotes violence against South under the slogan "unity or death" as well as the attempt to root for the Islamic unity ideology to fight and kill Southern leaders and cadres, in addition to issuing religious "fatwas" which allow this. (3)

The narratives of ideological and national monotheism multiplied, pushing the extremist groups and organizations coming from Afghanistan to South Yemen in order to control it. 

At the external level, Externally, there is a global transformation that coincided with the aforementioned unilateral narratives, as Yemeni unity and the ideology of Islamic unity were formed in the 1990s, at the moment of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition of the world to the control of unipolarity led by the United States.  

There are many links between Afghanistan and Yemen, which made this transformation, and later participated in the production of Yemeni unity. The scenario of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union matches that of North Yemen war against South in terms of the use of extremist Islamic elements and groups or the so-called “Arab Mujahedeen,”(Arab Jihadists) or in terms of polar positioning.

Later, when the young revolution erupted in Sanaa in early 2011 against the Saleh regime, the latter was forced to sign the Gulf Initiative and transferred power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who has Southern roots. However, after stepping down, the former President allied with the Houthis and the old powers in North Yemen. In September 2014, the Houthis overthrew President Hadi making the strongest, clearest and the most violent return of the Houthi incubators to be once again in the top of the Yemeni scene. They believe, based upon doctrinal perspective, that they have the right to monopolize rule and authority.

The Yemeni unity in light of the unilateral narratives:
Once again, the Houthi military and ideological tendencies in North Yemen determine the fate of any political settlement. The UN and international reference to the establishment of a union states seems just hollow diplomatic phrases with the Houthis continuing the war and their military progress.

This political settlement that they try to push establishes a federal narrative which collides with the unilateral hegemony tendency in North Yemen. Talking about the necessity of involving all the actors in the Yemeni crisis alongside women and youth seems like an attempt to clone the scenario of the so-called "National Dialogue Conference" in Sanaa. On the other hand, the Houthis will repeat the scenario of their political and military "coup".

Taking their full control of North Yemen into consideration, the Houthis will seek to persuade other "Northern" parties to unilaterally control South by force. 

As the project of a federal state does not suit the nature of the Northern Yemeni group whose behaviors contradict the good governance and the principles of legal accountability as well as the political and social equality, it somewhat does not apparently represent a motif of any resistance in North Yemen to fight the Houthis.

On the other side, the Southerners are not apparently in a position that pushes them to seek engaging in a new experience to unite with North. The political and military changes created a scene in which it is difficult to revive such a political partnership. Local experts believe that such a reality reinforces the option of a two-state solution and the return to the situation before Yemeni unity in 1990.

Accordingly, it can be said that the previous political settlements in Yemen repeatedly ended by violent wars which led to new deals but they failed to produce a stable political and security reality, especially when it comes with the situation in South Yemen. A quick ordinal reading of those events enhances the necessity of creating other strategies to avoid the same mistakes which rendered the Southern parties into mere "victims".

Badr Mohammed
Resident fellow with South24 Center for News and Studies.

Photo: Collabed (from the signing of the Document of Pledge and Accord in January 1994 in Jordan, and following the signing of the Riyadh Agreement in Saudi Arabia on November 5, 2019)

South YemenNorth YemenSanaaAdenRiyadh AgreementSTCHouthisIslah