Protestors demand the restoration of the state of South Yemen in the city of Al-Ghaydah in Al-Mahra governorate. May 21, 2022 (STC)

How Will the Presidential Council Deal with the Southern Demands?


Wed, 25-05-2022 02:24 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

It is not a secret that May 22nd every year became an unpleasant memory for many Southerners. It is a date that inflicted suffering and destruction against the entire Southern people and State after signing the Yemeni Unity in 1990 by the two presidents “Ali Abdullah Saleh” and “Ali Salem Al-Bidh”. The April 27th, 1994 War helped in destroying the remnants of the Unity agreement pillars which were gradually collapsing in spite of the attempts to bridge the gaps during the first three years after signing it. Every Year, Southerners used to get out to demand independence more than before. On the other hand, the Northerners made this date as an annual celebration adopted by the authority which was then described as “occupation authority”. They used live shots against protesters who opposed the unity [1].
Today, 32 years after signing the Unity agreement, Yemen witnessed major and sudden political changes, the latest of which was the change in the Yemeni presidential structures on April 7th by the establishment of a Presidential Council consisting of 8 members led by its chairman “Rashad Al-Alimi”. Such a change was sponsored by the GCC and enjoyed regional and international support as the Presidential Council apparently came as a result of what can be described as the failure of President Hadi era over more than 10 years.  
The presence of the STC, led by its President Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, in the structure of the new Presidential Council, raises concerns about a possible change in STC’s stance supporting the Southerners' right to restore their former state. Al-Zubaidi is the only one among other 3 Southern members in the Presidential Council who adopts a position that supports the South’s independence. Comparing Al-Zubaidi's stance with other Presidential Council’s members, they apparently face somewhat less public pressure. For example, Al-Zubaidi stirred a lot of controversies when he took the oath in front of the Yemeni Parliament in late April in the capital city of Aden as he omitted the terms “Unity” and “Republic” from the oath [2]. In addition to his own anti-unity convictions, his refusal to use the official oath aimed at avoiding a storm of criticism by his supporters and other Southern political parties if he performs it in the same way as other members in the Presidential Council. 
The STC’s broad popular base may seem like a privilege, but at the same time, it constitutes a heavy burden against it. Dealing with people or taming them will be hard if acting against their will. The STC is a political component that was crystallized from the Southern Hirak’s squares. On the other hand, other Presidential members don’t have grassroots bases pressuring them but they have broader and more flexible areas to move. Thus, it seems that the next challenge against the STC in the incoming period will come from the people of South Yemen rather than being a political challenge by a Southern component here or there. 

The invasion by the Houthis and “Saleh” forces against Aden in 2015 contributed in creating a broad Southern alignment as part of the Arab Coalition led by the KSA and the UAE against what they used to dubbed as “the second occupation” of South. The effective Southern components united and were armed to confront the Iran-backed Houthis. Then, they gave themselves a political nature by establishing what later became known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in May 2017 backed by the UAE. This created an opportunity for conveying the Southerners’ voices while the regional and international community used to ignore them and deal with the Southern issue as a secondary one. Likewise, this enabled them to run most of their territories politically, militarily and at the security level despite the efforts made by the former Hadi regime, controlled by the Islamic Islah Party to ignite clashes with them. However, the Southerners relatively succeed in liberating and securing their land from the threats posed by the Houthis and the extremist organizations.  
It is important to say that South Yemen after 2015 is different. It transformed from a grassroots force that demanded paying attention and fair treatment to its issue after decades of negligence to become an organized force that has administrative, military, and security structures. Over a short period of time, It proved its ability to arrange their ranks and maintain the interests of itself and its allies in the region. This gave it more attention. Such a position could set out clear speculations from Southerners about relative independence from North. This began to happen gradually, especially with the Houthi ongoing control of broad geographical areas in North Yemen and the “National Army" slackening position regarding confronting them. 
Given the current situation, it seems that the new Presidential Council faces a narrow escape in restructuring and reforming the state institutions and its official bodies. This is probably due to the difficulties in reaching political consensus in adopting such decisions. This was clear through the slowness in taking some decisions which were expected to be resolved before the end of the truce with the Houthis on June 2nd, top of which is the military file. This indicates that the Council’s work is less flexible compared with other bodies. The contradictory stances adopted by its leaders regarding outstanding Southern issues may be another reason for delaying filling some vacant positions.  
In the background, there is a general public feeling about the existence of unremitting and troublesome efforts in dealing with the Southern demands. This is based upon a rule that gives the unity higher priority than restoring the republic from the Houthis. This stance is represented by a large sector of Northerners, especially those who are affiliated with former President “Saleh”. However, there is another Northern more pragmatic position that deals with the Southerners demands in a more pragmatic way by reducing tension and trying to keep up with them until resolving the Houthi conflict. Some believe such a stance is not a kind of support for Southerners but delaying conflict with them regarding unity based upon the arrangements of the Northern priorities. This belief, if correct, is another challenge for the Southerners in general and the STC in particular as the latter’s president is one member of the new Presidential Council. This raises a question about how the STC will deal with the various Northern stances including the Houthis. 
It can be said that the STC’s attempt to match between the high-ceiling local demands and the requirements related with its participation in the Presidential Council will be harder than expected, especially if it faces pressure from the Saudi-led Coalition for the attempt to unite anti-Houthi efforts. This could impact the Southern street’s stance if the STC overpassed its demands although Al-Zubaidi in his first statement after the establishment of the Presidential Council said that “they don’t seek power but they came to extract the right of people of South for self-determination” [3].

The position of the Presidential Council on the eve of the Unity anniversary looked somewhat balanced. This was expressed by its chairman “Rashad Al-Alimi” who admitted that “the 1994 War had negative impacts against partners in South and that the fair Southern issue was pivotal in the comprehensive National Dialogue Conference”. However, he stressed on the importance of what he dubbed as “Unity” [4]. In general, the Presidential Council’s stance towards the Southern demands will likely be determined when forming a negotiation delegation to negotiate with the Houthis, and to what extent its commitment by the outputs of the Riyadh Consultations which stipulated on “adding the Southern people issue to the agenda of ending the war negotiations and allocating a special negotiation framework for it in the comprehensive peace process”. The Presidential Council should have a deep awareness of the sensitivity of the stage and to manage it with smartness and experience away from old narrow-minded slogans about the Yemeni unity issue to avoid losing the trust of others in it from the first test.

South24 Center Executive Director


[1] Two people killed in a demonstration by the Southern Movement in Aden, Yemen -
[2] President Aidrous Al-Zubaidi takes the constitutional oath as Deputy-Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council -
[3] President Al-Zubaidi: We don’t seek, we came to extract the right of the people of the south for self-determination (
[4] Chairman Al-Alimi praises the broad national and regional alignment against the brutal Houthi coup (

South YemenYemeni UnityHouthisArab CoalitionNorth Yemen