Photo: Extracted from a documentary report published by (B Plus) platform

The Historical Importance of the Central Areas in Yemen's Conflicts


Wed, 19-10-2022 09:02 PM, Aden

Waddah Al-Oubali (South24) 

Currently, it is important to understand the reality of the central areas in Yemen and their geographical extensions. The populations of the central governorates consist of tribes who are largely identical in their religious ideology (Shafiʽi school). They also share common cultural and social features. Historically, the central areas have long been persecuted by the tribal and ideological Northern powerful forces. This happened although these areas served as a human stock for the power brokers during many phases. 
Throughout history, the central areas have not been dealt with as a popular and social part and parcel of the Yemeni community, whether before and after the 1990 unity. This is despite the fact that figures belonging to these central areas have top positions in the Yemeni leadership. Such regions, along with South Yemen’s governorates have been a starting point of civility, national strife and modernity. Therefore, this produced the same outcome as all of them have been victims of their absolute belief of building an inclusive, independent and developed nation regardless of the historic alliance between the Imamate and the Zaidi tribes [Hashid and Bakil] in the northern part of North Yemen. 
This alliance was an authoritarian coalition between the religious Zaidi class and the Zaidi tribal class. Both of them made a power swap. This could be predicted by reading the history of Yemen including the six past decades since the establishment of the Republic following the September 26th 1962 Revolution. This was the same day when the religious Zaidi (Imamate) regime was overthrown in the hope of building a contemporary republican nation. However, the tribal Zaidism was present and did not save efforts to dissolve the concepts, frameworks and principles upon which the republic was raised in order to substitute it. 
Back to the role of the central areas, the architect of the September 26th 1962 Revolution, “Ali Abdulmoghni” was a central figure. He was killed during fighting in the battle fields against the Imamate. Likewise, many figures who belonged to the central governorates met the same fate including Abdulraqib Abdulwahab, the leader of the battle that aimed to break the 70 days blockade in the beginning of 1968. He was killed after being dragged into the streets of the capital city of Sanaa by colleagues affiliated with the so-called “Zaidi Plateau” (Al-Hadaba Al-Zaideya).

Today, Yemen stands on the cusp of the 9th year of war and conflict. The current incidents and facts impose the need for a deep reading of history. The past years of war produced political territorialism in the current political scene in Yemen. Moreover, new influential actors emerged. The central areas still suffer from the same marginalization and alienation as before. Concurrently, the influence of the Zaidi Plateau continues to expand and reshape in order to seize decision making and restore its previous position, whether within the ranks of the “legitimate” authority in the liberated Northern areas or as part of the Houthi control on the rest of the Northern areas. 
In both cases, there has been a systematic obstruction and alienation of any leading role for this important social, national and historic geography. It is worth mentioning that the central areas are the home of the most dense, vivid and active population in Yemen. 
Missing the vivid depth 

Talking about the central areas should not be limited on the geographical level although the center is the main core of any nation. It is not an exaggeration to say that these areas constitute Yemen’s vital depth. The current status requires the important activation of these areas and benefiting from the role of their people. Historically, these areas were the basis of the oldest civilian gatherings that established several nations and kingdoms such as the Himyarite Kingdom and other subsequent states until not long ago with which these areas experienced a form of political stability. 

In fact, the central areas at both community and geographical levels have been very important in shaping the Yemeni map as they are located parallel to South Yemen. This indicates the role these areas can play, whether in shaping Yemen's map, especially as they constitute a massive population bloc across several governorates. Moreover, their people led the liberation movements throughout history. 
The ideological and social differences between the central areas and people in some Northern areas played a pivotal role in their continuous resistance to the Imamate. Thus, they were an obstacle against the Imamate regime to overthrow its state in the 1960s. 
The Central areas and South Yemen

The central areas have long-term social, cultural and intellectual ties with their South Yemen’s counterparts. Usually, the central areas have been more moderate in their territorial, intellectual and religious visions than other Northern ones. However, they served as an incubator of the revolutionary and liberation movements which were often supported by South Yemen’s forces and authorities for more than 50 years of Yemen's modern history. This nominates these areas to play a key future role.
Between the importance and the inevitability of absorbing central areas by Southern and Northern forces' attempts to annex and redeploy them geographically and socially throughout the battles against South, the central areas and their people struggle to get out of the systematic neglect and alienation to new horizons. This allows them to make self-determination and to impose their decision in a way that suits their moderate and civilian approaches of their people. This also can make it an important factor in reaching political and geographical balance. This will positively impact everyone, especially Southern and Northern parties who struggle in various ways to depart the state of dependence and subordination. 
It is important to say that there are currently available circumstances and capabilities which can force a new transformation against the path imposed on the people of these areas since the Treaty of Daan on October 9th 1911 [1] between the Ottomans and Imam Yahya Mohammed Hamid ed-Din. This pact was followed by the Ottomans’ exit from Yemen, the annexation of them and other areas in Al-Sahl and the Tihami Coast in the Zaidi Plateau which was the only focus of Imam Yahya Mohammed Hamid ed-Din in the aforementioned reconciliation. This trajectory remained imposed and has not differed after the establishment of the republic. Religious and political forces along with the Zaidi tribe turned against the republic during the "Khamir Conference" held between the Imamis and the rest of the republicans on May 2nd 1965. [2] 
It was clear that the Republic was emptied from its contents and was transformed to another Imamate with a republic cover. This has been obvious through the return of another Imamate version led by the Houthis in 2014. This confirms what was mentioned earlier in this paper about the power swap between the two Zaidi classes (the religious and the tribal). 
Partisan subordination and the alignments of interests 

It is worth mentioning that some parties and tribes in the Central areas were satisfied with some privileges they gained through the relationship of interests with the successive regimes in Yemen in return for the submission of other tribal people and segments to be denied any political and rights demands. Furthermore, Central areas people have to be blamed for the mistakes they made against their areas and people. No Central elite or popular blocs with a political or territorial nature have emerged to reject such alienation or to adopt a political project that aligns with their fair demands to gain their due share. This is more urgent in this stage in which the visions and the special initiatives about the form of the future state in the post-conflict phase are being shaped. This does not mean accepting the continuity of the status quo, especially if they find a nucleus of a comprehensive national political project on the basis of partnership, rights and duties, according to which they will have their balanced seat along with people of other surrounding demographics. 

All remarkable affiliations and alignments in the central areas are a result of the absence of an inclusive project. However, this does not negate the presence of prominent demands by the central people. These demands may escalate and could mature gradually to include rights and political grievances. This in turn can create the basis of a large popular movement which everyone is obliged to recognize and respond to. This depends on the effectiveness of the forces which will adopt this movement in the next stages. 
The future of the central areas in the conflict 

As most leaders of the international-recognized state institutions belong to the central areas, the current stage is a big opportunity to make evaluations and to conduct deep professional and historical reviews by parties who share the same determination to achieve liberation and to exit the annexation and subordination mode. There is a need to highlight the commonalities between these actors to help each other. The implementation of this task mainly lies on the shoulders of the national Northern forces and the Southern parties represented in STC. The latter is a balance force which has its own size and influence outside the traditional parties that dominated the scene for decades. 
As STC is the most concern party in enhancing its forces and the areas under its control, it has to adopt bold moves to rearrange the situation in the central governorates with their two eastern and western wings and to provide them with their needs. Additionally, it has to deepen the ties with people in the central areas, push them to control their areas and governorates and to prepare themselves to be a balanced bloc among the components produced by the conflict. Such an approach is very important to reach balance among all parties. The territorial nature of the central areas could be the starting point to assert their future presence and active participation. This can be attained as part of any form of the future state on the ruins of post-war Yemen.

Waddah Al-Oubali

Non-resident Fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies.


[1] What Do You Know about the Treaty of Daan? Facebook

[2] Happened on this day: Khamir Conference (

Central areasTaizIbbHodeidahSouth YemenNorth YemenHouthisZaidia