STC President and the head of the Southern Dialogue Committee during the presentation of the Southern National Pact Document, after signing it in Aden, May 8, 2023 (official)

The Impact of the Southern Dialogue on the Situation in Yemen


Tue, 16-05-2023 12:22 AM, Aden Time

The participation in a Southern project of that size has been considered an advanced historical move and the first of its kind.

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

5 days after holding the Southern Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Aden on May 4th at the invitation of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), the participants signed some important national documents. The SCM witnessed broad Southern participation that exceeded more than 35 political party and a number of unions, syndicates, civil society organizations, women, tribal sheiks, community figures and independents. More than 330 representatives from the different Southern governorates participated in the meeting. They were divided according to quotas based on geographical area and population. The participation in a Southern project of that size has been considered an advanced historical move and the first of its kind in comparison with past Southern meetings and dialogues.

Over two years and more than 200 meetings, the two dialogue committees, with their internal and external forms, contributed in thawing of the icy relationships among different political components and factions. They worked to pave the preconditions that led to the participation of these Southern groups on May 4th after years of dispersion and lack of compatibility. They established the basis for a new phase of internal dialogue. This move serves as a civilized way to treat and solve their deep-rooted differences since the independence of South Yemen from Britain in 1967 till now. Although many of the STC’s opponents have tended to exaggerate in belittling the importance of the Southern Dialogue since it was declared in mid-2021 and tried to curb the significance of the Southern consensus on a joint common vision by marginalizing the Southern issue among other Yemeni matters, the Southern endeavors succeeded to make a big qualitative progress.

The official decrees and documents signed during the past days as a result of the SCM have obviously constituted an important roadmap that can be built upon at the level of South Yemen’s future. Additionally, it paves the way to enter a stage of comprehensive peace to end the conflict in Yemen. One of the most prominent signed documents is the “Southern National Pact” deemed by many as being a draft Southern constitution. The latter would be completely drawn with its full details in the post-war era, especially that it contains three main axes including “the general governing foundations and principles, South Issue and the general provisions". 

Simultaneously and hours after the SCM in Aden, that was held among the Southern political, civil and community parties, the decrees related to the political restructure of the STC were released to constitute an important qualitative move for the latter’s work. This is given that the STC’s Presidium included the appointment of two PLC members, Abdulrahman Al-Muhrammi and Faraj Al-Bahsani as vice-chairmen of the STC along with Ahmed Saeed bin Break in a sudden and unexpected change as part of the council’s restructure process.

The presence of such two heavy-weight figures who are basically PLC members and have big military experience would undoubtedly enhance the STC’s capabilities and its presence in the national sphere. In separate statements, Al-Muhrammi and Al-Bahsani praised the SCM and stressed the importance of organizing and uniting the Southern political work to achieve harmony among Southern political parties and to defend their political entitlements in the final solution consultations.

Almost unanimous?

Despite the broad Southern participation in the SCM that was held for 5 consecutive days in the Coral Hotel in Aden, a number of Southern political entities and figures were absent. For unclear reasons, some of them issued separate statements to declare their refusal hours before the event. Nonetheless, they previously participated in the course of the dialogue and blessed its moves. These parties which represent no more than 10% may have their own reasons for not joining other Southern parties, including what may be related to regulation and invitation matters. They probably have adopted a predetermined stance towards the STC’s policies as well as fearing that their entities would melt in the STC’s frame. They also may have authoritarian ambitions which would not be achieved through such a partnership.

However, it doesn’t seem that the parties not participating in the SCM will differ with the STC and other Southern entities in addressing South Issue. All those who were met by the dialogue committees expressed the importance of enhancing Southern solidarity and alignment in order to “restore South state according to the dialogue’s organizers." Disagreements were there as result of complicated problems that led to the consecutive political accumulations and directly impacted the political work, especially in representing South Issue. However, there is almost unanimity on the broad lines related to the final goal aspired by many Southerners which is the restoration of the Southern state in a new federal and independent form that allows Southerners to manage their own territories. It seems that this is the most important in the current stage for those who hold this choice. 

Since it is the one that called for the Southern Dialogue from the beginning, the STC is responsible for seeking to bring views closer and absorb different visions and perceptions from different Southern parties. Moreover, the STC can present additional initiatives to secure the arrangement of the Southern house before entering the negotiations for ending the war and comprehensive political settlement. One should take into consideration that the STC stresses its commitment to putting a special negotiation framework for the issue of South people.

External calculations

Regional and international communities are aware that the STC has been carrying a "liberation political project" even after joining the internationally-recognized government of Yemen (IRGY). The project is different from the Northern parties' project. Thus, it seems that the regional and international communities don’t have reasons to comment on the SCM over the past days. Furthermore, the Southern participants in the closing statements called for “Arab countries as well as the regional and international community to respect the aspirations of the South people and their right to gain their freedom and sovereignty along with restoring their independent Southern state".

The file of Southern political entitlements has long been delayed by external parties due to its regional and international sensitivity and the extent of its impact on their interests in this geographical area that has strategic importance, especially in light of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. This has led to clear Southern resentment over the past years. 

The UAE has been able to win Southerners' trust through its military participation in South Yemen as well as supporting the establishment of armed and trained forces to secure and protect the country over the past years. Despite its withdrawal in 2019, it is clear that the UAE still supports and respects their political choices and the justice of their national cause. This can be seen recently through tweets posted by Emirati figures close to the ruling circle in which they hailed and supported the outputs of the SCM. On the other hand, the comments by Saudi activists and experts varied between praise and criticism about the STC-led Southern Dialogue. This does not necessarily mean that Saudi Arabia stands on the opposite side of the UAE policy regarding South Issue.

However, it is remarkable that concurrently with holding the SCM in Aden, there were Saudi moves in Hadramout that aimed to hand over Ar-riyan International Airport to the local authorities in Hadramout. This comes seven years after the limited presence of the UAE there. This can be read as a Saudi attempt to remove Abu Dhabi from the security scene in Hadramout. The presence of the Emirati forces in the airport has been linked to its big security and military role since 2016, especially the counterterrorism file which culminated in the liberation of Mukalla and the coastal cities on the Arabian Sea from AQAP. However, given the latest political developments and the SCM in Aden led by close allies to Abu Dhabi, it may be suitable for Riyadh to create a new security fulcrum for it in an important border governorate such as Hadramout and its main outlets. This can be attained through forces it directly supports before everyone's eyes turn towards Hadramout again, especially after the call to hold the 6th session of the STC's National Assembly on May 21st.

Accordingly, it is important for regional and international decision makers to give a supportive and positive look to what is represented by holding the latest SCM in Aden, whether through paths to open ways for dialogue or through reaching consensus in visions and ideas about the future of South Yemen and Yemen in general. This constitutes a supportive action and a complementary task to the regional and international efforts to bring Yemen to the phase of comprehensive peace. A general and comprehensive Southern conference is likely to be held over the coming phase. This aims at reaching consensus on all proposed documents and others with the presence of Southern parties that didn't participate in the recent meeting.

The Southern documents issued by the SCM and any future documents which may be agreed upon in any upcoming meetings would serve as main references when it is related to the future of South Yemen. Additionally, they adopt a joint and comprehensive vision about the peculiarities of South Yemen's position. This constitutes a main guarantor for their issue and the entitlements they can gain during the phase of a comprehensive political settlement in Yemen.

On the other hand, one can't be certain that these efforts alone have completely succeeded in protecting South Yemen and securing it politically and militarily. Threats coming from Sanaa continue to recur every day since the conclusion of the SCM. Concurrently with the SCM, the Houthi militias carried out a military maneuver in Southern border areas. Moreover, Houthi leaders explicitly threatened to declare war to maintain Yemen unity. A member of the Houthi negotiation team, Abdulkarim Alejri said: "Unity is a red line. Without it, there will be only fire ashes". This is similar to the approach adopted by former Northern regimes in the face of the calls launched by the Southern Movement (Hirak) to "disengage" from Sanaa. These calls are a crucial reminder to Southerners and to the neighboring countries, especially Saudi Arabia, of the Houthi greedy aspirations in South Yemen and its strategic land and sea outlets. This requires supporting and enhancing efforts for the unity of Southern political, military and security ranks.

Farida Ahmed

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies

Southern Consultative MeetingSouthern National PactNational Dialogue