From the right: Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, Tawakkol Karman, Ahmed Ali Saleh, Khaled Batarfi (South24 Center)

In the Name of the «Yemeni Unity»: The Mobilization of North Against South


Mon, 29-05-2023 06:59 PM, Aden

The Southern entities, foremost of which is the STC, should be fully ready for any possible Northern moves.

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

The 33rd anniversary of the Yemeni unity between the North and South states on May 22, 1990, came concurrently with a bloody conflict that erupted 9 years ago. This began when the Houthi militias seized control of the state in September 2014. Although Yemen has witnessed a de-facto truce since it expired in October 2022, and despite regional and international moves to achieve a political and comprehensive solution for the crisis, the Houthi violations are still ongoing. The basic Yemeni dilemma is not limited to the latest civil war. If we want to analyze the picture based on North and South, the war was preceded by intertwined political and military accumulations which led to this complicated state of the conflict in Yemen, not least the invasion of South in the summer of 1994 and its consequences which are described by Southerners as being “catastrophic” on human beings, land and wealth.

On the eve of the Yemeni unity’s anniversary, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi Political Office, delivered a stern speech. He warned “the aggression states” of touching the unity adding that any move to divide Yemen will be met by a response against Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The emergence of the Houthi leader with such threat while he was surrounded by Iranian slogans rather than the flag of the Republic of Yemen, whose unity he defends, demonstrates the verbal and practical Houthi contradiction. This threat was not the first of its kind as it was preceded by explicit Houthi threats of declaring war to maintain the Yemeni unity. Member of the Houthi negotiation team, Abdulkarim Alejri said: "Unity is a red line. Without it, there will be only fire ashes".

Despite the successive and declared Houthi speeches towards unity, they don’t look convincing amid the crackdown against Northern people before Southerners. The Houthis also have borrowed Iranian manifestations of a religious and political nature since their coup against the Yemeni state. Many Yemenis believe that these manifestations are neither related to Yemen nor the republic nor unity. The Houthis lost much of the sympathy they previously enjoyed during the Saada’s 6 wars when the Yemeni government forces confronted them with military power. The group gained political and military influence on wide geographical areas in North Yemen. This is not enough for the Houthis who have expansive ideas as part of their empowerment goals which are adopted by other extremist religious groups in the region. 

With their strict stance toward unity, the Houthis believe that the nation will unite under their control. However, it doesn’t seem that the group is ready to give up or hand over their gains in return for this unity or accept political partners who are not under their full control. The Northern areas themselves are divided because the Houthis don’t accept delivering any concessions to other Northern parties. Furthermore, the Houthis are one of the reasons which enhanced the conviction of many Southerners of the need to restore the South state based on the 1990 borders. Southerners denounce any talks about forced unity with North Yemen as the latter is controlled by “racial militias” who don’t believe in equal citizenship and are rejected by a large sector of Northerners before Southerners. 

The Houthis feel the growing internal and popular pressure on them due to the exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis including the file of salaries and others. The citizens within their controlled areas raised the ceiling of their hope with the Saudi-Iranian and Saudi-Houthi rapprochement. This is supposed to secure their salaries after years of not being paid but this didn’t happen which made matters worse. Therefore, the Houthis attempt to exploit the unity speech currently for two reasons. The first one is to win the sympathy of Northerners with such a language as they are totally aware that the majority of them are still adherent to unity. The second reason is that they attempt to improve their image as a group and restore popular trust as well as enhance their mental image as an influential force in North that won’t allow other projects except for unity through which they hope to attract Northerners.

Between balance and unrealism

The speech delivered by the Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), Rashad Al-Alimi, on the eve of the Yemeni unity anniversary seems a balanced one. He acknowledged that “Southerners have the right to rally around their fair issue after the deviation of the unity project's path which was emptied of its content and participatory value following the summer war of 1994". He stressed that "celebrating unity is not some sort of intrigue or political exclusion but a commitment to the constitutional authority and the legitimate legal status of the country recognized regionally and internationally”. However, the speech delivered by Al-Alimi, on behalf of his seven vice presidents, seems more exploratory of the current reality and its circumstances. This is even though many Northerners who stick to unity criticized Al-Alimi in light of his former known positions when he was the Interior Minister during Saleh’s reign that adopted a strict political approach towards unity. 

Furthermore, the outcomes of the “ 32nd Arab Summit” in Jeddah regarding the Yemeni file were more responsible in their narrative as they took into consideration the sensitivity of the positions of different Yemeni parties, foremost of whom are the Southerners. They also ruled out the item “unity” which was usually used each time in light of the protocol. The summit said “We support all efforts that could guarantee security and stability in the Republic of Yemen and fulfill the aspirations of the brotherly Yemeni people. We also advocate for the UN and regional efforts seeking to come up with a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis". The discourse of the Arab and international community used to present the unity within the preamble of “Yemen's unity and stability".

On the other hand, the European discourse looked less acumen by tightening its commitment to the matter of Yemeni unity. In contrast, the narrative adopted by Arab officials was more intelligent in selecting its words. Gabriel Munuera Viñals, Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Yemen, stressed on "commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen".

The European congratulatory messages can be explained in four ways. The first is that congratulation may be a protocol for Europeans who are accustomed to doing this. It may denote a lack of understanding of the level of current complications of the Yemeni scene. The second is that many Europeans are likely influenced by Yemeni lobbies in Europe affiliated with the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the two parties fight on the ground, it is clear that they agree on the unity matter which is not realistic currently. The third is that Southerners who call for the restoration of the South state are close allies to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Some European states have prior and old positions towards the Gulf countries and their policies and they tried to reverse that on their presence in the Yemeni file. They may believe that supporting projects other than unity would ratify their approval of policies adopted by regional states in their war in Yemen. The fourth one is that the European countries have interests related to Yemen. They may believe that their interests won’t be achieved if power remains limited to the central frame of the demography surrounding Sanaa especially since their relationships with Northerners are old and go back more than three decades. They are preceded by relationships dated back to the era of the Zaidi Imamate. Therefore, you may see that South independence is a long-term matter and won’t achieve their policies currently if they deal with Southerners according to their project, especially that many of their interests have been suspended due to the war and they want to resume them. 

The US discourse doesn’t differ from the European one in the unity matter. US ambassador Steven Fagin “congratulated the Yemeni people on the occasion of Unity Day". He stressed that “the U.S. supports the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Yemen”. However, the US takes into consideration the sensitivity of the South Yemen issue. This emerged through an online briefing by Tim Lenderking, U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen in mid-May. He answered a question by saying: “The future state of Yemen must ultimately be decided by Yemenis. In our view, this includes questions like the Southern issue; representation in institutions; resource allocation. And the UN and the international community will stand behind a political resolution that is established in a transparent, inclusive, Yemeni-led forum”.

However, this does not mean that the US or European official stances fully agree with their strategy or that they are unchangeable, especially if this is related to achieving their interests in South Yemen. This has to be another reason for Southerners to try to create a stronger influence at the political and economic decision-making levels along with the military one inside the geographical range of South Yemen. Accordingly, positions can change. Recently, the prominent US magazine “National Interest" called on the US and Biden administration to support the independence of South Yemen. It said that “reviving the old North-South Yemen border with a Houthi government in the north and an STC government in the south is in Washington’s interest”. 

Positions of different parties

The positions of Northern parties regarding unity look steady. It is clear that most forces seeking power try to attract the Northern street by using the same strict language as most of them believe that unity must continue at any cost. For example, a letter from “Ahmed Abdullah Saleh”, the son of former President Ali Abdullah Salah included threats. It was read by media platforms affiliated with his father’s party General People's Congress. He said that “the Yemeni people will only support maintaining this great achievement, defend it against all attempts of division, rupture, alienation, sowing discord and split”. It was not a surprise to hear such words from “Ahmed Saleh” as his father was one of the main culprits in the crimes against South Yemen after the 1994 war which were committed during his reign.
Ahmed Saleh hasn’t so far announced a clear stance towards the Houthis. However, his party in Sanaa in the Houthi-controlled areas still recognizes him as its deputy. Some believe that his selection in this position was attained by the Houthi green light. Although the man lives in isolation and despite his limited political personal capabilities as he is largely considered a weak character according to a previous Wikileaks document, many still rely on him after his father was killed. He attempts to express a sort of indirect anger against the internationally-recognized government, accusing it of failure to urge the UN to lift the sanctions imposed on him. 

This isn’t apparently limited to restricting his moves but related to freezing the assets he inherited from his father which is estimated at 60 billion dollars. The European Union imposed sanctions on “Ahmed Saleh” along with the Houthi Leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi which include a travel ban and freezing financial assets in respect of the UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

In general, the Northern position seems unified towards the matter of maintaining unity. An alliance of 13 political factions from political parties and forces issued a statement that insists on “reformulating the unity state and its political regime in a way that preserves identity and achieves national partnership”. Moreover, on her channel based in Turkey, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman publicly incited against the national demands of Southerners. Ironically, the Northern elites and political forces played a role in dividing North Yemen itself via their internal power conflict. On the other hand, Southern parties try to gather themselves and unify their positions. This was clear by holding the Southern Consultative Meeting in the capital city Aden. More than 300 representatives of Southern governorates signed on its outputs and participated in its activities. It came concurrently with kicking off the 6th Session of the STC’s National Assembly in Mukalla in Hadramout. 

The advanced move made by Southerners including opening a door for dialogue and unifying positions towards their goals bothered many non-Southern political parties. They believe that holding discussions of this kind should happen under a central authority they represent and should not include unilateral dialogues related to the future form of the state. This apparently reflects the comprehensive view towards South Yemen according to statements by the Northern ruling elite during the Yemeni unity who claimed that “South is a branch and North is the origin and that the beach returned to its origin”.

Ultimately, the Houthis will likely exploit the “unity” issue to mobilize the Northern street at the media, political and military levels to confront South Yemen. This ultimately depends on their ability to carry out their threats. The Houthi drones have long threatened vital facilities in the Gulf and inside Yemen. If the Houthis implement their threats by hitting Saudi or Emirati facilities, this will likely be a prelude to a new civil war which will flare up internally.

Additionally, the escalation of the attack by terrorist groups in Abyan and Shabwa recently enhances the parties that benefit from disturbing the situation in South Yemen. The Southern forces carried out a major security operation which led to arresting an armed cell on Thursday including 7 members, some of whom belong to ISIS and four of whom hold Saudi nationality in "Labus" district of Yafaa, Lahj governorate that borders Al-Bayda governorate.

According to reliable initial information, seen by “South24 Center”, the Infiltration of armed elements from Al-Bayda governorate controlled by the Houthi militias came as part of a big plot to bring down areas inside Abyan with the aim to declare it as a province affiliated with the group. Security information doesn’t rule out the involvement of the Houthi militias in the plot. Although the investigations are still ongoing, the synchronization between this and the escalation of the anti-Southern political narration explains the nature of the existing alliances among these forces. 

The Southern entities, foremost of which is the STC, should be fully ready for any possible Northern moves, even those who delayed their confrontation with South and agree with Southerners on the need to face the Houthis currently. According to the unity equation, they will have the advantage under any circumstances, whether to engage in war or political settlement. 

Farida Ahmed 

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies Read

Yemeni unityIndependenceSouth Yemen independenceSouth YemenNorth YemenHouthisSTCRashad Al-AlimiPLCAidrous Al-Zubaidi