A Tuhami folk dance (Independent Arabia)

Why Have the Grievances Disappeared in North Yemen?


Sat, 13-04-2024 02:08 PM, Aden

Local governance was an urgent demand for the Taizis in the ‘Popular Conference’ to end the suffering caused by the extreme centralization of the former regime.
The Committee's work was heavily opposed by the Congress Party, led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. The latter considered any form of these activities as a separatist move.
The Congress and the Islah parties announced their hostility toward the ‘Popular Conference’ and its demands in Taiz. This created feelings of frustration among people.
The decline of Taiz’s national and political stance over the past decades enabled the political parties affiliated with or close to the regime, including the extremist religious groups, to control any protest movement or response.
The marginalization of Tuhamis and their non-inclusion in the political transition authority in April 2022 have triggered thoughts of separation
The decline of the Tuhami Resistance’s military operations after 2018 also led to the disintegration of its military wings.
There is a need to manage the scene within the governorates of the Tumaha region and give them the right to run their areas.
In August 2013, the so-called ‘Sabaean Movement’ for Marib Sons was formed. It consisted of sheikhs, youth, activists, and civil society organizations to demand the rights of the governorate’s locals amid their marginalization.
The ‘Maribi Cause Initiative’ entity was established to express the grievances of Marib and put forth their demands for the future.
The ‘Revolution for Change’ in 2011 has encouraged the emergence of such territorial entities in North Yemen, especially in the governorates that have oil and gas resources such as Marib. However, these entities were later infiltrated by the traditional political parties.
The Houthis exploited their establishment as a minority to gain external, international and rights sympathy to justify their subsequent suppressive deeds.
Ignoring the territorial voices in North Yemen would lead to wider ramifications and may act as a possible barrier to the peace process.
There is a need for the participation of territorial entities in drafting the final solutions and achieving civil peace.
Fair and equitable solutions for everyone is a key to ending violence and attaining peace.

Farida Ahmed (South24)

In the 1960s, grievances began to emerge among local communities in North Yemen. They maintained a low profile for a long time due to the Imamate rule, especially in Tuhama region - along the Red Sea coast - and the central areas in Yemen. However, their tone has gradually increased after the so-called ‘Youth Revolution’ of 2011. Despite the distinctive nature of the grievances in most of the lower North, the entities emerging later to demand their rights have remained seclusive. The attention of every entity has been only limited to the troubles related to its geographical area. Grievances in North are different from South Yemen's cause. The latter emerged as a result of the damage that has affected a nation state with all its people and institutions (the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen), and is not limited to one group inside the country like the case in North. 

The grievances of the Saada people in North Yemen have emerged since 2014. This is due to the ‘Six Wars’ between the Houthis and the then Yemeni Army and their subsequent ramifications on the people1. However, the Houthi narrative has gradually turned from that of a group expressing the grievances of their area into one that has turned into an iron fist ruling most Northern territories post 2014. This has been the main reason behind opening the full gate to foreign intervention in Yemen due to the Houthi coup against the recognized state in Sanaa in 2014 and using repressive tools to extend their influence by violating human rights. This ultimately led to other grievances as a result of violations committed by the Houthis who were till then expressing their own grievance of being marginalized. They exploited their status as a Zaydi Shiite minority to gain external, international, and rights sympathy to justify their subsequent crackdown actions. 

Thus, it can be said that the real problem worsens when a group that adopts a grievance narrative turns into an oppressive one and seeks to settle its political calculations with local, regional and international parties, based on old perceived discriminations, whether they have direct relations with it as a group or with external parties for bargaining according to its interests. This actually applies to the case of the Houthis who are explicitly backed by Iran at the moral and military level. This has been no longer a secret. For decades Iran has supported the Shiite Islamic groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Tehran has even gone beyond this by supporting Sunni extremist groups, especially the religious-radical groups in Yemen such as the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Muslim Brotherhood. ‘South24 Center’ explored many of these linkages during the latest civil war in Yemen.

This paper discusses the most prominent events that led to these grievances in the North over the past decades. It re-revisits its roots, with an aim to encourage achieving social justice among the people and finding future solutions, and a vision to reduce the political and military control on the future of Yemenis there that has taken on tribal, racial, and religious forms.
How did some of the grievances disappear?

1- The Taiz Popular Conference

The most prominent event in North Yemen after the downfall of the Imamate rule was probably the ‘Popular Conference’ held in Taiz in November 1992. The conference clearly voiced the governorate's grievances and demanded its people’s rights. This was led by a group of capable figures including Abdulhabib Salem Moqbil, Mansur Ahmed Seif, Sultan Al-Sami, and many others who prepared for the conference in advance through the so-called ’Taiz Strike Committee‘. The latter’s activities expressed the worsening conditions of the governorate and Sanaa’s deliberate neglect of Taiz. At that time, the unity state, established in 1990 between North Yemen and South Yemen, had witnessed widespread assassination operations against Southern civil and military leaders. These attacks had been carried out serially against most members of the Yemeni Socialist Party, which was a ruling partner with the General People’s Congress Party, led by then President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The latter was accused, along with his then closest ally at that time, the Islamic Islah Party, of destroying their new Southern rivals.

The bitter dispute that emerged later between the partners of the unified state (The Congress Party and the Socialist parties) led Ali Abdullah Saleh and his allies of religious forces to accuse the ‘Taiz Strike Committee’ of being supported by the Socialist Party in South Yemen in order to eliminate it. Moreover, their power partners were eliminated later by engaging in the 1994 war against South Yemen. It is remarkable that many Taizis were emotionally attached to South. Aden had served as a safe haven for them prior to the September 26, 1962, Revolution and after it. Some of them rose to power later, including President Abdulfatah Ismail in 1979. Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Azraki [1], Member of the Central Committee of the Yemeni Socialist Party in Taiz, said: “After the 1994 War, there were efforts to throw out everything related to South state, except for some figures attached to the then Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime.”

Holding ‘the Taiz Popular Conference’ was aimed at completing the committee’s moves. Its most prominent demand was to give Taiz a role in collecting its revenues and appointing its leaders. However, the conference failed later due to the pressure on its members, as they were accused of regionalism and sectarianism, according to Al-Azraki. This allowed President Saleh to summon his men in Taiz to confront this movement and spread allegations about its members one by one. This is particularly related to the fact that Saleh started his rise to the presidency from Taiz. He had a big impact on the nature of society and tribes there when he was a leader of the Taiz Brigade in the 1970s.

Abduljalil Othman [2], a former leader of the Socialist Party in Taiz, said: “Local governance was an urgent demand for Taizis in the ‘Popular Conference’ to end the suffering caused by the extreme centralization of the former regime and which continued after the unity, and imposed control and tribal tyranny on the governorate." The conference demanded finding solutions for the growing suffering of the people and their dire conditions. This is in addition to combating corruption, bribery and wasting of public money. This is along with achieving the principle of citizenship equality and fair opportunities in public jobs as well as demands related to some national issues. However, there were those who sought to turn these issues into cards for political bargaining.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Azraki pointed out that “the committee's work was staunchly opposed by the Congress Party, led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. The latter considered any form of these activities as a separatist move, especially amid the backdrop that the regime in Yemen was a central one with the governorates being given little authority, most of which related to administrative activities.” Abduljalil Othman agreed with this, saying that: “The Congress Party considered the Socialist Party’s failure to hide its sympathy toward Taiz’s demands and its support for the Popular Conference as a hostile act against it. The Congress and Islah parties then announced their hostility toward the Popular Conference and its demands in Taiz. This created feelings of frustration among the people.”

In December 1992, a large protest broke out in Taiz against the deterioration of the living conditions there. In the accompanying violence many citizens were killed on the streets. The protests extended later to other governorates, including Ibb, Dhamar, Hodeidah, and Sanaa. Othman stressed that “the subsequent events, instead of paving the way for solutions to the crisis, became a tool to demonstrate the military might as secret organizations were restored their activities, dozens of citizens were detained, terrorist gangs were deployed in the city, and tribal groups and partisan militias were recruited. They sought to increase tensions and directed their allegations against the Yemeni Socialist Party.”

Despite the relentless efforts for maintaining the committee's activities in Taiz by releasing periodic statements and warning people not to be dragged into regionalism and sectarianism against each other, the sharpness of the then political crisis between North and South put an end to the committee whose representative Abdulhabib Salem resigned from the parliament in March 1995. This was due to the situation in Yemen after the 1994 war as well as the growing tension between him and the Yemeni Islah Party, led by Abdullah bin Hussein Al-Ahmar. Later, Abdulhabib died in vague conditions in the same year in Sanaa.

The opposing voices in Taiz were eliminated earlier. For example, after the assassination of President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi in Sanaa in 1977, the then Commander of the Paratroopers Abdullah Abdulaleem headed to Al-Hajariya in Taiz. President Ahmed Al-Ghashmi, who succeeded Al-Hamdi, looked at Abdulaleem’s deeds as a kind of insurgency. Al-Ghashmi agreed with the then Commander of the Taiz Brigade, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to send a group of sheikhs to Abdulaleem to mediate for backing off the insurgency decision and return to Sanaa. However, the mediation failed and about 19 sheikhs were killed in the same place in 1978. According to many eyewitnesses, Saleh was the one who sponsored the assassination operation, which was described as being the most heinous in the history of Aden. This was followed by single assassination operations against the remnants of influential sheikhs, some of whom were trampled to death. This forced many sheikhs to escape to Aden at that time.

It can be said that the impact and influence of Taiz’s sheikhs and tribes were equivalent to the tribes of Sanaa and its surroundings in the 1970s. However, the operation to assassinate the ‘Hajariya’ sheikhs led to the decline of the sheikhs’ role in Taiz. The remnants complied with the central system in Sanaa. Accordingly, the decline of Taiz's national and political position over the past decades enabled the political parties affiliated with or close to the regime, including the extremist religious groups, to control any protest movement or responses which expressed the grievances or rights of Taiz. This is what happened to the ‘Taiz Strike Committee’ and its Popular Conference which gradually disappeared at the hands of the Taizi sheikhs as well as social and civil figures affiliated with the regime in Sanaa. 

The same happened after the 2014 war following the Houthi coup. Taiz became a hotbed of training camps for irregular militias affiliated with the Islah Party (The Muslim Brotherhood). Moreover, some groups inside it engaged in the Houthi and Islah conflict against South, especially after the 2019 assassination of Major General Adnan Al-Hammadi who had played an effective role in liberating many areas in Taiz from the grip of the Houthi militia. Many people in the governorate considered Al-Hammadi an effective figure who along with some other national figures could lead a change in favor of Taiz at the political and military levels. 

2- The Tuhami movement

In 2011, the Tuhami movement was established in Hodeidah governorate during the Yemeni ‘Revolution for Change’ in the North. The movement began with a mass revolutionist movement in Tuhama's coastal areas to express the grievances over marginalization of its people for decades during the Yemeni Republic era and before it. Tuhamis feel historical injustice has been meted out to them as a result of being alienated from leading state institutions and decision-making centers. This is despite the fact that they have a military wing represented in the ‘Tuhami Resistance’ after 2015. The movement led the liberation operations along with ’the Southern Giants‘ in large parts of Hodeidah. Later, the ‘Republican Guards’, led by Tariq Saleh, joined the military operations in the coast after the assassination of his uncle Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis in December 2017.

The Tuhamis were marginalized again and alienated from the decision-making centers during the era of former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Likewise, they weren’t part of the political transition authority in April 2022 or its other government executive bodies. The Tuhamis have repeatedly complained that they are treated as second or third -class citizens. This makes them think about breaking away, according to many of them. This is because they don’t feel any form of affinity to the concept of national unity as they haven’t found justice or equality. The regime’s circle of interest always focuses on certain geographical areas in the North. Some Tuhamis proposed bringing back the idea of self-determination proposed over one century ago through demands sent by the Tuhami leader Ahmed Fatini Junaid to the ‘League of United Nations’ in 1919. He had asked for the recognition of the Tuhama state due to repeated assaults on its territories by the Imamate rule in Sanaa. However, there are few voices today demanding self-determination. The Tuhamis are attracted more to the popular movement demanding the recognition of Tuhama as a full territory while maintaining it as part of a federal civil state in Yemen. This is in addition to restoring all lands whose ownership is proven to belong to Tuhami citizens as well as the looted territories, whether by the state or any official, with legitimate and legal paths.

The reasons behind the failure of the Tuhami movement are probably attributed to the decline of the military operations after 2018. This especially followed the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement that undermined the Tuhami resistance movement in the western coast. Furthermore, the regional support to the resistance declined later. This accordingly led to the disintegration of its military wings. Additionally, the strong political polarizations of some of its leaders led many of them to join the ‘Republican Guards’, led by Tariq Saleh, which was later named as ‘the National Resistance’. A political bureau affiliated with the latter was established in March 2021. Tariq Saleh maintained his forces as an entity independent from those affiliated with the legitimate government until he was appointed as Vice President of the Presidential Leadership Council in 2022, along with seven other deputies.

Many areas of Tuhama that are controlled by the Houthis suffer from growing marginalization due to the racial conflict brought in by the Houthis. Since the Houthi invasion of areas in Hodeidah in October 2014, the Tuhamis have been subjected to suppression and violations on a daily basis. The crimes include executing nine Tuhamis, including a minor, on the pretext of providing logistic information that contributed to the assassination of the former Head of the Houthi Political Council Saleh Al-Sammad. Later, reports quoted Al-Sammad's son as saying that the execution operation was a farce, with an aim to bury the issue of his father’s death and release the real killer who moved freely in Sanaa. According to many Tuhamis, such an event shows the extent to which the Tuhami blood is disregarded as they are unfairly tried amid the lack of even the lowest standards of justice. 

The Tuhami movement shouldn't be looked at as an instantaneous action that emerged only amid the 2011 Revolution or during the current conflict. It is a historical case that emerged since the ‘Zaraniq Revolution’ against the rule of Imam Yahya in North Yemen in 1919. Moreover, Tuhamis were the first who resisted the Houthis in Hodeidah in 2014 when the Houthi gunmen began deployment. They wear the military uniform of the Yemeni army in order to control the western coasts.

Currently, many Tuhamis believe that it is a priority to grant them the right to manage their areas politically and militarily. They also believe that excluding them from influential positions within their territories is another major grievance. A Tuhami activist, who spoke to ‘South24 Center’ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said: “The presence of a Tuhami as a leader on the western coast is important to benefit from the support of the locals in the area in case of any military operations, and also to revive the long struggle of the Tuhamis and address the historical grievances of the locals.” He added: “The Tuhami leader at the political and military levels will have the psychological and national motive to liberate his land. This is contrary to the case where the battle is run by a leader from another area, which has been the reason behind the suffering of Tuhama.” He stressed that “South Yemen was liberated in a record time because those who managed the battle are affiliated to South Yemen and not outside it. One reason for not achieving victory in the battle against the Houthis is the mistake occurring currently on the Western coast and Marib.”

Tuhamis face strong objections regarding convincing other parties to join the effort in managing their land. Currently, it is a delayed issue for the influential Yemeni political forces and the Saudi-led Arab Coalition on the pretext it will destabilize the unity of ranks. It is interesting that confronting the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and reducing its impact is apparently the aim of the same political forces, including senior leaders in the recognized government, such as Rashad Al-Alimi, along with Saudi Arabia, that sponsor and establish territorial political entities in areas in South Yemen, such as Hadramout, Al-Mahra and Shabwa to manage their areas. 

3- Marib and Tribes

In August 2013, the so-called ‘Sabaean Movement  for Marib’s Sons was established. It included sheikhs, youth, activists, and civil society organizations. They demanded that the locals be given rights over the governorate. The locals had been deprived of their rights, and marginalized and the resources of the governorate exploited by the authority in Sanaa. Moreover, the ‘Marabi Cause Initiative’ entity was established to express the grievances of Marib and put forth their demands for the future. The ‘Revolution for Change’ in 2011 encouraged the emergence of such territorial entities in North Yemen, especially in the governorates that are rich in oil and gas resources such as Marib. However, these entities were later infiltrated by the traditional political parties (The Congress and the Islah) and their roles gradually diminished. Marabi political researcher Khaled Baqlan [3] said: “We have repeatedly called for creation of an entity that reflects the Marabi people, away from partisan polarization. However, our calls have been rejected and dealt with as if they have a special purpose. This is the nature of the ruling forces that distort any calls or work based on noble and lofty aims.”

On September 18, 2014, the establishment of the so-called 'Matarih’ or traditional tribal ‘lodgings in the areas of Nakhla and Al-Soheil’, north of Marib city, served as the first nucleus for the rest of such lodgings in the governorate to protect Marib from the invasion of the Houthis after they controlled many areas near Sanaa. The consensus and harmony between the Marabi tribes contributed to the construction of the lodgings. This happened before the governorate was controlled by the Islamic Islah Party and was managed politically and militarily, which ultimately led to the fragmentation of the tribes and strife between them. This later led to losing many combat battles against the Houthis.

In October 2017, some Marabis protested against what they deemed as alienation of the governorate’s citizens. They called for the departure of the Islah Party from their land after the latter controlled more than 195 official positions with people from outside the governorate and most of them belonged to the Islah party. These included directors of departments, banks, security agencies, and military brigades. Prior to the Houthis control of Sanaa and immediately after it, the Marabis put forth more clear demands. However, many of them were delayed because of the consequences of the military situation in the governorate. They have even begun to look for basic sustenance priorities in light of their loss of the most basic necessities of life, and the presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced people to Marib from  the Northern governorates which are under the control of the Houthis. This has contributed to the exponential worsening of the humanitarian crisis.

Commenting on the ramifications of the Houthi invasion of large parts of Marib, Khaled Baqlan said: “Marib, with its nature and social structure, is against the Imamate ruler in the North. It is like the other governorates in North Yemen which suffered from injustice during and after the Imamate rule. Additionally, the Sanaa regime, led by Ali Abdullah Saleh, used to treat Marib as a special farm. Its people constituted an existential threat for it.” Baqlan and many Marabi people believe that they are still being marginalized and are dealt with only through the Islah and Congress parties despite being considered to wield influence in their governorate.

The decline of the Popular Movement’s role may be attributed, along with the aforementioned reason, to the inherent tribal complications in the governorate, including sometimes vengeance. For example, when the ‘Sabaean Movement’ and the ‘Marabi Cause’ were formed, the Marabi tribes didn’t oppose these movements as they initially carried local identities that expressed the rights and the grievances of Marib. However, many of these tribes have adopted a neutral position due the intra-tribal issues of some of these movements’ leaders as well as the subsequent infiltration that hit them. It can be said that the difference between the situations in Marib and Tuhami tribes is that the latter joined the Tuhami Movement. Furthermore, many of them were in the forefront of the Tuhami Movement, giving it a big momentum, in comparison to the popular movements in Marib. The sensitivity of the issues relating to previous disputes among the tribes affect their supporting the popular movements. This is because it is a matter which isn’t limited to a figure but is related to the tribes themselves and the depth of their internal disagreements.

According to Baqlan, Maribis, including the ‘Saba Youth Council’, hope that “Marib will be present in any incoming political operations or national equation that would convey the Marabi vision, the interests of its people and their political partnerships with different parties under the ceiling of the national state, citizenship equality and social justice.”

What Next?

It is important here to raise a legitimate question regarding the extent to which the local and regional political forces ignore the territorial demands in the North while reviving and forming them in South. Ignoring these voices in North Yemen would lead to wider ramifications and may act as a possible barrier to the peace process, especially if the final solutions don’t include their participation as representatives for their areas. It is important to state that “the Yemeni political forces currently claim that the unity of ranks is important while they work against it in other areas. This would lead to new grievances derived from the main ones, particularly if the administration of the regions is maintained in the hands of people who don’t belong to them. This would ultimately constitute an obstacle to any national solution for peace”.

There will be naturally serious questions posed about the ability of the territorial entities in North Yemen to manage the scenario inside their governorates, and if they will first of all succeed to extract the right to manage their areas and seize the available opportunities. The vast majority of the narratives of the political movements that were established in Yemen, whether the aforementioned or others, confirm that the resources of the movement and their ability for organization and mobilization are considered a main reason behind their success or failure to achieve their goals. This will be looked at as being a success from the psychological and political aspects. Meanwhile, this will lead to strategic solutions that would ultimately achieve civil peace. It has been repeatedly proven that only fair and equitable solutions for everyone would end the circle of violence and lead to peace.

1. From 2004-2010, the Yemeni government was mired in a sporadic civil conflict against the Houthis, in the northern governorate of Saada. Saudi Arabia intervened directly against the Houthis in 2010. The conflict in Saada occurred in six distinct rounds and the war led to a widespread humanitarian crisis. More than 250,000 people were displaced, and significant civilian infrastructure was destroyed. Estimates of the number killed range from several hundred to several thousand.

Executive Director, South24 Center for News and Studies
Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic on March 10, 2024 

1- An exclusive interview with ‘South24 Center’
2- An exclusive interview with ‘South24 Center’
3- An exclusive interview with ‘South24 Center’

North YemenSouth YemenGrievancesTuhamaHouthis