By Rabab Ayash
Before May 22, 1990, Yemen was known as two separate states; the Yemen Arab Republic in the northern part of the country and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the southern part. The interest of both country’s leaders in Yemen’s unity and their long strenuous efforts ended in the historical day of joining the two parts into the Republic of Yemen.
The newly unified republic did not last long before it started to face profound difficulties, most importantly economic. The jubilant celebration that distinguishes this anniversary has continued to fade away year after year due to many factors.
As a result of these difficulties, the hasty unification decision started to be condemned by many. The two respective leaders of the former states were accused of casting aside the carefully formulated timetable, necessary for building a well-founded and solid unification, by moving toward the hasty decision of completion, which according to many observers was the main reason behind the serious difficulties that emerged later.
In 1994, unity was seriously imperiled due to the marginalization and negligence of southerners’ issues and demands. After a long period of disagreements and troubles, southern calls for disengagement started to be heard. The disagreement developed into conflict, the Civil War of 1994. Many southern leaders fled, most of whom are still in exile.
The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities. Following the 1994 Civil War, the leaders of the north gained control of the south in the name of a legitimate power to protect Yemen’s unity.
While the defeated secessionists in the south believed that their land was confiscated by the regime in the north, the government in Sana’a believed that the 1994 war was the only way to maintain unity. According to northerners, the war was believed to have helped in deepening and embedding the unity. Furthermore, it supposedly eliminated the separatist calls in the South.
Though the war succeeded in silencing separatist calls and movements for a few years, the dream of independence of many southerners continue to occupy many secessionists’ minds.
As a result of the spread of poverty, unemployment, and corruption in Yemen, a group of people calling themselves the Peaceful Southern Movement started a peaceful struggle by carrying out different demonstration rallies on the anniversary of the fall of Aden on July 7, 2007. Since then, the movement has turned it into a popular phenomenon calling for the end of Yemen’s unity.
“Since we started our struggle for independence in 2007, we pragmatically adopted the methods of nonviolent actions. And we will continue using peaceful means like civil disobedience, sit-ins, protests, and marches in all the southern governorates until we gain our dream of independence,” said Mohammed Badr, a Southern Movement activist.
He added, “The 25th anniversary means nothing to us. The only goal that we live for today is to kick out the Houthi militia and Saleh’s men from our land and to start thinking of building up our independent country.”
The future of unity remains skeptical, with the northern population irritated by the various allegations to them from the southern population, who never stop accusing them of stealing their wealth.
Southerners believe they have been tyrannized and maltreated by the so-called unity. On the other side, people in the north find that unification did not bring them any benefits. According to their positions on unity, the southern people are divided into three groups; one group is calling openly and clearly for secession, while the second group is interested in a federal system, and the third group demands unity in the south.
Observers believe that the unification project is currently facing challenges that could mark the end of the project forever unless wise people and political elites from the two halves sit and address the main issues and find solutions.
The humanitarian crisis in the south is much more serious than the one in north. The suffering in the South is immeasurable; the hot weather with constant power cuts, the lack of basic food and clean water, and more profoundly the war that is destroying 25 years of investment in building the South’s infrastructure.
On the anniversary of Yemeni unification, Elias Habat Allah, a southern youth activist in Aden, confirmed that many southerners are pessimistic about the future of their state, stressing that after all that is happening now in Aden, it is nonsense to talk about the unity of Yemen, but the government of the exiled president is still looking to implement the National Dialogue outcomes.
“We in the south are wondering: What does the north bring to the south other than war, calamity and agony?” he asked. “Why does Aden have to pay the price for war? Why does Aden have to see all this destruction and devastation? Why is Aden being trapped from different sides and by different groups; the Houthis, the men of Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaeda, and so on? What crime did we commit to face all these ordeals and hardships?”
Though unity has always been fragile, it has never been in such serious risk since its establishment in 1990 as it is today. The conflict continues to escalate between Houthi rebels and the police commandos loyal to Saleh against the Popular Resistance Committees and locals in the South.
Yemen’s coastal city of Aden as well as Lahj and al-Dhalea governorates have seen fierce fighting since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition on March 25th, 2015, Yemen. Moreover, some southern cities face additional threats such as terrorism. Many terrorist organizations have taken advantage of the low security and civil chaos in the country and have reached the heart of Abyan, the home governorate of President AbduRabou Mansoure Hadi, Hadhramout, and Shabwa, the richest governorates with oil in South Yemen.
Al-Qaeda and Ansar Al-Sharia, though many denied their presence, are the most dangerous terrorist groups. These groups have recently controlled cities in the south. The world has witnessed many of their brutal and merciless slaughters of soldiers.
“The people of the south are witnessing bloodshed that they have never seen even in the time of British colonialism,” said Ali Ba Abood, a southern activist from Hadhramout.
“From the very first year, May 22 has become a thorny date for some Yemenis. As the time passes, there arose a variety of challenges, large and small, to threaten Yemen’s unwise decision of unity. Among the several difficulties that faced unity since it was established, the recent civil war in the south between the South People’s Committees and the rebelled Houthi militia today is a stain on the reputation of the northern people and a condemnation of them. This war is altering the beautiful city of Aden into the city of ghosts,” described Ali.