By Fakhri al-Arashi
As Yemen’s youth revolution passes the one-year mark, it is beginning to close the first chapter of the escalation against Ali Abdullah Saleh. Now, the second chapter is about to begin as the consensus candidate Abdu-Rabbo Mansour Hadi nears his election day.
Between the two names, there are still some people in the south calling for end of Yemen unity and consider Hadi as a traitor to his southern roots. Within these murmurs, the activities of Al-Hirak members are growing more visible than before. They have moved from small, isolated attacks on check points, police centers, individual citizens from the north and cutting roads, to larger, movement-type actions such as the redrawing of the southern flag. In the past two weeks alone, members of the Al-Hirak movement have doubled their efforts to boycott the presidential election. As tension grows, the question that has to be asked is why Aden erupts when the other governorates calm down?
My two-day visit to Aden over the weekend gave me deep insights into the situation in Aden to which I can only conclude that Yemeni unity does not look encouraging. This is simply because of southern activists and politicians, based in and out of Yemen have been encouraged by the youth revolution to go out in public and call for their rights and freedom.
Despite growing unease, 70-80% of people in the south still support unity. 40% of Adeni people are against unity and oppose the upcoming presidential election. While the GCC initiative is ultimately supporting the unity of Yemen, the government is still greatly enhancing its presence to secure Aden from any terrorist activities or protests before the elections take place.
While I was in Aden, I saw the extensive presence of the security personnel from the Central Security Forces. There are currently more than five thousand soldiers from different security backgrounds based out of the Al-Anad military base in order to help maintain order in Yemen before the election. This increase in the military’s presence is partly a result of a failed explosive bomb attack at an election center in Aden five days ago.
As a result of the tension in the south, tourism has decreased by 85% and many hotels built for the Gulf 20 have been shut down. This is unlikely to get better as the Al-Hirak movement grows and the Al-Qaeda threat that occasionally spills into Aden from the governorate of Abyen.
During the run up to the election, the people of Aden and their views on unity can be divided into three groups. The first group is calling for a complete break of the unity of Yemen as signed in 1990. Such people make up about 20-30% of the population. This includes those who lost their political positions, business interests, or any other privileges. The second group, about 20%, is the business community who support the unity from a business perspective. However, this group will ultimately go whatever way the country ends up going. The third group, the majority, are citizens deeply integrated with northern citizens socially and economically.
Furthermore, the millions of print materials through out Aden for the president elections do not have any validity from the perspective of many in the south. In fact, most of the pictures of Hadi are not welcome and have simply become targets in the south. It is no surprise that each large picture for Hadi is guarded by military security or just happens to be a nearby security checkpoint.
Abdullah Hassan, from the northern governorate of Ibb, has been working in Adala’a for the past 17 years and cannot take any more bad treatment from some members of Al-Hirak. Hassan asked, “Do you believe that I am trying to sell my house but no one will pay for it because they think I will be forced to leave and then they can take it for free?” Hassan continued, “I believe that unity will collapse one day, but not for another three or four years. The outgoing president is behind the current political revenge between the southern and northern citizens.”
Mohamed Abdul-Rahman, a 17-year-old taxi driver from Abyen said, “I am from Abyen but I escaped. People in Abyen are supporting the election. I believe that Al-Qaeda and the Islamic movements in my governorate is just propaganda created by Ali Abdullah Saleh, Ali Mohsen, and Tariq Al-Fadhli. How come there are negotiations with the Islamists under the mediation of Tariq? It is a game brought to Abyen,” Abdul-Rahman concluded.
Fouad Rashad from Hadramout said that on the 21st of February, he hopes that it will be a day that people will raise up southern flags in every house and issue a complete rejection of any northern ruler. “We should receive the EU delegation with this motto. We have no choice but to struggle for independence,” said Rashad.