Political Analysis

Analyzing the Arguments for Southern Separation

 National Yemen

South Militate check points

By Abdulnassar al-Mouada;a

Though there have been many discussions and writings over the southern issue, all of them are incapable of coming up with the right definition on the issue. When talking about it, people tend to give many alternative issues such as discrimination, oppression, looting lands, demobilizing military officers, corruption and other issues that may be exaggerated. Simultaneously, people tend to shorten the solutions into only one: Dismissing Yemeni unity.

When thinking about the issue from this angle, we can return the start of the southern issue in the immediate period after establishing unity rather than the end the 1994 war. As soon as the fantasy of unity vanished only months after announcing it, the political class in the south realized that they went into a failed project and made a mistake. They discovered that they may not survive in power as power shifted to the north of Yemen. This issue was emphasized after the elections of April 1993, where northern parties won a large majority of seats with 80% compared to 20% to the southern parties. This election caused leaders from south to start dismissing unity and resulted in the fallout that was the war of 1994.

When supporters of the southern issue discuss unity, they tend to use many sub-issues to justify their rejection of it. They consistently talk about demobilizing southern employees, discrimination, looting lands corruption and oppression. Though true issues, they are not the real core of the problem. This is because all these issues were not mentioned before 1994 when the southern issue began. Supporters of this issue keep emphasizing that solving all these problems will not solve the woes in the south. For them, the only solution for this issue is to dismiss unity, whether at once, or as a gradual decision advocated by Ali Salem Al-Beidh and Federalists. Both groups want the same thing but with different style.

There are many sub-issues that are the reasons behind the southern issue; however, many of these need to be examined. The primary reason for dismissing unity appeared after Saleh’s forces defeated those of Ali Salem Al-Beidh and Saleh restructured the southern government. Though forcefully refusing unity because of this restructuring seems to be morally right, it is not historically. In reality, most countries around the world were established through power rather than through agreements. Borders of countries were shaped by either internal or external forces, which is the same thing that happened with southern part of Yemen. This part was formed after the government of south eliminated with military forces the sultanates government that was existing before establish the southern country of Yemen.

The second reason that is used to support southern separation was the replacement of the southern military and civilian employees with northern employees. Though it seems to be morally unfair, it is completely logical in politics. To be realistic, it was natural for the regime of Saleh to dismantle the institution of south — especially those of army and security. What Saleh did was in line with what most governments do when defeating other governments. The southern government itself has taken similar actions when it dissolved all military and security institutions of the Sultanate, a subsidiary of what was called the Federal State. As such, the southern government fired and assassinated most of those working for these governments except those who joined their government.  The allies of the former president Ali Naser Mohammed were also oppressed and assassinated after his defeat in January 1986.

Mentioning all of these examples does not aim to defame the former regime in the south, nor does it aim at justifying what Saleh’s regime has committed. It aims at clarifying the norms of war that leads into oppressing the defeated side. The difference in this issue is the degree of persecution rather than whether it happens or not. So, what Saleh did with the institutions of the south was necessary for that time. Noteworthy is the fact that the oppression of security and military forces was moderate when compared with what happens in similar situations. Saleh did not arrest or execute any of the institutions’ members after the war; rather, he put some of them in positions of leadership.

Another issue that southern members argue is the looting of land and wealth in the south. As a matter of fact, this issue is more related to the nature of Saleh’s regime rather than the southern issue. Saleh has exploited all the wealth of south, and north, to stay in power. For example, in the capital Sana’a Saleh has distributed state lands for political goals. Northern and southern citizens, even journalists, were on the receiving ends of such actions.

In regard to the issue of inequality, it is still of the nature of the regime. A regime that oppresses depends on the principle of inequality in rights and duties, which in other words means inequality in citizenship. This principle means that the closer the individual is to the president, the more privileges one gets. Therefore, we can see sons of the president in a better state than their cousins, while their cousins are better than the other members of the family and so forth. When thinking about it, we can find everyone, including the ruling family members, with the feelings of inequality. In the Yemeni case, we can see that both northern and southern citizens have this feeling but it is stronger for the southern people. This may be an exaggerated feeling for the southern people, but it is common for most of them.

Political repression is another case used for demanding dismissing unity. Allies of southern issue justify their demands as a reaction for the political repression they suffer. Though repression and suppression is a feature of any tyrant political system like that of Saleh, reality shows that southern people had more freedoms since 1990, and after the war of 1994, when compared with what they had before unity. Public and private freedoms were violated under the totalitarian regime in the south. Arrests, assassinations and bans of political activities were permanent features of the regime. All of these make the totalitarian regime in the south worse than the tyrant regime in the north.

Such regimes consider insubordination to the regime an unforgivable crime, while regimes like Saleh’s confined oppression to people and forces that opposed him and threatened his rule. So, the degree of suppression southerners used to suffer before Saleh’s rule is greater than what they suffer now. So, this is illogical reason to demand dismissing unity. However, the degree of suppression before unity does not by any means justify its amount after unity.

The identity issue is played as the most crucial one. For the southern people, Saleh’s regime worked on eliminating the southern identity with all its historical and cultural significances.  This includes changing names of streets and public institutions and making them related and linked with the northern identity. Though this is completely true, it is natural for any victorious regimes to weaken the identity and culture of the defeated. The Soviet period witnessed many changes in the names of streets, buildings, cities, and history and culture as its policies changed. And in the south, the state was formed on the ideology of socialism in a manner similar to China’s cultural revolution. During that period, names of governorates were changed and replaced with numbers and many streets and public buildings were changed to be in harmony with the new ideology. Even social surnames and labels were not spared for they were considered as remnants of the bourgeoisie system. This policy even included the history that was written in a way that serves the political regime at that time.


Changing the names of some buildings that were related to the socialism, like “red star,” and replacing it with names from the Islamic and Arabic history cannot be a mere conscious plan of Saleh’s regime. Such things cannot be separated from the cultural and social movements that took place in Yemen and the Islamic world as well. We should not forget the fact that there are no racial, linguistic, religious or ideological differences between south and the other regions of Yemen, and so the whole issue of identity is a mysterious one though southern people try to make it the most important one.

Addressing and solving the above problems will more than likely not lead to the end of the southern issue. This is largely because the people who press the issue of separation want the country they used to rule back. This is not confined to those of former rulers of the south, but it also extends to a great deal of politicians who believe that ruling the south is their right. Additionally, they believe that they will always be a minority in Yemen and cling to the idea of separation as a result.

Supporters of unity believe that solving these problems and creating a new country where all people are equal is enough to solve the problem of southern issue. Though it seems to be a really perfect solution, supporters of separation do not believe in it and so the southern issue will always be one of the many problems of Yemen.