Is a Unified Yemen Possible?

Article Summary
Yemen has endured regional wars and revolutions that have continuously exposed schisms throughout the country for decades. Today, the Yemeni Republic is at a critical turning point, as some entertain thoughts of secession and federalism. But Abdel Malek Ahmad Al-Darhi  argues equal citizenship will cure the deep divides.

The Yemeni Republic is at a critical turning point, as the situation within the country now involves a number of internal and foreign forces. This is not an outcome of the recent developments following the Yemeni revolution, but is rather an outcome of a series of issues that have been accumulating for decades. Yemen experienced two successive revolutions—on September 26, 1962 and October 14, 1963—but a number of the structural changes embodied by the goals of these revolutions were not achieved. New totalitarian and tyrannical models were set up in northern Yemen, while in the South, a new form of allegiance to foreign powers and authoritarian rule was established. While unity would have been Yemen’s key to strength and prosperity, totalitarianism and tyranny once again stripped the country from its liveliness and worth. The result was the summer war of 1994.

This event represented a turning point for Yemen, as it had a negative impact on the vision for Yemen that emerged when North and South unified in 1990. Certain influential tribal and political forces forcefully took over property and monopolized control over the states authority and wealth. By doing so, they committed serious mistakes that ruined those visions. Mounting rejection of the government’s authoritarian behavior led first to the formation of an opposition movement abroad, and then to the formation of the opposition within Yemen. This domestic Yemeni opposition was embodied by the Southern Mobility Movement [SMM] in the southern governorates, and the armed opposition of the Houthis and its Ansar Allah faction in the North. In addition, the people from the central areas created the so-called Tahami Movement in western Yemen [the people of Tahama are mainly from Hudaidah Governorate and started their movement in March 2012 to protest against marginalization and exclusion], while the people of the Yemeni eastern desert region launched a movement of their own.

The territorial domination and the absence of any principle of equal citizenship pushed the people of Raymah, Atmah and Wasabeen to agree on common stances. This might result in a territorial coalition between these groups in the future. Meanwhile, some from the Hadramawt Governorate have proposed the formation of an alliance in the southeast that would include the governorates of Hadramawt, Shabwah and Al-Mahrah. What’s more are the youth coalitions protesting in the Al-Hurriyah and Al-Taghyir squares. For its part, the ruling coalition meant to represent the national consensus government as suffering from divisions within its ranks—a fact made evident by the media campaigns different parties within this coalition have been launching against each other.

This critical situation also involves the so-called Ansar al-Sharia armed group present in some southern governorates. For months, this group has been controlling areas in a number of southwestern Yemeni governorates. This is all because a segment of the Yemeni people have been excluded, suffering under the territorial hegemony of the central government and a lack of principles dictating equal citizenship. This situation has revealed a number of political and social questions about Yemen, which necessitate transparent answers. The most important question is: how can we achieve equal citizenship? Achieving equal citizenship requires everyone to respect the rule of law. However, in order for this, a unified army and security apparatus, a wise leadership as well as an effective partnership in authority, power and wealth are all necessary.

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Equal citizenship means refraining from picking who will get an official job or financial support from the government based on their birthplace, area of residence, sect, etc.  Moreover, equal citizenship means that so and so should not be able to plunder public and private lands in other governorates by making use of the government’s financial and human capital potential or its social or political influence. All totalitarian acts have led to the plundering of vast areas in the western and southern valley in a way that completely contradicts the notion of equal citizenship. The same goes for the monopolization of military or civil administrations. These type of acts do not respect social justice as stipulated by the constitution of the Yemeni Republic.

The question that has been continuously raised as certain symbols of tyranny excessively plundered lands and monopolized control over official civil and military posts, has been the following: how can a solution be reached if this segment continues to exert its influence on other groups by abusing its power and exploiting its armed militias? The death of one citizen from the Al-Hudaydah Governorate during a shooting taking place between two influential figures from outside the governorate over a piece of land that they did not own exposes a dark portrait. It reflects the absence of equal citizenship and a dependency on force and influence in Yemen. This portrays a deficiency of law and order. Hence, the measures adopted by influential figures in recent years—which can be described as oppressive, dominating and terrorist acts—has negatively affected the people’s nationalism and their loyalty to the central government. Those feeling disgruntled have adopted their own form of governance, hoisting banners and flags that reflect the political and ideological visions of the group while taking down the Yemeni flag—the symbol of national sovereignty—in their respective areas.

The mistakes committed throughout the decades of totalitarian rule have led some politicians and citizens to confront the central government with sensitive questions of equal citizenship or the division of Yemen into federal states. The government might find it hard to ignore the federalist option if it fails to adopt a number of measures to protect the weak segments of society and curb the dominance armed outlaw groups—especially those using their social, tribal or political influence to loot public and private funds. Those who are calling for federalism in Yemen see it as the best way to protect themselves from territorial terrorism, and see this system as the way to law and order.

Today, Yemenis dream of a unified, safe and prosperous land. Without reforming what was corrupted, and without returning the looted lands of the southern and western governorates to their owners, this will be hard to achieve. It is also important that corrupt officials return the money they robbed to the government. Next, it is crucial that legislation enforcing equality, social justice and equal citizenship be passed.

The Yemeni people have a number of questions on how they will be able to exit their current perils and achieve a strong and unified Yemen. How will they be able to take advantage of Yemen’s strategic location and its natural and human resources so that it may play a pivotal regional and international role? Once Yemeni citizens from the North, South, East and West believe that they are capable of achieving the principles of equal citizenship and social justice, calls for secession, federalism or an alliance among regions will disappear. Conflicts in Yemen are mainly based on a lack of these principles and a plundering of government social and economic resources. The way to meet the political, economic and social aspirations of Yemenis will only be through a comprehensive dialog based on openness and honesty— one that takes into consideration the supreme national interests of Yemen.

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Found in: yemeni revolution, yemeni history, social justice, secession, saleh, houthis, equal rights, civil war
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