Culture & Society
Written By: Elena White
Article Date: May 8, 2012 - 3:07:53 PM
The Southern Secessionist Movement, also known as al-Harak al Janubbiya or for short al-Harak was born in 1994 on the back of the South Yemen civil war against Sana’a centra;l government, as disgruntled politicians felt President Ali Abdullah Saleh failed to honor May 1990’s power sharing agreement, handing aden the shorter straw.
Following the unification of the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), the new central government located itself in the former capital of the north, Sana’a.
Former YAR President Ali Abdullah Saleh became the president of the new Republic of Yemen, while Ali Salim al Beidh, the president of the former PDRY, became the vice president under a power-sharing agreement. The April 1993 parliamentary elections, however, shifted the power to Saleh’s northern-based General People’s Congress (GPC) and to al Islah, an Islamist party formed after Yemen’s unification that drew most of its members from the GPC. The elections, deemed generally free and fair by the international community, gave al Beidh’s southern-based Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) control of only 69 of 301 parliamentary seats. Southern political leaders, who until then had enjoyed an essentially equal distribution of power, reacted to the election results by returning to Aden, the former capital of the south, and refused to join the new government.
After failed negotiations as southerners and northerners exchanged virulent critics, accusing the others of hindering the unification process, President Saleh decided to force his authority onto the restive South, unleashing his warplanes onto the southern sea-port of Aden, marking the beginning of 1994 civil war.
In a few weeks, Saleh’s army ravaged the South, sending al-Beidh and several other officials running to Oman. President Saleh became then the uncontested ruler of the Republic of Yemen.
But if the veteran politician and military man officially brought unity to Yemen, what he did in reality was to push back underground the secessionist movement, having engrained in southerners’ psyche that Sana’a could not be trusted. As years went by, the South’ grievances grew heavier, with militants biding their time, determined to strike President Saleh when he will be at his weakest.
For the next 20 years, Aden would stand waiting, studying its prey.
For the most part southerners feel Sana’a got the best part of the deal when uniting with the former PDRY, using the South vast natural resources for its own benefits rather than share the wealth equally in between provinces, willingly maintaining them under a state a semi-misery while Sana’a was thriving, drowning under Abyan, Hadramaut and Shabwa’s riches.
“The South has all the resources and only one third of the population. We cannot allow them to secede,” said a member of the opposition party Islah in the capital, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the party. “Northerners will fight to keep Yemen together. They know it is a matter of survival.”
“Eighty percent of Yemen’s oil comes from the south but where does the money go? It goes to Sanaa,” the capital, said a member of the Yemeni Socialist Party in Aden who did not want to be named for fear of government reprisal. “The people of the south have not benefited from any of this wealth and now it is running out.”
More than 70 percent of Yemen’s revenue comes from its oil exports. Studies by both the World Bank and the United Nations Development Fund predict a precipitous decline in Yemeni oil production over the next decades, raising the stakes for control of the dwindling supplies.
And if Oil Minister Hisham Sharaf recently denied the allegations of dwindling natural resources, stressing that only a fraction of Yemen had been explored, most economists remain skeptic, saying that more than ever South Yemen is starting to resemble South Sudan.
“It would be foolish not to draw parallels in between the two countries”, said political analysts Ahmed al-Sofi to the Yemen Observer, adding “Yemen currently stands where Khartoum stood before the creation of South Sudan, southerners were too complaining of inequalities, abuses and corruption, arguing that they were the ones holding the riches.”
But beyond a fight over Yemen’s Oil and Gas, southerners are accusing the central government of having looted their territories and abused their people.
Al-Harak militants complained about the illegal acquisition of swathes of land following 1994 as well as forced retirements, unlawful lay-offs of government employees and withholding of state pensions.
Thousands of people were affected by Sana’a’s move, feeding resentment against the central government as southerners felt discriminated against.
Moreover, many secessionists pointed out that safe a few exceptions; no southerners were ever in a real leading position, with Sana’a keeping the South under its thumb.
“Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” said Abdullah a secessionist. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them."
Opportunity came knocking.
Last year’s uprising gave al-Harak the platform it needed to promote its ideas and launch itself once again on the political scene without fear of repression. In between the threat of al-Qaeda and massive demonstrations, former President Saleh was too bent on quelling the revolution to worry much about the southern movement. In the shadows, al-Harak grew in strength and numbers, preparing for its next move, secession.
Now at breaking point the South is rejecting all northern authorities, having hoisted back its former flag in defiance of new President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi. And if the armed forces and the Republican Guards are still roaming the streets of Aden in a poor attempt to assert themselves as the rulers of the South, they face daily threats from al-Harak, having to fight for every inch of ground they walk on.
Northerners are not welcome any more in sunny Aden. Only two weeks ago, a honey trader and his wife told the Yemen Observer that as they were driving to Aden, al-Harak militants barred the road, guns at the ready, threatening to kill them if they did not hand out their cash and properties to them. Pleading that they were Adeni living in Sana’a they were finally let go. As they drove off, gun shots broke out. “Seconds after we drove away from the checkpoint another car from Sana’a arrived. The men were shot out and killed instantly…I never been so scared in my life.”
He added that even the Republican Guards had warned him no to venture on the stretch of road leading to Aden telling him that the tribes there “did not fear God”.
With tensions running so high, Yemen has very little time left.
Unless President Hadi manages to reach some sort of agreements with al-Harak, ending a cycle of violence Yemen’s unity might become but a distant memory.
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