Massive protest in south Yemen

A rally in the southern Yemeni governorate of Dhalie on Monday drew several hundred thousand protesters from the governorates of Hadramout, Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa. Some estimates put the crowd at more than a half million.

The speeches included calls for “southern liberation” from the northern dominated regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Thousands of the orange flags of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) were openly flown. A statement issued by the rally’s organizers blamed Saleh’s regime for undermining national unity, demanded the return of plundered land, and called for an international investigation into political murders and arbitrary detention practiced against southerners.

Protests have gathered steam in the southern Yemeni governorates since they began a year ago. The movement was started by former southern military officers who were punitively discharged after Yemen’s 1994 civil war on below sustenance pensions; more than 100,000 civil and military workers lost their livelihoods following the war. Protesters’ grievances also include widespread land theft by influential northerners, employment discrimination, exclusion from the political process, and omnipresent military camps and checkpoints.

The demonstrations adopted an increasingly separatist tone as the Yemeni regime reacted to the mounting civil unrest with increased repression and cosmetic gestures that failed to address the underlying issues. Since August, 17 protesters were killed by security forces. Hundreds were arrested. Reinstated southern military officers were forced to sign pledges to refrain from all political activity. The regime blocked Internet access to news sites, blogs, and, a Yemen-specific news aggregator. Many editors and journalists have been assaulted. Gunmen attacked the offices of al Ayyam, a popular independent newspaper in the South, and one person was killed.

At a February 2008 meeting in Dubai, leading southern Yemeni personalities, sultans, and sheiks proposed a constitutional monarchy in the former PDRY. A national rescue plan issued by the southern opposition had been entirely dismissed by Saleh’s regime months earlier.

Tensions arose shortly after the hurried unification in 1990 of the southern PDRY and the northern Yemeni Arab Republic (YAR); the official name today is the Republic of Yemen. The Document of Pledge and Accord signed in Jordan in February 1994 was an effort to avert civil war.

The document called for the expulsion of foreign terrorists and the trial of those terrorists who committed crimes (against southern personalities). Local rule was to be enhanced and the official media depoliticized. Another requirement was the removal of military checkpoints in the South and the pull back of military forces. The document envisioned the reorganization of the Yemeni military as a politically neutral national defense force. Yet, the articles of the document were never implemented.

In May 1994, the southern PDRY declared succession. President Saleh’s northern forces included a substantial number of Afghan Arabs and Islamic extremists. Aden, the capital of the former PDRY, was extensively bombed. The UN security council issued declarations 924 and 931 calling for a cease-fire. Saleh’s forces won the civil war in July 1994, and unity was reimposed militarily on the South.

After the defeat of the southern forces, Saleh consolidated his power with a series of constitutional amendments, alliances with terror groups, control of the state media, and by installing his relatives as the heads of the military branches and security forces. The northern elite’s hegemony was a “red line,” undiscussable for more than a decade. Resentment and humiliation festered and now threaten to explode in the southern governorates, where over the last year, the Yemeni regime has been gradually losing control.

Currently, there is a strain of southern sentiment that maintains the PDRY was not unified with the North, but rather was illegally occupied by Saleh’s forces following the civil war. Undeniably, the former states never reconciled as equal partners and development of a pluralistic system was arrested. Tribal relations became the basis for the evolving concentration of political, economic, and military power. For example, the current governor of Aden has been implicated in numerous land scandals.

Most of the southern protesters would be satisfied with a national system that established equality and dispensed justice. But pluralism is anathema to Saleh’s brand of tribal elitism, and northern citizens are just as effectively excluded from the political system as their southern brothers. Parliamentary elections are due in 2009, and the voter rolls inflated and inaccurate. The regime refuses to discuss proportional representation as advocated by the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, and the make up of the Electoral Commission remains unclear.



  • Michael says:

    Jane, thanks for update on Yemen. Besides the CIA factbook on Yemen, can you give us a quick percentage of Shia, Sunni?
    Is Iran stirring things up? Or is Al Qaeda and other extremist groups?
    Interesting that the merger of north and south was formed from a Marxist party in the south. I keep getting surprised with some of the political realities in the Middle East and Soviet influence over the last 50 years or so.
    I knew Russia had been ingrained for a long time and knew Saddam relished Stalin as an example for leadership, but was unaware Marxism had flurished even in tiny Yemen.

  • Jane says:

    Thank you!
    The current estimates are about 20-30% Zaidi and the balance Sunni broken down between Shaifi and Salafis with some Sufis thrown in. There has been an increase in Salafism due to Saudi influence as well as the regime’s policies. The president’s half brother and military commander, and former (?) bin Laden pal, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is a convert to Wahabbism and witnesses report that the president prays in a Wahabbi manner although he was originally Zaidi.
    The 1962 Republican revolution displaced the Hashemite Imamate, and Hashemites suffered a social inversion in the subsequent decades, some even refraining from giving traditional Hashimi names to their children. The war in the North Provence of Saada (see earlier article) is by Hashemi rebels. The regime charges they want to restore the Hashimi led Imamate.
    I am unclear about the extent of Iranian influence but it seems rather minimal. Zaidi Shiites are not 12ers and are more close to Sunnis. There are funds flowing to the northern rebels (and everyone else around) from Libya, which is some offset to Saudi largess to tribal sheiks and government officials.
    The hurried union in 1990 was precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union which was the main benefactor of South Yemen (PRDY). The political secularism and gender equality that was engrained from those years hasn’t been entirely erased by resurgent tribalism fostered by the regime. There is also a certain wistfulness in the south, nostalgic for the good old days of British occupation when the institutions functioned.

  • Ahmad says:

    I was surprise to see how accurate the article , me and family are following up with the news in Yemen everyday. We are refuges because of the North invasion in 1994. My father was one of the south Yemen government officials that was sent to the north after the 1990 so called “Unification” in effort to work together. but when he got there he was very disappointed, they left him without a desk and work and nobody seemed to care if any one is working or not. he was shock to see a country that completely function on a tribal system. when the war broke out he was in the north , they captured and torture him. There were many visitors from the UN seeing those prisons and one of those visitors was a professor from the U.S . my father wrote to her for a while to help him get out of there and she did (God bless her), from there we seek asylum to the U.S .we lost our land, home and we got separated from families . I have not seen my mother and brother since than, it’s been 15 years now . I can’t wait till government fall and thank you for this great article .

  • nabiel muthana nagi says:

    the world sites and watches, while the south in being demolished by the north, peoples houses have been taken and the land sold or stolen by the top tribes men of the north, people get shot daily and yet none can do a thing about it, we site and watch the southern people lose all they had, but because we dont have the oil to fill the pockets of the rich, the hole world turns its back on us, ali abdulla saleh is worse the 100 saddams yet the 2 million southerners must all die before anything is done, it just shows you what the world is coming to, 2 million people with no rights to live, thanks to the USA,UK,UN for doing nothing

  • Freedom seeker says:

    Hello there, I read your article, it is so true what you have mentioned, I wonder why the US or any other countries are telling they are helping Yemen against the terrorists while Mr presedent Saleh is the one of the dangerouse terrorists in teh world, he is one of them as we all know his story, he used Jehadis as they call against south Yemen in 94 war, he is having relation with terrorists as he have a delegation to discuss with them, isn’t it the same as he is making deals with them, Now day the terrorists are coming from Yemen to everywhere, wether it is Afghanistan where most of Guantanamo presioners are from Yemen in Iraq the same, so, why the US or anyother country who fights terrorists are watching but nothing to do against Mr Saleh, or perhaps it is all a game ruled by the US gov, because actually I still don’t get it, the US is supportiing mr Saleh for being a terrorist, are they scared if they cut relations with him that he will use his terrorists against them!…..Maybe!


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