Yemen is facing a unique confluence of crises. A continuous civil war and a set conflicts in the North, a secessionist movement in the South, a rising sectarian conflict between Zaydis and Shafi’is. Central authority in Yemen has never been strong even under the rule of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Moreover, Yemen has been a weak state with no monopoly on the use of force on its territories from the establishment of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR-North Yemen) in 1962 and the independence of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) following the departure of the British Colonialism in 1967, until the emergence of the unified state from 1990. The power in the different Yemeni states throughout history (North, South, and the unified) was concentrated in the hands of few. Although Ali Abdullah Saleh was able to rule the united Yemen for 12 years, however, the former President preserved his rule by a precarious balance between the military apparatus, clerics, and the main tribes.
This paper will quickly review the history of Yemen and discuss the causes of the conflict, factors augmenting the conflict between the North and South Yemen in addition to the Houthis insurgence, role of the mediators in the conflict prevention and peace building initiatives, and analyzing the requirement of a potential solution for the Yemen conflict.
Historical Review of the Yemen Conflict
Zaydism Revival and the Emergence of the Sectarian Conflict
The 1990 unification of Yemen did not produce full integration of the northern periphery and southern constituencies. Historically, the Zaydis of Yemen enjoyed political rule, intellectual production and pious devotion in the northern Yemeni highlands with Sa‘da governorate an epicenter of Zaydism (King, 2011). The situation in North Yemen changed dramatically in 1962 by the Republican Revolution putting the Zaydi Imamate rule at stake leading to an eight-year of civil war. This war was strongly influenced by the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia supporting the Royalist Imamate and Nasserite Egypt aiding the revolutionaries. At the end, the Zaydi Imamate was replaced by the Republican nationalist government with antagonism toward the former ruling Zaydi tradition (Clark, 2010). The majority Shafi’i PDRY’s socialist state projected Zaydism and the imamate as feudalistic and reactionary. (Barak A. Salmoni, 2010). Moreover, the government of Yemen under the rule of Saleh supported the ideological spread of Salafism in the Northern Highlands and Sa’da region (Salisbury, 2015). On 10 August 1978, Saleh ordered the execution of 30 officers who were charged with being part of a conspiracy against his rule. Saleh was promoted to major general in 1980, elected as the secretary-general of the General People’s Congress party on 30 August 1982, and re-elected president of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1983.
Saleh’s support for the anti-Zaydism ideological propagation in the Northern Highlands adding to the inequality in development between the center (Sana’a) on one side and Sa’da on the other side created a Zaydi defensive response against the Yemeni authority. The feeling of exclusion for Sa’da governorate population contributed to the revival of Zaydism by rehabilitating the Hashimis to face the Sunni encroachment in the north. The revival of Zaydism as a reaction to Saleh’s policies was a factor to the rise of Political Zaydism represented by Al Haq party and later on to the emergence of Ansar Allah in Yemen known as Houthis (Lachner, 2017). The Houthis benefited from Yemen’s government actions in Sa’da to accuse it of targeting Zaydism as a whole while Saleh and his government accused the Houthis of trying to reinstate the Imamate due to their Hashimi background (Barak A. Salmoni, 2010). The political tension between the Houthis and the central government has led to 6 consecutive wars between the two factions from 2004 till 2010.
It is evident that the fall of the Mutawakkilate Imamate in Northern Yemen under the rule of the Hashemite descendants was mainly a result of the intra-tribal and political struggle between the different Zaydi factions in addition to evolving external factors. Nevertheless, the religious factor re-emerged by time especially with the exclusion of the Zaydi heartland of Sa’da governorate from the economic development adding to the political marginalization of the Zaydi political elite in addition to other factors. The ruling elite that governed Yemen from a pragmatic perspective, aiming to protect their own benefits, was not only affecting the marginalized Zaydis in the North by their policies but also the Southern Yemeni community.
From South Arabia to South Yemen
From the 10th century, Imams based in the Zaydi highlands of the North expanded their rule to the South and East Yemen. Their expansion succeeded when they were in a strong position but failed when they were in a weak position. The Southern part of Yemen constituted mainly of the Sunni Islam of the Shafi’I school while the North was mainly composed of the Zaydi school of Islam. The Ottomans and the British rule played a key role to establish a line that divided Yemen in 1904 into its northern-southern borders (Brehony, 2011). According to Brehony, “The border cut through what Yemenis call the Central district-that is, the northern provinces of Bayda, Ibb and Ta’izz and part of the former southern provinces of Lahij and Abyan” (Brehony, 2011).
As the war in the north was reaching an end, the revolution in south Yemen succeeded to bring a British withdrawal in 1967 and the formation of a socialist state, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). The internal war between the different factions in South Yemen in 1986 and the fall of the Soviet Union have helped in the unification of the PDRY and the YAR in 1990 by Ali Abdallah Saleh and Ali Salem al-Beidh, then secretary general of the southern ruling Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) (Halliday, 1997). The relations between the North and South directly deteriorated after the unification where Saleh and the political elite in the North were accused for excluding South of Yemen from the decision-making process (Salisbury, 2018). Moreover, a campaign of assassinating military officials from the South was taking place at the same time. In 1994, an attempt for secession by the Southern leadership failed leading to a brutal civil war. The North, through the support of their army, Arab mujahidin returnees from Afghanistan, in addition to northern tribal militias succeeded in their war and left their elite in a position of dominance until the Yemen uprising of 2011 (Group, 2011). From 1994 till the uprising, Yemen was mainly ruled by the Northern elite that constitutes of two main parties which are the General People’s Congress (GPC) of Saleh and the Islah party, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party. Additionally, the two ruling parties constitute manly of actors from the Northern part of Yemen (Tribes and Islamists) excluding the South from the political scene. The actions of the Yemeni government led to the “Hirak movement” demanding the South secession from the Republic of Yemen and a return to the former independent state of South Yemen. Although North and South Yemen populations are both Arabs from the same ethnic group, however, they don’t share the same history and are not agreeing on a common future. The actions of the Northern elite during Saleh’s regime in seizing their privately owned land and distributing it amongst individuals affiliated with this government, exploiting their oil reserves, and forcing thousands of military and civil employees from the south into early retirement, prevented any possibility for including the Southern people in the unified Yemen political system (Longley, 2010). Moreover, the Houthis invasion of the South supported by Saleh in 2015 added to the already negative perception by the Southerners to the Northern politicians’ elite and their religious/tribal militias. The difference in history and culture also be added to the Northern-Southern question of unity or a possible breakdown in the future. Unlike the North, many in the South were precarious for the gradual return of tribalism and Islamism into the southern Yemen after 1994. Besides, many of the Southerners refer to the North as being “mutikhalifeen” or backward (Brehony, 2011).
Factors Augmenting the Conflict in Yemen
From the unification of Yemen in 1990 until today, most of the influential politicians in the Southern part of Yemen were aiming for either secession, confederation or at least greater autonomy for their provinces. The Yemeni government used all the available means to centralize the power in its hands neglecting the Southern demands. The human rights associations and international monitors traced hundreds of violations by the central government and later on by the Houthis and Saleh forces against southern secessionist and opposition figures. Yemen during Saleh’s era was not a strictly military dictatorship like those in Iraq or Syria, allowing a margin of free expression and political activity. On paper, Yemen had an elected parliament and president, a multi-party system, an independent judiciary, and the framework for a democratically elected local government. In reality, Saleh created a deeply patterned network of tribally- and regionally-based patronage relationships (Longley, 2010). This informal system of patronage politics is a complex game of bargaining between Saleh and his clients.
Patronage Politics, Corruption, and Clientelism
The fall of oil prices in the mid-1980s led to a decrease in Saudi Arabia’s direct payments for the tribal sheikhs in Yemen. Moreover, Yemen’s neutrality to Iraq’s invasion to Kuwait during the Gulf war led to decisive actions by the Gulf countries mainly KSA to deport hundreds of thousands of Yemeni workers back to their home country (Chalcraft, 2010). Although these factors caused resentment in Yemen, Saleh benefited from the situation to change the dynamics of the political economy by controlling the import licenses changing the nature of Yemen’s business class and the traditional role of tribal elites (Longley, 2010). By issuing import licenses to favored Sheikhs (mainly from Northern Hashed tribes), Saleh gave the opportunity for his tribal network to sold licenses to the traditional merchants for profit. Moreover, the former President increased the power and influence of the Military Economic Corporation (MECO), a state-run organization involved in land acquisition. MECO angered many landowners especially in South Yemen by seizing their lands to enrich the presidential connections (Longley, 2010). Saleh’s patronage system was mainly based on the Northern tribes and Islamist figures while disregarding the Southern part of Yemen. Rather than responding to southern discontent by reform, Saleh worked on co-opting prominent southern leaders by selecting few merchants to include them in the Northern tribal businessmen networks of private sector patronage in addition to nominating the prime minister and the minister oil and minerals from the Southern region of Hadramawt oil-rich governorate (al-Iryani, 2008). As mentioned in a 2010 study in the Middle East Journal, “Saleh has been careful to include southerners in visible political posts, their appointments have often been used as a divide-and-rule tactic aimed at fragmenting the southern elite and, for the most part, the positions are symbolic.” (Longley, 2010)
A big part of the Southerners feeling of marginalization was due to the lack of transparency in the oil production sector. Since 1994, all Aden based oil companies, including Canadian Nexen have moved their central offices to Sana‘a to be closer to the seat of economic power. Hadramawt resources were flowing to the center in Sana’a with no local control over profits. Moreover, citizens in Hadramawt were demanding equitable revenue sharing since only 1% of the governorate’s oil revenues were given to the local government (al-Iryani, 2008).
Regime Oppression and Human Rights Violations
Human Rights provisions have a vital role as a uniting force and including those who do not fit the specified ethnic and sectarian categories of any state. Conversely, human rights in Yemen especially toward the Southern population were not respected leading to ongoing tension and crisis. In late 2000, protests and sit-ins began by a group of army pensioners in Dalia governorate demanding higher pensions to army service. The unrest environment in South Yemen led to more protests by civil servants, teachers, lawyers, academics, and unemployed youth from across the former PDRY’s territories. These protests and sit-ins led to what will be known as the “Hirak Movement”. The government response to the peaceful movement was harsh routinely using rubber bullets against demonstrators, harassment and unlawful arrest (Group, 2011). In 2009, Saleh’s regime in suspended publications of eight independent newspapers, in addition to several popular blogs. At a later stage, the government tried to coopt with some of the Hirak movement leaders by initiating dialogue committees. Another way to surrender the Hirak movement was in Saleh’s regime usage of divide-and-rule tactic to fracture the opposition. The lack of serious response by the government to the Hirak movement demands directed toward their open call for secession in 2008 as a consequence of regime violence (Group, 2011). Furthermore, the excessive use of force by the government against the peaceful protestors in 2008 demonstrations for secession has led for a mutual use of violence by the secessionists and to weaken the government’s authority in the South (Group, 2011).
It is very clear that Saleh, through the divide and rule tactic, was able to protect the government’s presence in South of Yemen to a large extent until 2011. However, the centralization of power in the capital in addition to the increasing oppression and human rights abuses caused many Southerners to perceive the regime as a conqueror to the South region rather than partner in unity. Southern’s Hirak movement lost hope for any kind of reform by the regime (development projects, decentralization, autonomy…) led to raise the issues of cultural distinctiveness and identity to their narratives. The use of “South Arabia” in Hirak’s political speech renewed their claim that Yemen never existed as a unified nation unit but was occupied by Ottomans, Zaydi imams and the British colonialism (Brehony, 2011). It is evident that the dream of unity under the banner of Socialism failed with Saleh’s policies in dividing the Southern political elite. If socialism failed to unite Yemen, will Islamism in its Sunnism and Zaydism versions unite it or disintegrate it?
Islamism as a Factor of Disintegration
Aiming to balance the power of his opponents in the North and South, Saleh used Islamism as a tool to eradicate socialism in the South and surrender Zaydism revival in Sa’da region. The regime covert link with the Arab mujahidin coming back from Afghanistan (AQAP later on), the support from the quietest Salafist School, and the GPC alliance with Islah were very effective instruments for the President to contain the threats from the North and the South. Islamist groups’ infiltration into the Southern provinces in addition to the rise of the Houthis in the North were major factors to destabilize the Yemeni state and society. As an example, the government viewed the patronage of Salafi preachers, publications, and schools as an essential tool against both the South’s Yemen Socialist Party and Zaydi elites. Salafi preachers, publications, and schools as a valuable hedge against both the South’s Yemen Socialist Party and Zaydi elites, of whom it was still suspicious. Al Islah party, led nationally by al-Zindani, Al Ahmar and others, with the support of the government, founded al-Iman University in 1993-1994. This university was based in Sana’a for the development of cadre of Salafi scholars and activities. The graduates of the university were occupying positions in several schools and mosques in the republic including the governorate of Sa’da (Yadav, 2015). Another example was the establishment of Dammaj Institute by one of the most prominent Salafi preachers in Yemen Muqbil al-Wadi‘i (Bonnefoy, 2009). Before becoming a Salafi preacher, Muqbil was a Zaydi from the Bakili tribe and transformed into Salafism. Muqbil claimed to be oppressed by the Sayyids due to his tribal origins. Moreover, the Salafi preacher called in his lectures and writings for the destruction of Zaydi shrines and tombs which his students carried out in the mid-1990s around Sa’da. Al Wadi’i considered the Zaydis as ahl-al-bid‘a, or the people of doctrinal innovation, arguing that they should return to ahl alsunna- the people of the proper path (Barak A. Salmoni, 2010). The story of Cheikh Al Wadi’i can lead us to a main reason for the Zaydis counter-revival associated with the Houthi family. The Salafist threat to the Zaydi elite led to a response in two different ways. From the mid-1990’s, Yemen witnessed a political movement in the Zaydi streets with the rise of al- Haqq Party. The second form of response was based on ideology and popular mobilization in the form of the Believing Youth (al-Shabab al-Mu’min) and specifically religious reactions to perceived threats. The two responses formed the Houthi movement or “Ansar Allah” (Lachner, 2017). It is important as well to mention that Saleh’s regime used the divide-and rule policy to balance the power of Islah, Ahmar family and Salafist by the Zaydi elites. As an indication, “the regime granted al-Haqq the Ministry of Religious Endowments (awqaf), even though they had failed to win a single seat in that year’s elections. Saleh used al-Haqq to remove Islah from the ministry after the breakup of the post-1993 GPC-Islah coalition.” Al-Haqq’s tactic alliance with Saleh and the GPC in some cases was a reason for the party’s loss of legitimacy among politically inclined Zaydis (Barak A. Salmoni, 2010). Houthi family headed by Hassan played a big role for the Zaydi mobilization against the government. Through his marriage with the daughters of Sayyids and Qabili Sheikhs, Houthi was able to build a patronage network in the governorate of Sa’da. On the economic level, the economic elites and sheikhs were tied to Sana’a through patronage and were less concerned to the collective needs and well-being of their communities in Sa’da. Moreover, peripheral marginalization of Sa’da in terms of governmental aid and development at the end of 1990’s had a direct impact on the communities in Sa’da feeling that they are not receiving their share of government attention. An addition factor for the Houthis rise in San’a region was the personality of Husayn Al Houthi as mobilizer and ideologue (Mawla, 2016). All these factors mentioned above were the main motivators for the growth of a strong para-military group in Sa’da. This group will “get out of the hands” of Saleh in 2004, and fighting the San’a regime in 6 wars until the Yemen revolution 2011. It is easy to conclude that the divide-and-rule policy orchestrated by Saleh’s team contributed to a sense among Houthi loyalists that their religion and culture are under ideological and physical siege instigated by the regime itself. The inability of Saleh to balance between the Islamists in all their factions and the Zaydi elites has led to the re-emergence of the Mutawakkilite Imamate dream in the marginalized region of Sa’da.
In the South, it is well believed that the regime played a similar tactics to the ones in Sa’da region and the North in general. Saleh had a clear vision on integrating the South by force through reviving tribalism and Islamism. However, the secular notion of the South was a continuous threat to Sana’a’s policy makers as an ideological instrument to enhance the Southern secession movement. In co-opting with some of the YSP leaders on one hand, and in strengthening the jihadist groups in the South, the regime was keen to keep the Southern region under authority. The return of the Arab jihadist fighters from Afghanistan and the 1994 civil war between San’a and the south were two major events in pushing Islamic jihadist fighters’ presence in South Yemen specifically. In this case, it is important to take the example of Tariq al-Fadhli, a Yemeni jihadist fighter returning from the Afghanistan war. According to al-Fadhli’s account, he was released and asked to immediately join the fight against the YSP in 1994. The role of the jihadist led by al-Fadhli was vital in winning the war for the north. Al-Fadhli was then rewarded by becoming a senior member of President Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (Ali, 2009). The relation between Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar and the AQAP in the south was a significant factor in the terrorizing strategy against the southerners (Salisbury, 2018). Similar to most of the Arabian dictatorships, the terrorist organizations in Yemen were used to demonstrate Saleh’s regime as the better devil than AQAP and other groups in his country. Besides, the usage of Islamist fighters in the South for the divide-and- rule strategy was an additional factor to the Southerners elites and politicians to refuse the re-unification with the North of Yemen when peace is settled.
Foreign Interventions: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and UAE
Several states played an important role and had a direct influence in Yemen’s internal. The Gulf countries and Iran can be traced the major players in Yemen’s politics due to the cultural and religious similarity, and the geographical proximity to the Southern Arabia state. Historically, Saudi Arabia considered Yemen as its backyard imposing possible threats to its national security. Moreover, KSA’s main focus in Yemen was based on buying patronages to increase their influence and keep the different threats away. Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Former Defense Minister, used to buy alliances in Yemen by financing the tribes and the different Salafi schools. In 2000, Saudi Arabia ended a border dispute with Yemen by signing an agreement of cooperation between the two countries. Moreover, the deteriorating health conditions of Prince Sultan back then and the domestic terrorist threat by AQAP to Saudi Arabia shifted Riyadh’s attention from Yemen to other portfolios for a short period of time (Burke, 2012). However, the rise of Houthi and the movement’s increasing support from Iran and Hezbollah were critical to Saudi Arabia’s national security leading to an insurgency by the Zaydi militias in 2009 and early 2010 on the Saudi border. Houthis leaders accused Riyadh of supporting the Salafist in Dammaj and the Wahhabis all over Yemen as an act against the Zaydis (Barak A. Salmoni, 2010). The first war between the two parties was in in 2009, where the Houthi tribesmen rebelling against Sana’a crossed into Saudi territory in response to alleged Saudi military assistance to the Yemeni authorities, killing tens of Saudi troops and wounding hundreds (Mawla). In 2015, the Houthi expansion in Yemen reaching the southern city of Aden, alarmed the Saudi leadership. For this reason, KSA intervened with its allies military in what is known as “decisive storm”. In summary, the Saudi’s role in Yemen especially during the 1990’s led to a bad relations with Zaydi elites and the Houthis later on, pushing them closer to Iran. Houthis, building closer relation and cooperation with Iran, improved their demands in greater autonomy not only in Sa’da but also in other governorates.
Moving to Iran, Tehran regime was able to increase Houthis power in Yemen through military training and equipment, ideological support in Qom, and media support by Hezbollah (Jabbour, 2015). The relations with Iran were an asset for the Houthis to expand and refuse the outcomes of the negotiations post Yemen’s uprising. It is evident that the Iranian role in Yemen is complicating the negotiations process between Saudi Arabia, the internationally recognized government and the Houthis (Salisbury, 2015). The Iranian strategic role in Yemen augmented the conflict between the Houthis and San’a and currently deteriorating the relations between the Zaydi north and the Shafi’i south represented by Hadi’s government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC). A united Yemen with a centralized power in the capital will remain a difficult mission due to the continuous foreign interventions by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.
Regarding UAE, the small emirate became a major player in San’a politics due to their important participation in the “decisive storm” campaign. Moreover, many reports indicate UAE’s support for south secessionists represented by STC. Analysts are concluding that UAE’s backing for the Southern military militias (Shabawni, Hadrami elites and Aden protection belt) and their increasing naval presence in the region are a result of Abu Dhabi’s grand plan strategy to support an independent Southern. It is evident that UAE is seeking for more autonomy to the Southern populations, while the role of KSA’s limiting it (Patrick, 2017).
The “Arab Spring” that started in the Tunisia and Egypt had a domino effect on other Arab countries including Yemen. Oppression, human rights violations, corruption, nepotism and the developmental marginalization for Sa’da and South Yemen by the ruling elite were the indirect factors for the Yemen’s people to demonstrate against Saleh regime. Moreover, the breakdown of Saleh’s alliance with Islah and Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar deteriorated the security situation. The continuous decline of Al Ahmar family relations with Saleh was one more bullet in the coffin of the regime. The opposing groups for the regime included the Houthis, Islah, southern secessionists, activities and other parties. The demonstrations in Yemen re-energized the deep problems between the central government and the Northern periphery and the Southern region. On November 23rd 2011, Saleh signed a power-transfer agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh. The agreement stated that Saleh would transfer his power to his Vice-President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, within 30 days and leave his post as president by February 2012, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Hadi was later on elected as president of the republic Yemen (Rashad, 2011).
National Dialogue Conference (NDC)
The Gulf States and the international community with the support of the UN were leading the negotiations between the different Yemeni players. National Dialogue is a key part of the agreement brokered by the UN and the Gulf Co-operation Council that saw long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh hand over power to Hadi in November 2011 after an uprising. The conference was divided into different working groups including a working group on the Southern issue, Sa’da issue group, and the independence of special entities group. Although the conference succeeded, however the results were not implemented due to the weakness of the transitional government and the secret alliance between Saleh and Houthis. The conference had important outcomes regarding the power-sharing system, southern issue, and the peripheral region.
The conference called for the restructuring of parliament and the Shura Council, which will be composed of 50% northerners and 50% southerners. In terms of the Southern question, the relevant working group was unable to come with a plan or a new political system that would fairly represent the south. Regarding the Sa’da issue: “The document guaranteed freedom of religion, makes stipulations on the nonsectarian nature of the government, outlaws illegal financial or arms support from foreign powers, calls for a return of stolen government weapons, prohibits the possession of medium to heavy arms, and calls for addressing the feuds that have contributed to the conflict”. Moreover, the committee, headed by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, divided Yemen into six regions federation: Hadhramout (with al-Mukkalah as capital and covering the provinces of Hadhramout, Shabwa, al-Mahera, and Socotra); the Saba region (with Marib as capital and covering the provinces of Marib, al-Jawf, and al-Bedhae); Aden (with Aden as capital and covering the provinces of Aden, Abyan, Lahj, and al-Dhalea); al-Janad (with Taiz as capital and covering the provinces of Taiz and Ibb); Azal (with Sanaa as capital and covering the provinces of Sanaa, Saada, Amran, and Dhamar); and Tihama (with al-Hodeida as capital and covering the provinces of al-Hodeida, Rayma, Hajah, and al-Mahweet). The federal system was rejected by the Southern leaders. In addition to the southern rejection, a second debating issue was the oil explorations and contracts (Outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference: A Step toward Conflict Resolution, 2014). The national dialogue document authorizes the Oil and Gas Resources Directorate to award exploration and development contracts and the organization of oil services contracts to the authorities of the oil-producing state and not the regional or federal authority. It is known that the oil services companies are owned by tribal sheikhs and senior military officers close to the former Northern ruling elite (Al Ahmar clan, Saleh…) (Outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference: A Step toward Conflict Resolution, 2014). It should be noted that the remnants of the Saleh regime with the support of the international community and GCC admitted by their overseeing of the NDC the importance of solving the south and Sa’da issue. The 6 federal regions solution was a first step in the process of meeting the grievances of the Southern secessionists and the Houthis. However, the 6 federal regions concept was met by resistance from the south separatists and Houthis alike due to their preference for a federation of two large entities corresponding to the two pre-unification Yemen states (Feierstein, 2017).
A Unitary State with Central Government?
A strong central government uniting all the Yemenis under its authority can be one of the proposed solutions. In this case, the Yemen government post-conflict resolution would improve the security situation and service provision while ensuring greater respect for the rule of law. Moreover, this theory may conclude that a strong central government will make sure to provide the Southerners and the Zaydis with their rights in return to its authority (Group, 2011). The historical turbulent history of Sa’da with the central authority and the tribal components rejecting the central government as the only source of protection will certainly prevent the success of the unitary state with central government. Likewise, the Southerners leaders lost their patience and their trust to the Northern political elites including most of the factions especially after Saleh-Houthi invasion to the Southern areas.
Federalism: A viable solution?
It is believed that the outcomes of the NDC and the current civil war in Yemen will certainly lead to a federal state as the last possible solution before secession. Additionally, there is no veto on the federal solution except from the extreme supporters of secession in the South. In federalism, each state will have its own democratically elected government, state legislature, broad administrative powers and control over local resources. However, the real problem is represented in the number of the federal states; will it be 2, 4, or 6 states? This would both meet Southerners’ demand for constitutional guarantees of their autonomy and reassure Northerners about the country’s territorial integrity (Group, 2011). One of the arguments for rejecting the two regional states (South and North) is the fear that this step will encourage the Southerners demand for secession at a later stage. Moreover, this solution will create intra-federal conflicts in the North and the South. A renewed conflict between the three major parties in the North (Houthis, GPC, and Islah) is highly expected. On the other hand, this division may be refused by the traditional elites in Hadhramout, who are characterized by conservative tendencies and whose sheikhs have alliances with some power bases in the North. In Al Mahra region, members of its political elite refuse to be considered as a part of the Southern demands for federalism or a special autonomy for one South region.
The final option for the Yemeni conflict is separation. This solution is highly supported from many of Southerners political elite with the nostalgia of the former state of PDRY. The supporters of separation consider that the problem lies the root of the problem lies neither in the current regime nor in the state structure but rather in the North’s prevailing culture and system (Group, 2011). Currently, it is believed that the STC growing influence with the support of the UAE are pushing toward this separation. However, the separation will not solve the Saudi northern problem nor the Omani fear of increasing Emirati influence on its borders.
Saleh’s regime was somehow successful in hiding as much as possible the conflicting sectarian and regional issues in Yemen. The fall of his regime adding to the division of the ruling elite led to the Yemeni revolution and later on to the civil war. The civil war represents the difficulty to reintegrate all the groups in a unitary Yemen with a centralized government. The cultural, religious, and historical differences between the Zaydis in the periphery and the Shafi’is in the center, the South and the North cannot be furthermore neglected. It is impossible for one of the conflicting parties to take over all Yemen even with a huge support from regional and international states. The continuous cold war between KSA and Iran in the region is not a facilitating an agreement to the Yemen crisis. On the other hand, the non-agreement between the allies (KSA and UAE) and between the internationally recognized government that includes Islah and the STC is preventing the victory to the war and the initiation of a viable solution to Yemen in the future.
The Southern elite were not successful in promoting socialism as a unitary factor in Yemen while Islamism with Islah and Salafist groups fragmented the society rather than uniting it. For this reason, it is important to focus on local issues as well in order to find a solution and a reconciliation process in Yemen post-war. However, it is important not to neglect the Shafi’is situation in Northern Yemen by only solving the Southern question and the Zaydis issue in the North. Ending the Northern conflict with the Zaydis new ruling elite and the conflict with the STC while neglecting the Shafi’is situation in the North will lead to a new crisis in the future.
The discussion of NDC results can be a starting point in searching for a well-balanced solution for all the actors in Yemen. It is essential to debate about the number of federal states with their clear borders in addition to the legislative and executive power given for the autonomous regions. Moreover, it is very difficult to reach a solution without giving the autonomous regions their right to benefit from their natural resources. In addition to the federal regions, a consociational model of democracy will help in managing the conflict between the different groups in Yemen. As an example, the bicameral system is an essential form of governance to absorb the sectarian and regional conflicts. A Shura council divided equally between the Northern and Southern representatives in addition to preserve the post of Vice President for the Southern leaders are two insurances for the different groups in protecting their rights in the Yemeni state.
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Glossary and Abbreviations
Al-Ahmar family: leading shaykhly family of Hashed confederation. Since the death of Abdullah Hyssayn in 2007, his sons have shared a group of prominent roles
Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar: Military leader from same village of Saleh, he is not related to the other frequently mentioned al-Ahmar. In 2017, nominated vice president to Hadi
AQAP: al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, headquartered in Yemen; established in 2009
Believing Youth: Zaydi revivalist movement started by the Houthi family in the 1990s. Became the Houthi movement
General People’s Congress (GPC): Political organization, established in 1982, ensuring Saleh retains major political role
Hashed and Bakil: Two major tribes in Yemen
Islah party: officially the Yemeni Congregation for Reform. Political party established in 1990 combining Sunni Islamist of the Muslim Brotherhood variety, a more extreme faction led by al-Zindani, and a third one composed of northern tribesmen, mostly from the Hashed confederation (led by al-Ahmar family)
PDRY: People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen
Sada (Sayyed): small social group based on inherited status, claiming descend from the Prophet
STC: Southern Transitional Council
YAR: Yemen Arabian Republic
YSP: Yemen Socialist Party