The separation of the South in Yemen

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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There are two political groups that resemble each other in terms of seizing opportunities amid the current Yemeni crisis and they are the Brotherhood and separatist groups in the South. Both of them don’t fight and depend on others to fight on their behalf and they’re allies despite the rivalry and media debates.

The Muslim Brotherhood thinks that the South’s separation is acceptable as it provides them with better domination of the political arena in the North considering that rebels are exhausted due to war.

Meanwhile, the separatists in the South believe that separating from the North decreases the area and the population and enhances their chance to govern in Aden.

I’ve previously written an article opposing this separation and I received many emotional responses rejecting my opinion but they were not convincing – with all due respect to all those who disagreed with me.

The separation

First of all, separation is a project of political change which achieving is even more difficult than the coup. In principle, a region does not separate from a state just because its people have unanimously decided they want to separate as if that’s the case, many countries would have broken up into several states.

There’s an international law that governs this process. The Kurds in Iraq have practically separated since 1990, i.e. before the liberation of Kuwait, and they’ve been waiting for around 27 years to be recognized as a state.

the separatists in the South believe that separating from the North decreases the area and the population and enhances their chance to govern in Aden

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Let’s not forget that Kurds are people who have their own language, flag and parliament that distinguish them from the rest of Iraq. There’s another model in Somalia which has been broken up for 20 years now as there are stable statelets that have an authority, flag and currency and despite this, they are not recognized.

Even Scotland which threatens Britain to separate from it cannot do so unless London agrees to that. There are dozens of separation demands across the world but many regions have failed to gain their independence because the international system refuses to recognize them even if they become independent.

Yes, separatists in the South of Yemen can only separate during appropriate circumstances and not amid the absence of the state due to war, like the case is today. When the situation stabilizes and there’s a permanent government – the current government is temporary – and a legitimate elected parliament, then separation can be legitimate if Yemenis, in both the South and the North, agree to it. This is what happened in Sudan where Bashir’s government agreed to the separation of the South upon international sponsorship.

What’s noticeable about the separatists’ rhetoric is that they do not only ignore these facts but they also undermine the future’s problems post-independence. The South has its problems which the former regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh made worse.

There are also several parties that compete over power in the South and there are no guarantees that the South will be stable when it separates as conflicts may rather worsen. The South – like the North – has rival tribes and local leaders who disagree with one another.

I have no doubt that the majority of residents in the South have truly wanted to separate ever since the days of Saleh. Unification was imposed on them due the defeated southern party’s alliance with Saleh’s regime in the North.

Their tragedy began with conspiracies and conflicts and ended with a charade named unification. Saleh impoverished the South just like he impoverished and starved the North.

However, the southerners must not rush to celebrate because separation is a matter governed by international law and not by Aden’s street. If separation is not possible when Yemen stabilizes, there are other good options that include wide administrative independence such as the federal or even confederation system.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.