Yemen's 'third government' emerges in southern Yemen

Yemen's 'third government' emerges in southern Yemen

Thousands of protesters gathered in the southern coastal city of Aden last week, declaring a renewed leadership within the southern secessionist ranks, after a controversial presidential order dismissed the popular governor of Aden.

Demonstrators flooded the streets of Yemen's temporary capital in the days after President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi dismissed Major General Aidarous al-Zubaidi from his post as Aden's municipal leader, sparking anger among the pro-secessionist official's supporters.
Billboards heralding the newly declared "leaders of the South" were erected on main roads while protesters vandalised and burned signs parading the Saudi-backed Hadi.

Just a week later, Zubaidi announced the formation of a new Southern transition council, led by himself, and supported by his new "vice-president", Hani Bin Breik - a former minister of state who was also dismissed by Hadi in the controversial presidential order.

And, with that, Yemen's already convoluted politics reached a new level of complexity.
"The south of Yemen has been mistreated, looted, and marginalised for decades," Yemeni political analyst Hisham al-Omeisy told The New Arab.

"In the past, Saleh's regime, including leaders currently in Yemen's Saudi-backed legitimate government, have treated it as a boon without paying any attention to the needs and rights of the southern people, and the people have had enough," he suggested.

But the story of the southern secession is a 27-year-old dream - or, some would say, nightmare.  

In 1990, North Yemen and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen [South Yemen] unified under a popular deal between the two nation's then leaders, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Ali Salem al-Beidh.

The agreement was signed with hopes of bringing together the two diverse nations in all aspects, including peoples, cultures and resources. However, shortly after the establishment of Yemen, aspirations for the new state failed to take off, and southerners complained of marginalisation. War was declared in 1994.

"Today, they not only demand justice and rights for political inclusion, but a complete cut-off from the north and the regime," al-Omeisy added.

Although the planned march was triggered by last week's surprise dismissal of Zubaidi and Bin Breik, similar protests have for years popped up in the south.

"The declaration [on Wednesday] fell short of declaring independence because the south knows it will face mounting challenges securing it without regional and international backing," Omeisy said.

Both Zubaidi and Bin Breik hold close ties with the United Arab Emirates, which has been active in Yemen's southern region since intervening as part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels in the country.

With Saudi Arabia backing Hadi, the UAE supporting the south, and Iran being blamed for allegedly arming the Houthi rebels, it is no wonder why cynics of the "southern dream" of independence usually note the complex forces at play across the country.

"The division in the south is not only about the independence or separation from the north. It's more about regional conflict which appears in the structure of the different militias and forces," Yemeni writer and researcher Maysaa Shuja al-Deen told The New Arab. 

Relations between Hadi and the UAE have been tense in recent months, after allegations by the Yemeni president that Abu Dhabi was offering patronage to southern Yemeni politicians campaigning for secession.

"Hadi likes to monopolise power and ensure that everyone is loyal to him personally," al-Deen said.

"Aidrous and Bin Breik were appointed by the UAE so they will take orders from it, but the new governor, al-Muflehi, is now appointed by Hadi - and he will surely show loyalty to him," she added. 

Despite Hadi's southern roots, many in the south perceive him as a mere extension of the Saleh regime - he was Saleh's vice-president and party loyalist before the 2011 ousting of the former leader.

"There has been a build-up of resentment towards and marginalisation of the southern cause for a while now, especially with the legitimate government of Hadi and the UN envoy ignoring Southern calls for self-determination. Sacking the popular governor of Aden just basically cracked floodgates wide open."

But while al-Deen suggests the latest developments are nothing new, Hadi's lack of control in the southern temporary capital could yet force the internationally recognised leader to face serious repercussions.

"The same divisions remain within the [Southern] movement, but what makes it serious is the absence of any armed power from the north, whether government or militia - while all factions in the south are now armed," she says.

For years, critics of the southern secessionist movement have pointed towards its lack of strong leadership to dismiss any potential progress in its mission to gain independence from Sanaa.

But with the newly declared leader in place, and a newly established political party ready to represent the south, regional powers involved in the Yemen conflict may be forced to take the Emirati-backed Aidarous al-Zubaidi - and his followers - a little more seriously.

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