العنوان هنا
Case Analysis 04 April, 2011

Possibilities of Division and Maintenance of Unity in Yemen


The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


The popular revolution in Yemen has established several features that differ from the movements that have emerged in the Yemeni arena over the past few years. Since the onset of the peaceful protests that swept across Yemen, Yemenis united behind the "topple the regime" slogan despite their different causes and affiliations.

This revolutionary situation has created a new two-sided formula in the Yemeni arena. Firstly, the people of the country who come from various segments, denominations and geographical areas across the expanse of the country, have united together. On the opposing side, stands the regime, which has gradually begun to lose control over the various aspects of general and political life in the country.

As the demand for change has grown stronger with the passage of each day, despite the pretenses of crowds and supportive popular mobilizations produced by the regime, the country's ruling elite has begun the search for alternatives in the hopes of avoiding the outcomes witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia.

Contentious issues - whether central or tangential - have been absent from the discussions taking place during the revolution, which does not mean their place is diminished in the minds of both the populace and the elites during this period. As the contours of a future era built by popular will have begun to appear, many questions have been raised with regards to the way these contentious issues will be answered and how these answers will manifest in the subsequent political system.

The "Southern Question" has been one of the most prominent of the contentious issues, especially in light of peaceful protests that erupted in the South prior to the current revolution which demands "severing of ties," seeking the termination of the 1990 union of the two Yemens. "South" Yemeni elites call for such partition on the premise that the union was not an attractive option, that the path of exclusion and marginalization (of the South) taken by Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime has contributed to the emergence of popular and elite support for a severing of ties and for steering a course independent of the North.

Based on the above, a forward-looking analysis of the relations between the "two parts" of Yemen in the coming period requires examination of, and extrapolation from, the reality of marginalization and exclusion which has brought about this separatist impulse. The discourse that has emerged in the current period contributes to overcoming the drive for partition, and reproducing incentives for maintaining Yemen's political and geographic unity.


The issue of the South is a political and legal issue with various socio-economic dimensions that concern the majority of the inhabitants of the South, the people who produced a social movement that, after 2006, took the form of a peaceful political movement against the reality of marginalization and exclusion. As a result of the regime's inadequate response, and its violent and bloody suppression of the peaceful movement, the political elites raised their demands to the furthest limit, namely the demand for a "severing of ties."

A month before May 22, 1990, when the unification of Yemen was announced, leaders of the South and North met in Sana'a to discuss a unified leadership for Yemen. Article 2 of the Unification Agreement emerged as an agreement over the formation of a Presidential Council composed of five persons, who would then elect a president of the Council from amongst themselves. Tribal and geographic affiliations of the Council members were taken into account; as such, its members were distributed as see in Table 1.




Area of Origin

Tribal or Ethnic Affiliation


Ali Abdallah Saleh



Hashid Tribe


Ali Salim al-Bidh

Vice President

Hadhramaut (South)

Sadat Hadhramaut


Judge Abdelkarim al-Arshi



Bakil Tribe


Abdelaziz Abdelghani Saleh



Ta'z Tribes


Salem Saleh Mohamad


Aden (South)

Yafi Tribe

Table 1. Membership and distribution of the Presidential Council.

The constitutional reforms that were among the consequences of the 1994 Yemen War resulted in the elimination of the Presidential Council, and Saleh's assumption of power as president of the republic, effectively endowing him with absolute power even though Saleh appointed General Abedrabbuh Mansour Hadi (from the South) to the post of vice president. Saleh worked to concentrate authority, representation, and influence in the members of his family and tribe. This, in turn, was reflected in the three branches of government.

At the legislative level, representation of the South was retreated significantly in comparison to the allotment provided by the 1990 Unification Agreement, which had allocated a proportion of 54% to the North and 46% to the South. The following table (Table 2) clearly shows the extent of the exclusion and marginalization of the South.(1)


Term Duration

Total Members

North Seats

South Seats





First Parliament







Second Parliament







Third Parliament







Fourth Parliament







The level and rate of exclusion and marginalization of the South compared to the first parliament



Table 2. Distribution of parliamentary seats between North and South after unification of Yemen.

Marginalization was not limited to representation in the legislature, as it extended to various administrative and military realms. Before the 2006 protests in the South, three governors from the North were appointed as governors of three of the five Southern provinces, namely Hadhramaut, Lahaj, and al-Mahara. After 2007, all governors of the Southern provinces were from the North. The estimated proportion of personnel from the South in the military establishment is 12.3%.

The movement in the South against marginalization and exclusion started with a protest that was brutally suppressed through the use of armed force in Hadhramaut in 1998. Demonstrations erupted again in 2000 with the participation of the opposition parties and some civil society organizations. This forced the regime to recognize the existence of a "Southern Question," and, hence, promise to take political and social measures to address the concerns raised. These government measures, however, did not go beyond the formation of committees, and the convening of meetings, without carrying out any serious executive action.

In 2007, and as a result of the government's failure to address the concerns of the South, what would later be called the "Southern Movement" emerged. The movement took on a peaceful character, expanding its demands to encompass an end to the effects of the 1994 war and the reinstatement of the Presidential Council. This demand was mixed with social demands relating to unemployment and corruption, as well as others, effectively contributing to a "Southern" public opinion in support of the protest movement. The Southern question was subsequently reflected in the form of a political conflict primarily characterized by the failure of building a modern state and the injustices associated with the distribution of wealth and authority. Thus emerged a southern tendency that saw the severing of ties as an absolute necessity, a prerequisite for the abolition of social and political exclusion imposed by the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime.


Most southern elites take as their starting point the position that the popular revolution against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh has demonstrated the legitimacy of southern claims in its focus on opposing the unilateralism and centralism of the Yemeni regime. Most of these elites, therefore, view partition as an option that will remain a goal of the people of the South even after the revolution's victory on the grounds that this option has become a popular demand, one that is inescapable in light of the years of marginalization and exclusion.

Despite the factuality of this argument, its foundations lay primarily in the political interests that some of the Southern leaders and elites have developed. The revolution has produced a situation affecting the nation in its totality by using a horizontal coordination among the youth throughout the country, uniting them behind the slogan "topple the regime"; importantly, none of their prerequisites were accompanied by separatist demands or writings. This is what has contributed its success and its manifestation in the peaceful and civilized revolution we see now, despite the regime's attempts to mobilize divisive (tribal, regional, sectarian) forces. Therefore, the scenarios that will govern the relationship between the South and the North will be based on a fundamental pillar: how to make unity attractive? The transitional period will play a decisive role in determining which way the country will go, whether towards the activation of a more attractive unity, or maintain the current status quo.


This scenario, keeping the union intact, is determined by simulating the factors that produced the May 22, 1990 Unification Agreement by forming a Presidential Council during the transitional period. The Council would take geographic and democratic matters into account in determining its representational composition, thus the Unification Agreement in all of its contents becomes the basis for a new constitution, guaranteeing the political participation and actual integration of the South in political and public life. The adoption of the constitution would be followed by parliamentary elections based on the principle of proportional representation, thereby reflecting the true proportion of southern popular representation, especially in light of the long tradition of political party activity in the South since the 1970s.

Proceeding from the above, the electoral and party alliances become the main determinant of the future political system. If implemented, this could eliminate the effects of the 1994 war and the resulting constitutional and legal abuses.

However, there are many obstacles to reaching these goals when we consider the Southern leadership's positions, on the one hand, and the role that will be played by the military in the next phase, on the other. This is especially important since a large part of the military establishment has joined the revolution and negotiated the nature of the transitional period in the military's name. Another potential obstacle emerges when we consider regional and international actors, and the extent to which they would accept such a scenario.


The features of the transitional phase are not yet clear. A prominent role, however, has been played by Vice President Abedrabbuh Mansour Hadi, as well as the commander of the Northern region, after breaking away from the Saleh regime, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar. In facing the possibility of partition after Saleh steps down, it is likely that the country's leadership will be entrusted to this vice president - a southerner in the Ali Muhsin Saleh camp - both as a gesture making unity more attractive, and to guarantee the role of the military as a bulwark against al-Qaeda and the Huthi rebellion, a role that regional and international powers also depend upon. The Yemeni President rejects this scenario, which effectively dispenses with his role and the role of his entourage. At one round of negotiations with the opposition, he even suggested that the head of his government be appointed to the post of vice president in preparation for the transfer of power.


Confederation is one of the most realistic scenarios, potentially reflecting Southern popular and elite desire to engender a social, economic, and political reality that is differentiated from the North. In such a union, the South would not be linked to the North except in matters of foreign policy and national defense. Even such a scenario, however, faces various obstacles, such as the lack of a civilian political culture, and the tribe as a prime determinant in the working of the political system.


The severing of ties may be a goal of the South in the current period, a goal that the previous scenarios would fail to avoid. It is, therefore, likely that the Yemeni political regime, after the stepping down of Ali Abdallah Saleh, will initiate a transitional period of several years, the purpose of which would be to create incentives for the options of unification or confederation. Otherwise, partition, similar to that of Sudan earlier this year, will be the country's fate. Despite the pessimism that surrounds this transitional "incentivization" option, it may indeed have positive outcomes that manifest in a strengthened unity option, especially since South Yemen, unlike Sudan, is not culturally or structurally different from the North.

We must, however, take into account the period devoted to the unity option and incentives towards it before a self-determination referendum. This period will also witness separatists bent on thwarting any action that would increase the attractiveness of union. The referendum will be a challenge to which separatists will wish to rise against.

The production of a civilian democratic system in the next stage of Yemen's history, without specifying the date of a referendum or anything else, is what contributes to the achievement of social justice. It is based on citizenship and the right to political participation for the various segments of Yemeni society, and could be one of the most prominent factors working against the determinants of separation. After all, the relationship between the North and South are mainly related to the nature of the transitional period ahead, and the form of Yemen's new political system.


(1) Study prepared in the Aden Province by Dr. Mohamad Hussein Halboub in 2010.