Southern Yemen after the Saudi Intervention: Political and Social Change

By Thanos Petouris
Submitted to Session P4744 (The South in the Yemeni Conflict, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arabian Peninsula; Gulf; Saudi Arabia; UAE; Yemen;
Current Events; Gulf Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The aim of this paper is to explore the profound political and social changes that have taken place in the southern provinces of Yemen after the start of the Saudi coalition intervention of March 2015.

Since 2007, southern grievances against the Salih regime have been politicised through the activity of the Southern Movement, or al-Hirak. Originally, the movement was dominated by political figures with a long history in the affairs of the former PDRY, and its ruling Socialist party. Although full independence for the South has remained the main goal of al-Hirak, its lack of cohesion and the nature of conditions on the ground has prevented it from enjoying the same level of support across the whole of the former PDRY. This has meant that during the so-called “transitional process” Southern society remained underrepresented and increasingly alienated from the decision-making processes taking place in Sana`a.

During the Huthi/Salih aggression on the South, which culminated in the two-month siege of Aden, al-Hirak militia participated in the struggle, forming what they called the Southern Resistance against the ‘northern invaders’. Their participation in the armed struggle altered the character of the movement, not least through the emergence of a younger, ‘second-tier’ leadership from among its activists, and the gradual sidelining of its historic, but exiled leaders. A lot of these young activists have been assassinated or silenced over the past two years, resulting in the relative weakening of al-Hirak, whose influence is being gradually replaced by Salafi militia originating in the rural hinterland of Aden. Since its liberation from the Huthi/Salih forces, Aden has remained under dual control by militia loyal to president Hadi and those backed by the UAE, and the local political and actual struggle has turned into a battle of supremacy between the government-in-exile and foreign-backed groups. At the same time, areas of the eastern provinces, particularly Hadhramaut, that did not experience hostilities, have slipped in and out of control by AQAP militants, and have been nominally administered by a local tribal council.

This paper will provide an up-to-date analysis of the configuration of political actors in the South, explain the ways in which both the Huthi/Salih aggression and the Saudi coalition intervention have altered social dynamics across the southern provinces of Yemen, and explore potential short-term prospects.