Regionalism and nationalism in South Yemen

By Noel Brehony
Submitted to Session P4744 (The South in the Yemeni Conflict, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
Arab Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
South Yemen before unity in 1990 had not been under control of regimes based in the north for over 250 years and rarely before then. British South Arabia (to 1967) outside Aden was made up of over 24 entities in which loyalties were tribal and local. The PDRY (1967-1990) is now remembered for its economic and social “virtues” whilst the regional divisions and factionalism that undermined it tend to be forgotten. Many southerners regard unity as a form of northern occupation and see the Huthi incursion to Aden in 2015 as the latest attempt by a northern power to subdue the south. Al-Hirak, the southern movement, emerged in 2007 and now enjoys widespread support throughout the south. Southerners are notionally loyal to President Hadi and support the Saudi-led coalition but more out of the rejection of the Huthis and of ex -President Saleh than allegiance to the Hadi regime. Whilst the conflict has generated greater support for separation from the north it has also given rise regionalism within the south, reflecting the fragmented systems of South Arabia and the divisions within the PDRY. There has been only limited government by Hadi from Aden (he has spent most of his time since March 2015 in Riyadh) and even before the war started local communities had learned to become self-reliant in protecting their territory and interests and supporting their people. New leaders – some from the local administration and others from tribes or militias – are building power bases throughout the south and may be reluctant to cede authority to any regime in Sana’a or Aden. In Aden and Lahej there are strong local governors (appointed with UAE support) who are known for their association with Al-Hirak. They are from a new generation of southerners who no longer regard as relevant the former leaders of the PDRY and the early leaders of Al-Hirak. In Hadhramaut, which has seen little fighting, there is a determination that the region’s oil revenues will be devoted to Hadhrami interests and not surrendered to a regime that might “steal” them. In several areas Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula poses a significant threat which is being countered by locally-recruited militias trained and equipped by the UAE, again re-enforcing emergent regionalism. The paper will seek to assess the relative strength of southern nationalism and regionalism and ask how these forces will affect attempts to stabilise Yemen after the current conflict.