Sunday marked the 47th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom for what eventually became known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, or more simply, South Yemen. From 1967 to 1990, South Yemen existed as an independent state, with the strategic port of Aden serving as its capital. To the northwest was the Yemen Arab Republic, or North Yemen, with its capital in Sanaa.
While both countries remained on relatively friendly terms, there were occasional border clashes that sometimes kept tensions high. However, in 1990, North and South Yemen put aside their differences and united to create the modern day Republic of Yemen, with its capital in Sanaa. As part of the new unity government, it was agreed that North Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, would become president of the new republic, and South Yemen's president, Ali Salim al-Beidh, would become vice president.
But the honeymoon didn't last. Nationwide food shortages and claims of marginalisation by the north - both economic and political - resulted in Beidh's 1992 return to Aden in protest, followed by a short, bloody civil war for southern independence in 1994. The north won, Saleh solidified his control, Beidh fled to Oman and the south continued to be marginalised.
Arab Spring swept through
Fast-forward to the Arab Spring that swept through Yemen like it did much of the Middle East in 2011. With Saleh's downfall, there was a cautious yet optimistic belief that Yemen's new president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, could move the country forward. So far, those dreams have yet to be realised, as not much has changed for the better in Yemen. The same problems of rampant corruption, poor governance, poverty, regional rivalries and religious differences that have been around for as long as anyone can remember still plague the country, both in the north and in the south.
|Yemen southerners push for independence|
Following a decade of on again off again fighting, Houthi rebels from the north took advantage of nationwide discontent with the government in Sanaa, and swarmed into the capital just two months ago, forcing the resignation of Yemen's prime minister and taking control of much of the security apparatus in and around the capital.
In many respects, the Houthis have been calling the shots there ever since, sparking fears in southern Yemen that they may very well have their sights set on extending their influence to the south. Which brings us back to Sunday's 47th anniversary of South Yemen's independence.
Things seem to be heating up again in the south, too, with renewed demands for total independence or at least greater regional autonomy, led by the Southern Separatist Movement or al-Hirak, gaining momentum by the day. What has up until now been characterised as mostly peaceful demonstrations could quickly erupt into rioting or even another civil war.
Sunday's demonstrations by southern separatists in Aden's Al-Orod Square, timed to coincide with the 1967 Independence Day activities, drew a crowd that by some estimates numbered in the tens of thousands. Waving the now all too familiar flag of what was South Yemen prior to unification in 1990, demonstrators clearly rejected Sanaa's efforts to maintain control over them, with banners in the square declaring they would not leave before achieving independence. In response, government troops fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowds, allegedly killing one demonstrator and wounding four others.
Based on media reports, which seem to have taken a keen interest in the demonstrations, you would think secession is a done deal, and that any morning now the headlines will announce "Independence for South Yemen!" But is that really in southern Yemen's best interests?
Based on media reporting, which seems to have taken a keen interest in the demonstrations, you would think secession is a done deal, and that any morning now the headlines will announce 'Independence for South Yemen!' But is that really in southern Yemen's best interests?