This is a translation of an analysis on Yemen published in cooperation with the Al Jazeera Studies Center.
Yemen’s southern governorates are currently witnessing political and security unrest after Aden’s sacked governor, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, announced the formation of a transitional council for the region.
This development was viewed by many analysts as a new step towards the process of separating south Yemen from its north.
Such a move is not new in southern Yemen.
The Southern Movement, also known as al-Hirak al-Janoubi, calls for the separation of southern Yemen. The movement has not stopped its activities toward this goal since its establishment in 2007, during the term of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Recent calls for separation have attracted the attention of several southern leaders living outside Yemen, including former president of South Yemen Ali Salim al-Beidh, who signed a unity pact with Saleh to merge the north and south in 1990.
Al-Beidh views the formation of the so-called transitional governing council in southern Yemen a ‘great step’ towards the liberation of southern Yemen.
The formation of the transitional council came as a response to Hadi’s decision to sack two officials close to the UAE – Zubaidi and state minister Hani bin Braik. The latter leads a security group consisting of thousands of fighters.
The UAE has been controlling Aden airport and seaport, considered to be one of the world’s most significant ports, since the liberation of Aden from the Houthi-Saleh forces in mid 2015.
The newly formed southern transitional council consists of 26 members. It aims at managing southern Yemen inside Yemen and representing it abroad, according to a declaration by Zubaidi.
The southern Yemeni separatist council has triggered debate among Yemeni and Arabian Gulf circles. It has neither been supported locally nor by the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially since it came as Yemen was witnessing an ongoing war between the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which backs the government of President Hadi, and the Iran-backed rebels consisting of Houthis and forces of former president Saleh.
The GCC, in a statement issued following the transitional council formation, stressed its support for Hadi’s government and the unity of Yemen and its opposition to separation. The crisis, however, has not yet ended.
The separation of southern Yemen would weaken the authority of the legitimate government in Yemen. It would also lead to the failure of the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s operations and ultimately, the victory of Iran’s allies, represented by the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh.
It is crucial for the Saudi-led Arab coalition to continue with accomplishing its goals of liberating the Yemeni state from rebels, waging “war on terror” and securing Saudi Arabia’s borders, especially as the Saudi army is engaged in a brutal war against the Houthi-Saleh forces near the country’s southern border.
The separation of southern Yemen would weaken the authority of the legitimate government in Yemen. It would also lead to the failure of the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s operations and ultimately the victory of Iran’s allies, represented by Houthis and Saleh.
Since the US expressed interest in partnering with Saudi Arabia in its war on terror, and as the upcoming summit, to be attended by US President Donald Trump and Arab and Islamic leaders, calls for a “new partnership to face extremism and terrorism”, it has become even more crucial to maintain the stability of Yemen.
It also important to encourage the Yemeni government to impose its sovereignty and build military and security bodies in order to deter the armed groups’ spread across southeast Yemen, particularly the al-Qaeda group in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), led by Yemeni Qassim al-Raymi following the death of its former leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi in a US air strike, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
Since Houthis and their ally – former president Saleh – carried out a coup on September 21, 2014, these armed groups have launched a series of attacks in a number of Yemeni cities targeting Houthis, their allies, the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Yemeni government army.
Raymi recently threatened Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in a press release published by the al-Qaeda-run al-Malahem Media.
He accused Hadi of being a collaborator who gives the Americans everything they want. Raymi added that the US was exploiting Hadi after it was embarrassed by the airdrop operation its forces conducted in Bayda province in late January.
At least 10 civilians and a US soldier were killed in the operation, several soldiers injured, and one of the planes crashed.
Raymi’s threat clearly indicates that armed groups and organisations like AQAP and ISIL are waiting for the right moment to seize control of the Yemeni provinces where the presence of the Yemeni state is lacking.
The Yemeni state has expressed readiness to collaborate with the US in its “war on terror”.
The videos published by ISIL’s Aamaq news agency showing operations allegedly carried out by the group in Bayda province in east Yemen are another example of the escalating threat these armed groups pose.
Observers believe that the weakness of Hadi’s government and its failure to control southern Yemen will pave way for the emergence of armed groups in these regions, provide the foundation for the growth of AQAP and ISIL and open the door for armed groups to spread disorder in the region.
It will also lead to negative consequences in the security of the GCC region and the security of the entire world as these groups seek to take advantage of weak states and exploit them as launch pads from which they can carry out “terrorist operations” in these countries and especially in Europe and the US.
Many Yemeni experts believe that Iran will be the biggest beneficiary from this situation, as it helps Iran’s rebel allies regain power after they were recently defeated on Yemen’s western coast and in other regions.
It therefore becomes critical for western and Gulf states to unify their efforts to support the legitimate government, help it impose its sovereignty on the regions it has liberated from Houthi rebels and Saleh forces, thwart any moves seeking to weaken Hadi’s government, and curb any separatist movements that have started to emerge in the south.
Any threat against Hadi’s government is, without a doubt, a threat against Saudi Arabia, as Yemen’s open borders will export “terror” to Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring countries.
During the past few years, Saudi Arabia has waged a brutal war on “terrorism”. It also launched many operations during the past two years against rebels and achieved success in its operations against extremist groups, and consequently reduced the number of these operations to a great extent.
The Saudi security services have also announced the success of their “anti-terror” operations during the past two years and placed this objective on top of their list of priorities.
And this is what Riyadh is currently achieving in its neighbouring country, Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is actively engaged in supporting the state and endorsing stability in Yemen in order to crack down on armed groups in the country, which is currently experiencing extreme poverty, according to the reports of humanitarian organisations.