The Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) have begun a new political chapter, seeming to accept one another. They agreed in late July to the Saudi-proposed implementation of the power-sharing agreement which they signed in November 2019 in Riyadh.
The STC, which represents the southern separatists and is a nominal ally of the government in the fight against the Houthi group in Yemen’s north, gave up on its April self-rule declaration. In return, President Abdurabbu Mansour Hadi appointed a governor and security chief for Aden province, both of whom belong to the STC. In addition, the separatists will be given four ministries in the coming government that is slated to be formed this month.
The two sides arrived at this stage of understanding through Saudi Arabia’s assistance, ushering in a new phase in Yemen’s south, which has been hit by fierce intermittent clashes since August 2019 when the separatists took over Aden.
Though the recent rapprochement between the two sides is an encouraging development, its success hinges on Saudi Arabia’s determination to sway the Yemeni government and the STC into a strong commitment to the peace agreement.
Yet, without holding accountable any party that obstructs the deal’s implementation, tensions, mistrust, and diverging agendas are likely to continue to plague South Yemen.
The separatists’ consent to take part in the government does not mean the group has ultimately abandoned its secessionist agenda.
On its face, the separatists’ consent to take part in the government does not mean the group has ultimately abandoned its secessionist agenda. The Council’s rhetoric has not changed much and they see the renunciation of self-rule as a tactical step, even as they maintain their keenness to establish a southern independent state.
Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the head of the STC, shared a post on August 2, marking the first anniversary of the murder of southern military commander Abu Alyamama, who was assassinated during a military parade in Aden last year.
Zubaidi wrote:“We always affirm that for the sake of the south and its freedom and the full restoration of sovereignty . . . the highest sacrifices will be offered.”
Other separatist figures have exhibited their rejection of any political settlement with the Yemeni government, insisting that the south should be an independent country. Hasn Baoum, the head of the Supreme Council of the Revolutionary Movement for the Peaceful Liberation and Independence of the South, stated on the same day that the Riyadh Agreement “does not meet the aspiration of the southern people to create an independent state.”
Moreover, the UAE will likely not stop exploiting the STC and will continue using it to fulfill its agenda in Yemen. The Emirates has been backing the Council since its inception in 2017 and the two have been working jointly to undermine the presence of the UN-recognized government in the south. After the formation of the new government in which the separatists will participate, it is not certain whether the Emirates will abandon the pursuit of its interests in southern Yemen, particularly in coastal areas and Socotra island.
The UAE is focusing on Yemen’s south for two main reasons. First, it is eager to have unchallenged control of Yemen’s coastal lines and strategic islands. Second, it believes that the Islah Party is in control of the UN-recognized Yemeni government and it does not want it to have any influence in Yemen. Yemen’s Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar is considered a leading figure of the Islah Party, and this presents a disturbing reality for the Emirates.
Some say the separatists have made gains and consolidated their political weight locally, regionally, and internationally.
While the Yemen Foreign Ministry celebrated the abolition of the STC’s self-rule declaration, deeming it the road to a sustainable solution, some say the separatists have made gains and consolidated their political weight locally, regionally, and internationally.
Saleh Al-Jabwani, former Minister of Transport, stated that the Riyadh Agreement has officially handed over Aden to the separatists. There is nothing, in his view, to be happy about. “The Emirati tactic has succeeded in transforming the coup in Aden into a legitimate authority. So which success are you celebrating?!” he tweeted.
Doubts over the success of the Riyadh Agreement still abound. Yet, Saudi Arabia’s serious efforts to stem any conflict in the south will be crucial in this phase. Should Saudi Arabia condone any breaches of this peace deal, it would indicate that the Kingdom does not have a genuine intention to end the power struggle in South Yemen.
The agreement can open a window to peace in South Yemen if the two sides abide by it and put aside their weapons, hate speech, and accusations. One grave concern is that the peace deal may work to defer the conflict only, and not to weed out the root of the dispute.
Any peace agreement that will end the war and the resort to any type of armed violence is a victory for Yemeni civilians.
Yemen is undergoing an unspeakable humanitarian crisis and disastrous economic conditions. Millions of people are food insecure and in need of assistance while the COVID-19 pandemic has created another challenge amidst a dysfunctional healthcare system. Certainly, any peace agreement that will end the war and the resort to any type of armed violence is a victory for Yemeni civilians.
The military solution in Yemen has always misfired thus far. Therefore, the Riyadh deal needs to be treated as a precious opportunity for a peaceful solution in south Yemen, and it should be a prologue to nationwide peace. In the end, it remains to be seen if the signatories and sponsors of the Riyadh Agreement will stick to a peaceful path in southern Yemen or just maneuver in preparation for another cycle of military conflict.