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In Yemen, regionalism may force civil war, not revolution

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Jeb Boone       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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Yemen's Southern Movement has been calling for secession for more than a decade
(Image by Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak)
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In Aden, at least one protester has been shot dead by police as demonstrators were chased out of the al-Mansura district on Feb. 13th. Wires are reporting that demonstrators in Aden are calling for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, joining their voices with protesters in Taiz and Sana'a for revolution. However, reports from those on the ground in Aden are arguing that the calls for a national revolution are not being heard in southern Yemen.

"Most of the demonstrators in Aden are calling for secession, not national revolution," said Alaa Isam, a writer and activist based in the crater district of Aden. The Southern Movement, a political organization based in Aden, has been calling for Secession from Yemen since the country's civil war in 1994.

What began as moderate calls for regional equity, the Southern Movement began demanding secession and the reestablishment of the pre-1990 border of North and South Yemen. United in 1990, Yemen has been struggling to maintain unity since a 1994 civil war between the north and the south.

In the current volatile political climate, protests in Aden are being thrown into the mix along with the revolutions that took place in Egypt and Tunisia as well as ongoing protests in Bahrain, Libya and Algeria.

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Outside of this political context, protesters being killed in Aden would never attract international coverage. For the past decade, violence has broken out between demonstrators and police in Aden. Should protests pick up speed in Aden, the result would not be revolution, but civil war.

Size of demonstrations elsewhere in Yemen vary wildly. The epicenter of calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign is in Taiz. Suffering the full brunt of Yemen's water shortage, farmers in the countryside of the Taiz governorate have been abandoning their crops and moving to the cities to find work. These unemployed farmers, in addition to the already dire economic situation in Taiz, are contributing to the large numbers of anti-Saleh demonstrations taking place in the city.

While reporting from Taiz is sparse, pictures of demonstrations put the numbers in the tens of thousands. Many Taiz residents are following Egypt's example of 24 hour protests, eating and sleeping in the streets until protesters' demands are met. On Thursday, eight demonstrators were wounded in a grenade attack.

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Being the industrial capital of Yemen, chaos in Taiz would serve to further destabilize a national economy that is already teetering on the brink of disaster.

In the capital, Sana'a, protesters have numbered in the thousands starting with Thursday and continuing through the week. Saleh has been using plainclothes policemen and paid thugs to attack anti-government demonstrators. On Thursday, an hour long pitch battle took place between the two camps, hurling rocks at each other. There was also sporadic gunfire.

On Friday, pro-government thugs attacked about 1000 demonstrators with tasers, clubs, and sticks as shots rang out following Friday prayers.

Shockingly, news agencies have been drastically inflating size of demonstrations in Sana'a over the past week. Beginning with Sunday, hundreds of protesters have been turned into thousands once the information has been passed on from "correspondents' to the internet.

On February 16th, the AFP reported that several thousands of anti-government protesters were demonstrating all across the city. Eye witness reports from journalists in Sana'a but the numbers in the tens. Toronto Star journalist Michelle Shephard, currently on the ground in Yemen, has reported that "the only thing spiraling out of control is the media coverage".

To say that Sana'a is on the verge of revolution is still a bit farfetched, however, that is not to detract from the level of violence being carried out by pro-government thugs against small numbers of demonstrators in the capital.

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To further complicate the already incredibly delicate and fractured status of Yemen, leader of the northern Yemen Houthi rebellion, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, expressed his organizations support on Tuesday for the protesters in Sana'a and Taiz. While protesters throughout Yemen have  nothing to do with the Houthi rebellion, Abdul Malik al-Houthi clearly seeks to take advantage of civil unrest.

Saleh has fought a series of six wars, separated by unstable ceasefires, with the Houthi rebels. The current ceasefire is just as unstable as the others and most in Yemen still feel that a seventh war is imminent. Should the Houthis decide to strike against the Saleh regime as protests in Taiz and calls for secession in Aden reach a fever pitch, they could very well break the back of the Saleh regime.

While many look to the inflated numbers from Sana'a as an indicator of Saleh's future prospects, Abdul Malik al-Houthi has the initiative in deciding the best time to strike to send the regime packing.  

 

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Jeb Boone is a freelance journalist based in Sana'a, Yemen. He regularly contributes to the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian's Comment is Free and Global Post. Boone is also the managing editor of the Yemen Times.

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