Aden (GPA) – With global momentum building from separatist referendums in Spain and Iraq, southern leaders in Yemen eye their own independence referendum. But is this movement worthy of support? What does southern secession mean for the war against Yemen led by the Saudi coalition?
Southern secession in Yemen is not a new concept. Formerly two nations, North and South Yemen, the two countries unified in 1990 leading up to the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Before unification, South Yemen was known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen: a socialist state with strong ties to the Soviet Union, Palestine, and Cuba. While supporting South Yemen’s self-determination and calls for secession might seem like a no-brainer, the current Southern Transitional Council is a far cry from the Marxist-Leninist guerillas who overthrew British occupation and established an independent socialist state in the 1960’s.
U.A.E. Occupation and Imperialism in Yemen
Before the Saudi-led intervention against Yemen, the Southern Movement was very decentralized lacking any concrete structure or long-term vision. The United Arab Emirates has since taken it upon themselves to hijack the movement as a means to carry out their own political, military, and economic occupation in Yemen. While Saudi Arabia bombs Yemenis in the north, the U.A.E. floods the south with troops. The U.A.E. is also responsible for establishing 18 black site detention centers throughout southern Yemen in partnership with none other than the United States. Inmates report unimaginable torture as discovered by the Associated Press.
Those leading the movement represent nothing but foreign interests. This campaign is merely a manifestation of the Saudi-U.A.E. proxy war in Yemen. Yes, that’s right: two members posing as allies in the war against Yemen currently face their own power struggle in the south.
The current leader of the Southern Movement is militia commander and governor of Aden Aidarous al-Zubaidi: the “U.A.E.’s man in the south.” Formerly an ally of the Saudi-imposed President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, Zubaidi and his allies grasped the Southern Movement as a way to diminish Hadi’s power– which wasn’t much to begin with anyways.
Zubaidi announced last week that the Southern Transitional Council would declare an independence referendum “soon.”
The Southern Movement is a useful tool for the United Arab Emirates to secure control of key regional ports, the crucial Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and the Island of Socotra. By investing considerable amounts of money into south Yemen’s development, the U.A.E. is able to secure economic control, lead political interests, and draw public support.
The U.A.E. leadership also welcomes military cooperation with the United States which is disastrous in the short term and detrimental to Yemen’s general development in the long-run.
Removing the Saudi’s Agenda
The mainstream media frames the war in Yemen as a Saudi-led alliance to squash Yemen’s resistance (a coalition of Ansarullah aka the Houthis and the General People’s Congress led by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and prop-up Saudi-imposed President Hadi. However, no one supports Hadi except Riyadh.
After Yemen’s resistance took control of the capital Sana’a, Hadi fled to Aden. He has since fled again to Riyadh due to his failure to gain any public support or political power throughout the south. With Hadi all but out of the picture, U.A.E. leaders in south Yemen seek to flush any remaining Saudi influence. Most recently, this target includes al-Islah: the Yemeni faction of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it’s not just Yemen: Riyadh and Abu Dhabi butt heads in nearly every country they’ve involved themselves in from Libya to Egypt.
The Saudi goal in Yemen is to impose President Hadi and remove the revolutionary government from Sana’a– this much is true. However, the U.A.E. does not share this goal. Why would they back a Saudi-imposed president who lacks public support when they can capitalize on the Southern Movement to carry out their very own agenda?
Without the U.A.E.’s military power, Saudi Arabia won’t find it easy to draw military support from current allies such as Sudan. This has already manifested somewhat as Riyadh sends paid mercenaries to fight on their behalf throughout the Yemen theatre.
Referendum as a Major Turning Point
Riyadh and their puppet Hadi have rejected the mass protests calling for secession and appointments of pro-Southern Movement leaders. An independence referendum would spell the end for Saudi Arabia. While Riyadh’s failure in Yemen is obvious to anyone paying attention, it isn’t so easy for they themselves to admit.
Not only would Saudi Arabia lose political control in Yemen’s south, but declaring South Yemen “independent” also inadvertently legitimizes Yemen’s revolutionary government in the North.
Riyadh expected to wipe out Ansarullah aka “the Houthis” and their allies fairly swiftly after beginning their war against Yemen in 2015. This objective totally backfired. Yemen’s resistance has drastically increased their military capabilities, acquired public support, and expanded retaliatory operations beyond the Saudi border. Now, Saudi Arabia faces Yemeni-made long-range missiles targeting key Saudi oil refineries and military bases.
Despite leading this war against Yemen, the Saudis are losing in every way shape and form. The Southern Movement’s independence referendum is just the final nail in the coffin.
But what would this mean for the Saudi war against Yemen’s resistance? If Yemenis in the south support independence, the U.A.E.-Saudi alliance will continue to split. Will the United States continue military support for both Gulf powers or will they ditch support to the Saudis in favor of the winning team?
After all, the U.S. on-paper narrative regarding Yemen is to eliminate al-Qaeda and ISIS. In fact, the United States recently carried out their first airstrikes against supposed ISIS targets in Yemen last week. However, the actual targets of these strikes are unknown. Is this sudden surge against ISIS in Yemen leading the way for the U.S. to support the U.A.E. against the Saudis or vice versa? Or is the U.S. simply solidifying their presence in Yemen as an uncertain future looms? Probably the latter.
The Southern Movement to secede from unified Yemen certainly holds public support– this surely shouldn’t be ignored. It is also important to note that not all factions of the Southern Movement agree with U.A.E. leadership. Many throughout Yemen’s south view secession as a favorable alternative to the Saudi-puppet Hadi.
Without U.A.E. support, Saudi Arabia will need to continue their war against Yemen alone. Will they go through with such a foolish mistake? As a result, South Yemen independence could potentially lead to a more favorable outcome for Yemen’s revolutionary government in Sana’a.
However, this does not change the fact that foreign influence riddles the current calls for independence. U.A.E. investments in Yemen do not come without a price: military occupation as well as political and economic control.
Founder and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi is an American geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen and Lebanon.