Karen Dabrowska

Originally published: 12th August 2020

by Friends of South Yemen

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STC rescinds self-rule declaration – What now?

In Yemeni politics there are more twists and turns than on the coils of a snake. In May 2017 when the Southern Transitional Council (STC) was established its President Aidaroos Qassem Al-Zubaidi vowed to achieve one goal: an independent sovereign state in the South with Aden as its capital. The STC declared self-rule in April 2020 but rescinded this declaration on July 29th 2020 and pledged to implement a power-sharing deal with Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the President of the internationally recognized government.

Commenting on the decision, Abdul Galil Shaif Kasim the Chairman of Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) said: “The STC used the self-rule proclamation as a tactical tool to put more pressure on Hadi’s government to share power with them more equally. Many Southerners who believe in Southern statehood are unhappy with this decision. But this is not the end of the negotiations but rather a stage in a long negotiating process.”

The power sharing deal, known as the Riyadh Agreement, was brokered by Saudi Arabia in November last year but never implemented. Egypt, seen as a credible mediator, has been holding direct and indirect contacts with all parties involved in the Yemen crisis and a new government is in the process of being formed.

The agreement provides for the formation of a new technocratic government with no more than 24 ministers. It says cabinet positions must be distributed equally between Northerners and Southerners. Under the agreement 25 cabinet seats will be distributed among the diverse political forces and parties in the South. Hadi, the STC and the Congregation for Reform (Islah the political façade of Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood) will each have four seats. The Socialist and Nasserist parties will get four seats between them. One seat has been allocated for the Hadhramaut Gathering Conference and the Salafi Al-Rashad parties. The island of Socotra and Al-Mahra will share a seat with the remainder going to the independents.

Hadi has issued a package of presidential resolutions as part of the mechanisms for implementing the Riyadh Agreement. Dr Moeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the Prime Minister has been mandated to form the new government. Ahmed Hamid Lamless has been appointed Governor of Aden and Brigadier General Ahmed Mohammad Al-Hamdi the Director General of Aden Police.

The United Kingdom welcomed the acceleration of the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Dominic Raab said, “The Riyadh Agreement is a key step towards a sustainable, peaceful resolution to the Yemen conflict. I encourage all the Yemeni parties to continue this spirit of negotiation and compromise”. The UN, the Gulf Co-operation Council, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan also issued statements in support of the agreement.

But on the ground in the South where ceasefires are often honoured more in the breach than in the observance and turf wars are common rejection was voiced against any agreements that do not implement the demand for self rule.

Hassan Ba’oum the head of the Supreme Council of the Revolutionary Movement for the Peaceful Liberation and Independence of the South said he rejects any agreements or initiatives that do not meet the aspirations of the people of the south of Yemen to establish an independent state. “As such I have directed the leaders of the movement in all the southern governorates to escalate the revolutionary efforts and ordered the formation of committees to communicate with the various Southern leaders, including military and academic personalities, who believe in liberation and independence.”

The Revolutionary Movement has repeatedly called for the expulsion of the Saudi-led Arab coalition from Yemen’s southern provinces, calling it ‘an occupation force.’ Other political movements in the South are against the Riyadh Agreement as they claim it abbreviates the Southern movement to the STC which was only set up in 2017 whereas other parties and groups have existed for decades some dating back to the fight against the colonial British established Aden Protectorate.

Implementing the Riyadh Agreement may well prove to be a mission impossible. The STC has 28 brigades in the South. Its heavy weapons are vital to its survival and are unlikely to be handed over to the coalition. That is why it has focused on implementing the political provisions of the Riyadh Agreement before dealing with security and economics.

FOSY’s Chairman Abdul Galil Shaif Kasim is very concerned about corruption and is adamant that the Riyadh Agreement must include a long-sought-after external audit of Yemen’s Central Bank.

While the agreement is trying to bring together Southern parties who may never agree the coalition has not managed to dislodge the Houthis who control more than 70 percent of the north of the country and are quickly establishing a fundamentalist, repressive, Islamic state convinced they have a divine right to rule.

A five-year civil war which has devastated the country and claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians is still being fought. Kasim believes the UN’s special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has the potential to energize the UN Security Council to play an active role in bringing the war and destruction to an end and provide some reprieve to the long-suffering Yemeni people.

“The Yemeni state only exists in the imagination of the deluded,” Kasim said noting that Hadi is in exile in Saudi Arabia which is the real power behind the throne in Yemen and controls the formation of the new government. “As the war enters its sixth year and the official economy has collapsed the only thing that keeps hope alive for the majority of the population is Yemen’s informal social protection networks. They have long superseded a weak state. Communities – in rural tribal parts of the country and in urban areas – look after poorer members of society and those who need help in hard times. Yemeni immigrant communities play an importing part in supporting thousands of people,” Kasim said.

In a country where half the medical facilities have been destroyed by all sides in the conflict, COVID-19 is rampant, floods and locusts are wreaking havoc and regional powers, armed by the West are intervening in a civil war in which the only winners are the arms manufacturers there is little to be optimistic about.

Independence movements which have succeeded in the past have had the support of the mother country, the support of regional and global powers and a homogenous liberation movement. All three are absent in South Yemen.

But as Al-Zubaidi said: “I will not let our people or our martyrs down – not after 26 years of sacrifices and hardships.”

Despite the seemingly intractable problems faced by Yemen Kasim is optimistic that there will be an independent state in the South. He has a dream but not a timetable. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.