Bouchra Belguellil analyses the troubled situation of Yemen - Part II

The fragmentation of Yemen is fractal, as it affects all levels of the system, political parties included. Firstly, a deep division characterizes the political landscape in Yemen, in particular regarding questions related to intervention and sovereignty, most importantly, on supporting or opposing military intervention.

In reality, it is far from a binary question, despite appearing to be so prima facie appearance. Among the pro-intervention actors in the Yemenite conflict, we must distinguish between the pro-Saudi and pro-Emirati. Furthermore, there are differences related to both the relationship of the legitimate government (i.e.pro-Hadi and anti-Hadi) and the Houthi question (i.e. being pro-Houthi, or anti- Houthi, indifferent). To this, must be added another line of fracture, related to the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his family network (i.e. pro-Saleh, anti-Saleh). Secondly, the thorny question of the South, which divides the political parties between unionists and separatists. Within the separatists, there are those who advocate independence of the South, and those who prefer a federal system. And in-between, the middleground, there is a voice for a gradual independence (usually described as federal system with an increasing autonomy geared towards independence). The fractal crack touches all the political components of the country, with the exception of the Ansar Allah (Houthis) who remain welded by strong ideological principles, and mobilised around the charismatic person of AbdelMalik al-Houthi. All the other parties/actors are internally divided.

The General People's Congress party (GPC), founded in 1982 by A.A. Saleh, was the dominant political party in Yemen since the reunification in 1990. After the Youth Revolution/Arab Spring, however, there have been well-known schisms within the party, mainly with two branches centered around Saleh and Hadi. The divisions continued with the military intervention, and were accentuated with the assassination of A.A. Saleh in December 2017. The party is now divided into - at least - five tendencies. To illustrate the geopolitical and national Yemenite dynamics of the tendencies, they are mentioned below in relation to their geographic base and internal political priorities. In Sana'a the GPC opposes the Saudi-led military intervention. Since january 2018, its supreme political council is chaired by Sadiq Abu Rass who is close to the Houthis. There is also the branch of president Hadi, now based in Ryadh, who is against the Houthis and supports the military intervention.

In Cairo, there are great historical personalities of the party of which Sheikh Sultan al-Barakani, or al-Qerbi support the intervention, and keep links with the Saleh family in the Emirates. In Beirut, Yahia Saleh, adopts a more or less median position.

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, Ahmad Ali Saleh (son of the former president), opposes both the legitimate government of Hadi and the Houthis, to survive politically and militarily he resorts to an alliance of circumstance with some southerners fractions, and the UAE. Al-Islah (The Reform Party - Muslim Brotherhood) is very sensitive to the Gulf crisis, it has opportunistically and pragmatically adapted its alliances. The party is divided between two internal trends, the San'a branch, which is opposing the military intervention, and the Riyadh branch, which remains closely affiliated to President Hadi, and thus supports the intervention. There is another branch, however, known as the Istanbul branch, which is led by Khaled al-Anessi, Tawakul Kerman, and Shawqi al-Qadhi, who have shifted their positions, and are now aligned with the Qatari policy position which opposes the military intervention. And finally, the secondary and somewhat marginalised leaders based in Khartoum, Sudan, who do not support the intervention.

The Southern movement is no exception to the rule, it is also very fragmented. The following political parties and blocs are most prominent. The Southern Transitional Council (STC) is led by Aidaruss al Zubaidi. It was created in 2017, advocating independence as a political objective, and is supported by the UAE. Their policy is in contradiction with the legitimate government's position on the territorial integrity of Yemen. There is also al-Hizam al-Amni under the command of Salafist leaders, such as Hani Ben Brik who is at the same time vice president of the STC. To this must added the Southern Revolutionary Movement (Hirak a-Thawri al- Janubi), led by Fadi Ba’oum (based in Oman). The movement is not involved in the armed conflict directly, but is against the military intervention, and advocates independence of the South while maintaining good relations with the Houtis in San’aa.

Moreover, the are three other southern movements, known as Southern movement of Ali Ba Thawab, a socialist trend, TAJ movement or Tajamu al- Demoqrati al-Janubi (The Southern Democratic Assembly) and TAA (Tajamu 'Abna' Aden) the last one oppose the military intervention, and is open to dialogue with the Houthis. Furthermore, there is a pacifist movement known as al-Hirak al-Silmi, which is based in Sanaa, chaired by Khaled Abu Bakr Baras. The movement is against the intervention, and is closely affiliated to the Houthis. And finally, the Mu'tamar al-Hadramout (the Hadramout Conference), which has separatist claims and advocates for the independence of Hadramout region, and is mainly supported by UAE.

Regarding the Pan-Arab left parties, it can be mentioned that they are all divided between Baathists and Nasserists. The Baathists have two opposing tendencies, one shaped on the Syrian model, and one influenced by the former Iraqi model. The Nasserites have a trend that opposes the military intervention and a trend which is closely affiliated to president Hadi - occupying several ministerial and advisory positions in his government.

There are also other factors which reinforce these fractured lines: for example between secularist/ Islamist, traditionalist/modernist orientations...etc. It is important here to clarify that the relationship between the regional "geopolitical stakeholders", and the Yemeni political parties is not always one-sided, i.e., they are based on transactional relationships, and of a give-and-take nature - which means that they are not just puppets in the hands of regional actors. There are currently tensions between the STC and UAE for example. The same holds true for the Houthis, who despite their close ties with Iran, remain attached to their ancestral culture, Zeydism and have a wide and free maneuver for autonomous action.

The longer the war persists, the more - paradoxically - it reinforces local forces and makes them stronger, in term of technical, tactical, financial, and recruitment capabilities. The geopolitical stakeholders' direct support to these armed factions is a strong and detrimental factor of the current fragmentation. Even if it gives the false illusion of having a unifying effect, in the sense of virtually bringing armed factions under an umbrella of a single coalition. If nothing is done, the situation will reach a point of no return, namely that of the end of the Yemeni state as such. Repeating and cementing nightmare dynamics similar to those seen in Iraq and Libya. At this stage, after more than three years of conflict, it will no longer be possible to return to "the unitary model", the people of South Yemen, will never accept such a retreat, which augurs a new front against Hadi's government. This being said, the Southern parties are deeply divided, and risk plunging into a fratricidal war similar to all postcolonial conflicts, with conflicts linked to the delineation of borders, tribal dynamics, the distribution of wealth, control of the sea ports and regions, and likely serious international or regional repercutions.

06/06/2018 - Any reproduction, copy, transmission or translation of this publication is prohibited.


Des soldats yéménites sont photographiés sur leur position sur une montagne sur la ligne de front des combats avec Houthis dans la région de Nihem près de Sanaa, Yémen 27 janvier 2018
De GlobalGeoNews GGN