An 'Aden Emergency

Throughout the day yesterday the news from 'Aden got worse and worse. Security forces raided private homes and arrested two prominent Hirak activists. Police fired on demonstrators in Khormaksar. Tensions were growing ahead of planned demonstrations by Islahis celebrating the anniversary of president Hadi's "election" and Hirakis denouncing it. Finally, security forces fired on a convoy of Hirakis from Abyan and Shabwah that included Hirak leader Hassan Ba 'Oum. This last event, and the subsequent arrival in 'Aden of said convoy of now-enraged separatists, seems to have been the turning point; certain members of the Technical Committee for the National Dialogue Conference withdrew from the committee, and its chairman, Dr. al-Iryani, suspended the committee and asked the president for a urgent meeting, according to reports. Meanwhile, residents and militants in Dhale‘, near the old north-south border, have been preparing for another round of war with government forces. Farther east, youths in al-Mukalla threw stones at and attacked the shops of northern merchants.

Few of these events are totally new, but this week there seems to be something in the air. According to some sources, last week's Security Council resolution, which named 'Ali al-Beidh as a spoiler of the transition right alongside 'Ali Saleh, angered southerners and gave al-Beidh's popularity a major boost. Some Hirakis seem intent on forcing a confrontation, while increased brutality on the part of the state seems to be pushing the various rival factions of al-Hirak together. Moreover it feels, to me at least, that there is a fixed point looming ahead and near at hand. Of course the planned start date of the NDC is less than a month away, but no one really expects it to start on time (nevertheless, people realize that it can't be put off indefinitely). There's something bigger, some reason which to me feels like a law of nature, that makes a much larger and more dire state of conflict in the south seem inevitable. Again, I can't really support this with facts, and maybe tomorrow will feel different. There were similar days and feelings during the height of the protest in 2011, like the next day would bring something big, something terrible, but nothing came of it.

What I can say for sure is this: things aren't getting better in the south, and no one in 'Aden or San‘a has anything close to a workable plan for how to make them better. The international community has virtually ignored the southern issue, willing it to go away on its own. Besides, everyone from Ban Ki-Moon to Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin has made it clear that if the world is going to solve a civil war this year, it's going to have to be Syria's. As far as the world is concerned, war in Yemen is not an option. So if the worst happens, Yemenis will be on their own.

What would a real civil war look like today? Very little like the war of 1994, which ended with clear victory for northern forces and the Saleh regime. Not like the insurrection against the British in the 1960s, either. In the former, Saleh had three-fourths of a regular army, plus tribal allies and Jihadi irregulars to enforce his will. In the latter, the British, though ultimately defeated, had the supply lines and wealth of a empire. President Hadi has an empty treasury, a divided military, and is, politically speaking, surrounded by jackals.

The southern side would also look very different than it did in 1994. Though Hiraki militias have grown to be quite organized (in theory, anyway) in certain places, that is not the case everywhere. But if war breaks out in 'Aden, the real question will be how all of the other armed factions in Yemen respond. How will AQAP get involved? What will Ahmad 'Ali Saleh and his cousin Yahya do? What will 'Ali Muhsin do? The Huthis? The tribes surrounding San‘a that were so brutally punished during 2011?

Bottom line: if Aden breaks into open armed rebellion, the rest of the south is likely to as well. If that happens, armed groups throughout Yemen--including elements of the military--will take advantage of the situation. A civil war in today's Yemen could fracture the nation in a dozen ways. It's impossible to predict who would come out on top, but the southern people and Hadi's government would be sure losers.

It's morning in 'Aden now, and heavy, continuous gunfire is reported in Khormaksar District and Sirah/Crater as well. More violence is certain; little else is.