Earlier today someone commented on the YPP Facebook page that the YPP isn't doing anything to highlight or address the "southern issue." I think this is not quite true, but I thought I'd take a minute to write about the subject in the hopes of fostering a public discussion here on the blog. First, what exactly is the "southern issue"? It depends who you ask. If you ask a representative of the central government, for instance, he might tell you about the "lawlessness" and violence that pervades some parts of the south, and the refusal of southern activists and political leaders to participate in the transition process.
If you ask your average southerner, she or he will probably tell you that southerners have been systematically disenfranchised ever since unification in 1990, and that a peaceful protest movement that began in 2007 has been violently repressed since its very first sit-in. He or she would probably also mention the 1994 civil war, in which northern forces destroyed the southern army and sacked the southern capital, 'Aden, and other cities. Many southerners will also say that the south has been "occupied" ever since 1994, and that the Saleh regime and its inner circle of northern shaykhs, generals, and businessmen systematically stole southern land and wealth in the early years of unification. An increasing number of southerns will go on to tell you that they are, in fact, not Yemenis at all. They prefer to be called South Yemenis or South Arabians, and they demand complete independence for the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
If you were to ask me about the southern issue, I'd probably mention some of the same things as our hypothetical southerner above. I'd tell you that the government's response to southern activism since 2007 has been excessively violent and militarized. I would note that, in today's transitional, post-revolutionary Yemen, government forces would hardly dare to attack protesters in San‘a or Ta‘iz (although some government agencies still hold political prisoners from the revolution), but those same forces don't hesitate to bully, beat, or fire upon demonstrators in the south. I would also mention that although both the new president and prime minister are from the south, the current central government has done nothing to demonstrate good faith or otherwise address the demands of southerners in a constructive fashion.
But there's more to the issue than just a conflict between north and south, or between pro-independence activists and the central government. Southern secessionists are divided among themselves. There are several different political leaders who claim to speak for the south (or specific parts of the south), and even more ground-level factions that mount demonstrations and even armed attacks on government assets. And of course, there are plenty of southerners who aren't asking for independence. Some support the idea of a federal state with strong local government, and others want to see southern grievances addressed in the context of a new, unified, revolutionary republic. And yes, there are southerners who support neither independence nor the revolution (not a popular thing to say, but it's certainly true).
Personally, I believe that self-determination is an inalienable right for all people. That said, if the southern governorates were to declare independence today, the results would not be good for anyone in Yemen (except the arms dealers). I think some kind of progress on the nation-wide transition and stabilization process must be achieved before any serious talk about dividing Yemen into smaller states. I think a successful, peaceful, equal southern Yemen--independent or not--can only come about if the various factions and political leaders of the southern region can find a way to work together under a democratic framework (something they've never managed to do before, it must be said.
Now that I've said my piece, I very much want to hear what other people have to say. How do you see the "southern issue"? What do you think the government can do about it? What do you think about independence or federalism, and do you think either of these things is actually feasible? How can northern citizens help create a more positive political atmosphere? What should outside powers and the international community be doing with regards to the south? What should non-governmental organizations and foreign activists like us be doing? Please let us hear your opinions. Thanks!