Searching for a new formula in Yemen
No reasonable person can deny that the Yemeni unification 27 years ago was the best solution for both North Yemen and South Yemen at the time.
A few months preceding the unification announcement of May 22, 1990, there was no other choice available to both former entities of the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen but to carry out reunification. Even then, leading figures in South Yemen warned against moving too fast with unification.
Can we now, 27 years later, say the unification programme was disastrous to all parties involved and that it is time to rescind the merger? Is it really that easy, as some people are saying, to rescind unification?
The answers to those questions are not simple. The experiment of an independent state in South Yemen was a colossal failure. It was a series of bloody coups and had to be stopped one way or another. The Republic of South Yemen was a by-product of the Cold War and had to go when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was anything but democratic. It was a single-party rule and dissent was not possible, a far cry from the proverbial Happy Yemen.
There were important benefits of unifying both sides of Yemen. Unification put an end to sporadic wars between the North and the South and to the continuous tensions along the border.
Without unification, it would not have been possible to negotiate and fix the Yemeni-Omani borders and the Yemeni-Saudi borders. Even the civil war of the summer of 1994 and its nefarious consequences on the south did not wipe out the hope of being able to fix things from the capital, Sana’a, in the north.
In this respect, one should insist that former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his entourage were not solely responsible for the misery in South Yemen. Extremist Islamists took part in the war of 1994 and they believed that their mission was to change the secular nature of society in the south. They succeeded to a large extent to make life miserable for everyone.
Today, only the spirit of a unified Yemen has survived and it must be preserved despite calls to the contrary. A unified Yemen is part of the regional structure and changing it will affect the structure as a whole.
Still, innovative solutions for Yemen must be found for we can no longer go back to the power-sharing formula that existed before the Muslim Brotherhood took it upon itself to remove Saleh from power.
The old power formula is gone and the Houthis took Sana’a in September 2014. What’s next? Just as in 1990, when the unification option was clearly the only viable path, the only way ahead now is to limit the action zone of the Houthis and their ally for the occasion: Saleh supporters.
Operation Decisive Storm — the Saudi-led Arab effort to support the internationally recognised government — curtailed Iranian expansionism in the area. Now the shoreline north of Mocha and up to Hudaydah and Midi must also be secured. Great efforts must be expended to rehabilitate areas recaptured from the Houthis and urgent remedies must be found for long-standing urban problems in major cities such as Taiz.
It is necessary for Yemen to remain unified; but how?
There is a need for a new vision for Yemen. The country must be reconstituted, keeping in mind the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference of 2013-14, which agreed on a federal structure for the new Yemen. Then again, did any of the proposed six regions give a possible model for what a region in the new Yemen would be like?
Let’s be frank; did any type of legitimate authority in Yemen give a single model for what a safe zone in Yemen would look like? Did any of them come up with a new and feasible idea instead of the usual general and vague discourse?
It is high time we took a new look at Yemen’s future because previous models of power structures and old formulas are no longer valid for a new Yemen.