A New Front Opens in Yemen’s War, as Southern Secessionists Up the Stakes

A New Front Opens in Yemen’s War, as Southern Secessionists Up the Stakes
A Yemeni soldier allied to the country's internationally recognized government unslings his machine gun on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 2, 2018 (AP photo by Jon Gambrell).

Secessionists in southern Yemen have agitated for independence for almost as long as there has been a unified Yemeni state. But since unification in 1990, a common complaint among foreign diplomats and Yemeni government officials was that the secessionists were too diffuse and too poorly organized to credibly demand independence or even political relevance. They were seen as a noisy rabble with no real platform or strategy. Yemen’s civil war has changed that, as a group of secessionists is now moving to build a state within Yemen’s state of chaos.

In late January, clashes in the southern port city of Aden—home to the internationally recognized government that fled the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, after it was taken by Houthi rebels—demonstrated both the secessionists’ confidence in their position on the ground and their impatience for a place at the political table. The clashes also laid bare the fragile position of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Hadi, who is currently in exile in Riyadh, gives the Saudis’ role in the Yemen war its political and legal cover. The Saudis launched their campaign in Yemen in March 2015 after a formal request from Hadi for military assistance. The Saudis then pushed for, and got, a U.N. Security Council Resolution, 2216, that demands the Houthis hand Sanaa back to Hadi, along with any arms they may have picked up along the way. The preamble of 2216 specifically names Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president, something the Saudis and the Hadi government are keen to highlight. In their view this makes Hadi and his appointees the sole legitimate representatives of the Yemeni state until further notice. Any deal that is to be made to end the war will, their argument goes, have to be made with the president, and by extension his patrons in Riyadh.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review