Earlier this month, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi announced on state television that the country would be partitioned into six regions and renamed the Federal Republic of Yemen. The move came at the end of Yemen’s 10-month National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a process that was intended to help overcome ongoing tensions and grievances in the aftermath of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forced resignation in November 2011. Saleh left office after 33 years in power, the first 12 in North Yemen and the last 21 in the combined North and South. He was finally pushed out after anti-government protests sparked significant violence and instability, culminating in what was arguably a civil war after two decades of low-level conflict and insecurity across the country.
United Nations Special Envoy Jamal Benomar has argued that the NDC “established the foundations for a new beginning” in Yemen, one “that jettisons the painful conflicts of the past, in which power and corruption ruled.” It is perhaps more accurate to say that the NDC has created a space for the mainstream political negotiation of Yemen’s governance processes, a significant development in itself, but that the new federal system’s implications for peace and conflict are undetermined, especially because the system’s legitimacy is already being questioned by key Yemeni stakeholders.
Yemen is a heavily fragmented country, having existed as a single state only since its unification in 1990. It is not surprising that federalism was proposed as a solution to the multiple competing grievances of Yemeni communities, insurgencies and separatist movements, many of which demand increased self-administration or independence from the Yemeni government as part of their core political agendas. However, the six-region Federal Republic, which breaks South Yemen into two administrative areas—Aden and Hadramawt—and North Yemen into four—Saba, Jenad, Tihama and Azal—falls short of meeting their expectations. Key players who have already begun to voice their disappointment over Yemen’s new internal boundaries are the Houthis and al-Hiraak al-Janubi, or the Southern Mobility Movement.