by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 22 July 1994
THE VICTORY of pro-unity forces in Yemen's two-month civil war has
closed a definitive chapter in the country's history. It has finally erased the old
north-south line created by British and Turkish imperialism and cemented the unification
process which began, with a series of false starts, as long ago as 1972. Although unity
was formally achieved in 1990, the possibility of a fresh separation remained while North
and South each had armies. With the defeat of the Southern forces that has now gone: in
future, there will be one national army.
The collapse of the Southern breakaway state entered its
terminal stage on 4 July when residents of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province,
persuaded the separatists to abandon their eastern power base without a fight. Almost
simultaneously, government forces entered northern districts of the separatists' western
stronghold, Aden. At that point, separatist leaders accepted the inevitable and fled Aden
by boat to Djibouti.
Having reimposed unity militarily (against most
expectations), President Ali Abdullah Salih must now unite Yemen politically. As a
demonstration of intent, the first post-war cabinet meeting was held last week in Aden
rather than the capital, Sana'a - though efforts to return to normality were frustrated by
several days of serious looting.
Meanwhile attempts at reconciliation with the
southern-based Socialist party are under way. It is not just a matter of being magnanimous
in victory; the president needs the Socialists to maintain the political balance and stop
the Islamist-traditionalist Islah becoming too powerful.
Rehabilitation has been made easier by the departure into
exile of the Socialist leader, Ali Salim al-Bid, who was latterly president of the
breakaway state. It was Bid's personality as much as anything which provoked the political
crisis that led to war. Apart from 15 other "untouchables" whom Sana'a holds
personally responsible for the war, the Socialists will be invited to rejoin the
president's General People's Congress (GPC) and Islah in a coalition government.
Dr Abd al-Karim al-Iryani of the GPC is widely tipped to
become prime minister. He is a former prime minister of North Yemen and, as planning
minister during the war, played a key role in talks at the United Nations. The process of
forming a new government may take some time, however, not least because the war has left
the Socialist party in disarray: fragmented, leaderless and talking of reforming under a
Another problem will be apportioning ministerial posts
between the Socialists and Islah. In terms of votes at the general election last year, the
Socialists were over-represented in the pre-war coalition, but to reduce their share now
might look too uncharitable. On the other hand Islah, which was under-represented in the
previous government but supported the president enthusiastically during the war, hopes to
be rewarded with an increase.
The Document of Pledge and Accord, a radical programme of
reforms agreed last February in an effort to avert war, is unlikely to be implemented -
although a few of its proposals may be. Among these, some form of devolution is likely, if
only for the practical reason that it would prevent disputes about regional differences
from turning into national crises.
Shock for the Saudis
Internationally, Yemen owes a huge debt to the Americans
who, after some initial dithering, swung decisively in favour of unity and told the Saudis
to stop interfering. This may be reflected partly in closer US-Yemeni relations, though
the Americans will also expect a conciliatory gesture from Yemen towards the Saudis,
probably through a settlement of the 60-year old border dispute between the two countries.
The Saudis invested hugely in the war on behalf of the
South, and the outcome is a defeat for them as much as anyone. The regional implications
of this will take a while to emerge, but for the moment the Saudis are in deep shock. The
shock is all the greater because their media reported the conflict so dishonestly that the
reality is now almost impossible to accept. At a bizarre cabinet meeting chaired by King
Fahd, for instance, the Saudi government called for an immediate cease-fire - after the
war had actually ended.
Last week several of the separatist leaders, including Abd
al-Rahman al-Jifri, the Saudi citizen who was "vice-president" of the breakaway
state, met in Jeddah to plan their "continuing struggle". Significantly,
perhaps, "President" Bid did not attend.
Since the separatists are now perceived as little more
than a tool of Saudi foreign policy, it is doubtful whether a guerrilla movement would
find much popular support in Yemen at present. Their menacing stance may simply be part of
the Saudis' face-saving process, or perhaps a bargaining counter, to be traded in any
future border talks.