A Two State Outcome Would Not Solve Yemen's Problems

Opinion Articles



Despite the best efforts of officials to find solutions, there appears to be no end to conflict or crisis in Yemen. On Feb. 26, U.N. special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar met with Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi in Aden, southern Yemen, one day after meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani. Hadi fled Sanaa on Feb. 21 after being held under house arrest for several weeks by the al-Houthi rebels, who now hold much of northern Yemen. After arriving in Aden, Hadi recanted the resignation he tendered while in custody on Jan. 23. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar all announced they will reopen their embassies in Aden in an effort to support Hadi and undercut the al-Houthis.

Reports received by Stratfor from Saudi and Omani contacts indicate that talks are underway with respect to a possible two-state solution for Yemen. The al-Houthis control much of what used to be North Yemen — before the 1990 unification of north and south — and are attempting to seize additional sectors of the traditional north, including the remainder of the energy-rich Marib and Taiz governorates. The oil fields of Marib are connected by pipeline to the al-Houthi-controlled export terminal at Ras Isa. Marib's natural gas fields are also connected to the liquefied natural gas export terminal in Belhaf, Shabwa governorate, on the southern coast of Yemen. If a two-state solution emerges, the north and south would be forced to cooperate to export Yemen's natural gas.

A History of Division

The al-Houthi rebels come from the Yemen's Zaydi community, representing an estimated 30-45 percent of the country's population. The Zaydis controlled north Yemen on and off for centuries until a 1962 Nasserite coup supported by Egypt removed them from power. The coup initiated a long and brutal civil war between the Nasserites and the royalists for control of north Yemen, a conflict that lasted until 1970.

Hadi is a southerner, so a return to his support base in south Yemen is logical. But unifying the diverse political players in the former south will prove difficult. He requires a cohesive faction to fend off the combined might of the al-Houthis and the powerful former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the Yemen Arab Republic from 1978 to 1990 and the unified Yemen from 1990 until 2012. There are already reports that the al-Houthis will attack the south, but the population will be more hostile to them in comparison with areas the rebels have already conquered. Moreover, it is not clear that the al-Houthis even want to conquer and rule the entire country.

As a further complication to Hadi's plans, many members of the southern secessionist movement strongly dislike him. In addition to that, even if he manages forge a united southern movement, Hadi will also have to bring the tribes in Marib, Shabwa and Hadramawt into his camp. However, mutual hatred for the al-Houthis and financial support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf may yet persuade defiant tribal leaders to join a short-term alliance.

Shared Fates

Yemen is shaping up for yet another bloody civil war. Such fighting has wracked the country for most of the last century, including the Zaydi rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, the 1962-1970 civil war in the north and the 1994 civil war sparked by southern attempts to secede from the unified Yemen. More recently, there have been six rounds of fighting between the Yemeni government, government affiliated tribes and the al-Houthis. The al-Houthis prevailed in the seventh round of fighting, which began in February 2012.

A long fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its Ansar al-Sharia wing has also afflicted Yemen. The jihadist group seized large areas of southern Yemen following the 2011 political crisis that forced Saleh to step down. Parts of Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramawt governorates were impacted. The group also captured al Bayda, Ibb, Marib and al-Jawf in the north. Both sides of a divided Yemen would have to deal with the problem of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its ability to operate across much of the landmass.

Ultimately, it is unlikely the al-Houthis will agree to a two-state solution unless they can obtain the energy resources in Marib. Even then, both factions will face severe economic troubles — Yemen has depended on foreign aid for years. While the north would possess the majority of Yemen's arable land, and the largest portion of its energy resources, all of Yemen is facing a dire water crisis. The lack of water will devastate the country over the next decade, affecting the north the most. Yemen has little choice but to suffer economic and humanitarian crises as it attempts to reach a military or negotiated solution to its longstanding political problems.

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