United Yemen: A recent history [Archives:2005/841/Opinion]

May 12 2005

By Ibrahim Husain Moh'd.
For a long time, the unity of Yemen remained a popular demand. In the aftermath of the military coup in N. Yemen and the declaration of independence in S. Yemen, direct unity of both north and south was discussed; but the new rulers who assumed power in Aden, the N.L.F., claimed that Sana'a was besieged by the Royalists and might fall into their hands anytime.

Dialogues between the two regimes continued, but developed twice into war in 1972 and 1979. Several Arab countries mediated to end the war; reconciliation between Sana'a and Aden stressed the necessity and importance of the Unity of Yemen all the time. Despite that, neither leadership was keen enough or had an honest desire for it.

As a result of the escalation of the crackdown on under-ground political parties in North Yemen, the leadership of Marxist and Pan-Arab Movement factions moved to Aden. The move didn't stop at the much-nurtured desire of the southern regime to own the card of the opposition against the northern regime, and soon an armed organization – The National Front – emerged calling for taking over Sana'a by war.

The National Front was given all means of support, even by soviet block countries. This support enabled the Front to take over some areas in the North, especially those near the border. During the 1972 and 1979 North-South Yemeni wars, the National Front played critical roles that benefited its sponsors in the South.

During the early 1980s, close rapprochement between the sides became the rule, as Ali Nasser Mohammed, the then President of S. Yemen, played a role in lowering tensions. By then, the Southern leadership had been convinced that the armed struggle or taking over Sana'a by war was of no benefit to any body. They decided to abandon the armed struggle approach for unity with North Yemen.

Since then bilateral meetings between the leaderships of N. and S. Yemen intensified. Several joint unified projects and measures were declared especially in Education, Culture, Finance and Commerce and some other spheres. In fact these were designed to buy time at diluting the strong pro-unity current among the population.

The inter-Socialist Party bickering developed into a civil war that severely damaged the regime politically and socially. Sana'a managed to absorb nearly 50% of the socialist leadership, which gave her much leverage and a very strong position during all negociations.

It is worth mentioning here that the Socialist leadership that fled to the north tried to acquire against its own old regime the role that the National Front had played against Sana'a. Sana'a's wisdom and some foreign pressures helped prevent the implementation of any plans.

The Zumra (the Socialis-turned opposition against S. Yemen) were huge in their numbers> In addition to the support they were receiving from Sana'a, they were also nurtured by some Arab countries (Libya, U. A. Emirates and Saudi Arabia) and were havily subsidized ( a political cadre, an officer or a soldier among them would receive nearly 4 times his counterpart in N. Yemen).

Despite all this, the S. Yemeni regime kept his grip over Aden as tight as ever. But it had very limited options while Sana'a had the privilege of multiple choices. The S. Yemeni kept close and continuous with the North.

When Moscow opted for Gorbatchev's policies of Glasnost and Birostroika and began to close its tap of support to its satellites, the crisis within the Southern regime became clear. A potential scenario of a repeat of the 1986 disaster became easily felt. Economic strains were the core of all tension.

The Liberal faction within the leadership of Aden succeeding in compiling a document on Economic Reform, a very shy and limited document that couldn't see much farther than recommending allowing doctors and traders to open private clinics, groceries and fish market; or the idea that society should pay a share in financing health and education services.

(To be continued.)