Geopolitics

Yemen: In Southern City Of Aden, A Hotbed of Secessionist Revolt

Anti-government protestors in the southern city of Aden, are not just calling for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign, they also want to separate from the north. Chronicle of a divided revolution.

The Yemen flag, a symbol of the country's unity (Sallam)
The Yemen flag, a symbol of the country's unity (Sallam)
Erik Dejour

ADEN – The residents of Aden stroll down Queen Arouah Street as if nothing has happened. They pay little attention to the revolutionaries. Dozens of tents have been erected on rough ground. It is late in the afternoon and a muggy breeze flows through the historic center of this port city in southern Yemen. It is just cool enough to take the edge off the ferociousness of the sun that keeps residents closed indoors, and enables President Ali Abdullah Saleh's opponents to kick off another round of of protests.

"The weather is not helping us," concedes Jamil, a teacher, sitting cross-legged on a mat. And neither does the city's topography. In Aden, the "revolution of the youth" has as many gathering places as there are districts in the city: Khor Maksar, Ma'alla, Mansura, and others. Unlike the Yemen cities of Sanaa or Taiz, there isn't a focal "Change" or "Liberation" square.

"We would have preferred to gather at Khor Maksar, there was room there. But the authorities intervened. And then many people didn't have the means to get there," Jamil explains "The city is very spread out."

Indeed, the city winds for dozens of kilometers along the Indian Ocean, from the rugged coastline to the mountains. The army and the Central Security Force hold firm control over the entrances to the districts. Jamil, a member of the Islamist Al-Islah party, wants to bring down the regime and replace it with a transitional council. He follows the guiding principles of the opposition parties in every detail, which includes not letting the revolution put at risk the unity of Yemen. "Those against unity here are in the minority," Jamil adds. Some 20 or so people around him noisily agree.

Unemployed taxi driver, Sauf Saleh, 53, says "In the south, there isn't any justice, no equality, we are witnessing the plundering of the land, the people from the north monopolize the public sector jobs. So I say, if the new regime does not take all of this into account, we will demand secession."

It was in Aden on May 22, 1990, that President Saleh first raised the new flag of a unified Yemen. Its colors of red, white and black sealed the common fate of conservative, north Yemen and the Marxist southern Yemen. That day, the crowd flocked around the president, euphorically marching in the streets of the city chanting "Unity, Unity!"

Right now, that all seems a long time ago. For many here, the northern citizens have made a mockery of the historic agreement. Since the spring of 2007, an opposition movement has spread. The demands, which were originally social, have taken a political turn, carried by the word that angers many: separation. It has provoked a severe security response by the government. In these last four years, 600 people have died in the south, which makes up two-thirds of the country, is rich in oil fields and blessed with main routes to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

In Aden's historic district of Crater, however, Saleh, a taxi driver, seems rather isolated in his warning about a potential call for independence from the south. Amer Jamel, 27, though against secession, understands his revolutionary comrades. For this well-known Yemeni theater director: "the South has been treated like a loser. The North has developed a policy of eliminating its inhabitants."

If Aden falls, the rest of the South will follow. Those in power are scared of Aden's influence. Since the beginning of these uprisings against President Saleh, about 30 protesters have died. "It is clear that the repression that took place in Mansoura on February 16 has fermented the situation," adds the director.

In the neighborhood of Mansoura in the northeast of the city, there is not a single national flag to be found. About 100 people are watching Al-Jazeera's images of the repression that descended upon the protesters on Sunday in the city of Taiz. On February 16, snipers on the roof of a nearby building opened fire on the crowd that had gathered in this working-class neighborhood, killing 12 people.

Mansoura has since taken on the appearance of an entrenched camp. Rubble is scattered along the sidewalks and piles of debris block the streets. The atmosphere is very different from that of the more upscale Crater, the last architectural remnant of the 128-year British presence in the south of Yemen.

At Mansoura, the portraits of the February 16 martyrs are prominently displayed, but they are not alone. The pictures of those who have fallen in the last four years also figure on the wall. In Mansoura, the members of the separatist Al-Hiraq movement come forward and have some things to say. "We will remain active until the people of the South are satisfied," says Majid isone of the main organizers of the mass meetings. "They want to make their own destiny and regain their sovereignty." His speech suddenly takes a more radical turn: "The revolution of the people of Sanaa will continue until the regime falls, then our revolution can begin."

This type of talk scares many students who listen to the representative of Al-Hiraq. "We are divided," concedes Murtaz, who is studying English Literature. "We don't have a leader, it is a very real maze, and the people do not know which direction to take." Murtaz, himself an Islamist, says that Al-Hiraq has hijacked the "revolution of the youth" in order to obtain their own objectives.

He concludes, "The separatist movement intimidates the people of the district, they threaten the shopkeepers, and they demand that the schools close, all in order to put more pressure on the government." Far from Sanaa or from Taiz, divided Aden is living through its own revolutions: destroying or protecting Yemeni unity may be the next battle.

Read the original article in French

Photo - (Sallam)

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