Friends of South Yemen

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Who are the Friends of South Yemen?

Our Aim

Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) is a society whose main goal is the establishment of an independent state in South Yemen. Membership is open to all Yemenis and individuals and organisations who support this objective.

Our Vision

FOSY’s Chairman Abdul Galil Shaif Kasim said: “Two countries adjoining, understanding and collaborating with each other are far better than a federal state in which wars, destruction and destitution continue. We are on a mission to step up our push for international recognition. The world’s continued refusal to formally accept the South’s independence threatens to plunge the whole of Yemen into the hands of the Houthi militias or extremist groups.”

Map of the governorates of South Yemen

The Current Situation

Yemen today is an impoverished country that has turned into a patchwork of rival zones mired in endless conflicts that have so far claimed 100,000 lives, mostly civilian, and have triggered what the United Nations terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

To understand how such tragic circumstances have arisen, and to envisage the potential path for a way out of the present crisis it is necessary to review briefly the recent history of the country and its diverse political groups.

Historical Sketch

In 1839 the British set up a protected area around the southern port of Aden to form the Aden Colony and Protectorate. In 1967 the British Empire withdrew from what became South Yemen after a four-year armed revolt against their rule. South Yemen (The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) became the only so-called socialist state in the Arab world in 1970.

In 1990 North and South Yemen united into one state. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the North since 1978, became the president and Ali Salem Al-Beidh leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party from the south became the vice-president. The relationship between the two men deteriorated and protracted struggles that resulted in an all-out war in 1994 between the North and South of Yemen ensued.

The southerners felt they were side lined from power claiming that their people were left out of important military and political positions and that investments were concentrated in the capital, Sanaa, while Aden was neglected and the oil resources of the south were exploited by the regime in the North.

During the war, the southerners received no assistance from their previous patron, the Soviet Union, and the northerners emerged victorious in the three-month conflict. Inequalities were exacerbated by the dismantling of the southern army and security services and the setting up of business enterprises in favour of northern regime businessmen and by the distribution of land to the supporters of the regime in the North. Saleh exploited his Southern allies, who included the current president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, against his Southern rivals and the battle was won on military terms against the southern forces.

The National Opposition Front (MOWJ), the group that fought with the socialists against the Northern regime and lost the war of secession, was set up in London in 1998. It was financed by the Saudis who initially supported the southern cause as a way of furthering their own border dispute with the north. MOWJ was dissolved in 2001 when their funds dried up.

The pro-independence movement subsequently went underground but as the political and economic marginalisation continued, a Southern Movement (Al-Hirak Al-Janoubi) was formed in 2007. The protests it organised calling for the return of the South Yemen Republic were brutally suppressed generating a climate of fear, increased bitterness and alienation among southerners. This group has wide political popularity but lacked organisational coherence and leadership and consisted of many splinter groups.

Saleh, following his military victory, became increasingly dictatorial and complacent but managed to cling to power through a Machiavellian divide-and-rule policy. His problems were compounded by the rise to power of jihadist groups and the economic hardship suffered by the majority of Yemenis. His biggest mistake was his disregard of the southern demands for equal opportunity. By behaving like a victor and surrounding himself with yes-men he neglected the Southerners even further. As a consequence, the Southerners became more outspoken and their demands increased significantly. By 2008, they were no longer seeking a resolution to the lack of employment opportunities but became vocal and demanded an independent Southern state.

The Southern Movement was part of the 2011 Arab Spring which brought thousands of Yemenis onto the streets. Saleh who had ruled Yemen for 33 years eventually ceded power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in February 2012. The international community, in line with other Arab states, could no longer support his dictatorship.

The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was a transitional dialogue process held in Sanaa from March 18, 2013 to January 24, 2014. It was a key part of the agreement brokered by the UN and the Gulf Co-operation Council that saw President Ali Abdullah Saleh hand over power to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in November 2011 after an uprising. Hadi was subsequently sworn in for a two-year term as president in February 2012 after an election in which he stood unopposed.

The NDC made an attempt to find some solutions to Yemen’s intractable problems but did not properly address the grievances of the southerners or Ansar Allah, an Iran-backed Islamic political and armed movement, that emerged from Sa’dah in north Yemen in the 1990s. It is colloquially referred to as the Houthis because its founder, Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi, who was killed by the regime of Ali Abdulla Saleh, is from the Houthi tribe and is closely connected to the Houthi spiritual leader Abdulmalek Al-Houthi. The Houthis had fought six wars against the Yemeni state.

The unpopularity of the so-called legitimate government and the general distrust of its integrity ensured its failure. After Hadi won a show election in which he was the only candidate, he stayed in power beyond the expiration of his two-year mandate triggering Houthi incursions close to the capital. In 2014 they, seized vast swathes of the country, including the capital Sanaa. Their invasion of Sanaa and their relationship with Iran was seen by the Saudis as a danger to their national security.

On 25th March 2015, Saudi Arabia unilaterally launched an attack on Yemen under the name “Operation Decisive Storm,” with the announced aim of restoring the legitimate government of Hadi and preventing the Houthis and their allies from taking control of the country.

After the defeat of the Houthi invasion and their expulsion to their Northern Territory, the Southerners were confident enough to establish the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in 2017. It consisted of 26 members including the governors of five southern governorates. Their initial announcement was to restore the independence of the south. The STC had helped the Saudi-led coalition forces dislodge the Houthis from the south. The UAE intervened to provide the STC with military backing.

Relations between the STC and Hadi’s government soured when Hadi dismissed Aden’s governor Aidarous Al-Zubaidi and the governors of Hadramaut and Shabwa. Repeated reconciliation attempts ended in failure and in January 2018 fighting broke out between the two sides on two occasions and the STC eventually seized Aden.

Recent events

The Riyadh Agreement, an attempt by the Saudis to resolve the conflict between the STC and the legitimate government, provided for power sharing between the two. It was signed on 5th November 2019 between Hadi’s government and the STC. The STC, unhappy with the lack of progress in the implementation of the agreement withdrew from it on 14th April 2020. On 26th April the STC declared self rule in Aden and the areas in the south under its control in order to strengthen its bargaining position with Hadi and the Saudis.

The present situation

The conflict has so far claimed 100,000 lives, mostly civilian, and has triggered what the United Nations terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An estimated 4.3 million people have fled from their homes and approximately 3.3 million remain displaced. The worst case scenario is that the country could see 93 percent of its 30 million people infected with COVID-19. Yemenis are also plagued by locusts, floods, drastic aid cuts and a collapse of the health system. The president and his government are mostly living abroad while the rest of the population endures the absence of a state and collapsing services, particularly in the South.


Abdul Galil Shaif Kasim concludes that Yemeni unity was a noble aim in 1990 but today the Houthis have overthrown the government and have taken over around 70 percent of North Yemen rendering unity a failed project with no hope of achieving democracy or equality. “They are now recognised as a de facto state in the north of Yemen and their ambition is a takeover of the whole country. So long as southern statehood and national boundaries are not formally recognised, the risk of renewed conflicts will prevail and Yemen will end up a pariah state run by militias where power vacuums are filled by terrorists and extremist groups.”

Karen Dabrowska - July 2020