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Yemen Marks Unification Anniversary as South Marches for Independence

A day before Yemen marked the 23rd anniversary of the unification of north and south to form today's Republic of Yemen, thousands gathered in South Yemen in support of independence for the region once more.

The country of Yemen was formerly two separate states, the Yemen Arab Republic (formerly known as North Yemen) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (formerly known as South Yemen). But after a long and arduous effort from both sides, the two were joined on May 22, 1990 into the Republic of Yemen.

But that unity was jeopardized a couple of years later when power struggles and economic marginalization of the south prompted the region to demand its secession. A bloody civil war erupted in 1994, with the north overtaking the south, where most of the fighting took place, after three months. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people were killed in the conflict, and land in the south was confiscated by the north.

The separatist sentiment remains popular in the south, and so May 22 has become a thorny date for the country. Some in the south celebrate May 21 instead, which marks the day southern leaders called for independence from the north 19 years ago.

Southern Yemen rallies on May 21 in Aden calling for separation from the North (photo via @NajiAlkaladi)

Southern Yemen rallies on May 21, 2013 in Aden calling for separation from the North. Photo shared by Twitter user @NajiAlkaladi

Protesters this year in the major southern city of Aden chanted slogans calling for secession and waved the flag of their former republic.

Journalist Nasser Arrabyee (@narrabyee) commented on the stark split between north and south during those two days in May:

‏@narrabyee: South Yemen celebrates angrily the 19th anniversary of disunity, north celebrates 23rd anni of unity, chaos in both!

Hussain Al-Yafai (@crazyyafai), a Yemeni student who lives between the US and Yemen, tweeted a photo of the march and explained the south's reasons for independence:

@crazyyafai: South Yemenis want separation from the North because 23 years of unity have done nothing but failure for both sides. #SouthYemen #Yemen

Meanwhile, there were no unification celebrations nor the customary parade in Yemen's capital city of Sanaa this year. President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi commemorated the day of Yemen's Unification with a formal address stressing the importance of the date.

Twitter account Yemen Updates (@yemen_updates) quoted from Hadi's speech:

@yemen_updates: Prz Hadi, in his May 22 anniversary speech says, “The national dialogue is set to fix the past mistakes associated with the national unity.”

Many Yemenis and especially southerners have criticized Hadi, who is from the southern province of Abyan, for failing to take any concrete action to salvage Yemen's unity in the face of the separatist mood in the south.

Summer Nasser (@SummerNasser), a youth activist and student based in New York, criticized the president's attitude toward the south:

@SummerNasser: If Pres. Hadi cares about the unity of our country, he shouldn't turn a blind eye to the South. Simple as that. #Yemen

North Yemen (in orange) and South Yemen (in blue) before 1990

Map showing North Yemen (in orange) and South Yemen (in blue) before 1990. Image shared by Twitter user @Droodkin

Faisal Al Yafai (@FaisalAlYafai), a writer and columnist, tweeted a link to his latest article, published in the English-language news website The National based in the United Arab Emerites, with a piece of advice for Hadi:

@FaisalAlYafai: If Hadi wants #Yemen to remain whole, he must take the possibility of southern secession seriously http://bit.ly/16EMKGQ

In the article, he argued that Hadi's lack of leadership was making the situation worse:

At the end of last year, Mr Hadi set up a tribunal to address some of the issues of reinstatement, promising to return to southerners property seized after the 1994 civil war. But it has moved slowly, while other events – such as drone strikes by the United States – continue to inflame the south.

By not making a genuine effort to fix legitimate grievances of southerners, Mr Hadi is making his task of steering Yemen through this political transition harder

He finally warned:

Whether Mr Hadi can make such an offer – and whether he can find anyone in the south to listen, agree and deliver the deal – remains an open question.

But Mr Hadi is running out of time. Whereas at the beginning of the year, he might have found factions within [southern movement] Hirak open to dialogue on greater inclusion in a Sanaa government, now public sentiment is hardening, moving towards autonomy and more.

Sana Uqba (@Sanasiino) a Yemeni writer and speaker based in London, argued in her piece entitled “Is there a new Yemen on the horizon?” published on news website Your Middle East, that the South are not ready for Independence:

The 1990 unification of South and North promised no less than paradise for both people and both people (with the exception of the elite of course) are yet to receive this. There is absolutely no doubt in mind that Yemen as a nation was oppressed by [President of unified Yemen Ali Abdallah] Saleh’s regime. But likewise, there is absolutely no doubt in mind that the people of South Yemen have indeed been a targeted victim for the past 23 years.

She adds making her point:

Nevertheless I as a Southerner, and as many Southerners believe, this is no reason to sever a tie of brotherhood… how can one group with numerous leaders who all chant diverse slogans and have no plan possibly lead and rebuild a broken nation full of broken people?…The hurtful truth is, the South is not ready to become its own nation again and Southerners refuse to accept this.

Some northerners still refuse to acknowledge the south's grievances and choose to ignore their calls for separation, and some southerners refuse to admit that both sides of Yemen were subject to bad governance under President Saleh's 33-year rule.

In order to save Yemen's fragile unity, the country needs to urgently and seriously address the secessionist cause and rectify all transgressions by the former regime. Only through serious commitment and concrete action will the unity survive.

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