Southern Yemen Leaders Launch Secessionist Bid

Southerners Hope Gulf States Support Effort

In a move that is simultaneously seen as undermining the Saudi War in Yemen and also a virtually necessary consequence of that war, a group of political, military, and tribal figures, led by former Aden Governor Aidaroos Zubaidi, have announced that they are launching a formal movement for the secession of South Yemen, making the announcement with the flag of the former country.

South Yemen was conquered by North Yemen in 1994, unifying the country under northern ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh ruled unified Yemen until 2012, when Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was appointed to replace him. Hadi resigned in 2015, leading to the Saudi invasion to try to reinstall him by force.

Northern Yemen is controlled by the Shi’ite Houthi movement now, while the Saudi-backed forces of Hadi rule the south, with the country once again split largely along the historic border. There was always some southern nationalism within Yemen, and the war’s de facto split has brought it back to the fore.

Hadi allies are complaining the secessionist movement might undermine the Saudi bid to conquer the whole country for them, while many southerners say they expect the smaller Gulf Arab states, who are also deeply involved in the Saudi War, to back the right of self-determination for the south.

Despite formally being a unified country for over 20 years, southern Yemenis long complained of discrimination by northern rulers, and the various crackdowns by Saleh et al. against secessionist movements in the past gave them very much the feel of an occupied territory.

Ironically, despite a split being the opposite of the Saudi goal in the war, that same war has made it a de facto reality, and accepting it as a de jure reality too would be a very simple way to resolve the ongoing war, assuming the Saudis will accept not only a sovereign South Yemen, but a North Yemen that has a substantial and influential Shi’ite population.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.