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Unified Yemen

The civil war of Yemen that took place from May to early July in the year 1994 devastated the country and its political and economic stability (Day, 2008).  It left the country thinking about the attainment of unity between the states that disagreed and were warring. They were also left pondering on the question of how oil was a divisive factor in the region as well as the role that outside forces played and continue to play in the unity efforts.  Finally they had to figure out the benefits and limitations of democratization.  Even though it is the northern forces otherwise known as the unionists who emerged victorious in the conventional military war, the fighting might not be totally over and no celebrations should be started yet (Drestch, 2002).  This is because there are still parts of the south that remain disaffected, the Hadramaut region in particular.  The failure of the Yemeni unity failed despite its restoration by the force of arms as a result of miscalculation and blunder between the south and north. 

The Yemeni north and south was one people when they united in 1990 since they had so much in common.  This did not mean that all the obstacles to the unity were eliminated in fact, there were quite a number of obstacles to overcome.  First of all, the history of colonization had made the two regions of Yemen, that is, the north and the south very different.  The areas to the south were dominated by large Sunni Muslim communities, a similar condition with the coastal north area.  The mountains to the north were densely populated by the Islamic sect of Zaydi.  From the time the country gained independence, the south had been ruled by a Leninist vanguard party known as the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP).  During the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev the Yemen Socialist Party declared itself democratic (Day, 2008).  Meanwhile, in the north, a former army officer was in rule and he was controlled by an alliance of tribal leaders and the armed forces.  The leadership was also influenced by some conservative elements of the society.  In both cases, none of the two regions had total control of their hinterlands.  In addition to that, both these regions experienced internal war from time to time. 

In the north, there was a long civil war that disorganized them throughout much of the 1960s.  The south also had a sharp war in 1987 within its ruling party in addition to the war they had to fight with Britain for their independence.  There are very rampant tribal wars in Yemen and this has led to most of the adults being armed always in readiness for war at any time.    


Yemen has for a very long time had a tradition of imagined unity.  Initially the northern part of Yemen was fully independent long before the southern region gained their independence from the British.  There was rampant Marxism in the south while the north interested the Saudis a lot (Day, 2008).  The two regions united in 1990 to form the Yemen Republic.National cohesion would mean that the two regions of the Yemen state would have to burry their differences in order to come up with one unified nation and this was very difficult given the multiethnic and multi-religious nature of most Arab states.  Both the parties were however motivated by the short term political and economic gains that they both stood to achieve in the unification of the two states.  There were two main parties in the unity, the GPC from the north and the YSP from the south.  They were later joined by the Islah party who were mainly an Islamic party. 

The Islah was composed mainly by members from the GPC in order to repress the powers of the YSP.  It is evident therefore that the GPC was never intending to share power and resources with the YSP party from the south and that is why there was so much dominance by the northerners (Pratt, 2007).  The unification of Yemen was the main aim of the regimes but there existed too much distrust between the leaders and their rivalry took the best of the unification process.   

 Social Context

During the period of revolution and independence, the southern nationalist group seemed successful in bringing together several groups under a common ideology of nationalism and social justice.  They managed to get groups committed to this cause ranging from the workers in the urban areas to those working in the rural areas as well as other tribal populations (Drestch, 2002).  The true political dynamics of the two regions began to become evident after the withdrawal of the British colonizers from south Yemen and the Egyptians left.  The nationalist movement was quite popular in the south but this did not stop the divisions in the region that was characterized by regionalism and social class stratification that was so rampant in its political culture.  The divisions came as a result of differences in the opinions of many over the extent and direction of change.  The south Arabian league advocated for a united state and they tried to get support from the rural and urban populations although they agreed to work in conjunction with the rural conservatists to preserve the aristocratic political pattern in Yemen.  This was later challenged by the labor movement among other radical groups that believed in nationalism, socialism and communism (Pratt, 2007). 

During the civil war, there were no social mechanisms in place to bring about peace and the sharing of power in the regions.  There were so many social groups that had developed and any group that had most military power could very easily conquer the nation.  There were divisions that were from personal perspectives, matters of class, and even regional as well as tribal divisions that hampered social hegemony in the nation.  The state had decided to reconstruct the Marxist political culture of the south which involved a seizure to the organizations divided along tribal lines.  It also advocated for change from religion to secular ideologies, the establishment of new representation structures such as coming up with organizations representing women, and youth as well as the elimination of traditional structures of authority.  Despite all these efforts, power still remained in the hands of a few elites in the society due to their immense power of parties and security and thus the existence of organizations of representation did not have much effect on the political system (Drestch, 2002). 

The northern dominance subscribed to a Marxist ideology that advocated for an economic strategy that was more concerned with the allocation of economic resources instead of their productivity leading to a poor economic status of Yemen.  When the Soviet Union retracted, the PDRY whose pillar was based on economic and political support did not want any more association to the unproductive economy and regime.  The socialist party therefore failed to inculcate its socialist ideology in the society.  This was because its authority was not based on the community’s commitment to the communist ideology but on economic patronage.  The republican movement of the north also had similar problems of social, ideological and religious aspects of its society.  There was a major difference of opinion between the people who advocated for the radical transformation of the society to follow Egyptian ways and the conservative tribalists who had strong roots in the political system of Yemen.  The tribal and religious factors in Yemen were so deeply rooted that no one could transform them with a civic culture into a modern culture (Day, 2008).  President Saleh tried to gain political legitimacy by acquiring popular support when he formulated a new national charter. In addition to this he established a new political party called the General People’s Congress.  He then assigned several working groups to come up with a document that was acceptable to everyone.  These groups comprised of representatives from all sorts of political groups all over the country.  Citizens were allowed to debate on the national accord and amendments were made on the charter.  The regime of president Saleh became stronger and they conquered the south and took over its resources. 


When the republic of Yemen was declared in 1990, the president was Abdullah Saleh and he was supported by his vice president al-Baidh (Dunn, 1994).  The most part of the country was politically united and there was a thirty month period allowed for its transition and the unification of the political and economic systems existing of the two regions.  An elected presidential council was responsible for electing a prime minister who in turn formed a cabinet.  The unified parliament consisted of 301 seats of which 159 members were from the north and 111 from the south and the rest were independent members who the chairman of the council appointed (Day, 2008).  They agreed on a unity constitution that confirmed the commitment of the Yemeni people to free elections, a law that held everyone equal, the respect of basic human rights, a political system of multi parties and the right to own private property. 

 The sources of the conflict

According to Pruitt and Rubin (1986), conflict occurs when two or more parties believe that their aspirations cannot be satisfied uniformly at the same time. The main cause of conflict is very high aspirations in the part of one party or both parties.  The high aspirations may be realistic on what they think is achievable for them or idealistic based on what they think is their right or they deserved.  This leads to the formation of groups to fight for the interests that are seen to be under recognized.  A party estimates the other party’s aspirations by taking into account the same factors that affects its own aspirations. In so doing, it compares the experiences that they have shared and had with each other.  In the process distrust may be established and this makes them think that their aspirations are incompatible leading to conflicts.  It is difficult for conflict to arise where there is adequate resourced for both parties to share equally.  Whenever there is balanced power, trust and common norms shared among parties, it is difficult to find long term conflicts.  But in a case of inadequate resources every party always tends to secure the most for them. This is the case for the southern and northern region of Yemen.  When the two regions unified, the main aspiration of the north was to exploit the oil revenues of the south as well as the beautiful villas that were left by the British after the end of the colonial period (Drestch, 2002).  They were also interested in the local trade in the south and they went solely with the intention of exploiting all these.  In the process the southerners were left oppressed and their values were degraded and this is why the conflict escalated.  There was too much dominance by the northerners and there still is making the conflict difficult to seize.   

The main crisis here is the flawed unification of the two Yemeni states that occurred in the year 1990.  Conflicts within the political coalition began with the self imposed exile of the vice president Al-Baidh to Aden in 1993.  There was also tribal clashes and general insecurity as political rivals sought to settle their scores in the regime. By then, there was the Yemeni Arabic Republic existing in the north and in the south there was the People’s democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).  The prime minister of the PDRY did not stop serving as the ROY prime minister but the political wars within the party made the government ineffective (Day, 2008).

This unity was not well planned and internal as well as external forces led to the downfall of the Yemeni unity.  The Yemeni people back in the 1970s and 80s had deep commitment to their unity.  There was a strong sense of unity both culturally and historically and they believed that if they became united, then they would be able to join forces and reclaim land that they felt was rightfully theirs from their greatest enemies who were the Saudis (Dunn, 1994).  The Saudis, they claimed, had taken their Arab lands away from them, Egypt being one of the most ancient of them.  Their rivalry lasted for two decades and the two regimes in Yemen had their capitals in Sana’a and Aden.  There were two wars that took place with each region trying to impose what they believed to be unity on the other.  In 1972, the north tried to invade the south.  They relied on support from Libya and Saudi Arabia and in 1979, the south tried to invade and conquer the north.  The unity that came up in 1990 was as a result of a number of factors.  Some of the factors were the exhaustion of the experiment that the PDRY was performing on socialism according to the soviet and the oil revenues that were expected to boost economy in both regions.  Another factor that influenced the unity was the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev reduced the soviet support for the south (Drestch, 2002).  These factors made it necessary for there to be a gradual rapprochement between the warring regions. The 1994 civil war occurred mostly in the southern region of the country.  There were several air and missile attacks aimed at the northern cities by the southern state backed financially by Saudi Arabia that was threatened by a unified Yemen. 

The conflict parties

The conflict in Yemen is one characterized by social and political division between different tribes, between tribes and towns and between Zaydi and Shafi Islam. It is also a conflict between the northern and southern regions as well as one between the traditionalists and the modernists.  The parties that have long tried to bring unity among these parties have faced various obstacles the main ones being autocracy and tribalism among the societies in Yemen (Dunn, 1994).  The GPC party from the north used a strategy of national reconciliation and formed coalitions in order to unify the country under one political rule and was faced by struggles for control of the unified state by the YSP.  Achieving unity by force of arms was also difficult since military strength lay with societies and tribes mostly and there was no centralized military power in the state.  For a certain leader to gain power in Yemen, they had to rally for support from the various societies, religious sects and tribes before they could secure it (Pratt, 2007). 

 The main issues in dispute

There are several reasons given by both parties for the civil war.  The southerners blame the northerners for the war citing that they were determined to deny the southerners their rights.  They claimed that the north was hidebound, medieval and very traditionalist on top of being an Islamic fundamentalist.    Flaws in the unification process were evident right from the start (Pratt, 2007).  First of all, the decision for unity was made hurriedly and within a few months without consulting other advisors.  It is said that the decision was made by the two leaders while on a trip in the tunnel in Aden spontaneously.  Since the union the south has complained of a northern dominance.  They claim that the northern tradition is what seems to rule and the southerners had to abandon their traditions amongst other changes imposed on them by the northern communities (Drestch, 2002). 

The Yemen republic had never really melded into one nation and the fact that the resources that was part reason for their unity are diminishing makes the maintenance of the unity an even more difficult thing to do (Pratt, 2007).  The southern socialists had to call for secession as a result of a combination of economic crisis and mistrust leading to the north gaining military victory over the south.  From then on the socialists from the south have so little power.  The northerners have long since regarded the south as their property and have grabbed land and properties in addition to driving people away.  The southerners started to protest against such injustices.  Equally numerous civil servants and soldiers have lost their jobs due to this and this has worsened the conflict.

The parties’ tactics

In reference to Pruitt and Rubin (1986), there are five basic strategies of dealing with conflicts.  One of them is by contending which is making an attempt to resolve the problem based on the terms of only one side irregardless of the interests of the other party.  This can be done by threatening the other party or by using preemptive tactics on them.  The other strategy is by trying problem solving skills.  This can be through attempting to find solutions that can help both parties and from which they can both gain.  This can be done by sitting together and discussing the issues and coming up with possible solutions to the underlying problem.  Another strategy could be yielding which is trying to solve the problem by reducing one’s aspirations in order to bring peace between the two parties. The final strategy is by doing nothing and remaining in the conflict waiting for it to play itself out.  The parties wait for a move to be made by the rival party and may react to that move (Dunn, 1994).  In light of the Yemen conflict, the northern region chose to react in a contentious manner. They decided to go for their interest in exploiting the resources in the south.  Since they knew they had more military power they were able to do so and have since dominated the southern communities.  The communities in the south chose to yield and called for secession in order to end the conflict.  This was not so successful due to the contentious tactics employed by the northerners.  President Saleh has tried to hold the two Yemen states together but currently the effects of the north dominance is having its toll on the southern communities (Pratt, 2007).  The southern socialists began to hold massive protests against the northern dominance of their land and activities. 

The conflict was aggravated the years that followed.  The elite from the northern region led by Abdullah Saleh viewed the unification as an opportunity to exploit the resources from the southern region (Dunn, 1994).  The south was known for oil revenues, local trade that flourished as well as the colonial villas of the British that were in Aden.  The president declared war on the YSP military presence in the south.  The war lasted for seventy days and the northerners won the victory.  They had superior weapons to the southerners and had Islamic militia forces supporting them such as al-Qaeda in addition to the benefit of surprise that they had on the southerners. 

 The changes over time

The first Yemeni parliamentary elections were held in 1993.  it gave birth to a coalition government between the GPC and the Islah (Pratt, 2007).  This led to power imbalance between the north and the south and the southerners began grumbling over the issue.  As a result, there arose a series of worse accusations and violence in Yemen between the two regions.  The political systems of the north and south were too different to be merged into one through democratization.  The two parties continued to blame each other with one saying that the other was not committed to the unity of Yemen through the equal sharing of power.  Later there emerged wars between parties and not between the north and south yet the southerners felt this was another northern invasion making real unity just a myth. 

 The enlargement of the conflict

The conflict escalated due to the fact that the northern region of Yemen was not willing to reduce its hold of the southern resources and the lack of integrative options left the south with no choice but to come up with strategies to stop the dominance by the northern areas.  Pruitt and Rubin (1986) talk of models of escalation processes one of them being the conflict spiral model in which a vicious cycle of action and reaction tends to enlarge the conflict.  In this model one party does something to punish the other party and the other party finds a way to revenge.  This reaction angers the first party more and they try to find an even worse way to fight back.  In some cases a party can take action to defend them and the other party takes it as an act of vengeance and retaliates.  In the long run the situation worsens and worsens by the minute (Dunn, 1994). 

The other model is the structural change model in which the tactics used in conflict resolution brings about structural changes in the parties involved.  These changes cause further contentious reactions and the parties end up hating each other and blaming them for the conflict.  They then become hostile to the rival party and their trust and empathy diminishes to non existence.This kind of change results in a shift of the party’s view towards extreme militant leadership and more contentious group goals.  Conflict tends to strengthen the cohesion among group members and the members believe strongly in their goals more now than ever before (Pruitt and Rubin, 1986).  This in turn makes the conflict enlarge and the group’s sole purpose becomes triumphing over their adversary. 

In the case of the conflict in the Yemen unity, there was a structural change that escalated the conflict.  The two regions have negative perspectives of each other to the point of calling each other names such as “Turks” as the southerners refer to their northern counterparts (Pratt, 2007).  The southerners have also resolved to taking up massive protests against the domination of the northerners.  The northerners had used al-Qaeda powers and militias to fight the southerners which ended up in their victory over the region.  The two regions do not seem to be able to come to a compromise and agree to share the resources and power equally.  This makes the problem very difficult to solve. 

 Role of other parties

Third parties can act formally or informally to change conflicts.  These third parties can be individuals or representatives of certain movements mainly humanitarian groups.  They may intervene personally or may do so from invitation by one or both parties to help alleviate the conflict by being either partial or impartial.  They may help by offering advice or by making some important decisions that either party feels incapable of making for themselves.  The role of third parties could be seen in three different ways.  The first is that they can intervene by modifying the social structure of the conflict.  There is also quite a bit of influences from outside forces in the unity efforts of the Yemeni people.  Its neighbor, Saudi Arabia was never advocating for unity in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia retained its close ties to the northern tribes and when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait shortly after the Yemen unity was declared, they expelled so many Yemeni guest workers alongside other gulf states (Pratt, 2007). 

Saudi Arabia had also been known to have disliked President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s support given to Iraq during the civil war.  Furthermore, Kuwait began supporting the efforts of the southerners who intend to weaken the union yet they were initially not involved in the war.  The Kuwait government just wanted to revenge on Yemen.  To show his power also, President Saddam Hussein openly supported president Saleh both morally and materially and also called for a military victory for the northerners.  It is evident that Yemen was hostage to the split within the Arab world since 1990 and this is what accelerated the stresses within the union.  This means that there were still some unsolved issues between the two regions even after the unity was formed and the neighboring countries were supporting their break up. The unity decision was supported by Riyadh and Washington who supported Sana’a and Moscow who supported Aden.  Iraq’s Saddam Hussein greatly supported both parties in their decision.  He was just recovering from their war with Iran and was anxious to establish an anti-Saudi and anti-Egyptian alliance with them.  To achieve this he provided both political and maybe financial support to the two leaders.  Months later the results of the Iraqi support for an anti-Saudi Yemen began to manifest it.  The Kuwait invasion led to the expulsion of numerous Yemenis from Saudi Arabia and all aid that had been offered to president Saleh was cut off. 

The crisis was worsened by the fact that Yemen held a seat in the United Nations Security Council therefore was in the international view.  Its representative to this council had abstained from voting on the armed invasion of Iraq and this only earned Yemen hatred from the united stated.  Washington also cut off aid to Yemen and Laid off its workers from the region (Dunn, 1994).  The United States had shown strong support for the Yemen unity but was quick to call for cease fires and recommencement of negotiations.  A special UN envoy was also involved in successfully securing a cease fire.

The eventual outcome

The leaders from the south declared secession and later formed the democratic republic of Yemen (DRY).  Ali Nasser Mohamed and his supporters fought against the secession but they were captured in the wake of much other resistances collapsing and the southern leaders going into exile.  After the civil war, there were amendments made in the unity constitution that eliminated the presence of the presidential council. Since then there has been increased tension between the two regions of Yemen and the two former states openly resent each other (Pratt, 2007).  There have been measures that have been taken to try and solve the problem.  The military and political leadership of the south incorporated some of its members into the northern state but this proved meaningless.  Equally, elections of the parliament and president were held as reconciliatory gestures and political reform aimed at toning down the western governments and NGOs involvement in their political matters (Dunn, 1994).  The meaning of these efforts to the south was little as the southerners increasingly resented the northerners’ intrusion in their land calling them Turks, as ottoman occupation was referred to as during the 19th century and dahbashah, a criminal family in a TV series.

Was there a winner?

Even though the northern forces won over the southern power as a result of their greater military power and support from external forces especially the al-Qaeda, there cannot be certainty of a winner in the conflict (Dunn, 1994).  This is because the conflict continues to date as much as there is so much dominance by the north.  The southern communities have mobilized themselves into social groups and are protesting the northern rule and grabbing of their resources.  They are fighting against the disillusionment of their traditions and the imposition of the northern traditions on them.  There has never been a unified Yemen and there might not be one for a long while to come. 

Summary and Conclusion

There were no real efforts to unify the south and north Yemen or even the parties in the nation. They had resolved to violence and repression to try and attain unity of the two regimes.  The constant hostility between the north and the south will continue to be a barrier to a unified Yemen that works together to attain common goals that can develop the country and its economy (Drestch, 2002).  As much as the Yemeni spokesmen wish to place the blame on their enemies and foreign forces that influenced the crisis, the failure of the unity was partly as a result of squandering an important initiative to positively unify the two regimes when the unification process was commenced.  President Saleh is to blame as well together with his close allies for the crisis that took place.  Abu Ahmad, the person behind the idea of Yemeni unity is also to blame since he has contributed so much towards its destruction.  What the country needs is a new leadership style that will concentrate on the interests of the general public and not just a few elites in society.  The basic human rights of the Yemeni citizen need to be adhered to in order to attain the promise of a truly unified Yemen.  The current economic downfall may one day bring down the ruling regime and give rise to the new leadership that can truly unify Yemen.

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