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Foreign Policy: A House Divided

Authors: Tom Finn, and Atiaf Al-Wazir
November 28, 2011

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Despite President Saleh's signing of a power-transfer agreement, the threat of civil war is growing, write Tom Finn and Atiaf al-Wazir, noting that renewed violence between the north and south would be problematic for Western interests and could make more room for militant groups.

"We give the regime this ultimatum: either you acknowledge our legitimate demands to self-determination or you will soon find Yemen split once again into two countries," said Gen. Nasser al-Taweel, a prominent leader of the Hirak, delivering an anti-unity speech from a shabby bus stop turned protest podium in the rundown streets of downtown Aden. Despite brutal repression from Saleh's regime, the secessionists have proved remarkably resilient, deriving strength from a broad support as well as from charismatic leaders capable of mobilizing the population through a compelling narrative of injustice, marginalization, and a history of independence.

But while the secessionist cry is loud, it is also fragmented. Its more radical leaders like Ali Salem Al Beidh -- the exiled former general secretary of the Yemeni Socialist Party -- demand "complete and immediate separation" while a more moderate faction headed by Haidar al-Attas advocate a federal system of two governorates for five years followed by a Sudan-style referendum for self-determination. Others just want an end to land expropriation and job discrimination and a greater devolution of power to the provinces. Their visions for what a future southern Yemen might look like also vary -- from a return to Marxism to a secular multi-party democracy to an Islamist caliphate.

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