Tuesday, 18th June, 2024

Yemen Future Dialogues: Interview with Amr Al Bidh

This report is based on an interview conducted with Mr. Amr Al Bidh, the Special Representative of the President of the Southern Transitional Council for Foreign Affairs, in Arabic on March 28th, 2023. The report specifically focuses on issues regarding the Southern Yemeni Movement and the political prospects of the South. It is the first in a series of reports on the research program "Reimagining Yemen".


Please click here if you’d like to watch the interview on YouTube in Arabic. 

What is the Southern Yemeni Movement, and why is it commonly associated with separatism?

  • To gain a complete understanding of the South Yemeni cause, it is essential to explore its origins, which date back to the modernist national project in Yemen after the country's unification in the 1990s. That era marked a significant shift in Yemen's political landscape, as the newly formed government aimed to establish a unified national identity and strengthen its influence over the varied regions. 
  • The problem's origins can be traced back to 1994 when the civil democratic developmental project was abruptly halted following the unification of South and North Yemen. Contrary to expectations, the unification proved counterproductive and led to unforeseen challenges and setbacks. One of the primary reasons for this was the amalgamation of two distinct regions.
  • The Southern movement is fundamentally cantered around promoting the welfare and advancement of the people in the southern region of Yemen, envisioning a future characterized by stability and prosperity. This vision is underpinned by a focus on development and decentralization, with the primary goal being the reinstatement of a two-state model that allows for autonomous governance in both regions.
  • The unification's failure to meet its original objectives can be attributed to stark differences in opinion and governance models between the North and the South. This has hindered effective collaboration and integration, resulting in stagnation and growing discontent.
  • To achieve stability in the South, a tripartite formula comprising development, decentralization, and democracy is crucial. By prioritizing these key areas, the Movement aims to create an environment that fosters growth and self-determination, allowing the region to thrive. The core issue is that the project failed to integrate with Sana'a, perpetuating instability and impeding progress.
  • While security is a critical factor, particularly since 2015 with the increasing Iranian influence in Yemen, it is merely one aspect of the broader issue. The Southern cause's primary focus is on development and addressing the socio-economic needs of the region.
  • Given the complex challenges facing Yemen, a new negotiating framework that facilitates open and honest dialogue between the North and the South is crucial. Through a collaborative effort aimed at finding mutually beneficial solutions, the conflicting parties can effectively address the fundamental issues and pave the way towards a more stable and prosperous Yemen.

Is the South's quest for independence rooted in the principle of self-determination or is it merely a political appeasement strategy to gain certain rights?

  • The political landscape in Yemen has long been characterized by a consistent disregard for the voices of its citizens, dating back to before the 1994 unification. Historically, political elites have made decisions on behalf of the population without considering their opinions or needs, as was evident during the unification period when the will of the people was largely ignored in favor of decisions made by those in power.
  • This marginalization continued beyond the unification period and is evident in more recent events, where the right to self-determination, a cornerstone of any democratic society, has been effectively taken away from the Yemeni people. 
  • This marginalization continued beyond the unification period and is evident in more recent events, where the right to self-determination, a cornerstone of any democratic society, has been effectively taken away from the Yemeni people. 
  • The 2014 Yemeni national dialogue is a prime example of this, where a top-down approach to decision-making was employed, disregarding the desires and needs of Yemeni citizens.
  • To secure a just and equitable future for Yemen, it is crucial to ensure the right to self-determination for its people. Decision-making processes must be more inclusive and genuinely consider public opinion to ensure a fair and democratic society.
  • By creating an environment in which the voices of the people are heard and respected, Yemen can learn from its past mistakes and work towards a more inclusive and democratic society. In doing so, Yemenis will be empowered to shape their own destiny, contributing to the long-term stability and prosperity.


The presence of other southern elites and powers is frequently discussed, with claims that the Southern Transitional Council (STC) rejects these forces as it sees itself as the primary representative in the south.

  • While the Southern Transitional Council (STC) is the most prominent force in the southern region of Yemen, it is important to acknowledge the presence of a diverse range of actors in the area, including local tribes, political factions, and other armed groups. It is crucial not to overlook the complexity of the situation on the ground and to recognize the varied interests and objectives of these actors. Only by understanding the multiplicity of voices and actors in the region one can grasp the intricacies of the ongoing conflict.
  • In order to establish a united front, the STC has proactively engaged with various southern powers, fostering dialogue and cooperation. Over the past two years, they have worked to forge alliances and find common ground with these groups, culminating in the drafting of a national charter.
  • This document, which is set to be signed by all participating southern powers, aims to create a shared vision for the region's future and establish a platform for collaboration and joint decision-making. By promoting open dialogue and cooperation, the STC demonstrates its commitment to a more inclusive and democratic process in the south.
  • It is crucial to note that the STC is just one of many influential factions and groups in the south, which underscores the importance of inclusive negotiations in achieving a lasting peace. In their pursuit of peace and stability, the STC has consistently called for inclusion in the national political dialogue, with their primary goal being an end to the devastating war that has ravaged Yemen for years. 
  • By seeking a seat at the negotiation table, the STC aims to contribute to the conflict's resolution and ensure that the voices and interests of the south are fairly represented. This approach not only highlights the STC's commitment to a peaceful resolution but also signals its willingness to collaborate with other stakeholders to achieve a just and lasting peace for all Yemenis.

Could the separation result in a domino effect where major governates such as Mahra and Hadramout demand their independence?

  • The issue of regional governance in the south is not necessarily a manifestation of separatism, but rather a reflection of the unique and diverse characteristics of each southern region. These areas boast their own distinct features, such as cultural heritage and historical background, that have been deeply rooted for centuries and contribute to the rich tapestry of the south. Therefore, any governance approach must take into account and respect these regional differences.
  • During the past decade, there has been an unequal distribution of resources and attention in favor of Hadramout, which has led to the neglect and marginalization of other southern regions. This neglect has exacerbated tensions and inequalities, perpetuating a cycle of underdevelopment and discontent. Addressing this issue requires a more equitable distribution of resources and a recognition of the distinctiveness of each southern region. 
  • Decentralization offers a potential solution to this challenge by granting greater autonomy to each governorate to make decisions that fit their unique needs and circumstances. 
  • By adopting a decentralized political model, the distinctiveness and uniqueness of each region can be respected, fostering a sense of belonging and pride among local communities. 
  • This approach does not promote separatism, but rather emphasizes the importance of embracing regional specificity and empowering each governorate to flourish within a decentralized framework. This approach is particularly relevant in the south, where regional identities are deeply entrenched.
  • However, implementing decentralization in Sana'a and other northern regions may prove more challenging due to the area's historical operation under a different governance model. A sudden shift to decentralization could potentially lead to new issues and exacerbate existing tensions. Therefore, it's essential to acknowledge that the north may require a distinct governance approach, specifically tailored to its unique context.

In the context of a two-state Yemen, is there a plan or agenda for establishing connectivity between the North and the South? 

  • Despite the diverse political systems present in Sana'a and other regional countries, it is essential to acknowledge that mutual interests can act as a catalyst for cooperation. As the capital of Yemen, Sana'a plays a central role in political activities, and despite varying political ideologies, collaboration in various fields remains achievable.
  • Focusing on projects that contribute to regional growth and prosperity can help nations bridge their differences and foster a sense of unity and interdependence, ultimately leading to long-lasting partnerships. In fact, there are numerous mutual interests that can be expanded upon, encouraging cooperation between the North and the South. By looking beyond distinct cultural, historical, and political backgrounds, it's possible to concentrate on shared aspirations, such as economic development, infrastructure projects, and social initiatives. Promoting dialogue and a spirit of collaboration will help create a more unified and prosperous future for all.
  • However, the current mechanism for solving problems is incomplete as it mainly focuses on addressing the Houthi coup. To effectively resolve the conflict, it's vital to consider other contributing factors such as the Southern independence situation and adopt a more comprehensive and holistic approach. By recognizing and addressing the concerns of all parties involved, it becomes possible to create an environment that fosters meaningful progress.
  • To ensure the success of any peace process, it's crucial to involve all stakeholders in decision-making and establish a negotiation platform. Encouraging open dialogue, compromise, and the exchange of ideas can develop a mechanism that not only addresses immediate concerns but also paves the way for a more stable and peaceful future. Achieving this requires patience, empathy, and a genuine commitment to finding mutually beneficial solutions.
Mohammed Abdul Rahman Baharoon

Mohammed Abdul Rahman Baharoon

Director General

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Areas of Expertise

  • Geo-strategy
  • Reputation and soft power
  • Public Policy and International Relations

Education

  • Master’s degree in English Literature from Texas Tech University in 1995
  • English Major from Kuwait University in 1987

Bio

He perused a career in media as a reporter for “Al Arabi” Magazine, Al Ittihad newspaper, and then Editor for Gulf Defense Magazine before starting as director of research at both and focusing on the interplay between Geostrategy and policymaking in governance, stability, capacity building, and future-proofing.

Mohammed has also worked as Deputy Director of Watani (UAE’s first initiative on National Identity) and is also a founding member of the board of “Bussola Institute” a think tank in Brussels that focuses on the changing and emerging aspects of the partnership between the EU and the GCC member states.

As part of his interest in the emerging geostrategic space of the Arabian Peninsula, Mohammed looks at Iran as part of the development of the area as a major trade artery. This development implies developing a sustainable relationship with its regional neighborhood on the Arabian Gulf, The Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, or the Mediterranean. Iran is a major component of that space and becoming more adaptable to the modernization process will allow it to become part of the future development of the region.

Khalid Al Shimmari

Khalid Al Shimmari

Seinor Researcher