Southern Movement rages on despite formation of new government.
After nearly one month-and-a-half of negotiations and debates, a new cabinet was formed on Nov. 7. A week prior, different political factions delegated President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah to form a technocratic government based on competency rather than party affiliation.
The Houthis' takeover of Sana'a in mid-September intensified calls by the Southern Movement for succession. Potential promises for greater political representation and unity--that followed the end of fighting on Sept. 21--were ignored. Protesters camped out in Al-Arood Square of Aden city refuse to back down on their call for independence. The fact that the Southern Movement was appointed an advisor to the president in the Peace and National Partnership Agreement does not seem to change southerners' minds. Neither does the fact that the south has been given significant representation in Yemen's new government: Next to the president, the newly-appointed prime minister and 40 percent of the newly-appointed ministers all hail from southern governorates.
Established on Oct. 14, the protest camps in Al-Arood Square have witnessed increasing numbers of protesters. Arslan Al-Sakkaf, the secretary general of the Southern Labor Union, said, "The turnout is bigger than it was two weeks ago. It will be even bigger on Nov. 30." In his statement Al-Sakkaf was referring to the Nov. 30 deadline given by the Southern Movement for all government personnel from the north to leave the south.
"It does not please us that the president is from Abyan and that the prime minister is from Hadramout. Separation is in the blood of the southern people. This explains why the momentum in Al-Arood Square in Aden has not faded away even after the formation of the so-called competency-based government," said Mustfa Qasim, a local resident in Aden. Qasim works in an electricity generation plant in Al-Mansoura district of Aden city and goes to Al-Arood Square on his free time to express his thirst for independence.
Sara Al-Dubaei, a local resident in Aden, adds "since Oct. 14, protestors have not vacated their camps. On the contrary, their enthusiasm is soaring every day we approach the Nov. 30 deadline. Their protests, marches, and chanting anti-government slogans have not stopped even after forming the government."
Though Al-Dubaei said she is not keen about separating from the north, she expects violence to break out when Nov. 30 arrives. "People in Aden are waiting for Nov. 30, and the Southern Movement says there will be surprises. I do not know what these surprises are," said Al-Dubaei.
Living in Khor Maksr district, in which Al-Arood Square is located, Al-Dubaei says she still hears the protestors repeat the slogan "we swear, swear, Sana'a will not govern us." Indeed, a major reason the protesters are not satisfied with the new government, despite the relatively high number of southern ministers, is that southern officials who occupy ministries in Sana'a are often perceived as part of what many southerners refer to as the "northern occupation."
The new government consists of 36 ministers, 26 of whom are holding ministerial positions for the first time.
Abdullah Rashid, a Southern Movement leader and one of the founders of the group, told the Yemen Times the group does not care about the formation of the new government as the southern people have nothing to do with it. While the Southern Movement did not make an official statement objecting the new cabinet, as did the General People's Congress (GPC) and the Houthis, Rashid points to the continued mass of protestors in the square as solid evidence of their dissatisfaction.
"The southern movement is not only looking for positions. It strives to regain the independence of the southern state," said Rashid. He went on explaining that "even though many ministers are from the south, they have no relation to the Southern Movement's struggle for separation."
Despite the high number of southerners in the cabinet, many people feel the ministers are detached from southern grievances because they have spent a long time living in the north.
The new minister of telecommunications and information technology, Lufti Mohammad Salem, who is originally from Hadramout, has lived in Sana'a for a long time. In 2007, he began working in the capital as the general manager of the Operation and Maintenance Department in the Public Telecommunications Corporation.
Similarly, Mohammad Al-Sadi, the new minister of industry and trade, while originally from Abyan, used to live in Sana'a for decades. He moved to the capital as early as 1994, when he was appointed the Islah Party's deputy minister of education.
According to Aden resident Al-Dubaei, independence is much more than a political issue to the people in the south. In the end, the call for separation come down to a simple demand by ordinary people trying to deal with every day grievances, rather than high-level appointments being made off in Sana'a.
"When you ask some of the protestors about the new government and who the ministers are, they do not know anything about these ministers and they do not know who they are. These are the ordinary people who are struggling with unemployment and feel they are suffering," said Al-Dubaei.
Ali Hasn Ali, who was a Southern Movement representative at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), agrees with Al-Dubaei's take on events. "When people want to eat, they eat food, they do not eat 'government.' When people want to sleep, they want houses, not 'government.' This is what politicians should think about. The core of our issue is peoples' demands," he said.
Reshuffling the government will hence not be enough in the eyes of many southerners. As Rashid put it, "The Southern Movement has determined its goal. Even if it was given the opportunity to select some ministers, it will not accept."
Calls for secession are at their peak now, according to Ali Al-Naqi, a local journalist. "The new government was not different from the reaction that met Mohammad Salem Basindwa's government, which was formed in December of 2011. People in the south do not rely on the government in Sana'a because the Southern Movement does not trust any government. Moreover, I expect that the protests are going to grow as we approach the Nov. 30 deadline," he said.
Could things turn violent?
On Friday, Nov. 21, Aden's Security Committee said in a statement to the state-run Saba News Agency that it respects the protesters' peaceful means of expression and urged the people in Aden not to lead the governorate into violence.
"Although there are some attempts to distort the security in Aden, the awareness by the good people in the governorate has foiled these attempts and prevented any damage in this peaceful governorate," read the statement.
Mohammed Musaed of the Aden Security Department told the Yemen Times the Southern Movement is not considering the formation of the new competency-based government as a positive political achievement. "Currently, they are divided and they are not under one leadership. At the same time, they say their sole goal is independence," said Musaed, who is pro-unity.
He said the protests are continuing peacefully now, and he welcomes such peaceful protests. At the same time, he said the security personnel in Aden are on heightened alert and are prepared for any potential bouts of violence.
Ali Hasn Ali, who was a Southern Movement representative at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), told the Yemen Times the southern people have not realized a tangible change since the ending of the NDC. This makes them turn a deaf ear to the formation of the new government, he added.
Ali ruled out the possibility that the Southern Movement will resort to violence on Nov. 30 or after this time. "The Southern Movement might escalate in coincidence with Nov. 30. The escalation will be peaceful. They know practicing violence would distort their peaceful struggle. Their issue is fair," he said.
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