Yemen leaning towards disintegration

President Hadi, Prime Minister Bahah resign ahead of presure from Shiite Houthi militia · One Southern leader declares secession, serious doubts remain over ability of pro-independence movement to make separation effective · Hadi loyalists could use South Yemen as resistance base · Al Qaida holds influence and power over several southern regions

Yesterday's resignation of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah is yet another episode of how the Arabian peninsula country is descending into chaos and, maybe, advancing towards disintegration and South Yemen independence. The two Yemeni leaders resigned from their jobs after northern Shiite Houthi militiamen occupied the presidential palace in the capital Sana'a.

In fact, the Houthi have been in control of most of northern Yemen, including Sana'a, since last September. The Houthi then forced a government change, and Bahah was subsenquently appointed Prime Minister in October. But disagreements between the Houthi, Hadi, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh -who resigned in February 2012 but kept the main Yemeni political party under his control- and different political parties have since prevailed.

Bahah and Hadi have increasingly clashed with Saleh, who while being Yemeni President waged a war from 2004 to 2010 against the Houthi, but has now publicly supported them. Earlier this week, Al Jazeera released a leaked phone conversation in which Saleh and a Houthi leader talked of coordinating their actions.

The reason for this alliance, some analysts say, is the fact that both the Houthi and Saleh want to avoid that, in the medium and long term, Yemen ends up under Sunni Islah party rule, which is a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to this theory, Shi'a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia could now be both lending support to this unease Saleh-Houthi alliance, since neither Teheran nor Riyah want the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve control over Yemen.

But the Saudis and the Houthis continue to be foes, and thus, diplomatic sources suggest that Riyadh is instead supporting some Sunni tribes in the region of Marib, where much of Yemeni oilfields are concentrated.

South Yemen: independence or resistance?

Since 2007, the Southern Movement (Al-Hiraki) has increasingly demanded independence for South Yemen. Before 1990, South Yemen was an independent republic. Since unification, many southerners argue that the northern political elite has plundered the riches of the south.

Briefly after Hadi's and Bahah's resignation was known, several Al-Hirak leaders again demanded secession. One of them, Nasser al-Nuba, even declared outright independence. But Al-Hirak has a fragmented leadership and besides there is little evidence that it has the ability to effectively control South Yemen or ensure real independence, beyond rhetorical statements.

However, this morning several military bases and posts have hung the flag of South Yemen, perhaps as a sign of commitment to secession. Pro-independence protesters have also hoisted the South Yemeni flag at the airport of Aden, and some of them have started occupying government buildings in that city.

Yet, another likely scenario is that Yemeni leaders and generals opposed to Houthi rule use South Yemen as a base for resistance against the Shiite militia, while it is yet to be known what the Houthi leaders want to do in Sana'a. The Supreme Security Committee (SSC), Yemen's highest security authority and still loyal to Hadi, yesterday ordered political and military leaders of Aden, Abyan, Lahij and Daleh to ignore orders from Sana'a. Shortly after, pro-independence demonstrations were organized in Aden, according to local media.

South Yemen faces yet another problem as several of its regions are under the influence or intermitent control of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has also been a major player in the current conflict as it has opposed the advance of the Houthi militia southwards. The presence of AQAP poses obvious problems to the (re)establishment of a functional state in Yemen, either unified or secessionist. But on the other hand, some analysts believe countries who dislike Houthi rule in Yemen could sponsor southern independence as a way of limiting the advance of the Shiite militia.

(Image: Abd-Rabbu Hadi / picture by Glenn Fawcett.)