The South Transitional Council (STC) will receive domestic and international legitimacy for its separatist cause after entering into a reported power-sharing agreement with Hadi’s government as part of a peace deal aimed at ending the ambiguity over South Yemen’s political status following the group’s dramatic liberation of Aden in August.
The author declared back in August that “South Yemen Is Already Functionally Independent Even If It’s Not Recognized As Such” following the South Transitional Council’s (STC) dramatic liberation of Aden over two months ago, but the fledgling state found out the hard way that there are real geopolitical limits to its separatist mission after its Emirati patron put pressure on its representatives to curtail their ambitions for the time being. Although Abu Dhabi provided some support to the STC, it stopped short of going all out in the way that some expected it to do in order to avoid exacerbating the intra-GCC split between itself and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which backs Hadi’s internationally recognized (but domestically unpopular) government and is opposed to the Southern separatists. This became, even more, pressing of an issue after the Ansarullah’s successful drone strike against Aramco, which served to underscore the need for the Saudi-led coalition to retain unity and not be torn apart by its leading members’ diverging outlooks for South Yemen.
On the surface, it therefore appears as though the reported peace deal that was agreed to last week between the STC and the Hadi government is a step backward for the former since its terms include surrendering control of the city to the national government, thus scaling back the enormous on-the-ground progress that they made in their separatist quest over the past two months. Nevertheless, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the agreement actually bestows domestic and international legitimacy to the movement’s cause by decreeing that “Southerners are to be given 50 percent of ministerial roles within a period of 45 days from the signing of the agreement”. This advances the goal of institutionally restoring Yemen’s regional identity that was peacefully erased following their 1990 unification and then militantly enforced after the North’s victory in the brief civil war that erupted in 1994 in an attempt by the South to reverse this decision upon feeling as though their counterparts took advantage of them and their resources during the intervening four years. This outcome wouldn’t have been made possible had it not been for the August events, so it should still be seen as a step forward for the overall cause.
Without the UAE’s full support (held back partially out of concern that it would make the emerging rift with Saudi Arabia irreconcilable and thus create a strategic opening for the Ansarullah), the STC was unable to liberate the rest of South Yemen, hence why it was compelled to compromise. Hadi, however, was also compelled to compromise as well by agreeing to the terms that recognize the STC as a legitimate political stakeholder in the country. This therefore puts the country on the path towards what may be its inevitable federalization back into its constituent Northern and Southern halves as part of an eventual peace deal between all sides that could potentially be mediated by Moscow. It’s difficult to think of any other realistic solution to the stalled campaign that’s failed to dislodge the Ansarullah from the North despite causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in pursuit thereof, though the devil is obviously in the details and much more work would have to be done in that respect before Saudi Arabia would ever agreeing to anything like that. Still, thus far, the STC has made considerable progress in gaining domestic and international legitimacy.
The Ansarullah will be unable to replicate it in the same way because of the security dilemma between it and its opponents that prevents them from surrendering their military gains, let alone to the same forces that have vehemently opposed them this entire time, which is why it’s too early to say that this will definitely happen or to even estimate a timeline for it occurring. In any case, the military-political experiences that will be gained through the STC’s formal incorporation into the unified state framework could set a precedent for making progress on the Northern front further down the line, so it’s important to keep that in mind since the Ansarullah could possibly make similar progress in institutionalizing their self-determination goals, even if they’re not the separatist ones that the STC promotes but are a regional implementation of its pro-sovereign policies as the group and its supporters define them. The very fact that the STC is being legitimized is an unprecedented political development that gives rise to hope that a related formula might eventually be worked out for the Ansarullah to as part of a “grand compromise”, but there’s still a ways to go before that happens.