Houthis and Al-Hirak leader seek two-region federal Yemen: sources

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi movement, in alliance with former South Yemen president Ali Salim Al-Beidh, are seeking to create a two-region federal state, sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Yemeni sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity on Monday, said that the Houthi-Beidh alliance has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks, as the Shi’ite militia’s advance across central Yemen has coincided with ongoing protests in the southern port of Aden calling for secession.

Beidh, a senior member of Southern Yemen’s separatist Al-Hirak movement based in Beirut, is reported to have close ties to Iran, while the Shi’ite Houthi militia has also been accused of receiving arms and assistance from Tehran, something the movement has denied.

The Houthi-Beidh alliance would see the Shi’ite militia keep control of Northern Yemen, with a Southern federal state being headed by Beidh, the source alleged.

While a new federal political structure for Yemen was agreed during multi-party talks in Sana’a that lasted over a year and concluded in January, this plan involved the creation of six federal regions, rather than two states dominated by single parties.

The latest allegations are also likely to stoke fears in Yemen’s neighbors that the state, the poorest and most unstable on the Arabian Peninsula, would fall under the sway of Iran.

The Al-Hirak movement has been calling for secession for a number of years, with these calls having escalated over the past year following large-scale protests in the southern port of Aden this month.

Sources from within the group, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said Al-Hirak would reject any secession plan that sees Southern Yemen under the control of the Houthis, or under the control of a leader loyal to the Shi’ite militia.

More importantly, the establishment of a semi-autonomous federal state in the south of the country falls short of Al-Hirak’s calls for full autonomy and the establishment of a completely independent state.

Northern and Southern Yemen, formerly separate states, were unified under one government in 1990. However, the union has proved to be an uneasy one, and led to a brief civil war four years later which ended with the defeat of Southern pro-secession forces.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat last month, Al-Hirak leader Hassan Ba’oum said that independence was only a matter of time and that consultations are ongoing over how to achieve this. Reports from inside the movement have spoken of fractures among the senior leadership, particularly between a camp led by Ba’oum and another led by Beidh.

Protests calling for secession began in Aden earlier this month on the anniversary of the end of British colonial rule and the establishment of an independent state of South Yemen. Thousands of southerners and supporters and members of Al-Hirak rallied for independence, amid reports that the movement’s leaders were meeting to make plans for secession.

Abdullah Al-Dayani, head of the media committee for the Aden sit-in, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that the protest committee is set to announce “major escalatory steps” in the coming days, following widespread consultations with all those involved.

Al-Hirak continues to stage protest and sit-ins in Aden calling for the secession of Southern Yemen. Sana’a has deployed additional security forces to the port city, with reports that live rounds and tear gas were used to disperse protesters on Monday.