Yemen reunification

Although there are no cultural, ethnic and linguistic elements that could divide the North and the South of Yemen, the process of unification did not happen without conflict. In 1972 and in 1979, simmering tensions between the two Republics of Yemen led to fighting and attempts towards unification after these conflicts did not succeed. However, a draft constitution for a united State was written in 1981. In 1988, an agreement was concluded to demilitarize the borderline and exploit in common the oil wells discovered in 1984. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the main sponsor of South Yemen, and the cessation of Saudi aid to North Yemen, were determining factors in the movement towards the unification.

On 22 May 1990, the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) merged to form a sovereign State, the Republic of Yemen. Sanaa, the former capital of the YAR, became the political capital while Aden with its free trade zone became the economical capital. Unification implied a complete fusion of the institutions of both States, thereby obliterating the federal or co-federal options envisaged previously. Within 30 months elections had to take place in order to give legitimacy to the new government.

The main beneficiary of the unification was former President of North Yemen, Ali Abdallah Saleh, who became President of the united Yemen, while Ali Salem al-Beid, the former President of South Yemen became Vice-President. One of the positive consequences of the unification was the creation of a multiparty political system and the organization of free elections in May 1991, which guaranteed freedom of speech, press freedom and the right of association.

The unification process did not go without some difficulties due to the differences in terms of territory and demographic weight (11 millions persons in North and 3 millions in South). The period of unification can be divided in two phases.

The first period is the one that precedes the southern attempt towards secession in 1994. From the outset, the South criticized the nomination of “northerners” at key posts and protested against the islamisation imposed from the North. The adoption of the Sharia as “the only source of legislation”, the authorization of polygamy and the resurgence of “tribalism” gave rise to social upheavals in the South (which had been living under a Marxist system for more than 20 years).

The second period marks the effective realization of the unity after the victory of the northern army against the “secessionists” at the end of the short civil war in 1994. The trigger factor of this conflict was the discovery of important oil deposits in the South. The former southern leaders, encouraged by Saudi Arabia, decided to undermine the unity and called for secession. In spite of various attempts of foreign mediations, in particular from Jordan, to resolve the crisis, the internal war began on 5 May 1994. The war ended on 7 July by the defeat and the temporary exile of the secessionists, of which some were later readmitted and given a new government post.