So despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s calls for unity, many in southern Yemen are taking to the streets in protest. Fed up with high prices and an overall lack of development, they’re calling for secession less than two decades after joining with the north to create a unified Yemen. The result has been violent confrontations between protesters and government security forces – forces which Human Rights Watch lambasted in a Dec. 15 report for being too harsh.
For now, the Saleh government seems more committed to quelling protests than addressing southerners’ grievances.
'We haven't gained anything by unification'
Upon arriving in the southern port town of Aden from Sanaa, one immediately notices the differences: there are few new buildings and the taxis and cars are often little more than rusted wrecks – a stark contrast with the luxury cars and plethora of new shops and hotels one finds in Sanaa.
But despite the run-down appearances, everything from fish to building supplies costs far more here than in the more prosperous north.
“Why is it that fish caught 10 kilometers [six miles] from here cost more than the fish trucked to Sanaa?” asks resident Mohammad Nahass, pointing to fish stacked on a piece of cardboard in Aden’s fish market.
Many throughout southern Yemen are asking the same question. They see little value in their 1990 unification with the north – a move that was precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result of the USSR’s collapse, the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) – the only Marxist state in the Arabian Peninsula – lost its primary source of economic support and was forced to join North Yemen in a newly united Republic of Yemen, under the leadership of President Saleh, who has remained in power for 15 years.