WASHINGTON, March 23—Yemen’s secessionist Southern Movement is undergoing a radical transformation that threatens the country’s stability. But a military campaign against the movement would only further inflame its supporters and increase support for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A political solution is required that addresses the unresolved problems from the country’s poorly-executed unification in the early 1990s, concludes a new paper by Stephen Day.

Key Conclusions:

  • The demands of the Southern leaders were originally moderate calls for equality, but a severe response from Yemeni President Saleh (who used government media to create scandals about the movement’s leaders and arrested religious figures) pushed the movement to demand secession.
  • Al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahayshi, has declared support for the Southern Movement, but Southern leaders have thus far rejected his endorsement.
  • The primary problem in the South is not links between al-Qaeda and the Southern Movement, but unrest fueled by widespread opposition to the government and the perception of economic exploitation by the military and security forces. 

Policy Recommendations:

  • Arab leadership. Arab countries should lead the push for Yemen’s government to negotiate with Southerners, improve economic development, and begin national reconciliation. Western-backed initiatives will only increase mistrust of the central government.
  • Reconciliation. Yemen’s government and representatives of the Southern Movement should commence national reconciliation talks. The talks must include domestic political opponents, Southern women, and exiled Southern leaders and members of the business community.
  • Address root causes. Instead of a military crackdown on the Southern Movement, the government needs to reduce corruption, respect human rights, and allow political opponents to peacefully organize.
  • Presidential transition. Saleh’s presidential term ends in 2013. Stepping down peacefully, and refusing to install a member of his family in his place, would go a long way in convincing the Southern Movement to drop its plans for secession.

“The success of the political effort in the South will require steady, outside pressure and effective mediation, preferably by an Arab leader like Jordan’s late King Hussein, who tried to assist Yemenis in 1994,” writes Day. But “ultimately, the success of such an effort will depend on Yemeni leaders on all sides, and their willingness to tackle problems left unsolved since the 1990s.”



  • Yemen: On the Brink is a new four-part Carnegie series that takes an in-depth look at the daunting challenges facing the country—now a near-perfect haven for al-Qaeda—and recommends how the international community should respond to the civil war in the north, secessionist movement in the south, rapidly dwindling resources, rampant poverty, and a weak and corrupt government. The series follows the groundbreaking September 2009 paper Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral, which detailed the confluence of crises confronting the troubled state.
  • Stephen Day is an adjunct professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and he also has taught at Stetson University in central Florida and St. Lawrence University in New York. He is the author of “Updating Yemeni National Unity: Could Lingering Regional Divisions Bring Down the Regime?” Middle East Journal, Summer 2008 and a forthcoming book entitled Yemen Redivided: Twenty Years of National Unity in the Era of Al-Qaeda.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world to provide analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region.
  • Carnegie's Arab Reform Bulletin offers a monthly analysis of political and economic developments in Arab countries.