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The Hirak Movement - What Happened In The Event?

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The Hirak Movement

The Southern Mobility Movement, known more simply as al-Hirak (“the Movement”), advocates for a return of the independence of south Yemen, although the movement lacks a cohesive vision of what such a return might look like.

Rooted in the complexities and disappointments of unity in 1990 and the aftermath of the civil war of 1994, Hirak took its current form in 2007 through the protest movement of retired army officers and civilian workers who sought restitution for their service and/or to be reinstated to their former positions.

This movement broadened into a general nonviolent call for reform by the northern-based government, centering around demands for local autonomy, equal access to resources, and equal treatment under the law (Alley, p. 78)

Structure

COPYRIGHT_IO: Published on https://www.islamopediaonline.org/hirak-movement/ by Aaliyah Azeena on 2022-10-18T18:48:13.972Z

Hirak lacks an overarching structure and cannot accurately be described as one movement, although its many component groups emphasize their unity of purpose.

A January 2013 Brookings study of reconciliation in Yemen characterized Hirak as being composed of three strands: one separationist, one calling for federation, and the least prominent calling for continued unity with the North (Sharqieh, p. 11).

Ali Muhammad Ahmed, a former minister in the short-lived 1994 south Yemeni state, returned to the area after Saleh’s removal in order to participate in the June 2012 Southern Conference.

In an interview soon thereafter, Ahmed stated that Hirak’s greatest challenge is factionalism and divisive statements issued in passion, stressing that all the southern groups share the goal of independence but have yet to unite behind whoever is best qualified to achieve this goal.

This lack of coherence among the Hirak groups can be seen also in their view toward the centralized Sana’a government and the 2011 revolutionary movement which transformed it.

A December 2011 statement issued by the United Southern Youth and Student Movement calling for opposition to the scheduled presidential elections decried the wasting of the “blood of the martyrs of the people of the Yemeni Arab Republic.”

However, Ali Muhammad Ahmed’s statement that the 2011 revolution belonged only to the people of the North and did not reflect the views of the Southern street correlated with more widespread suspicion of northern activism.

According to research published in 2010, some seven groups yield the greatest influence in the Hirak movement. Among them, the Success Movement (Movement of the Southern Peaceful Struggle), concentrated in the Al-Dali, Lahij, and Abyan provinces, commands the greatest number of followers.

The Success movement is headed by Salah al-Shanfara and Nasser al-Khabbaji, both members of the Yemeni Socialist Party in parliament, which led southern Yemen before the union in 1990.

Rivaling the Success movement in numbers is the Council for Leading the Peaceful Revolution, headed by Arab Afghan Tariq al-Fadhli and seen by some analysts as merely a vehicle for al-Fadhli’s regaining his family’s former lands and power.

Smaller but growing groups include the Higher National Forum for the Independence of the South, the Higher National Council for the Liberation of the South, the Union of the Southern Youth, the National Forum for the Southern Peaceful Struggle, and the newer umbrella group, the Council for the Peaceful Movement to Liberate the South (Stracke and Haidar, 2010).

Hirak And The Central Government

Although the Yemeni government and media often feature Hirak supporters as violent secessionists, Hirak has held to its nonviolent principles with remarkable persistence. The early ex-military protests in 2007 manifested in rallies and sit-ins.

Later in the same year, hundreds of thousands of southerners showed their support for the movement by marching in the funerary parade for four men killed by government security forces and, by 2009, peaceful protests and marches took place on a regular basis, often featuring the pre-unity southern flag (Terrill, p. 28).

However, government forces responded to the southern dissent with no such restraint, answering peaceful protests and chants with live ammunition, arbitrary detention, and even denial of medical care to the wounded, as documented at length by Human Rights Watch.

More recently, mounting frustration since 2009 and the reintroduction of leaders formerly in exile have led to a hardening of the Hirak position and the possibility of the use of violence by the supporters of southern independence.

In a July 2012 interview, returned leader Ali Muhammad Ahmed asserted that nonviolence continued to be the best and chosen strategy of Hirak, but that other avenues might be pursued if nonviolence were to be found unfeasible.

Ahmed also outlined the possibility of “ally[ing] with the devil to achieve our independence” if nonviolence proves a dead end.

In February 2012, Hirak's opposition to participation in the one-party election of Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi manifested in violence in voting centers throughout the southern provinces.

The weekend before elections were to be held, the Higher Council for the Peaceful Southern Movement issued a call for civil disobedience to disrupt voting, but other individuals associated with Hirak announced that they planned to use force to do so.

As election day drew near, clashes broke out between armed groups attacking polling centers and local government officials, and military forces were sent in to maintain order during the transition period.

Locals reportedly received leaflets distributed by Hirak containing death threats against participants in the election, and armed groups set up checkpoints in Dhala, Aden, and Lahj provinces to prevent voters from reaching election centers.

After the elections, two journalists in Hadramout province who wrote pieces celebrating the southern boycott received death threats via text message.

In an attempt to more clearly determine the role of South-North relations in post-revolutionary Yemen, intellectuals and social leaders of Hadramout province held a symposium shortly after the February 2012 elections.

Among the most striking outcomes of the symposium was a call for a federal system of government, composed of either two regions (North and South) or five, as an acceptable alternative to secession.

The option of federalism had been earlier suggested by Haydar Attas, former prime minister of the short-lived 1994 southern Yemeni state, during the 2011 revolution as a peaceful way to resolve the southern conflict.

Federalism under Attas’ plan would be a temporary arrangement of three to five years, at the end of which time the South would undertake a referendum regarding the continuance of unity or its dissolution.

While members of the ruling General People’s Congress expressed openness to some degree of governmental decentralization, Sana’a continues to reject the idea of federalism.

In an October 2013 meeting with President Mansour al-Hadi, representatives of many of the major tribes, led by Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, expressed their complete refusal of any federal option, stating that they would “not stand by watching before persistent attempts to tear the country apart.”

Likewise, sentiment in the south is divided over the question of federalism, as hundreds of protestors associated with Hirak marched in June 2012 rejecting the option and calling for complete separation.

Because of Hirak’s boycotting of the national dialogue process, especially that of its secessionist elements, conference organizers have attempted to compensate by inviting other southern representatives and emphasizing Pres. Mansour Hadi’s southern roots (Sharqieh, p. 19).

Also in June 2012, the Southern Shar’ia Association issued a statement rebutting a fatwa written by government-allied Yemeni ‘ulema, including Islahi leader Abd al-Wahab al-Dailami.

The contents of the fatwa, according to the southern ‘ulema, include allowance for the shedding of the blood of any who oppose national unity or support federalism.

Southern critics drew parallels to a controversial and disputed fatwa of the 1994 civil war, which was supposedly issued by al-Dailami and al-Zindani to allow the killing of southerners as atheists.

As the NDC timeline wore on, the Southern issue took precedence, resulting in the signing of a “Just Solution” compromise document in Sana’a.

The document provided for the formation of a committee under Pres. Mansour Hadi to continue addressing the number of provinces (Hirak, the Socialist Party, and the Houthis advocate for a two-province solution, while other parties call for six) and to divide legislative and executive powers evenly between the north and south.

While concerns remained about national unity under a new structure and about the allocation of oil wealth, the major parties signed the compromise in hopes of completing the NDC’s task before its February 2014 deadline.

On February 10th, the new map was revealed in accordance with a six-province plan, and at least some factions of Hirak, including the People’s Congress for the South, rejected the plan as failing to meet the aspirations of the south.

Concerns were raised about the rushed nature of the federalism decision, which took only ten days, and commentators pointed out that the rushed unification of the two Yemens in 1990 was the original cause of the Hirak movement.

In an attempt to more clearly determine the role of South-North relations in post-revolutionary Yemen, intellectuals and social leaders of Hadramout province held a symposium shortly after the February 2012 elections.

Among the most striking outcomes of the symposium was a call for a federal system of government, composed of either two regions (North and South) or five, as an acceptable alternative to secession.

The option of federalism had been earlier suggested by Haydar Attas, former prime minister of the short-lived 1994 southern Yemeni state, during the 2011 revolution as a peaceful way to resolve the southern conflict.

Federalism under Attas’ plan would be a temporary arrangement of three to five years, at the end of which time the South would undertake a referendum regarding the continuance of unity or its dissolution.

While members of the ruling General People’s Congress expressed openness to some degree of governmental decentralization, Sana’a continues to reject the idea of federalism.

In an October 2013 meeting with President Mansour al-Hadi, representatives of many of the major tribes, led by Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, expressed their complete refusal of any federal option, stating that they would “not stand by watching before persistent attempts to tear the country apart.”

Likewise, sentiment in the south is divided over the question of federalism, as hundreds of protestors associated with Hirak marched in June 2012 rejecting the option and calling for complete separation.

Because of Hirak’s boycotting of the national dialogue process, especially that of its secessionist elements, conference organizers have attempted to compensate by inviting other southern representatives and emphasizing Pres. Mansour Hadi’s southern roots (Sharqieh, p. 19).

Also in June 2012, the Southern Shar’ia Association issued a statement rebutting a fatwa written by government-allied Yemeni ‘ulema, including Islahi leader Abd al-Wahab al-Dailami. The contents of the fatwa, according to the southern ‘ulema, including allowance for the shedding of the blood of any who oppose national unity or support federalism.

Southern critics drew parallels to a controversial and disputed fatwa of the 1994 civil war, which was supposedly issued by al-Dailami and al-Zindani to allow killing of southerners as atheists. As the NDC timeline wore on, the Southern issue took precedence, resulting in the signing of a “Just Solution” compromise document in Sana’a.

The document provided for formation of a committee under Pres. Mansour Hadi to continue addressing the number of provinces (Hirak, the Socialist Party, and the Houthis advocate for a two-province solution, while other parties call for six) and to divide legislative and executive powers evenly between the north and south.

While concerns remained about national unity under a new structure and about allocation of oil wealth, the major parties signed the compromise in hopes of completing the NDC’s task before its February 2014 deadline.

On February 10th, the new map was revealed in accordance with a six-province plan and at least some factions of Hirak, including the People’s Congress for the South, rejected the plan as failing to meet the aspirations of the south.

Concerns were raised about the rushed nature of the federalism decision, which took only ten days, and commentators pointed out that the rushed unification of the two Yemens in 1990 was the original cause of the Hirak movement.

Transnational Factors

Though both appeal to historic sovereignty and seek autonomy in their own lands, Hirak can be differentiated from the Houthi movement in the north by the degree of religious rhetoric used in statements.

Both a call by the youth leadership of Hirak for boycotting the presidential elections and the opening statement of the 2012 Hirak conference referred to the sacred nature of the struggle and duty that lie upon southern Yemenis.

Ali Muhammad Ahmed, among the returning leaders post-Saleh, quoted hadith in a September 2012 interview, saying “A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice,” the Arabic-Islamic equivalent of the English, “Once bitten, twice shy.”

Stracke and Haidar note in their analysis of Hirak that within the movement, the groups based in Abyan (including Tariq al-Fadhli’s powerful Council for Leading the Peaceful Revolution) tend to be more influenced by tribal and religious motivations, while activism in Aden, Lahij, and Al-Dali stems more from the socialist and ex-military (Stracke and Haidar, p. 4).

As always is the case with Yemeni politics, international ties play an important role in the fate of the Hirak movement. Perhaps the greatest difference on this front, however, is that Hirak is fully cognizant of the importance of foreign support and actively courts it, although thus far with little success.

The relationship between justice in the south of Yemen and regional stability is a continuing theme in Hirak speeches and publications, playing to what is the primary interest of both regional actors and those in the West.

After the Yemeni non-profit the Abaad Center for Strategic Studies accused Iran of supporting Hirak and providing military training to the movement in Tehran and Beirut (an assertion Iran firmly denied), the American embassy issued a press release criticizing any Iranian involvement in Yemeni internal affairs.

It was in this geopolitical context that Hirak leader Khaled Ba Madhaf stated in an interview that “the more the government in Sana’a and the international community neglects the southern cause, the greater the threat to national and international security they will present."

In a similar statement, Hassan Ba’oum, president of Hirak’s Higher Council, opened the 2012 Hirak conference with an appeal to “neighboring countries and the Arabic umma” to perceive the occupation of the south and that security and stability cannot prevail in the region without the liberation of the south.

While Hirak has some measure of support abroad, this support is largely limited to southern Yemeni diaspora communities. Several southern Yemeni advocacy groups operate in the United Kingdom, including the National Commission for the Sons of the South in Britain and the Democratic Forum for South Yemen.

With the help of these organizations abroad, the southern movement is able to broadcast its views through two media sources, the channels Aden Live and al-Masiir, founded in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

In September 2012, Hassan Ba’oum called for the creation of a third channel, to be called al-Janoub (the South).

The extent to which the influential diaspora of Yemenis from the southern Hadhramout province living in Saudi Arabia actively support the independence of their homeland is undetermined, although it was from this stock of southerners in Saudi exile that many of the Arab Afghans arose, including Tariq al-Fadhli and Osama bin Laden.

Some analysts speculate that the Saudi regime would support southern independence (and perhaps has done so quietly) in an effort to divert the loyalties of this economically powerful minority from the Yemeni central government (Philips, p. 78).

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Aaliyah Azeena

Aaliyah Azeena - Aaliyah Azeena is using her own voice to speak up for ourselves, the Musilm and kickstart an open honest dialogue about Islam in today’s society. She is raising the place of Muslim women in mainstream society, drawing awareness to the Qur’an’s message of gender equality and Islam’s principle of peace. Aaliyah is paving the way toward a world in which every woman can raise her head without fear of being attacked for her gender or beliefs. She is pioneering our own paths as Muslim women living in today’s modern society, and this is our story.

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