Separatists Stage a Coup in Yemen

By Maura Sokol 



Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher has accused southern separatists in Yemen of attempting a coup after fighting began in the country’s southern port city, Aden. The separatists are known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC). The STC is led by Aidarous al-Zubaydi, the former governor of Aden who was forced out of his position by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Fighting first broke out on Sunday, January 28th, when a deadline expired that the separatists had issued demanding the resignation of the government. The separatists seek independence for the southern part of Yemen, which was previously a separate country before a unification with the northern part of Yemen in 1990. The Southern Transitional Council has now demanded the removal of the Prime Minister and accused the government of corruption. In just a few days, the council has seized control of most of Aden and surrounded the Presidential Palace, which contains members of President Hadi’s government. The President himself is based in Riyadh.  

The conflict between President Hadi’s government and the separatists calls into question the stability of a coalition that has been fighting on the same side of the Yemeni Civil War since 2015. Hadi’s government is backed by Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of nine other countries in a military intervention against the Houthi movement. The civil war began when the Houthi movement, which supports Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority, rebelled against the government. The Houthis now control Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen. Although the Saudi-led coalition has been fighting in support of Hadi’s government for the past three years, the United Arab Emirates is a key member of the coalition and supports the southern separatists. The separatists are financed and armed by the UAE, while Saudi Arabia supports Hadi’s government. Al-Zubaydi has made public comments since the fighting began declaring that the separatists remain committed to the coalition and to driving the Houthis out of Sanaa.

President Hadi’s government and the UAE have been in conflict for most of the existence of the coalition. The UAE has taken advantage of the situation to secure control over oil and gas ports in southern Yemen, and President Hadi has publicly accused the UAE of acting as an occupier in Yemen. President Hadi is also allied with the Islah Party, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and a known enemy of the UAE. 

As of Wednesday, the International Red Cross reported at least 36 killed and 185 wounded in this week’s fighting. The larger Yemen crisis has been declared the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster by the United Nations. According to the UN Human Rights Council, over half of the people who have been killed in the conflict are civilians, and civilians are the victims of repeated and “unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law.” Air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition are the leading cause of overall civilian casualties. Currently about 22.2 million people, or about 75% of Yemen’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.