Ethnic hatred in Yemen

Ethnic hatred in Yemen
Comment: Heavy handed Aden security forces have undermined police authority, which in turn instigates disorder and deepens ethnic hatred between north and south, writes Nadia al-Sakkaf
4 min read
12 May, 2016
Yemen has fallen on hard times since the Houthi coup d’etat last year [Anadolu]

On Saturday 7 May 2016, there were reports of security authorities in the southern city of Aden, carrying out a raid and arresting 842 citizens from the north – mainly from Taiz - who had no ID papers. The campaign targeted male labourers who work on daily wages in several Adani districts, and transferred them to military camps in preparation for deporting them from the city.

The news solicited much heated debate. Even the president and his newly appointed prime minister, who are both from the south, condemned this move on the part of Aden security, and termed it an instigation of ethnic hatred, claiming that it "further supports former president Saleh's cause and his militia, who are trying to come back to power".

In reaction to this, the Houthis Supreme Revolutionary Committee, which has been running the north since the coup d'etat in September 2015, has issued a memo to its security entities in the north, ordering them to inspect travelers coming through the north-south borders to Sanaa, and preventing access to anyone who is not deemed "credible", from entering the city.

The memo does not explain what exactly "credible" entails or where those men who were kicked out of Aden and now Sanaa should go. This is especially worrying for those from Taiz city which is currently the most fragile area in the country, suffering from daily attacks by the Houthis.

condemnation of Aden's chief of security sends a strong message that the two groups are not working together, an even more disturbing prospect than having Saleh's sleeping cells in the city

However, upon closer inspection of what really happened, it turns out that not all the arrested men were from the north. In fact, some were from southern cities including Aden, Lahj, Abyan and Yafe. Moreover, those who presented a civilian ID were released and those who failed to present any ID or had a military/security IDs were sent out of the city to their home towns.

The raids targeted gatherings of daily workers who lived in garages, workshops and motels. Aden's security had received intelligence about sleeping cells affiliated with the Political and Central Security Bodies who are still controlled by former president Saleh. This caused them to panic and raid some areas, in order to expel anyone not in possession of a legitimate ID or proof of residence.

While I am not a security expert, plain common sense is enough to see this is a bad move. To start with, if there are suspicious people, why let them go rather than questioning them to find out what they were up to? Or alternatively, why not observe them from distance to find out the extent of their work and expose potential networks and supporters? Instead they have revealed their intelligence, altering the enemy's behaviour – provided that the intelligence was right to begin with.

And finally, the most important aspect of security, I believe, is public trust. The backlash among the public following the incident not only undermines police authority, but also instigates disorder and deepens ethnic hatred between north and south.

Moreover, condemnation on the part of the president and prime minister - both of whom are residents of Aden - of the conduct of Aden's governor and chief of security, sends a strong message that the two groups are not working together, an even more disturbing prospect than having Saleh's sleeping cells in the city.

the physical division of the country, not only along lines of north and south, but potentially into five regions, seems imminent

Yemen has fallen on very difficult times since the Houthi coup d'etat last year. There isn't a single town in the country that has not been negatively affected by the armed conflict and/or air strikes. The social fabric has been torn apart, and the sense of nation and community has gone.

Now with actions such as this, the physical division of the country, not only along lines of north and south, but potentially into five regions, seems imminent.

Yemen's problem is no longer a struggle over power and regime change, nor is it a Sunni Shia issue, north against south or a question of a Saudi led coalition against Yemeni targets… Yemen is now every man for himself, and this a problem that no amount of airstrikes or a political deal can fix.

Nadia al-Sakkaf is a PhD researcher in politics at the University of Reading.

She is an expert on Yemeni affairs, gender and media issues in the Middle East. She was the first woman to become Information Minister in Yemen and before that was deputy chair of the National Dialogue Conference's monitoring body. Nadia was Chief Editor of the Yemen Times, Yemen's first English language newspaper, for 11 years. She won several international awards such as the Gebran Tueni Award in 2006 and the Business for Peace Award 2013
. Follow her on Twitter: @NadiaSakkaf

Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.