For the first time, a Million-Person Rally or milyuniyya will be held in Yemen’s oil-rich eastern province of Hadramawt. It is being called milyuniyyat al-huwiya al-junubiyya or the Million-Strong Rally for Southern Identity.
The mass demonstration aims to unify all of the southern Yemeni protests against the Sanaa regime. For two years now, milyuniyya rallies have been held in Aden, the hub of southern Yemeni revolution, gathering large crowds of men from all over the southern provinces and women from less far-flung areas to give voice to the concerns of southerners before the world. The object of the April 27 rally is to commemorate the 1994 “war against the south” that led to the downfall of the southern army and the solidification of ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih’s rule, understood by many southerners as a northern occupation. The choice of Mukalla, Hadramawt’s main port, as the site for the demonstration is significant; only months earlier tribes gathered to form the Hadramawt Tribes Confederacy, in order to resist what is considered a systematic looting of the fruits of the land by the regime, which is distributing business deals to its cronies while marginalizing locals. The tipping point was the murder of a notable tribal sheikh at an army post, which sparked a full-blown popular uprising.
The uprising has halted oil production in this province where about 80 percent of Yemen’s oil reserves are located. The Council of Peaceful Revolution for Freedom and Independence in Hadramawt has declared Thursdays days of civil disobedience in a manner copied from other southern provinces and attracting an astonishing unanimity of popular participation. Hadramawt’s involvement in the all-southern uprising was further strengthened by the agreement declared in February from Beirut between the former southern leaders ‘Ali Salim al-Bidh and Hasan Ba‘um, two rival leaders of the uprising. The slogans for Mukalla are strongly worded, to say the least: The graphic below reads, “I am a Southerner o nation! No Yemenization after today.”
Still, many people in Aden are hesitant to make the 310-mile trip to Mukalla for fear of an army crackdown after the entry of forces into the area earlier this week. For those who are not willing to make the dangerous trip, another million-strong rally is planned for downtown Aden. Still, for others, like the young activist and poet Huda al-Attas, the question remains: Will such gatherings solve the problem of world indifference to southerners’ rightful demands?
The Yemeni regime in Sanaa could take this opportunity to show that the transition process agreed upon under the patronage of the GCC countries, the US and European states, and the National Dialogue conference it set in motion, are indeed peaceful and inclusive. The entry of tanks into downtown Mukalla, violence against activists in Lahij and Aden and the crackdown on the revolutionary square in al-Mansoura, where two activists remain “disappeared,” all suggest otherwise.
Editor’s Note: For background on the southern struggle, see Susanne Dahlgren, “A Snake with a Thousand Heads: The Southern Cause in Yemen,” Middle East Report 256 (Fall 2010). For background on the 1994 war, see Sheila Carapico, “From Ballot Box to Battlefield: The War of the Two ‘Alis,” Middle East Report 190 (September-October 1994).