The report was written for the American Center for South Yemen Studies by author Fernando Carvajal, who worked on the Security Council’s Yemen Panel of Experts from 2017 to 2019 as an expert on armed groups and a regional expert. He has nearly 20 years of experience conducting fieldwork in Yemen and is a specialist in Yemeni politics. and tribal relations.
Aden Time publishes for you an exclusive translation of the material published in the American Center:
In Yemen, the country has lost a number of outstanding leaders. The impact of the war on the leadership also paved the way for the dismantling of state institutions, particularly in southern Yemen. The vacuum created by major power shifts may have restructured political relations in northern Yemen while creating opportunities across the south for rebalancing after the injustices of history.
The downfall of major characters over the past eight years has resulted in new faces emerging as centers of gravity. The case of Major General Aidaroos Qassem Abdel Aziz Al-Zubaidi, as one of the founders of the Southern Transitional Council in 2017, is still a special case among these new personalities. The new faces also reinvigorated the hope of “dying” popular aspirations in the South. It has unified new figures at the helm in southern Yemen, and delivered more cohesive leadership under a new banner that is directly involved at the national level.
The appearance of an actor like Aidarous Al-Zubaidi was not often accidental. The general, who is now the head of the Transitional Council and the commander of the joint southern forces, has come a long way since his upbringing in the village of Al-Zubaid in Al-Dhali Governorate during the era of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. His political and military leadership role since the liberation of Aden in July 2015 was the result of military experience and leadership within the Southern Resistance.
General Al-Zubaidi, born on July 23, 1967, moved to Aden after his primary and secondary education in his village. He joined the Air Force College in 1986, at a time of political turmoil in southern Yemen, and graduated two years later with the rank of second lieutenant. After the unit in May 1990, Al-Zubaidi moved to Sana’a, where he became a security commander in the Embassy Security Unit of the Ministry of Interior. Al-Zubaidi remained loyal to the south, siding with then-Vice President Ali Salem al-Beidh in the 1994 war.
While participating in the 1994 civil war, his experience in the resistance movement began in 1996. In Djibouti, Zubaidi helped found the Hatim (Self-Determination) movement, a southern armed resistance group formed to carry out covert attacks on the military-held positions of the “south-occupying” forces. This was at a time when the southerners adopted opposition to the northern occupation after the defeat in 1994 and Sana’a’s suppression of those who claim the self-determination of the south and the return of the southern state. In 1997, General Al-Zubaidi was tried in absentia by a military court in Sana’a and sentenced to death along with other southern officers.
Since 1994, southern activists have been divided between nonviolent civil disobedience and armed resistance in their approach to what they view as a “state under occupation.” The southerners agreed on the primary goal of attracting the attention of the international community and focusing on the crimes committed by the Sana’a regime and the right to self-determination within the framework of annulment of the unification of 1990.
The division among southern groups from 1994 to 2007 impeded progress in southern aspirations. However, the emergence of the Southern Peace Movement, a protest against the increasing marginalization of southerners in civil service jobs and the army, reinvigorated the resistance. This resurgence coincided with the war in Saada between the Sana’a government and the Shiite Zaidi Houthi rebels. A unified movement of southern political figures inside and outside the borders of Yemen. The movement attracted a new generation of young activists who were obsessed with opposing the northern occupation and demanding self-determination.
Emotions grew among the youth with the arrival of the Arab Spring in Yemen in February 2011. While armed conflict broke out in northern Yemen between forces loyal to Saleh and elements aligned with the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, the Islah Party, southerners organized sit-ins in Aden and peaceful protests throughout the southern governorates. It also ordered the Sana’a authorities to “suppress the demonstrators in Aden”.
A segment of the population across the south demanded that the leaders confront northern aggression with force. Leaders like Zubaidi were ready, with hundreds of trained men and light weapons, but restraint was ordered by the movement’s central leadership. The leaders wanted the world to see the ruthless approach of the Sana’a authorities, which continued after the transfer of power from Saleh to Hadi in February 2012. The unarmed civilian protesters were forcibly met by security forces who were under the authority of a president of southern Hadi origin, originally from Abyan governorate.
Escalation and response
The new war between the Houthis and the Sana’a government reached Aden in March 2015. The Houthis’ march to the south represented an existential threat and a long-awaited opportunity for the southern leaders. The survival of the southern cause now requires a multi-pronged response, including armed resistance.
The approach taken since 2007 is no longer sufficient; The new enemy again came to “conquer” the south. Not only were the Houthi rebels hunting down President Hadi and removing Islah members in Aden, but the goal of their aggression was also to subjugate the southerners to their grip on power. This was the time for leaders like Aidarous al-Zubaidi to step into the vanguard of the southern resistance and shape its course.
Al-Zubaidi was in an excellent position in command of hundreds of well-trained men, and through long-standing relations with the Emirates, strengthened by allies from Yafa’a living in the Emirates, Al-Zubaidi obtained military assistance from the Arab coalition. . First, elements allied with the Hatam movement expelled Houthi fighters from the center of Al-Dhalea Governorate towards the border with Al-Bayda and Ibb governorates. Then his forces participated in the liberation of the largest Yemeni air base in Al-Anad in Lahj.
The forces commanded by General Zubaydi and his allies were among the most effective against the northern forces. The liberation of Aden in July 2015 was facilitated by organized forces on the periphery and weapons and vehicles provided by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Then the forces led by al-Zubaidi and other southern commanders organized a campaign against the terrorist elements of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Yemen. A year of counter-terrorism operations has cleared Aden of al-Qaeda and ISIS elements.
Al-Zubaidi served for about a year and a half as governor of Aden. Once again, Zubaidi seized the opportunity. He brought together a wide range of allies from across the eight southern governorates and declared the twenty-six-member Southern Transitional Council in May. Later that year, the Southern Transitional Council formed a National Council with 303 members and offices throughout the south.
This new approach, led by Aidarous al-Zubaidi, cemented the status of the southern forces as an emerging new center of power in Yemen. The Southern Transitional Council succeeded in uniting the southerners who are now rallying behind a “common narrative”, especially after several “important military victories” in Abyan, Aden and Shabwa. With the increase in influence and control of the forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council. On the ground, Aidarous al-Zubaidi has gained recognition among Western governments and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in particular.
In a surprise move during a gathering of Yemeni officials and political activists, President Hadi stepped down in April 2022. This paved the way for the creation of a new eight-member presidential leadership council, with Aidarous al-Zubaidi representing the south. . This position placed the “grievances of the south” at the center of Yemeni politics. “Southerners are once again united under one leadership, raising hope for a fresh start and a more equitable distribution of resources in the months and years to come.”