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Is local federalism an answer to various divides in Islamic societies?
Apparent official political consensus in Yemen has resulted in Presidency and political establishment agreeing to transform the troubled nation into six-region federation state. Four regions would belong to the North while two regions would be part of the South Yemen. The South Yemen remained independent from the end of British colonial rule in 1967 until its union with the North in 1990.

The Yemeni state is facing problems at multiple-fronts. Since Yemen is rarely discussed even in the mainstream Indian media let us have a summary about Yemeni problems.

There is Al-Qaeda affiliate and splintered groups operative in Yemem- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Qaeda operatives along with those of Al-Shabab challenge the very existence of Yemeni state. There is Houthis rebellion or Sa’dah war; the rebellion perpetrated by the Shiite militant group operative in the North with significant support from Iran and equally vehement opposition from the Saudi Arabia. And most importantly, rebels in the South Yemen are fighting for their independence from the North since a very long time. The separatist movement there is known as Hirak al-Janoubi.

Yemeni people have been fighting on behalf of various militant outfits globally, including in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for a very long period of time. In fact almost half of the suspected terrorists detained after the World Trade Center bombings and September 11 attacks were of Yemeni origin. Al-Qaeda had every reason to take root inside Yemen, more so, in this conflicting, competing high conscious era.

In 1962, a revolution in the North Yemen ended over 1,000 years of rule by Zaidi Imams, a branch of Shiite Islam, who claimed descent from the Prophet Mohammad in the truest sense of Shiite Islam. Sa’dah was their main stronghold and since their fall from the power the region was largely ignored economically and remains underdeveloped. The Yemeni government has little or no authority in the region.

The modern Shiite militancy in the North has its origin in persistent discrimination of Shiites by Sunni majority in Yemen. At least, that is what is claimed by Shiites in the region and accepted by many parts of non-Islamic world. To tell all the probable readers the truth, this paragraph’s information has its source in Wikipedia.

The once separate countries of the South Yemen and the North Yemen merged amicably in 1990, but the union soured when the Northerners began to monopolize political power and economic opportunity. The war broke out against the dominance of the Northerners in 1994 but Northern forces crushed the breakaway movement brutally. There has been growing dissent formally against the dominance of the North since then and there is growing popular demand for separation and secession from the North in the South.

The proposed federalism in Yemen should be viewed in view of attempts by Yemeni authorities to address solving the above mentioned problems, almost all home grown. The most urgent requirement of Yemeni society is to contain secessionist demands in the South. The agreed Northern regions are Azal, Saba, Janad and Tahama while the Southern ones include Aden and Hadramawt.

The decision may have implicit or even explicit American hand, notably, hands of some of the US Congressmen and Congresswomen. As expected separatists in the South Yemen have rejected supposed ‘more autonomy’ to the region and have sworn to go ahead with their demands of freedom from the North.

The federalism would be a great leap forward in attempting to establish democracy and the required institutions in Yemen. In ideal federalism, both Union and its subunits remain powerful. The Union does not loose anything by devolving many powers to states. In fact, it may gain as a consequence. Only thing is that in best of the conditions, the very basis of a federal state is based on huge production, equitable consumption and expansion of economy and the state.

Sure, such things do not apply in Yemen; in fact in none of the troubled Islamic states, yet federalism can be tried as a substitute for rising amorphousness in Islamic states in the forms of increasing inter-sectarian conflicts, regional divides, religious disputes and conflicts over the status of females, apostates and atheists.

The news should be welcomed by all troubled nations in the region as federalism allows separate laws for different people as per the requirement of the time whenever such are urgent and necessary, while the Union remaining strong for most of the times. In this particular case such would lead to divisions of Yemeni people into known and possible aspired territories; various demographics somewhat secluded and protected by geography. Such could reduce various demographic divides and many state-conflicts.

Federalism, in adapted and localized forms and not definitely derived from Americanism, is the best way to suit people in the Middle East. Even the rich Saudi Arabia should consider applying it within the nation in spite of its absolute monarchy. The Saudi monarchy itself can make separate laws for different people of different sects, religions, genders and even nationalities in absence of any independent lawmaking institutions.

It can also invest in creating regional majorities. As a matter of choice the Saudi state can create a ‘junk state’, where all non-conformists can live together rather peacefully after eliminating any possible threat to the state.

But to make it effective, the federalism in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East and the North Africa should have teeth and the powers; legislative, executive and administrative, should be spread and shared among all partitions of the state. ‘Laws as suitable to the minds and bodies of the people’, should be the dominant theme in the Middle East and the North Africa. Universality and secular convergence have meaning too though they should be tried with utmost caution.

As a summary, federalism may have power to conquer psychology but increased power of the region and increased awareness of the people may make it equally ineffective in dealing with big armed insurgency. In fact federalism can be tried in Islamic world where there is a lack of state institutions and infrastructure and dominance of tribal culture. What is must is to assert and accept the power of commonality of Islam and its Unitarianism.

The Islamic states, those which apply federalism under suitable conditions, would be better advised not to assert too much power of guns and other statecrafts but instead they should choose careful soothing words, believe in rightful deeds and insist on bonding among people.

It looks a bit emotive but that is what is the need of hour in this increasingly chaotic and destabilizing part of the Islamic world. If tried appropriately, federalism can succeed in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, other than in Yemen and obviously in the Saudi Arabia.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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