Conflict in Aden: Struggle for Identity

An Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of a Crisis-Stricken Society
Shurooq Nasser
May 14, 2024

Conflict in Aden: Struggle for Identity

An Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of a Crisis-Stricken Society
Shurooq Nasser
May 14, 2024

Aden has always celebrated its civic identity, refusing to compromise when it comes to preserving its cultural and artistic heritage. The people of Aden have consistently resisted any efforts to manipulate or distort their original identity with alternatives that do not align with the city's unique environment. This resilience is a testament to their deep-rooted connection to their history and their determination to maintain their authentic identity. Aden stands as a symbol of cultural preservation and serves as a beacon of resistance against any attempts to undermine its civic heritage.

After the expulsion of the Houthi rebels from Aden, the city experienced a sense of relief and a hopeful outlook towards returning to the era of the 1960s. Based on this belonging, the city was flooded for years with media coverage, slogans, and images of leaders and heads of states, particularly those involved in the Operation Decisive Storm, such as the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with images of the martyrs who fell in the 2015 war.

Throughout this period, the city did not witness any tension or defense of the "Adeni identity" because Aden simply embraced these slogans and participated in them to some extent - at least on the media and social media platforms. There weren't many voices from the popular circles advocating for the Adeni identity, especially in the early period after the departure of the Houthis. During this critical period in the city's history, a regional discourse was promoted, fueled by a system that presented itself as an opposition to the internationally recognized government. This system, using personal social media accounts, employed tactics to tarnish the image of others, with the aim of destabilizing the city's demographics.

The restriction imposed on Aden serves to manipulate the city's narrative and align it with the agendas of specific factions. Aden, which became the temporary capital of the Yemeni Republic following the Houthi takeover of Sana'a, has experienced an intolerance incitement discourse the situation in Aden has led to a troubling dynamic where individuals from the northern provinces are often unjustly accused and implicated, even indirectly, in the war waged by the Houthis against Aden. This narrow perception of the "other" has been further reinforced by linking it to the events of the summer war in 1994. By associating individuals from the northern provinces with this historical conflict, it deepens divisions and perpetuates stereotypes, hindering efforts towards unity and reconciliation. It is important to recognize the diverse backgrounds and experiences of all residents in Aden, rather than perpetuating divisive narratives.

Large crowds of southerners gathered on October 14th to express their demands for secession.

The first blow:

The media frenzy that followed Operation Decisive Storm, particularly during the phase of Restoring Hope Operation, shaped the collective mindset towards envisioning Aden as an exemplary city that had the potential to meet the conditions of an ideal city. With its strategic location and port, Aden was believed to have the ability to swiftly regain its pivotal position. This hope was further intensified by a group of media figures who repeatedly emphasized the city's illustrious history, presenting it in a grandiose manner. All of these factors led to a conditional alignment with the political system that chose Aden as its headquarters. This alignment persisted due to certain factors, such as the relative stability of the local currency against foreign currencies and the availability of essential life necessities within certain limits. However, the war of services in Aden became intertwined with political conflicts and divisions that plagued the city. This culminated in the declaration of general mobilization and armed confrontation in August 2019. During this period, the legitimate government was expelled, self-governance was established and then revoked, a presidential council was formed, and President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi was removed from the presidential scene. 

The mental image that had captivated the people of the city, of transforming it into another version of Dubai, is gradually fading away. The propaganda promoting Yemen's accession to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which was widespread during the Operation Decisive Storm period, has dissipated. This was a result of individuals who were dismissed from leadership positions inside and outside the city joining the ranks of the armed opposition, which received strong logistical and military support. The pivotal role of this opposition in liberating the province of Aden was magnified, and media coverage surrounding it was intensified.

Consequently, the mindset of the people changed, and the hope associated with realizing their aspirations of transforming their city into an economic and tourist hub similar to Dubai vanished. However, with the involvement of those who were dismissed in the armed opposition, the focus shifted towards the liberation of the province and confronting the security and military challenges facing Aden.

In order to silence those who refuse to accept the reality that is beginning to dominate Aden, an unofficial campaign has been launched in the city that adopts a divisive approach based on regionalism and ancestral origins. If an Adeni opposes their agenda and does not align with their beliefs, then they are labeled as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a traitor, and their patriotism is questioned. However, if their ancestral origins lean towards the north, then they are labeled as being from Arab 48 (Palestinian citizens of Israel) and accused of being responsible for instigating past conflicts between southerners.

After the factions united under one Presidential Council, the Transitional Council effectively took charge of vital matters in the city, especially the security file. However, they continued to hold onto a narrative that absolved them of responsibility for the deteriorating situation in the provinces under their control. They placed the blame on the government, with whom they share responsibility, and considered the worsening conditions in southern Yemen as a means to target and fight against the Transitional Council in order to force them to abandon the southern cause. This media statement has become tiresome for the people to hear, especially now that the Transitional Council is a participant in the Presidential Council, presenting itself as the authorized representative of the southern people. As a result, they, along with the other members of the Presidential Council, bear the collective failure in providing basic services in the city of Aden. Repeating justifications and embellishing them with revolutionary fervor is no longer effective. In the eyes of the people, all the ruling forces are responsible as long as they share and enjoy the privileges and perceive the grandeur of their positions. Due to continuous failures, especially in the electricity and water sectors, the declining value of the local currency to its lowest since the outbreak of the war in 2015 against foreign currencies, and the soaring prices that have pushed the middle class below the poverty line, the country is now classified as one of the poorest in the Middle East.

Consequently, in the years following 2015, the city of Aden, like other Yemeni cities, witnessed a noticeable deterioration in the economic aspect. Unlike many other Yemeni cities where opportunities for employment are diversified in agriculture, trade, and migration, the people of Aden rely on salaries as their sole source of income, accounting for about 95% of their expenses. The average salaries in the period between 2014-2015 amounted to $300-500 in dollars. However, after nine years of liberation, an employee's salary today is equivalent to $20-50 on average. This amount is not sufficient to cover electricity and water bills, further exacerbating the suffering of the city's inhabitants.

As a result of a specific power monopolizing the key elements of state sovereignty in Aden, a wealthy class has emerged. This class, which previously had no influence or wealth enabling them to achieve such gains in a short period of time, has become the focus of attention. Meanwhile, the residents of the city of Aden have become mere spectators to what is happening in their own city.

All of the above has unveiled the fake idealism under which the representatives of political power in Aden hide.

Before the confrontation:

People in the city of Aden used to express their anger about the deteriorating services by protesting and blocking roads. In 2012, the city of Aden witnessed protests condemning the power outage for the first time, where the electricity was cut off from the city for more than 19 hours for two consecutive days. Although the local authorities attributed the outage to a technical malfunction that caused the system to fail, this did not prevent people from taking to the streets and demanding the resignation of the then-governor of Aden, Haidar Rasheed. 

Indeed, the political opposition parties and their supporters used to encourage and support the protests against the government, which was a different scenario. However, in 2023, the protesters were surprised to find that the security authorities in Aden prevented them from taking to the streets and expressing their anger. As a result, people's anger shifted towards using social media platforms, which can't be suppressed or prevented by the use of force.

Thus, on social media, people have started comparing the state of their city before and after the 2011 revolution and the subsequent events, including the Houthi war on Aden. The principle of accepting "the lesser of two evils" has become prevalent, where it is easier to accept the current situation, even if it is bad, rather than aspiring and looking towards a future that does not seem to promise any imminent breakthrough. This comparison makes people wonder about the hope of achieving tangible improvement in the conditions and the provision of basic services. The political and economic transformations and events that Aden has witnessed have made people skeptical about the possibility of achieving real change.

Aspects that deserve attention

In the context of Aden, if you happen to be on the streets during a power outage, it is possible to hear someone utter the phrase "May God have mercy on you, Afash," referring to the former president Saleh. This expression is used as a means of mockery and sarcasm, highlighting the dissatisfaction and frustration with the current state of the city. It reflects the sentiment that the challenges and difficulties faced in Aden are seen as a consequence of past political decisions and actions. 

As voices rise and passengers argue, there is a prevailing belief among them that the events unfolding in Yemen, including Aden, are seen as a result of the repercussions of the Arab Spring or, as some refer to it, the "Hebrew Spring." This alternative name suggests a belief that external factors and influences, beyond the region itself, have played a role in shaping the current situation.

Initially, the voices that rose from time to time could be silenced as individual grievances. However, today these voices have become collective, resonating among people whenever they face the deterioration of essential services such as water, electricity, sewage, rising prices, delayed salaries, and more. These voices have been directed towards a specific target, focusing on the Southern Transitional Council, with accusations that they are to blame for the return of the government that they consider to be the enemies responsible for the bloodshed in the south. Tariq Afash, in particular, who was once an ally of the Houthi group, is heavily criticized. It is believed that the Southern Transitional Council holds control over the city and therefore has the power to address the deteriorating services and monitor price hikes. Instead, they are seen as complicit participants in the corruption deals that the government, administrations, and institutions are accused of, rather than standing as mere spectators. 

When "Jabhat Adeniya" (Aden Front) used to refer to them exclusively!

Aden front……       Tumbaki

Aden Resistance …..Tumbaki

The famous satirical young man's presence with his song "Tumbaki" was dominant in the streets of Aden. Recorded videos of him circulated in the city, and his songs, including the popular "Tumbaki," were widely sung within Yemen and beyond. The notable aspect of the most famous "Tumbaki" song was the repeated phrase "Jabhat Adeniya" (Aden Front), which seemed not to provoke the anger of the city's youth who took up arms. This reassures us that the true defenders of the city are the sons of Aden, regardless of their origins and affiliations, as Aden is their city to which they belong.

The phrase "I am from Aden" was meant to express a complete sense of belonging to the city of Aden, where its streets, buildings, and alleys have brought together "Adenis" of various religious, sectarian, and political orientations. Aden is a city whose connection to its civic identity cannot be broken by repeating regional, tribal, and regionalist divisions. The history of the city is built on pluralism, devoid of self-inflated narcissism, which uses tribal and regional roots as symbols of exclusivity and distinction from the rest of the city's inhabitants. This reality, which those who praise regional and tribal affiliations could not accept, especially when they found themselves confronted by a proud Adeni who began to raise their voice and demand equal representation, ensuring their rights without speculating about their great-grandfather's name or asking them, "Where are you really from?" For they are sons of this city and have the right to discuss their community's issues.

In an attempt to silence those who refuse to accept the reality that has begun to dominate Aden, an undeclared campaign has emerged in the city that embraces regional segregation and the search for origins. If an Adeni deviated from their agenda and happened to share the same heritage, then he is labeled as a traitor, suspicious of their patriotism. However, if their origins lean towards the north, then they are accused of being from Arab 48, with their ancestors being the ones who sowed discord among the southern Yemenis and caused their previous conflicts. From their perspective, this Adeni is an integral part of the problem associated with expansionist Yemeni ideologies.

The naming of the street after Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, following the broadcasting of an investigative report by BBC, has resulted in a wave of mockery, especially since the naming is seen as compensation for the damage done to the UAE's reputation due to the publication of the investigation. In addition to the modifications made to the street sign and its dissemination on personal accounts, the humorous tone overshadowed the posts and comments, with the posters going to great lengths to portray the comical reality that their city is experiencing.

The great Adeni people?!

This caution, which was accompanied by monitoring any clear movement of the identity of (the city), prompted them to erase the phrase (the Adeni people are great) while organizing a public youth event that was accompanied by an official presence, which angered the people of the city of Aden, so the hashtag #The_Aden_people_are_great appeared on all social media platforms, and many commented on this tag. They have expresses their astonishment and anger at fighting the people of the city and trying to bury their civilian identity, among these posts:

(It was an official opening with an official presence. Everyone passed in front of the mural bearing the phrase "#The_Aden_people_is_great" but did not provoke any resentment among the attendees during the official opening with official presence. It seems that everyone, regardless of their family origins and backgrounds, felt a sense of belonging to Aden. Within moments, the mural became adorned with the handprints of young Adenis, as well as those from Dhalae, Hadramout, Taiz, Lahj, and Abyan. However, someone from outside the mural's symbolic significance noticed it from a distance. They may feel like an outsider in this city that embraces everyone and is considered the mother of the poor. Although the phrase "the Adeni people are great" represents "love, appreciation, and recognition of their contributions" for everyone else, this individual perceives it as a threat to their personal interests.

Indeed, sometimes just three words can serve as a reflective mirror that reveals both the broad horizon and the limitations of the Adenian perspective.)

Wall murals photos

A wonderful artistic medium to express Adeni identity and encourage citizens to participate and engage by leaving their handprints. It would be a visually powerful way to showcase the uniqueness and unity of the Adeni community.

(The removal of the phrase "The Adeni people are great" may have stemmed from the sensitivity surrounding the term "Adeni" for some individuals. It seems that when asked about your origin and you respond with "Adeni," some may dismiss it by saying that there is no such thing as "Adaniyah" (Adeni). Moreover, when there were calls to establish a council for the sons and daughters of Aden, similar to those in Shabwa, Hadramout, Yafa, and others, some accused you of being traitors and attempting to divide the ranks. In response, you emphasized that the Adeni people are great because they are the ones who built their city and have preserved it, even when others fled.)

Indeed, translating these resentful comments into real-life actions, such as painting and writing the phrase "#The_Aden_people_is_great" on the city walls, can be seen as a response to the erasure of their Adeni identity. It is a tangible expression of resistance against attempts to diminish their Adeni heritage. This act serves as a powerful statement of pride and determination, reaffirming the greatness of the Adeni people.

The second blow

After the grand spectacle of celebrating the city of Aden in the presidential council, it became evident that the Southern Transitional Council had abandoned the very city that had sheltered them. They failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people of Aden, a city that had long been a battleground between the government and opposition parties. The Southern Transitional Council chose to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions in the city, just like the other members of the presidential council who dispersed themselves in Al-Tawahi district and Ma'asheeq Palace. Therefore, the council's choice to remain silent and distance itself from the deteriorating situation in the city was a cause for widespread anger. Despite the dire state of the city, their attempts to manipulate public opinion and portray themselves as victims were ineffective. This was especially true after the release of the investigative reportage on the Asbir Operations Group, which was assigned to carry out assassinations in Aden during the early years following its liberation. The revelations made it even more difficult for them to shape the public narrative and present themselves as oppressed. The council's silence only further fueled the general discontent in the city. 

The film had a significant impact on the Yemeni street, particularly in Aden. The criticism centered around the appearance of the head of the Southern Transitional Council as an accused person being investigated for the assassinations that targeted mosque imams and influential figures who played a role in the liberation of the city. Due to the amount of criticism and mockery associated with the release of the investigation, the governor of Aden, Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, announced a change in the name of a well-known street. The street, previously known as "Al-Aqil Roundabout," had been rehabilitated and developed by the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen. It was renamed "Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Street." Emirati channels extensively covered the event, and the naming of the street after Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was justified as a response to a "film" aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that aimed to tarnish the image of the United Arab Emirates and its pivotal role in Yemen.


A photo for changing the name of the street known as (Jawlat Al Aqel Street) to (Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Street)

Immediately after the BBC investigative report aired, the naming of the street as "Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Street" was met with a wave of mockery. The naming was seen as a compensatory gesture for the UAE, following the damage inflicted on its reputation by the broadcast of the investigation. Alongside the modifications made to the signage and its dissemination on personal accounts, a comedic tone prevailed in the posts and comments, with publishers going to great lengths to portray the absurd reality experienced by their city.

It really a profound social fantasy that can be encapsulated in a short dialogue between a bus driver and a passenger. It could be a reflection of the current situation in our country, where politicians' main task seems to be distorting the country's identity and legitimizing their actions. This observation has been acknowledged by commentators, whose opinions vary.

(Guys, we will soon find that our names have changed to Jassim, Hamdan, Sheikha, and Moza), (I swear to God, it is a bad situation. Our children will not know anything about the country’s past and history. Crater is known to be a heritage area, and its streets describe those who lived and influenced it, and every place and street in Aden has its own character. It tells the story of the time of those who lived in it. (All that remains is to change the name of Aden on the map and erase the history. They have uprooted the trees and stones... and God is a farce), while others saw that changing the name of the street confirms the validity of what was stated in the investigation: (Even though we all know They are the reason, but they assured us with clear evidence that it was them.)

it is worth noting that Aden city did not take a stance against the presence of the Arab Coalition. In fact, after the liberation of the city, there were campaigns expressing gratitude towards the United Arab Emirates under the campaign titled "Thank you, Emirates of Goodness." Photos of coalition leaders were displayed in various districts of the city, without causing any resentment among the residents. This was because there was no clear indication of an intention to change the city's identity. However, after nine years of liberation, there has been a growing resistance against any attempt to undermine its culture and identity. This reality can be succinctly summarized in a brief comment: "Colonization in disguise."

Further, a satirical sketch titled "Lamlis - Qayyarah" by Adnan Al Khader gained significant attention on social media platforms following the revelations of the investigative report and subsequent discussions. The sketch sharply criticizes the governor of Aden province, who, within his authority, changed the name of Joulah Al Aqil Street to "Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Street."

Indeed, the sketch garnered a significant response, as it reflected people's awareness of the systematic destruction of the city's cultural depth, which it had long preserved, far from the politics of compromising the sovereignty of the country and the violation of its resources by a group of politicians who control the political and military scene in both the north and south of Yemen.

Some comments included: (It is indeed disheartening to witness the assassination of our identity and culture at our own hands, or rather, at the hands of our mercenaries. They have changed everything beautiful within Aden. We fear that one day we will wake up and not find our neighborhoods, our "hawafis" (zones), and our streets as we know them. There are many streets that have been named after martyrs of Aden since 2015, but no one calls the streets by their names. And I swear, even if they change the names, the people of Aden will still refer to the streets by their original names, the names they know. Let them change it now, but we will continue to call it by its true name.)

These comments highlight the governor's disregard for the real issues faced by the province. One commenter mentioned the lack of electricity in their area despite living on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Street. Another mentioned the focus on changing street names rather than addressing essential infrastructure problems. The comments also included satire regarding street name changes in Aden, with one person joking about living on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Airport Street in Abu Dhabi, where the name was changed from Khor Maksar Airport Street. Additionally, there were comments suggesting that the Houthi group might adopt similar changes in the provinces under their control, with one person sarcastically mentioning the possibility of renaming streets in Sana'a after Iranian leaders.

It is noteworthy that the criticism and strong reaction to the sketch stem from the refusal to allow Aden to become a platform for absolving others at the expense of its own people who have been victims of assassinations. The decision to change the street name seems to be an attempt to improve the image of another country that has faced accusations of recruiting mercenaries to carry out assassinations in Aden. Regardless of the credibility of the allegations mentioned in the BBC investigation, it is unclear how changing the street name in Aden relates to refuting the claims. Denying the accusations and challenging the video evidence is within the rights of the state mentioned in the investigation.

It would have been more appropriate for the security services in Aden to launch an investigation to verify the information presented in the investigative report. This would help shed light on the number of assassinations that have occurred in Aden, many of which remain unsolved, including the high-profile assassination of Governor Major General Jaafar Mohammad Sa'ad with an explosion targeted his convoy. Despite the announcement by the Aden Security Director that the perpetrators had been arrested, there has been no trial or public disclosure of their identities. It is unclear whether the arrests actually took place or if the announcement was made to appease the anger of the people of Aden.

The accurate reverse analysis, coupled with a thorough examination of the variables at play in a country burdened by poverty, marginalization, and manufactured crises that distract from its overall situation, is crucial. This analysis helps us understand the extent of public awareness and consciousness amidst the continued cycle of recurring crises that besiege the country.

The pace of escalation within the city, which is undergoing excavation and depletion of its artistic identity, has not ceased. Criticisms have continued, this time targeting Aden Al-Mustaqilla Channel and the Office of Culture in Aden. This came after the live broadcast of the "Aden Nights Festival" during the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr in 2024.

The event featured various musical performances, including Amani Asam singing the song "Kalmah Walaw Jabra Khater" (A word, even if it mends a broken heart). The song is written, composed, and sung by Mohammed Saad Abdullah. Despite the presenter acknowledging this fact during the introduction of the song, Aden Al-Mustaqilla Channel incorrectly attributed the lyrics to Obadi Al-Jawhar.

A photo from the Aden Nights Festival live on Eid Al-Fitr 2024

Away from the blame game between the channel and the Office of Culture, and attributing it to an unintended mistake, it is worth noting that this particular song was not well-received by social media users. The fact that both parties responsible for managing and broadcasting the event made an error in attributing the song is significant, considering it is one of the most famous songs in Yemen and the Arab Gulf region. Incorrectly attributing it to Obadi Al-Juawar went beyond a simple mistake, especially as this song has been a subject of controversy related to the theft of Yemeni art and its attribution to poets, composers, and artists from the Arab Gulf.

Apart from the issue of the song as a whole and the time difference between the original performer and the one claiming ownership, the song was introduced by MBC channel in their program "MBC The Voice Kids" as being written and composed by Mohammed Saad Abdullah when it was sung by Yemeni child Ali Al-Muhtadi.

The commentators attributed the intentional misattribution of the song lyrics to the artist Obadi Al-Jawhar to Aden Al-Mustaqilla Channel and the Office of Culture for another purpose. This purpose was further confirmed when Aden Al-Mustaqilla Channel attributed the lyrics of the song "Sara Al-Layl," written by Abdullah Hadi Sabeet, to the Saudi poet Abdulaziz Al-Mut'eb, and attributed the melody to the Saudi composer Saleh Al-Shahri.

Eden Nights Festival Theater in Al-Fitr - 2024

In a similar vein, the hashtag #Lamless "Qeirah" gained traction, with many attributing the alleged unintended mistake by Aden Al-Mustaqilla Channel and the Office of Culture in Aden as part of an intentional targeting of the city's cultural identity. It is difficult to believe that such a mistake was merely an unintentional artistic error. It rather appears to be a blatant attempt to appease others at the expense of Aden and its creative talents. Even if it was a repeated mistake, it indicates that those in control of the cultural scene in Aden are outsiders who lack knowledge of the city's artistic identity.

They still indifferent  

They have not been adequately warned about the importance of conducting precise reverse tracking and analysis of all the variables present in a country facing the burdens of poverty, ignorance, and manufactured crises. Such analysis is crucial for diverting attention from the overall state of the country and its continuous entrapment in recurring crises. It is essential to understand the level of public awareness and engagement with these issues. 

Regarding the identity of Aden, it seems that the civic values in Aden have managed to neutralize the authority of arms when it comes to the freedom of criticizing what is happening in their city. The overall assessment of the situation in the city leads us to conclude that Aden has lost confidence in the existing leadership on the ground, which has failed to preserve the identity of the city from the distortion that has affected everything in it. Meanwhile, many countries are persistently trying to seize the heritage of this country, usurp its cultural and artistic heritage, and reshape its visual image to align with the dominance and conformity imposed by politicians in Yemen.

Singer Mohammed Sa'ad Abdullah, while singing "Bin Sa'ad said: O my heart Fawsh Ya Ma Sabar", was like someone who was warning about what is happening in the country today, but they did not take heed, and they did not listen to his message. In fact, Mohammed Saad expresses his frustration and disappointment in this poem. He describes the torment and bitterness he has experienced, as well as the realization that those he once loved no longer bring him any benefit. He feels abandoned and questions the whereabouts of their arrogance and cleverness. Meanwhile, he observes others laughing and smiling, while the poor are left dependent on signals. Bin Sa'ad believes that they have fallen for the deceit of impostors, leading to their own downfall. He advises against trusting or desiring them, suggesting that facing poverty is better than engaging in their deceitful trade. He concludes by questioning what has driven them all, comparing their actions to a carpenter who does not know the principles of his own craft. Ultimately, he highlights the deep hole they have dug themselves into, concealed behind a curtain of deception.

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