Yemen is about to shrink administratively, but there is hope for a resolution of the ongoing insecurity in the wake of the Arab spring toppling of Ali Abdullah Salih, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades. One result of the National Dialogue Conference is a recommendation that Yemen become a federalist state with six regions to replace the former major regional units. As described in the official Saba News agency of the Yemeni government, the existing governorates would be assigned as follows:

• Hadramout will include al-Mahra, Hadramawt, Shabwa and Socotra, with al-Muklâ as its capital.

• Saba will include al-Jawf, Ma’rib and Al-Baydha, with Marib as its capital.

• Aden will comprise Aden, Abyan, Lahj and Dhala‘, with the capital in Aden.

• Janad will comprise Taiz and Ibb, with Taiz as a capital.

• Azal will consist of Sa‘da, San‘a, Amran and Dhamar with the capital to be determined within the former San‘a governorate, but not San‘a city.

• Tihama will include al-Hudayda, Rayma, al-Mahwit and Hajja with its capital in the city of al-Hudayda.

For those who prefer to see the divisions in Arabic, here they are:

الإقليم الأول: محافظات المهرة حضرموت شبوة سقطرى، ويسمى إقليم «حضرموت» وعاصمته المكلا.

الإقليم الثاني: محافظات الجوف مارب البيضاء، ويسمى إقليم «سبأ» وعاصمته «سبأ».

الإقليم الثالث: محافظات عدن ابين لحج الضالع، ويسمى إقليم «عدن» وعاصمته عدن.

الإقليم الرابع: محافظتا تعز إب ويسمى إقليم «الجند» وعاصمته تعز.

الإقليم الخامس: محافظات صعدة صنعاء عمران ذمار، ويسمى إقليم «آزال» وعاصمته صنعاء.

الإقليم السادس: محافظات الحديدة ريمة المحويت حجة، ويسمى إقليم «تهامة» وعاصمته الحديدة.

The plan also calls for the city of San‘a being an independent capital area, perhaps like the District of Columbia in the United States, to guarantee its impartiality. Its geographical extent will be increased by some 40 percent. Aden will also have special status as an economic zone and its geographical extent as a city enlarged.

While there are reservations from both the Huthis and the Socialists, there is tentative agreement that some form of federalism should go forward. In the current draft there will be an election in 2015 for a five-year term and the divisions can be renegotiated after that time. The next step is to create a new constitution, to be approved by a national referendum, and then a Federal Regions law to define the rights of the federal units in relation to the central government. Parliamentary leadership will rotate between the six regions.

This is an ambitious plan, but it seems well suited to Yemen, where there has never been real unity between the various regions. Yemen’s geographical diversity, coupled with strong tribal ties to land, has made it difficult for any central government to establish control over the entire area. The unification of North and South Yemen in 1990 was a political move that failed, much to the detriment of residents in the south. But this plan fits the dynamics of Yemen’s past, where mediation was a key ingredient in civil relations. In the north the Zaydi imams had no standing army and relied on alliances with tribal groups; in the south the British were mainly interested in the port of Aden and formed alliances with local sultans until the revolution forced them out in 1967. Before that no dynasty, whether local or imposed from the outside, was ever able to establish control over the region called Yemen.

The most interesting thing to me about the new names is the choice of Azal for the major northern highland governorates and Janad for the fertile southern highland governorates. The name Azâl is an ancient name for San‘a before the Ethiopian invasion in the 4th century C.E. In genealogical legend Azâl is the father of San‘a. As noted by the Arab geographer Yaqut, Azâl is said to be a son of Yaqtan, a descendant of Shem and a cognate of the biblical Joktan. The choice of the name is probably not going to please ardent Salafis, since it predates the arrival of Islam in Yemen, but it is clearly a strategic choice to separate the area covered from the new capital of San‘a. Although al-Janad is a relatively small town in Yemen today, it is famous for being one of the most important centers of Islam after its arrival to Yemen. Indeed it was one of the three main Yemeni districts at the start of the Islamic era, along with San‘a and Hadramawt. Janad also boasts one of the oldest mosques in Yemen.

So, it seems for Yemen that “now we are six” is the best hope for a peaceful transition. Let us hope that it is not simply a poetic move, like that penned by the author of Winnie the Pooh.