Will Saudi Arabia impose its guardianship on South Yemen?‏‏


Tue, 13-07-2021 12:20 AM, Aden Time

Badr Mohammed (South24) 

In a political statement, issued on July 2nd, the Saudi Foreign Ministry stressed its commitment to implement the Riyadh Agreement and its sponsorship of the latest negotiations between the Yemeni Government and the STC.1

The statement pointed at  what it  considered STC’S  political and media escalation due to the latter’s June 29- set of structural  political decisions, which amounted to  external diplomatic representation abroad.2

There is a background behind these STC decisions, which Saudi Arabia ignored, represented in those practices committed by forces affiliated with the Yemeni government against STC elements, in an apparently specific shift of the Saudi position towards the conflict in South Yemen.

The Saudi position towards the crisis

The Saudi Foreign Ministry statement didn’t refer to the security and military escalation by governmental forces and authorities affiliated with the Islah Party. At that time, the STC objected by halting, more than one time, any participation of its negotiation delegation in the Riyadh Agreement talks. The first time happened in June 18, when security forces, loyal to Shabwa local authority, arrested the Head of STC’s Hadramout local leadership and his Deputy in addition to some of his subordinates.3

The last time happened in June 26 4, when Shabwa’s local authority, affiliated with the Islah, made an unprecedented security and military escalation, targeting a peaceful STC’S gathering in Abdan, Nisab District. The governmental forces, affiliated with the Islah, extended its security and military measures to include all Shabwa residents.  7/7 peaceful demonstrators were subjected to various acts of violence resulting in civil injuries and detainees including STC’s leaders, as well as targeting houses with live bullets and artillery shells.

Therefore, the STC called on KSA, as the Riyadh Agreement sponsor, to take a step against the Islah-affiliated Shabwa local authority military escalation.  However, KSA did exactly the opposite, considering the STC’s decisions as political and media escalation that harms the Riyadh Agreement.

Not only that, but the Saudi diplomacy is currently trying to mobilize international support to back its position,  in a way that resembles what happened in the beginning of the Yemeni crisis in early 2015. At that time, KSA was able to extract a UN resolution and an international support that enabled its military intervention in Yemen. Hence, the latest Saudi position towards the two parties of the Riyadh Agreement concurrently comes with increasing diplomatic efforts to win international and regional support that enhances its latest position in South Yemen.

The return of the Suadi role 

There are indicators about the Saudi desire to return again to the Yemeni scene through the Riyadh Agreement’s gate after the Biden Administration’s attempts earlier this year to weaken its role in Yemen. Consequently, KSA has moved from the guardianship role to the sponsorship one, when it presented the Peace Initiative last March to end the Yemeni crisis but was rejected by the Houthis.

ON the Other hand, KSA has sponsored the Riyadh Agreement in Nov 5 2019 between the Yemeni government, affiliated with the Islah party, and the STC. Since then, KSA committed a neural sponsorship role between the two parties of the agreement. 

However, it is trying now to play the guardianship role in South Yemen.

In this context, the Saudi diplomacy has worked hard to gain international support. Last Thursday, the Chargé d'Affaires for the U.S. Embassy to Yemen, Cathy Westley, sent a strongly-worded message urging “the two parties of the Riyadh Agreement to return to the dialogue focused on implementing the Agreement”5.

While the Saudi statement pointed at the STC’ escalation, the American message warned that “Those who undermine the security, stability and unity of Yemen are risking international censure”.

In statements published by Asharq Al-Awsat, the French Ambassador to Yemen, Jean-Marie Safa stressed the need to "stop the escalation of provocative decisions and rhetoric from all sides in South Yemen 6.

On the other hand, the British Ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, expressed his "concern over the recent escalation in South”adding that "Provocative measures by the both parties of  the Riyadh Agreement must end”.7 Moreover, he retweeted statement of Cathy Westley and  Jean-Marie.

The visit of Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, Sultan of Oman, to KSA Yesterday is apparently relevant to the crisis in South Yemen which shares land borders with Oman. This crystallizes a joint Saudi-Omani position towards the crisis in South.

The crisis in South is not limited to the political positions shifts, as there are military developments reflecting the international community’s interest in South’s  situation,  concurrently with outbreaking battles in central areas of Al Bayda’ Governorate.

The Bayda’ Battles

The change of the Saudi position towards the crisis in South Yemen has not been the only one, as there are other changes on the military operation scene in Central Yemen where the  war machine entered the governorate of Bayda’  for the first time. 

Based upon such a perspective, the process of opening a new front against the Houthis seems consistent with Saudi Arabia's demand for the two parties of the Riyadh Agreement not to escalate. This would give an explanation for that series of international statements supporting the Saudi position.

In this context, the congruence between the international and Saudi positions seems relevant to the attempt to “extinguish” crises created by some elements in South in conjunction with Bayda’ Battles, due to its proximity to South. The other reason is that Al Bayda’ is considered the hotbed of extremist groups. Therefore the Yemeni VIce President, Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, affiliated with the Islah, describe the Bayda’ BattleS as a” war against coup and terrorism”8.

This creates ambiguity about the path of the Bayda’ Battle, as things is not clear for the international players. Accordingly, this increases the sensitivity of current moments, as well as the narratives behind the sudden and brief change in the Saudi and international positions. 

Relevant to the Bayda’ Battle, there is a simultaneous American interest in combating smuggling and securing international water. 

Thus, at the end of June, Brad Cooper, the Commander of U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, and the Chargé d'Affaires for the U.S. Embassy to Yemen, Cathy Westley met with the Yemeni Vice President. The meetings, according to Al Ahmar, aimed at combatting terrorism and secure the international navigation lines 9.

At the beginning of this month, the US State Department issued a report on Human Trafficking, that reflects the American interest to secure the regional water off the Yemeni coasts 10. The matrix of the military developments in Central Yemen geography, and the measures taken to secure the regional water indicate the necessary return of the Saudi role in the Yemen crisis. Such a return won’t be achievable without the pretext of supporting the Yemeni Government. Additionally, the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is connected to the return of the Yemeni Government to Aden. 

Badr Mohammed

Resident Fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies, political affairs researcher.

Photo: Local media