Two Years after the Islah Party’s Control of Shabwa, What Has Changed?


Sun, 29-08-2021 05:19 PM, Aden

Shabwa (south24)

It has been two years since the oil-rich southern Yemeni governorate, Shabwa, was controlled by forces, affiliated with the islamic Islah party after battles with the “Shabwani Elite”, loyal to the STC, in August 2019, following the latter’s dominance of Aden, and its attempts to hold control on the other southern governorates to enhance the “Independence” project, formally adopted by the southern entity. So, what does the scene look like today?

 The return of "terrorism"

Prior to the Islah-affiliated Forces’ controlling Shabwa, the Shabwani Elite troops were deployed in the governorate implementing security roles there. Those forces, backed by the Arab Coalition, achieved various security victories, especially in combating the AQAP and ISIS. However, after the Elite Troops exit, the control there moved to many military and security forces, top of which are “the Special Forces”, in addition to many brigades and military units which came from the neighbouring northern governorate, Marib, as well as the local “General Security” Forces.

Over the following period, the governorate has witnessed a significant increase in the activities of the “terrorist” groups, the US Department of State's annual report on terrorism noted a “decline of the gains achieved in the field of combating terrorism after the dissolution of the Shabwani Elte Forces.(1)

the return of "terrorism" has been clearly asserted through the drones raids (which are likely to be American) that targeted leaders and members of the AQAP in Shabwa. Less than 4 months after the downfall of the governorate into the grip of the forces affiliated with the government, a number of raids targeted the Saeed District in Shabwa killing 4 AQAP’s elements.(2) On April 15th, 2020, 3 drones raids hit AQAP elements in Bayhan, North of Shabwa, followed by a similar attack, after less than 24 hours, which targeted AQAP’s leaders in the town of Amaqin, in Rawdah District (3). On May 30th of the same year, a drone bombed a car carrying AQAP members near the village of Al Shabika, near Ataq, killing all the 4 occupants of the car including a possible leader of the organization.(4)

Over the following months, exploratory sorties and strikes continued in Shabwa, in addition to similar strikes in the areas controlled by the government in the governorates of Bayda and Marib, top of which was the bombing that hit the area “Al Shabwan” in Wadi Obeida in Marib. According to local media outlets, the strike targeted a meeting of AQAP’s leaders in May 2021.

The STC accuses the governmental forces in Shabwa of cooperating and coordinating with radical religious groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the AQAP, and ISIS against its security and military forces after the failure of the Riyadh Agreement, signed between the two parties in November 2019, and the eruption of the battles again in the middle of 2020, where Shabwa played a role as the supplying and starting base for the governmental forces coming from northern governorates according to military experts. The local authorities did not issue any formal denial for these accusations and have not made any security or military actions against the radical groups since controlling the governorate.

Experts talk about the reflection of the AQAP's resumed activity in Shabwa on the situation in Abyan, which is divided between the STC-affiliated southern forces, and the governmental forces, loyal to the Islah Party. Over the last months, the STC’s troops were subjected to a number of “terrorist” attacks, prominent of which was the June -11th 2021 bombing of a bicycle bomb that targeted military transport truck belonging to the Security Belt Forces in the city of Zinjibar, killing and injuring 31 soldiers and civilians.(5) The AQAP declared its responsibility of implementing two bloody attacks on security checkpoints belonging to the Security Belt Forces in the districts of Ahwar and Al Wade'a in Abyan, at the middle of March and the beginning of April this year.

At the beginning of July 2021, the AQAP kidnapped 5 criminal investigation officers in Shabwa, dragging them to the neighbouring governorate of Bayda before releasing them in light of a bargain with the governmental forces, in return of releasing a number of the AQAP’S elements in Marib’s prisons, according to tribal sources who previously spoke to “South24”.(6)

Social security 

In addition to the developing inter- conflicts among the governmental security factions in Shabwa, especially, the fighting that erupted in July this year between the Special Forces and the General Security Forces, the incidents related to revenge and tribal conflicts in Shabwa has doubled since August 2019. Tens of armed conflicts occurred during the last period, mostly without the intervention of the governmental forces controlling the governorate.

In March 2020. There were clashes between Al Sherman and Al Mersas tribes in Wadi Dera of Nisab District, that injured a number of armed members from the two tribes. In October 2020, tribal clashes erupted in Habban resulting in one dead and a number of injured because of a land conflict.

There have been continuous tribal clashes during the following months, prominent of which were the May clashes this year between Al Jazie’ and Al Mirfad Almarazik in Al Hanak, and those between the Nasi and the Maqarha tribes in Merkhah, and among the tribe of “Al Baklo”, in Wadi Dera, in Nisab District which killed 4 people. At the middle of the current months, clashes erupted between Al Alassar and Al Taleb tribes in Farouk neighborhood in the middle of Ataq, the administrative center of Shabwa. On August 21st, armed clashes erupted between the tribes Al Yaslam and Al Salem Al Awaleq tribes in Yashbam, belonging to Saeed District over the killing of one young man during tribal confrontations.

Young Kahlan Al-Awlaki, who was killed in tribal confrontations, on August 20, 2021 in Al-Saeed (local sources)

All kinds of weapons have been used during these tribal conflicts and clashes، some of which were made near governmental camps and security centers without intervention to settle them while tribal mediators succeeded in such a task. However, the local authorities in Shabwa said that they sent military reinforcements to Saeed District to stop the recent clashes, and handed over the suspects in the killing of the young man, "Kahlan Abu Bakr Al Awlaki."

Some local activists did not rule out that these internal conflicts were fabricated, with the aim of keeping the local tribes busy, in light of the state of political division, and dispersing the STC efforts of which depends for its influence on the popular support.

The incidents of assassinations, kidnappings and arrests also represented one of the aspects of the deteriorating security situation in the governorate, which witnessed in recent months a series of assassinations that targeted soldiers who belonged to the Shabwani Elite (7), as well as activists and unarmed demonstrators.(8)

Government forces in Shabwa also arrested activists and STC members, top of whom was the President of STC in Hadhramaut Governorate and his deputy, who were arrested at a security point in mid-June causing a severe crisis between the STC and the Yemeni government.

The governmental escalation led to a wave of popular peaceful angry refusal (9) in different Shabwa districts, which were met again with repression and arrests by the governmental forces, amid accusations of trying to tear the internal social fabric in the governorate, targeting the social relationship between Shabwa and Hadhramaut. Accordingly, the STC suspended its delegation's participation in the Riyadh Agreement talks, left the Saudi capital and returned to Aden.

The local authority 

 Muhammed Salih Bin Adyo, affiliated with the islamic Islah party, is the head of the Shabwa local authority since November 2018. The authority is accused of making “career scraping" against those who don't belong to or affiliated with the Islah Party, and replacing them with others.(10) It is also accused of signing "fake" contracts (11) with huge financial allocations from the governorate’s budget, and to provide a foothold for states such as Turkey through projects related to resorts and roads whose contracts are given to Turkish companies by “vague deals". 

However, there are real achievements made by this authority such as paving the roads, and connecting some villages with road networks for the first time. The local authority also inaugurated the "Peace Bridge" in Habban District, which was reconstructed "with local funding from the governorate's share of crude oil sales, after it was destroyed in the 2015 war." The BIn Adyo’s administration also refurnished and rehabilitated Ataq International Airport. The local authority resumed the work in  “Automatic Issuance”, and “Immigration and Passports” centers after they were suspended.

The local authority succeeded in adding about 19 megawatts to enhance the electrical capacity in the governorate, although the service is still witnessing a continuous deterioration. Citizens talk about power outages that sometimes last more than half a day and less than two hours of operation. Among the important projects announced by the Shabwa local authority is the “Qena Oil and Commercial Port” project, whose first stage was inaugurated in January 2021, and sparked widespread controversy as some accused the local authority of “looting the governorate’s resources through this fake project. On the other hand, the authority focused on the importance of the project, and the benefits it will bring to the governorate in particular and the country in general. (12)

QZY Company, which is affiliated with the Yemeni businessman,Ahmed Al-Eisi, who is close to the presidency, and with whom Bin Adyo signed an agreement to establish the port of Qena, issued a statement less than three months after the inauguration of the first stage. It expressed its feelings of astonishment by the latter’s decision to abolish the Qena port Agreement, and announced its commitment to its “legal right.” (13)

Shabwa Governor, Muhammad bin Adyo, during the opening of Qena port, January 2021 (official)

Moreover, the local authority was able to bring to light the project of establishing Shabwa University after many years of floundering. The University’s Administration is scheduled to merge the University of Aden’s faculties to it.(14) The local authority also formed a “Scientific Committee" to study the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine at Shabwa University.(15)


In mid-July of this year, the tanker "Calida" left the Al Nashima port in the Rudum District of Shabwa, carrying a huge amount of oil, estimated by local media outlets of about one million barrel, to be sold in the Chinese markets. In mid-August of this year, the supertanker Sarasota arrived at the Bi'r Ali, in Rudum District of Shabwa governorate, coming from South Korea, to transport 100,000 barrels of crude oil, according to local media.

Both the Houthis and the STC accuse Shabwa local authority of looting the governorate’s oil resources and selling them, through deals worth billions of dollars, in favour of a particular political party, and Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, the Yemeni vice president, who has great influence over the forces controlling Shabwa and Wadi Hadhramaut.

Although the local authority in Shabwa says that it has allocated only 20% of the governorate’s revenues to its Treasury, according to government financial sources, it does not send any of it to the central bank in Aden, like its neighbor in Marib, which economists consider one of the most important reasons behind the all-out collapse of the Yemeni economy and the Riyal.(16)

Earlier, the governor of Shabwa accused the UAE of repeatedly disrupting the strategic "Balhaf" gas facility in the governorate.(17),He renew his accusations in his speech a few days ago on the anniversary of the August 2019 events in Shabwa, stressing that the facility "should be a lifeline for the people during this hard time.”(18)

Tens of transporting locomotives. Carrying oil derivatives continue to cross towards the northern areas of Shabwa, including Houthi-controlled areas.

The conflict over Shabwa

For experts, Shabwa is in the midst of multi-level conflicts due to its geostrategic importance and its enormous wealth. (19) According to them, this conflicts are not the result of the August 2019 events, but these events constituted a different phase and a variant reality, after the STC’s military failure to impose their control over the governorate. 

Nevertheless, observers believe that Shabwa’s conflict game goes beyond the STC and the Islamic Islah Party to larger regional and international parties, especially with the clear and explicit role of the KSA in bringing down the governorate in the hands of the Yemeni government, strengthening its military power there with modern mechanisms, and the continued presence of Saudi forces in Ataq. These indicators have been confirmed by criticism launched by Saudi media personalities, close to the monarchy, against the UAE, due to the latter's adherence to its position which supports the STC.