How Independent is the STC’s Policy?


Tue, 31-08-2021 01:47 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed | South24

14 years after the start of the Southern Movement (Hirak) with its popular events in South Yemen in 2007, and the following successive events, the 2011 Uprising for an example, or the Houthi coup against the state in 2015 followed by the 2015 Operation Decisive Storm, and the humanitarian, economic and political repercussions of the war, there is a general change of the situation in South, on many levels, especially after the Southerners liberated their areas from what they described as a second invasion led by the then alliance of necessity (the Houthis and Saleh) in 2015. Southern powers have maintained the military and political gains they achieved afterwards, led by the STC, which was established in 2017 in spite of attempts by some parties, affiliated with the Islah Party (the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen) in Hadi government to regain control and influence over the liberated regions as an alternative to the former regime.

It was clear that the dramatic developments of the war’s paths allowed the southerners to reorganize themselves politically and militarily, even if it was supposed to be made prior to the war according to many of them, nut the former regime’s repression and violence against the Hirak forcefully besieged and restricted them. Moreover, there were attempts from its opponents to disperse the Hirak’s forces and attract them with temporary situations that skip the Southerners’ main and rooted issue.

Currently, the Southern policy reflects the main tasks of political components and currents in the scene regardless of their similarities and differences. They interact with each other as part of a complicated process and several effects related to the allies’ policies and the interests of different parties. On a deeper level, it can be said that the analysis of Southern policy reveals the extent of its effectiveness and independence, especially due to the sharp polarization and the surrounding regional effects before and after the war. This gives indicators about how much Southerners are ready to face any challenge that contradicts their political projects; even they sometimes converge with one party or another.

Tangible evidences

The STC’s nature as a strong political entity, even if its emergence was a continuation of the “Hirak” or a part of it, in addition to its control on extended regions and geographical areas in South, will undoubtedly be a matter of constant discussions and questions for many experts and those who have interests in the Yemeni issue, especially South.

Two main points could be highlighted, regarding the STC’s policy, on the internal and external levels as shown as follow:”

First: On the internal level

The STC’s relationship with its rivals in the Hadi government seemed politically hesitant and strategically turbulent, especially after holding its control on a lot of Southern locations. This looks natural with the new political reality and the military change dynamics on the ground. As an entity, The STC believes that it can impose itself on any political agenda based upon these pillars and refuses to give up gains that cost it much till it reaches this political and military level.

In contrast, The STC suffers a state of political deadlock with its rivals’ which sometimes ends with uncalculated reaction, making it lose control, falling into the luring trap easily. In other words, it awaits its rivals' zero hour and eruption moment before moving in the same directions of the masses, and issuing condemnation statements after the damage occurred. This weakens its ability to control the events’ tracks, allowing the culprit to control the outcome. This does not mean that the response taken by a certain party is not urgent, but using a calculated political reaction would certainly give productive results in the face of all that is being directed against this or that party, and to convert it into gains. For example, the STC’s self-administration declaration and the state of emergency on April 25th, 2020, due to Yemeni government’s failure to perform its duty, the use of people’s resources and properties to fund corruption, as well as evading the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, according to the statement, allowed, as a response, establishing a mechanism to speed up the implementation of the agreement through forming a parity government between North and South, and the appointment of a governor and a security manager for the capital Aden. Later, the STC gave up the self-administration to pave the way for the Arab Coalition to complete implementing the agreement’s path with the two parties, i.e, the STC would not have achieved that without the calculated response towards all that is against people in general and the STC in particular.

As for the STC’s Southern competitors, whether supporting its political independence project or not, the STC, since its emergence, has failed to deal with them well, or attract them, amid the lack of ability to arrange its relationships with the surrounding Southerners, and the lack of organized political work with them regarding the Southern cause, due to its insistence to prioritize specificities over generalities. This makes it somewhat lose the other southern parties’ trust. However, its latest initiative, about opening inter-southern dialogue, even if it came late, is an important development which would converge views and discover shortcomings and the common space among negotiating parties.

On the other hand, things have not been any better with the STC’s supporters themselves, as the STC clashed with them over internal matters that required opening a horizon for dialogue with them in the same way to deal with differences of views in the political and service issues, that cause narrow-mindedness sometimes, and to create internal mutual trust factors. More precisely, it is not right to adopt a policy of ignoring the supporters while opening the door for dialogue with opponents only.

Secondly: On the external level

The local and regional actors opposing the STC through their media policy were able to convince those interested in Yemeni affairs that the STC is merely a subordinate which implements Abu Dhabi’s policies in South Yemen. Nevertheless, facts and experience have not proved any of such allegations. According to observers, the consensus between the UAE and the STC is natural in such a stage, especially in light of its support to liberate many areas in South, as Abu Dhabi’s official narrative, stands with the Yemen’s unity and stability but it supports the STC which calls for South’s independence and the restoration of the state. Moreover, there is a good Emirati relationship with the “Joint Forces” in the Western Coasts, as they enjoy full UAE’s support in spite of possible understandings between them with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Houthis. However, they kept a good relationship with the UAE which considered the two parties among its arch opponents. More obviously, the UAE backs the STC in spite of the latter’s steady opposition of the unity, and supports Tariq Saleh’s forces in spite of its adherence to the unity. But it didn’t impose a certain position towards unity to any of the two parties allowing each to keep its political project independently.

Moreover, the KSA, after its intervention in the crisis between the Hadi government and the STC in August 2019, and the Riyadh Agreement, signed in November of the same year, was not allowed to impose a certain position on the STC to change its political project regarding the unity. In spite of that, Riyadh sponsored the agreement, and the STC forms a parity government, while adhering to its position and declared narratives supporting the independence of South and the restoration of the state to the pre-1990 borders. In its preamble, the Riyadh Agreement expressed such notion by saying “The Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen is committed to the three references: the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its operational mechanism, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and Security Council Resolution 2216 and the relevant resolutions and the decisions of the Riyadh Conference”. This came as a result of the STC’s rejection of the three references- especially the dialogue’s outcome- and the legitimacy’s insistence to include the three references as part of the agreement. Therefore, the preamble stated the coalition’s commitment to them while it didn’t mention any commitment from the second party in the agreement “the STC” to them. This indicates the STC’s adherence to the restoration of the state, even during his dealings with the KSA.

These equations are related to the whole Arab position, as the STC can’t for example, normalize ties with Iran to prove its disagreement with the KSA, as the STC’s external position is primarily related to the security and stability of its regions from any Iranian threats, and related with the security of the Gulf and the Arabian depth. Additionally, it can’t normalize ties with the MB to prove its discord with the UAE although it could make that if it wanted. However, it has a steady position against the Muslim Brotherhood due to the latter’s bloody history in South, as it was a reason behind its destruction during the 1994 War and the following events, with the participation of the former Yemeni regime, according to many Southerners.

Consequently, those media descriptions and its relevant inaccurate claims sometimes put the STC in critical situations through unilateral tweets of some leaders affiliated to it. This could harm the formal position of the STC as a political entity that has a presumed independence regarding its decisions and foreign relations with other states which enhances its pre-impression.

With a quick look at the STC’s positions, it appeared that its support for some of the sovereign decisions taken by the neighboring countries does not mean that it approves or adopts them. They express those countries based upon their national interests for possible security or economic considerations, or for the balance of regional and international powers that require interaction with them. Although the STC sometimes supports some sovereign decisions that converge with the neighbouring interests, they don’t contradict its political project, according to its own perspective. The supporting positions don’t not necessarily reflect Southern politics in its general form; It does not express the position of the Southern street as a whole - such as normalization with Israel.

The expected STC’s policy 

However, it has become necessary for the STC to review its internal and external policies, and try to reformulate them again within an approach that keeps pace with the political developments in the region, in a way that guarantees the interests of the Southern governorates in the first place, keeping its political and military gains it’s made on the ground as an entity. It seems that a moderate and pragmatic policy is the most useful one in the region, that is why it wouldn't be wrong to say that the STC should read the events well and deal with them quickly, flexibly and independently, or as Carl Smith wrote in his book, the Political Theology, "The sovereign ruler is the one who decides in the exceptional cases." The accelerating events showed that the state of enmity and friendship between the Gulf and Arab states, among each other or with some countries of the region is not stable, which makes it likely that the STC would adopt a policy in which it arranges its foreign relations according to its priorities and not his allies’.

On the practical level, the STC has a large point of strength on the ground, which was earlier discussed through a previous paper issued by “South24” that shows the weakness and strength points among various powers in Yemen.(1) Nevertheless, South Yemen, with its very important geopolitical location, constitutes a strategic milestone in the region, as Bab Al Mandab is not just a safety and security valve for the Gulf and the Arabian region only, but it's the stabilizing factor for the international navigation and the world trade. This requires regional and international actors to deal with a sense of awareness with the local parties controlling areas that threaten regional and international interests.

Additionally, the campaigns against the STC, launched by its rivals, trying to incite its popular base against it, by claiming its absolute subservience to the strategic ally “the UAE” would push the STC to shift its alliance with Abu Dhabi towards subservience or rivalry. In both cases the STC’s opponents would succeed by portraying it in such a picture in front of its masses. This requires developing good media plans in the face of the opposite media outlets, to ensure that the STC remains as an ally according to what serves its strategic objectives and enhances its independence. 

Resident Fellow with South24 Center
Photo: Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, during a visit to one of the STC's facilities, and on his right the flags of the UAE and Saudi Arabia (official)