The Special Forces headquarters after the Southern Forces took control of it, August 10, 2022 (military media)

Shabwa Rearranges Political and Military Calculations


Sun, 14-08-2022 03:48 PM, Aden

Political editor (South24) 

“Shabwa breathes a sigh of relief” said a local official in the governorate’s capital city of Ataq when asked by “South24” about the general situation there. This came after 3 days of violent military confrontations between the Special Forces affiliated with the Islamic Islah Party and the Ataq Military Axis on one hand and the Southern forces (Shabwa Defense and the Southern Giants) on the other hand. The battles have erupted on the background of “insurgency” by military and security commanders in the Special Forces and the Ataq Axis against the decisions taken by Shabwa’s Governor, Awad bin Al-Wazir Al-Awlaki, to sack the Special Forces Commander. The objection of these forces against the decisions is that they were issued by the governor and not by the Interior Minister. Despite the subsequent Republican decision issued to enhance the governor’s stance [1], the military forces continued their military “insurgency” according to the local authority’s description there. 

It seems that the general situation in the governorate has become less flammable. This sort of escalatory confrontation was not the first of its kind in the oil-rich governorate. It was preceded by numerous waves of conflict in August 2019. The Houthis controlled three districts in Shabwa in late 2021 before being liberated by the same forces (Southern Giants and Shabwa Defense). During the past days confrontations, dozens fell dead or wounded including civilians from both sides. No official statistics about the number of casualties have been issued yet. However, AP quotes unnamed Yemeni officials that 35 persons were killed. [2] In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the PlC Chairman, Rashad Al-Alimi, and its members expressed their deep sorrow, sadness and sympathy towards the families of the victims, especially civilians and innocent people. Accordingly, the PLC established a committee which includes the Defense and Interior Ministers along with 5 other figures to investigate these events. [3] On Thursday, They arrived at the city of Ataq before leaving it.

After the Southern forces fully secured Shabwa by the "countering" military operation launched by Governor Al-Awlaki to reinforce security and stability there, [4] the man appeared on Wednesday evening during a field tour talking about a "a Presidential and a moral pardon of the deceived soldiers on condition that applying this first in Shabwa". He stressed that Shabwa is a governorate for all people conditional on not to be involved in foreign agenda. [5]

Resignation.. However!

On the evening of August 10th, media outlets close to the Islah Party leaked news about the resignation of the PLC Member Abdullah Al-Alimi who is a prominent figure in the Islah Party and the former Director of the Office of President Hadi. These leaks came in the aftermath of the defeat incurred by fighters affiliated with the Islamic Party in Shabwa. They also emerged after Rashad the Al-Alimi's statement which stressed on the need to impose state authority. Reuters confirmed Abdullah Al-Alimi's resignation and that he was convinced later to withdraw it [6] in order to foster stability in the newly-formed PLC. These leaks quickly stirred the anger of Islah supporters who accused Abdullah Al-Alimi of lacking the courage to make such a move.

Losing influence in Shabwa is a huge loss for the Islah Party which relied upon some forces in most of its districts, especially the oil and gas areas to maintain such an influence and to benefit politically and financially from the oil fields card in the governorate.

There is a wide gap between the resignation news and reports about meetings with Rashad Al-Alimi which are being leaked also in the media platforms affiliated with the Islah Party. An official Presidential source denied reports about a meeting between Rashad Al-Alimimi and leaders of the Islah Party regarding the latest events in Shabwa. [7] The source indicated that the PLC’s statement answered all questions about the course of Ataq events including repairing the damages which hit citizens and treating all effects emanating from these lamentable events. It seems as a clear message that the Presidential stance resolved the course of events in Shabwa and that any talks regarding this file are not negotiable. 

Meanwhile, the STC may benefit from the resignation decisions which were stirred as an attempt to refuse the results of what happened in Shabwa and to reduce the STC’s impact on the scene as well as to drag the latter to clash with the PLC Chairman. A move like this would make the STC free from any political obligations with the Northern forces and may push it to take escalatory decisions or stances away from partnership with the influential Northern forces. The latter have not so far benefited from the cover provided by the Southern governorates, especially Aden to achieve their endeavors to regain the North. This is although Rashad Al-Alimi and some leaders of the General People's Congress Party realize the importance of this as confirmed through their statements over past periods. Therefore, they have adopted balanced positions which support the approaches of the local authority in Shabwa. 

The PLC can also play a role by pressuring the Islah Party in response to the STC pressure. It also can persuade the STC as a result of the Islah Party pressure. It may benefit from such an equation as the PLC supposedly has the final word in any critical decisions that lack consensus as shown in the Constitutional Declaration. [8] However, such features are still inactive due to the nature of the existing parties and because Rashad Al-Alimi doesn't represent a military or a political component. The PLC’s Chairman can expand the influence of the council’s powers by using the military forces affiliated with the Defense Ministry in the liberated areas of Marib and Taiz in order to comply with the new legitimate government and not to a party or a leader. 

Old strategy 

The Islah party has long relied on all political and military events in Yemen upon the “Political paternalism” strategy playing the “guardian” role whether in the authority or opposition. When political parties were fighting the former Saleh regime, the Islah Party was the latter’s partner at that time. When the political parties were exhausted and lost their political presence, the Islah party gradually moved to play the opposition role. The Islah exploited political parties in favor of its project after they were exhausted during its alliance with the authority. This strategy does not differ from the role it played during the 2011-youth protests against the regime. While the independent youth provided sacrifices, the Islah Party was negotiating with the regime to coordinate about how to contain and end the uprising. When the independent protesters managed to make a great impact on the course of events in their favor, the Islah Party and the military forces affiliated with it, represented by General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, seized the Youth’s political representation and revolutionary achievement. The same thing happened exactly in 2014 during the expansion of the Houthi control, and later when the Saudi-led Arab Coalition intervened in Yemen. 

In the wake of 2014, the Islah Party benefited from collecting weapons and storing them as well as raising money and investing in many projects as part of the war economy. The party sought to merge their members within the official army staff under a pretext of the war. However, the Islah’s strategy was repeated again when it halted its confrontations against its rivals, the Houthis. It pushed its allies in the anti-Houthi “legitimate” camp towards confrontation. Whether these allied parties were exhausted or made victories in some battles, the Islah Party ultimately seized the victory and used its power to snatch the authority.

For example, in Shabwa, when the Houthis controlled three districts (Beihan, Usylan and Ain) the forces affiliated with the Islah Party didn’t confront the Houthis but they were even accused of complicity in handing them over. However, in the latest Shabwa events and at the beginning of a direct war against its influential forces which were accused of insurgency and turned against the decisions of the “legitimate government”, Islah Party has inflamed the military situations and endangered the governorate’s stability. However, its forces still see themselves as “the government, the legitimacy and the national army” without understanding the contexts or learning from the lessons and without reaching harmony or balance with the changes. 

Therefore, we can understand how the Islah Party arranges its priorities in any confrontation. If there are other parties which are allied with it but will equally benefit from confronting the joint foe, the Islah Party excludes such a confrontation from its priorities and leaves others to engage in it. When they are exhausted, the party often seizes opportunities to dominate the achievements.

Expanding and reducing the influence

In general, it does not seem that the expansion of the control circle and enhancing security will stop at the borders of Shabwa for the Southerners but they could extend to Wadi Hadramout where there is the 1st Military Region controlled by commanders affiliated with the Islamic Islah Party. The existence of those forces there stirred much grassroot resentment over past years.

As the “Hadrami Elite'' forces in Hadramout Coast presented a successful security pattern there, Southern politicians called the Arab Coalition and the PLC to withdraw the military forces from Wadi Hadramout and to hand over the file to secure and protect the governorate to these forces. [9] The grassroot urgency may push the PLC to take the same decisions in Hadramout. The prospects of such a matter may appear painful for the party’s influence there. Along with reducing its role and influence in the governorate, this will deprive the party from huge finance sources which lasted for years and it lost them recently in Shabwa. This is in light of the war economy calculations. But from the perspective of the national calculations, it seems that pointing the compass towards the North is the real “national economy” which could protect the party from collapse. 

In general, the Southern political, military and security forces will have to expand the circle of maintaining security and enhancing stability at the level of the Southern governorates, especially after the “terrorist” groups recently restored their activities in the governorates of Shabwa, Hadramout and Abyan. Moreover, protecting the vital locations in South including oil and gas would uptick the economic situation and attract several investments towards the liberated areas. 

South24 Center for News and Studies

ShabwaSTCSouth YemenClashesHadramoutIslahPLCMarib