Mohammed bin Salman and Aidarous al-Zubaidi in Riyadh, November 5, 2019 (Saudi media)

Why Do Saudi Activists criticize South Yemen?


Wed, 25-01-2023 12:17 AM, Aden Time

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

Over the past weeks, Saudi journalists and activists have remarkably criticized Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Southern forces. This has come concurrently with several local developments in South Yemen, foremost of which are the tensions in Wadi Hadramout amid reports about direct Saudi-Houthi consultations regarding the conflict in Yemen.

This campaign began when Saudi journalists and activists abruptly adopted a sharp rhetoric against STC and the Hadrami parties who called for driving the 1’st Military District out of Wadi Hadramout. They have indirectly supported the voices who demanded separating Hadramout from South Yemen. 

This social media campaign, especially on Twitter, has raised questions about its reasons and whether it represents the general Saudi position towards the Hadramout issue and its vision regarding the settlement in Yemen or is it just individual voices?

The first possibility is enhanced by what was recently revealed about the current talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis. It seems that Riyadh does not want to disturb these discussions which don't include Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) whose establishment was supported by KSA in April.

On the other hand, some believe that these Saudi voices are part of “the deep wing of Muslim Brotherhood” in the Kingdom, especially with the recent big changes led by the young Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.


The latest anti-STC campaign has been led by several Saudi figures including journalists in major official newspapers. 

Abdullah Al Hatayla, Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Saudi newspaper “Okaz”, comes on top of these figures. Additionally, the list includes more such as political writer Suleiman Al-Okeili who serves as Board of Directors Member of the Saudi Political Science Association.

Over the last few years, Al-Okeili has been known for his fierce opposition to STC being regular guest at satellite channels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Al-Hatayla previously interviewed STC President Aidrous Al-Zubaidi in Okaz Newspaper. 

Furthermore, there is the name of prominent Saudi activist and political researcher Ali Arishi as shown in his Twitter account. Arishi joined Twitter in 2011 following the Arab Revolution but the search engines don't indicate any political or press activity of the man.

Likewise, Saudi political analyst Turki Goblan, Head of Daymuma Center for Studies and Researches, is considered one of the most prominent figures participating in the latest campaign.

The list included several main figures such as Saudi activist Saad Mohammed AL-Amri who was interviewed by “South24 Center” in this report. 

A general or individual tendency?

Southern political analyst Salah Al-Sakaldi described such digital campaigns as being part of multiple Saudi decision makers. 

He told “South24 Center”: “Some realize that the Saudi decision maker uses an electronic army in important and sensitive issues which are a major concern for KSA internally and externally. This army targets rivals like what we see in South Yemen, particularly in Hadramout". 

He added: “Through this electronic army, STC is obviously being targeted today as well as all forces and figures who support the Southern issue”.

Al-Sakaldi claimed that there is a tension in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and STC whose president is currently in Riyadh. He added:”Over the last months, STC’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been strained amid the backdrop of many issues, especially Hadramout. The two parties have engaged in a silent crisis and undisclosed estrangement but a deep and serious one”.

However, Southern political analyst “Anwar Al-Tamimi” has a different view. 

He told “South24 Center”: “They are the MB’s journalists in Saudi Arabia. They previously adopted positions different from the official stance of their country and compatible with the MB such as criticizing the current Egyptian and Tunisian Presidents”.

He added: “Their tweets carried hostility towards Egypt and Tunisia while supporting Erdogan’s policies in Turkey. This confirms their loyalty to MB’s media discourse. Although the latest campaign aimed at distorting the Hadrami demands, it has led to an unintended outcome by shedding light on them more broadly. 

Saad Al-Amri told “South24 Center” that what he and others write does not go beyond their convictions or personal opinions”. 

He added: “Even if a Saudi activist disagrees with any Southern approach, it is his personal view which does not represent the state. Personal abuse vs. personal abuse is not something harmful but we can't accept any abuse against Saudi Arabia".

He explained by saying "some Saudi activists stand with STC. They extremely sympathize with the Southern issue and support the rights of Southerners. What happen in Yemen is intra-Yemeni issues".

Al-Amri noted that "there are Saudi activists whose rhetoric aligns with the Kingdom's firm positions and sticks to it"

He added: "We stress that all issues which are managed in Yemen remain Yemeni-Yemeni affairs. Everything agreed upon by Yemenis will be blessed by Arab Coalition states including KSA and the Gulf countries but after ending the war against the Houthis".

Contrary to that, Al-Amri believes that such a matter needs to stop immediately as it "provided an opportunity to launch a scathing criticism against KSA in a direct way and to level false accusations against it such as supporting MB and the desire to expand in Yemen".


Al-Tamimi believes that "choosing the timing of the campaign is linked to the escalation of the Hadrami popular ire".

"The campaign originally aimed to abort the uproar which produced tangible outcomes and large grassroot alignment as well as a consensus about the need for Hadramis to take charge of the security and defense file in their country. These reasons have pushed MB to move all their forces in order to keep Wadi Hadramout" he added.

Al-Sakaldi agrees with Al-Tamimi about the link between the campaign's timing and the Hadramout issue but from another angle.

He said: "Indeed, the timing of this media campaign is directly related to the latest developments in Hadramout. STC seeks to drive the 1'st Military District out of the resources and to stop the horrible looting of Hadramout wealth".

He added: "Saudi Arabia looks at Al-Mahra and Hadramout as areas with wealth, distinctive geography and strategic interests. KSA deems such moves as being threats against its own interests and as well as its western and local partners from Northern parties".

He indicated that following the Islah Party's downfall in Shabwa, "Saudi Arabia has sought to curb the progress of the Southern forces towards oil resources in Hadramout and raised an outright veto against it".

For his part, Saad Al-Amri stressed on Hadramout’s importance for Saudi Arabia.

He said: "When a Saudi activist talks about Hadramout, he speaks about more than 700 km of joint borders between Saudi Arabia and this governorate which has remained away from the conflict since the outbreak of the Yemen war".

He added: "Saudis respect the demands of Hadramout's people. However, we don't support liberating the already liberated areas or sowing chaos in these regions. This is the only objective of Saudi activists' rhetoric".

Al-Amri alleges that "there is a fierce campaign whose aims go beyond expelling the 1'st Military District from Wadi Hadramout. It seeks to incite sedition in the governorate". He added: "However, we, as activists and journalists, do not have the right to decide who stays and who leaves."

The 1st Military District forces have been present in the oil-rich Wadi Hadramout since before 2015 and have not participated in any battle against the Houthis. Local people accuse them of protecting influential figures of the oil sector in addition to transforming the Wadi's areas to a hotbed for ISIS and AQAP.

A report, published recently by "South24 Center", revealed that the official oil revenues in the country, mostly from Hadramout, have been transferred to the Saudi National Bank for years as a result of Yemeni presidential instructions".


Al-Tamimi believes that the figures who take part in the campaign have no influence on Saudi decision- making.

He added: "Decisions are made by the official state institutions. The campaign would guide Saudi decision makers to hotbeds and individuals who want to disturb the positive Saudi role towards the Southern demands".

Contrary to that, Al-Sakaldi believes that the figures participating in the campaign impact the formation of the internal Saudi public opinion.

He added: "It is like the compass which guides the world towards the direction of the Saudi decision makers. These voices necessarily represent the official Saudi position, because there is no place for other voices in Saudi Arabia” according to his claim.

He added: "Consequently, the world built a large part of its stance towards Saudi Arabia upon the positions of this media and electronic army".

On Jan 10th, a Saudi delegation visited Seiyun, the capital city of Wadi Hadramout. According to the local authority's media office, the delegation met with Governor Mabkhout Bin Madi and the leader of the 1'st Military District Saleh Al-Kazemi and others

Ultimately, it is apparently hard to believe that there are allowed political opinions within Saudi Arabia which oppose the Kingdom's official policy towards sensitive regional issues such as Yemen. Whatever their objectives, these campaigns would likely stir more doubts for Southerners.

Moreover, these campaigns obstruct putting much focus on the popular ire in the Houthi-controlled areas in North Yemen according to observers.

Some will ask: Does this campaign really aims to defend the 1'st Military District in Hadramout? Is it an attempt to distract the public opinion away from the secret talks between Saudis and the Houthis in Sanaa? This may lead to a possible deal that would alienate the active parties in the Yemeni scene and has subsequent repercussions. 

Journalist and editor at South24 Center for News and Studies

Southe YemenHadramoutSaudi ArabiaSouthern Transitional Council