Hadramout governorate within the border map of South Yemen until 1990 (South24 Center)

Hadramout in the Forefront: A New Council and Vague Political Project


Tue, 27-06-2023 05:30 PM, Aden

Southerners believe that the formation of such council at this time and its monopoly of the representation of Hadramout's entities and people aim at destabilizing the STC's efforts to enhance the Southern ranks and open ways for intra-dialogue among different Southern parties including the Hadramis. 

Farida Ahmed (South24)

On June 20, the formation of the "Hadramout National Council (HNC)" was announced from Riyadh in the presence of Hadramout Governor "Mabkhout bin Madi" and Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jabir after one month of talks and consultations among Hadrami political and community figures. The move to establish the new council was not a surprise as the Hadrami figures basically met in order to mobilize for a unified position on Hadramout. They went to Riyadh as a Saudi-backed response towards the arrival of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) President and the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) member Aidrous Al-Zubaidi along with STC Presidency to Mukalla. This was part of the STC's efforts to consolidate the Southern ranks and after former Hadramout Governor Major General Faraj Al-Bahsani joined the STC as its Vice President.

The Hadrami consultations held in Riyadh for weeks produced two documents: The "political and legal" document that stressed the need to fulfill the aspirations of the Hadrami people and let them manage their own economic, political, security, social, and cultural affairs. This is in addition to acknowledging the political and social pluralism in Hadramout. The document stressed its commitment to the joint goals with the Arab Coalition and the power transfer declaration in addition to securing the Hadramis a fair participation in the sovereign decision-making. The second document is the brief "Hadrami Code of Honour" which pledges to work uniformly in accordance with the political and legal document. Moreover, a foundation body for the HNC was established which consists of 7 people, led by former Transport Minister “Badr Basalama”.

The announcement was preceded by a meeting between the Hadrami figures in Riyadh with the PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi who belongs to North Yemen. He praised the positive circumstances that prevailed in the Hadrami consultations and its components to “distance Hadramout governorate and the liberated areas from any intra-conflicts”. Some Yemeni and Hadrami figures praised the move to establish the HNC including the PLC member and senior Islah official Abdullah Al-Alimi who considered it “a constructive move that requires all other governorates to unify their ranks to enjoy the position they deserve in the national project”. This can be interpreted as an explicit call for other governorates to establish similar councils which may lead to more local divisions instead of unifying ranks according to observers. Additionally, the Hadrami branch of the Islah Party hailed the new entity. 

After reducing its military and popular influence in South Yemen, the Islah Party has sought to enter it again through entities with local identities that don’t carry a clear political or ideological nature of some notorious Yemeni parties with a bad reputation among the Southerners. Thus, many Southerners believe that announcing the formation of such a council at this time and its monopoly of the representation of Hadramout's entities and people aim at destabilizing the STC's efforts to enhance the Southern ranks and open ways for intra-dialogue among different Southern parties including the Hadramis.

During a symposium hosted by the British institute "Chatham House" in London, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi said: "Information about the new council is still not fully available." He indicated that "the STC has opted to engage in dialogue with all entities in South Yemen". According to him, the STC began the first phase with entities that believe in the necessity to restore the South state and will continue dialogue with other forces". Major General Faraj Al-Bahsani who recently joined the STC believes that "multiplicity of projects, visions, and exclusion will only increase our dissociation and that we don't need that". These are initial stances that express dissatisfaction toward the latest Hadrami move.

While some Southerners are pessimistic about the ramifications of forming the "HNC" that could tear the community fabric and scatter the popular will, others are optimistic and consider it a good move. According to them, the HNC unifies the Hadrami components under one council instead of dozens of Hadrami entities inside and abroad which wasted Hadramout's demands and peculiarities due to differences in vision and goals. This has increased the suffering of the governorate at security and service levels in electricity, health, education, and development.

Just two days after the establishment of the HNC, a forum representing the Hadrami Nahad tribes was announced. It carried the slogan "for the sake of Hadramout and South". This declaration can be considered one negative result that threatens local communities in Hadramout. So far, it is not entirely clear how the HNC will impact the Hadrami street, to what extent the Hadrami people will respond to its agenda, and whether it will actually achieve real change for the sake of Hadramout, especially in front of those that aspire for a wider influence in the governorate such as the STC. However, the most important question that can be asked is how can the HNC face these changes, especially if it attempts to attract heavy-weight Hadrami figures who have close ties with the STC.

The Saudi Moves within the Hadrami arena caused additional distraction and pressure against the STC and the Hadrami society as a whole due to its dispute with the UAE.

Saudi Impact and two councils

The Saudi moves within the Hadrami arena caused additional distraction and pressure against the STC and the Hadrami society as a whole due to its dispute with the UAE. This has increased the danger of military setbacks for the STC if it attempts to confront the 1st Military District forces whose exit from the valley and desert of Hadramout has been demanded by Hadramis. Indeed, Saudi Arabia threatened in August to reach the locations of these forces according to informed sources.

According to the British newspaper "The Guardian", "Saudis are actively working to reduce STC's influence in the oil-rich Hadramout region".

The most important thing that has duplicated the STC's challenges in Hadramout is its reluctance to resolve its political and military files in Wadi and Desert Hadramout. The situation will likely be beyond the STC's ability to confront in the next period, especially after Saudi Arabia succeeded in establishing the HNC. This also came amid reports about Riyadh's intention to replace the Islah-led First Military District (FMD) forces by the "Nation Shield Forces" who are nominally commanded by Rashad Al-Alimi or to replace part of these forces as a result of an agreement. This is although the documents of the new Hadrami entity ignores any mention of the Northern military forces in the governorate. Moreover, these documents didn't stress the need to allow Hadramis to manage their military affairs like what they did in the political, economic, and security files. This stir concerns about the real goals behind its formation.

Actually, a large part of the Hadrami street depends on the STC as a political bearer that has a wide popularity base across the South governorates, especially in light of the multiplicity of the Hadrami entities and their different projects. Therefore, the formation of a new Hadrami council is a challenge for the STC, especially if the HNC adopted the demands of the street there amid the Saudi influence on the PLC Chairman and the government.

The FMD is a crucial challenge for the HNC and a real test that will determine whether it is ready to raise the ceiling of its demands by the departure of the FMD forces or keeping them. This will also show whether the decision is actually Hadrami not a Saudi one, especially since the forces that may replace them would be loyal to Saudi Arabia regardless of Riyadh's goals in Hadramout and whether it will resolve this file or relay it temporarily.

It became clear by Riyadh's relentless efforts to create more influence in Hadramout that the HNC is a definitive Saudi project. This move may enhance the division of the Hadrami street, especially since Saudi Arabia may benefit from the influence of dozens of Saudi businessmen whose origins go back to Hadramout. However, the decisive and most important factor that cannot appear in the short term is to what extent the HNC can keep its internal cohesion in light of the differences in projects among its members, compared to the cohesion within the STC as well as the unity of its political project and its clear national goals. The success of the HNC is also linked to the effectiveness and continuity of Saudi support, especially since it is tainted with much bureaucracy. This is in addition to the attempts of incursions that could occur towards the HNC, either in favor of the STC or the "Muslim Brotherhood", who control the valley and the desert. This may affect the performance and effectiveness of the HNC which may lose its momentum over time. Extremist groups such as the AQAP and ISIS, some of which take Wadi Hadramout as their strongholds, may benefit from the community division in Hadramout and strengthen their influence in the governorate.

At first glance, the basic privilege of the HNC is that it plays within its political area and among its people . Helpfully, it will take advantage of the Hadrami identity and demography discourse. However, the failure of the HNC's experience in the long term will strengthen the STC's position in Hadramout. This is based on the fact that people usually abandon substitutes that emerge as a result of these disagreements or try to gather themselves due to the failure of their projects. The presence of influential Hadrami figures that weight within the STC will help to make them the most suitable replacement for Hadramis.

There were several failed experiences such as the formation of the Southern National Coalition backed by the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia, a year after the establishment of the STC.

Is there a political project?

The project, announced by the HNC, is apparently still using Hadramout's demands and the responsibility of the state to treat these grievances, the right of the local community on determining and managing its affairs, and achieving its economic, social and cultural growth according to the political and legal document. However, the HNC may find a dilemma in the face of the majority of Hadramis who stick to the project that calls for the independence of South from North. This is due to the fuzziness of the features of the political project related to the new council. This can push Hadramis to stick to the STC. However, this doesn't mean that some people may not support the HNC.

On the other hand, some believe that the HNC sticks to the unity with North via a federal state according to former Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr. He welcomed the new council adding that "Hadramis have not dropped the national project represented in the outcomess of the comprehensive national dialogue". It can be understood that Hadramout will remain under the federal Yemen project. As long as there is no political project announced yet by the new council, this will allow others from outside the HNC to influence negatively and try to exploit the gap of the different projects carried by the Hadramis within the council.

It is important to say that the HNC's adoption of the federal Yemen option as a result of the national dialogue will weaken it. It is difficult to achieve self-administration and a region in Hadramout while North Yemen remains under the Houthi control. The federal privileges from the internationally-recognized government will likely increase its power and influence along with the Saudi support. However, this will simultaneously stir Southern and Hadrami popular anger. This is because the power that can be built by the Hadrami council for itself will be among the privileges obtained by Hadramout from their anti-unity partners. However, the HNC in the future would accordingly support the unity project with North Yemen controlled by the Houthis, especially in the face of Saudi pressure. This will insert Hadramout in a political project that lacks identity. This may lead to the failure of the HNC and turning against it as a result of these contexts.

Ultimately, the occurrence of all aforementioned possibilities can affect the mood of Hadrami street. So far, this mood is still linked to siding with all that is Hadhrami. However, if Hadramis feel that there are elements who try to exploit their voices, rights, and decisions in the name of Hadramout, they may turn the equation against all the parties of the conflict. Thus, the Hadrami parties and the Southern forces in particular are required to revise their policies towards Hadramout and take into consideration the sensitivity of its position as part of the current conflict.

Farida Ahmed

South24 Center for News and Studies Executive Director

STCHadramoutHadramout National CouncilHNCWadi HadramoutFirst Military DistrictSaudi ArabiaRiyadh