A demonstration in Hadramout to support the Hadrami Elite Forces, February 3, 2024 (South24 Center)

Hadramout to the Forefront Again


Sat, 10-02-2024 11:01 AM, Aden Time

‘These events have brought Hadramout, the biggest governorate in South Yemen in terms of area and population, to the forefront again.’ 

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

On February 3, 2024, large crowds in the city of Mukalla in Hadramout in South Yemen demonstrated to express their support for the ’Hadrami Elite Forces‘ deployed in the governorate’s coast as part of the Second Military District. This came 18 days after an attempt was foiled to deploy troops affiliated with the so-called ’Nation Shield Forces‘ (NSF), which were formed with Saudi support, in Mukalla with an intention to set up camp there. 

The demonstrators rejected what they termed as “a conspiracy against the Hadrami Elite” and issued a statement saying that they won’t accept the deployment of any other forces in Sahel Hadramout (coastal areas). The statement included several points related to the deteriorating services and living conditions of the people. They submitted the demands to the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC – the executive body of Yemen's internationally recognized government) and the government regarding the matter. 

These events have brought Hadramout, the biggest governorate in South Yemen in terms of area and population, to the forefront again. Over the past period, especially the last two years, the governorate has attracted news headlines following a popular movement known as “the Hadrami Uprising” 1. The latter has sought to expel the Northern forces affiliated with the First Military District 2 from Wadi Hadramout and the subsequent multi-level developments. 

Although it was the Southern Transitional Council (STC) that called for and organized the Mukalla demonstration, the latter served as an additional confirmation from the people in Sahel Hadramout that the public mood supports the Hadrami Elite who expelled the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from Mukalla in 2016. Moreover, the demonstration also helped the STC display its broad popular base. This comes amid what observers describe as ongoing attempts, led by Saudi Arabia and local parties, to weaken the STC in Hadramout.

Messages from the STC

During the Mukalla demonstration, one of the speakers delivered a speech on behalf of STC President and PLC Member Major General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi which included several messages. Al-Zubaidi recalled what happened in 2015 when some Northern forces had quietly withdrawn from Sahel Hadramout in the face of extremist AQAP elements without providing any resistance. The AQAP then took Mukalla as its stronghold. Subsequently, other cities in South Yemen were handed over to the Iran-backed Houthi militia. The Hadrami Elite Forces played a decisive role in ousting the AQAP from Mukalla in 2016 and subsequently reducing jihadi hotbeds in the interior.

Al-Zubaidi said: “This defining moment requires accelerating the induction of the Hadrami Elite’s experience to the valley (Wadi) and desert (Sahara) of Hadramout.” He pointed out the security achievements of the Hadrami Elite against what he called the “overwhelming chaos experienced in the valley and desert of Hadramout as well as Al-Mahra”. He added: “This requires working swiftly to enlarge the Hadrami Elite’s experience and hand over the valley and desert of Hadramout as well as Al-Mahra to local Southern forces.”

STC Vice President and PLC Member Faraj Al-Bahsani, who served as Hadramout Governor, wrote on ’X‘: “We emphasize that we don't oppose any forces established to protect Hadramout and the nation in general. The establishment of the NSF is welcomed by political leaders and the local authority in Hadramout.  They should replace the forces from outside Hadramout deployed in Wadi Hadramout (the valley) which is the place best suited for them.”

Al-Bahsani said that the military brigades in Wadi Hadramout should be pushed toward the Northern fronts in the face of what he described as “the growing arrogance of Houthi coup plotters”. He expressed his appreciation of Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their roles. According to him, “The Hadramis shouldn't fight each other internally; we won't allow this to happen.”

Despite this conciliatory speech by STC leaders toward NSF, the latter expressed discomfort over the Mukalla demonstration a day before it began. They wrote on ’X‘: “The attempt to mislead people that NSF aims to destroy the Hadrami Elite Forces in Mukalla is illogical. NSF has been deployed in Aden, Lahj, Abyan and Wadi Hadramout without replacing others or usurping the powers of anyone. The forces carried out their tasks without getting involved in any skirmishes with other forces.”

Although they pointed to their presence in Wadi Hadramout, the NSF, which directly receives orders from PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi according to their establishment decision, hasn’t been handed over any camp affiliated with the First Military District so far, as many, including STC leaders, believe. Sources told ’South 24 Center‘ that the deployment of NSF is focused near the border-crossing of Al-Wadiah between Hadramout and Saudi Arabia as well as limited deployment in Seiyun, in Wadi Hadramout. 

Demonstrators, interviewed by ’South24 Center‘ in Mukalla, urged Governor Mabkhout bin Madi to make efforts to deploy NSF in Wadi Hadramout to replace the First Military District, as smuggling and crimes are rampant there, according to them.

A day after the Mukalla demonstration, NSF inaugurated the new training and fighting year with a military parade that featured some of their units. The video, released by NSF’s official page, didn’t identify the location of the parade. However, it included a speech delivered by NSF Commander Brigadier General Bashir Al-Madrabi who has close ties with Saudi Arabia and is affiliated with Salafism. He said that his forces aim to fight the Houthi militia. He declared that NSF is “the last attempt to save Yemen” and expressed his profound gratitude to Saudi Arabia.

Regional agendas 

Hadrami journalist Ahmed Maqram believes that “local hands are involved in furthering regional attempts to disturb the military and security scene in Hadramout”. He told ’South24 Center’ that “regional forces are trying to trap Hadramout into a path with limited escape in order to replicate a new reality in Hadramout that serves their interests, especially in Sahel Hadramout.”

He believes that the latest Mukalla demonstration reflects the position of the majority of Hadramis, even more than that of STC’s. He added that “liberating the valley (Wadi) areas from the First Military District is a top priority for Hadramis. This (demonstration) is related to this matter, not to the NSF themselves.”

It is worth mentioning that after the failure of the NSF deployment in Sahel Hadramout, Saudi activists wrote posts on ’X‘ calling for separating Hadramout from the South and annexing it to Saudi Arabia. These posts stirred a lot of questions about the Saudi role in Hadramout with which it shares hundreds of kilometers of border and has rich reserves of oil and natural gas, besides other natural resources. 3

1 The Hadrami Uprising movement was launched in December 2021, that called for suspending the export of fish, livestock and agricultural wealth from the governorate until the local markets reached self-sufficiency. It also prohibited exporting oil outside Hadramout due to the government’s corruption and for depriving the people of the benefits from the revenues.) 

2 The First Military District in Wadi Hadramout comprises of military forces ideologically and militarily loyal to the Islah Party or Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood.

3 Hadramout shares an estimated 700 km border with Saudi Arabia. The oil fields of the governorate account for more than 80% of Yemeni oil exports, with the most important being the Messila field. It is also home to the major ports of Mukalla, and Al-Shihr (Al-Dhaba), with the latter being one of the three main Yemeni loading terminals of crude oil.

Abdullah Al-Shadli 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenHadramoutMukallaHouthisHadrami UprisingSecond Military DistrictWadi HadramoutSTC