What are the Options for Southerners Against any «Bad Deal»?


Wed, 04-10-2023 05:40 AM, Aden Time

The STC’s status as the strongest political and military party in South Yemen raises many questions, both old and new, about the options available to it and Southerners regarding any "bad deal" seeking to bypass them or ignore their presence and aspirations.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

On September 20th, the President of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), Major General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, told The Guardian from New York: "We have been sidelined and pushed to one side in these talks held in Riyadh". These strong statements came just one day after the return of the Houthi delegation from Riyadh to Sanaa following unprecedented public political talks between the two parties that lasted for five days under Omani mediation.

Al-Zubaidi, who is also a Member of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), warned against making "a bad deal" with the Houthis that would allow the group to extend their control. He added: “Through the Houthis, Iran will take control of the oil wells of South Yemen and the Bab al-Mandab trade route through which billions of dollars of oil flow". In an interview with the BBC, Al-Zubaidi stressed that Southerners alone will decide their future and the fate of their wealth and resources.

Ignoring the STC in the latest political talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis was part of overriding the PLC overall. It seems that Saudi Arabia exclusively speaks on their behalf. However, the fact that the STC is the strongest political and military party in South Yemen, and the depth of its adopted issues, raises many questions old and new about the available options for it and Southerners regarding any "bad deal" seeking to bypass them and ignore their presence and aspirations.

In the attempt to answer this question, other concerns are highlighted about the nature of the latest Saudi-Houthi talks, and whether they really ignore the STC and other PLC parties, or are just temporary measures rather than arrangements for a final solution. The United States and even Saudi Arabia have repeatedly stressed that the final solution has to be a Yemeni one, under the umbrella of an intra-Yemeni dialogue.

Available options
Southern political analyst Salah Al-Sakaldi believes that the STC has to complete "the Southern dialogues and consolidate the internal front as an available current option”. He told the South24 Center: "It is very important to confront the opponents of the South issue and the STC. Moreover, Southern forces and resources of sovereign revenues should be enhanced to achieve independence and should not be affected by the blackmail of any local or regional forces".

"The STC also has the right to open independent communication channels with all Yemeni forces including the Houthis and other parties, away from regional intervention. This is taking into consideration that South Yemen has its own interests which it seeks to achieve freely. The Houthis, since the beginning of the war, have [set] a precondition to engage in a direct dialogue with the Arab Coalition. They succeeded in eliminating the STC and PLC from the dialogue", he added.

Mansor Saleh, Deputy Head of the STC's Media Department told the South24 Center that "carrying out the remaining parts of the Riyadh Agreement and the outcomes of GCC Consultations is a good option for enhancing the anti-Houthi front. The implementation of humanitarian, economic and political aspects provides good inputs to address the South’s issues".

He added: "The STC is a Southern national political identity. Today, the council is part of a conciliatory legitimacy within the framework of the PLC or the parity government. The South issue has currently tangible political references, the foremost of which are the Riyadh Agreement and the GCC Consultations. We are committed to implementing and following the outcomes of these two references regarding the South issue. We ask not to override or delay them".

Al-Sakaldi believes that the STC would ultimately resort to extreme options under Southern popular pressure. He added: "Tension would be exacerbated. Popular and elite pressures in South Yemen would increase in a way that may force the STC to take measures in the face of this unjust situation and the alienation of South Yemen, as well as ignoring its big sacrifices of blood and souls. The available option in the near future is to resort to the power of people".

However, Al-Sakaldi doesn't rule out the STC possibly facing real pressures. He explained his view by saying: "STC leaders are still unable to answer whether they would agree to a deal without their participation. They may be threatened with sanctions or unguaranteed promises with the aim to gain their signature. I think that the STC has to enhance its support and find independent and sufficient funding resources. No scenarios can be ruled out over the incoming years".

From a Saudi perspective

Saudi security and strategic expert Brigadier General Dr. Matir Al-Arwahily told the South24 Center: "Riyadh believes that some STC decisions are largely affected by regional and international agendas with ambitions in Yemen. However, the KSA’s contact with the STC, and supporting it along with the PLC, are essential".

He stressed that: "Over the past period, Saudi Arabia dealt with the STC as a main Yemeni faction. The Kingdom supported it in regaining some Yemeni areas. However, the STC and some first rank leaders were hesitant in adopting the Saudi vision in solving the Yemeni issue according to a Saudi perspective".

Al-Arwahily said that "this phase requires a Saudi focus on direct negotiation with the Houthis as a mediator. The Kingdom believes that this Iranian-backed group is the one that should loosen its grip on the Yemeni affairs. This would allow the other parties to coordinate with it. The Saudi policy is characterized by dynamism and renovation.  It is interested in following political realities".

The nature of talks 

Although he admitted that they were sidelined during the latest Riyadh talks, Al-Zubaidi told the BBC: "We won't resort to prejudgment regarding the consultations between our Saudi brothers and the Sanaa group. We are optimistic". Al-Zubaidi confirmed his trust in Riyadh and the depth of the relationships with them, adding that Saudi officials repeatedly stressed that the final solution in Yemen should be reached amongst Yemenis themselves.

However, there are no real guarantees that alienating the STC from these initial talks isn't a prelude for sidelining it in the final solution negotiations, especially if the Omani mediation produces a final solution agreement, at least between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, such as the Arab Coalition's final withdrawal from Yemen. This condition has been demanded by the Houthis and rejected by Al-Zubaidi in his interview with the Guardian.

In a message to congratulate the Saudi King and Saudi Crown Prince on the KSA's 93rd National Day, Al-Zubaidi said: "We renew our support to the Saudi efforts to end the war and prevail peace in our country and the whole region. I hope that our relationships with Saudi Arabia will witness more growth and prosperity during the coming years".

Mansor Saleh said: "There is a Saudi-led mediation along with an active Omani participation. The STC adopts a clear stance regarding the South issue and its centrality in the political crisis and the efforts to prevail peace. The outcomes of the GCC Consultations in Riyadh in April 2022 include adding the South issue and putting a negotiation framework for it in the talks that aim to end the war.”

He added: "There is a consensus about this within the PLC. We believe that this would help the efforts to reach fair, comprehensive and sustainable peace. Ignoring this issue doesn't serve these efforts at all. Saudi Arabia is our sister state which has played a vital role in supporting our people and enabling them to confront the Houthi militias since the beginning of the war. Additionally, it has delivered distinctive humanitarian and economic aid for our country and our people. We always align with Saudi Arabia as a leader of the Arab project".

In the foreseeable future, it seems that the STC, which is known for its endurance and flexibility, will go as far as it can with Saudi Arabia in its efforts to play the role of mediator in the Yemen crisis. However, the STC is still governed by a set of established rules and principles upon which it has been based. They serve as a national contract under which the most important factions of the Southern Movement (Hirak) and other Southern parties have gathered. Given this matter, the Council's options seem open at all levels.

Accordingly, the challenges that face the STC aren't limited to the Saudi-Houthi talks, but they are related to the extent of bridging the existing gap between the STC's allies in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia recently supported the establishment of local political entities in Hadramout in particular, with an aim to confront the ‘STC's influence'. 

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 YemenSTCPeace agreementSaudi ArabiaHouthisHadramoutAidrous Al-Zubaidi