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Separatism in Yemen under the coalition umbrella

Supporters of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi gather to mark the 6th anniversary of the Yemeni uprising in Taiz, Yemen on February 11, 2017 [Abdulnasser Alseddik / Anadolu Agency]
Supporters of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi gather to mark the 6th anniversary of the Yemeni uprising in Taiz, Yemen on February 11, 2017 [Abdulnasser Alseddik / Anadolu Agency]

When Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi decided to appoint Brigadier Aidarus Al-Zubaidi as governor of Aden and Colonel Shallal Shaye as director of the police, only 24 hours after the assassination of the former governor, these two men were in the UAE on a political and security mission to prepare them to take over the roles. They are roles whose nature became clear during the weeks and months that followed their appointment, which certainly did not come within the framework of restoring the unity of the state.

Al-Zubaidi and Shaye came back from the UAE full of enthusiasm for achieving the separatists’ goal of a divided Yemen. This enthusiasm was supposed to be toned down a bit while they were in Abu Dhabi, which originally participated in the Arab coalition forces to restore legitimacy rather than divide Yemen into two separate states.

Since that time, nothing in the conviction of Al-Zubaidi and Shaye has changed in terms of separatism. This raises a question about whether they share the same views as those of the Arab Coalition and, in particular, the United Arab Emirates, which is the most influential force in the south of Yemen. A statement by Al-Zubaidi, which was published in Aden on Saturday, reflected a clear bias towards the separatist project as it talked about the participation of the so-called southern resistance in the battle to liberate Al-Mokha. The content of the statement is unbearable, providing further evidence that this regional resistance within the unified state era can only be part of the coup attempt itself.

This is part of the statement attributed to the governor of Aden: “From a strategic point of view, the Golden Spear battles reflect an urgent southern need to secure the western parts and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which gives the south and Aden their geostrategic importance… In principle, we are committed to our struggle principles and political geography which begin and end at the 1990 borders, but our moral duty and our national and geopolitical security will extend wherever we’ll need to be.”

A man draws a painting on the wall of University of Sana’a to react to the ongoing war in the country in Sana’a, Yemen on March 15, 2017. ( Mohammed Hamoud – Anadolu Agency )

Photo story: Yemenis respond to turbulent times through art.

In this statement, Al-Zubaidi presents himself as the commanding general of the southern resistance who is issuing statement number one, on the outskirts of a new stage shrouded in mystery over the fate of military operations and policy moves.

Perhaps the timing of this statement raises the question of whether he intended to complicate matters. It comes at a time when UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh is starting new moves based on amendments to his plan for a solution. The plan, however, still aims at empowering the coup organisers, not punishing them. It also deepens the differences that the coalition has towards its current partners in the liberation battle, who are still at the top of the list of those whom the coalition wants to target rather than support; their cause is part of that of the state violated by the coup.

They want us to believe that the southern resistance with its Al-Zubaidi composition was the one that liberated Aden and the south, and not the coalition that came under the Yemeni state umbrella or the national resistance whose leaders have been chased since the first moments that the coalition forces entered Aden. That was a time of loud calls for separation by people dominated by the taboo of Yemeni unity as a result of the behaviour and practices of the regime of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

They also want us to believe that the southern resistance has completed its mission in the liberated provinces at all levels, and that today it is strong enough to export its surplus power to weak neighbouring provinces in the north. They want to create a geopolitical depth for the capital Aden. This is a false claim which does not hold in the face of the fragile security situation of the regional security islands which are centred in Aden and are ready to reproduce events bloodier than those of 13 January 1987.

Dalea province, where Al-Zubaidi and Shaye come from, is located in the heart of the western region of Yemen. It is adjacent to areas with a large population. More importantly, most residents of Dalea are descendants of families that branched off from the tribes living in the neighbouring northern regions. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that most residents of the city of Aden are descended from the Northern provinces, specifically from Taiz, accounting for 88 per cent of its population according to a census carried out in the 1950s.

Hence, it is surprising to see this much aversion expressed by Al-Zubaidi and his likes towards their brothers from the north, and this desperate attempt to thwart the great transformation in the lives of Yemenis towards a democratic federal state, which can only serve the coup organisers and their project.

Someone from the south who attended a meeting with Yemen’s former Vice President, Ali Salem Al-Beidh, which was held with people representing the southern provinces in summer 2015 in Riyadh, told me part of what was said by the southern leader who led a failed separation coup in 1994, after which he claimed the leadership of the Southern Movement, although his role fell back recently. While Al-Beidh was defending accusations that the southern resistance united with the coup backed by Iran, he said: “Iran has supported the training and arming of 2,000 fighters in Dalea, under the leadership of Aidarus Al-Zubaidi, but this force, although supported by Iran, stood against Houthi rebels.”

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I’m not trying to minimise the role of Al-Zubaidi, but I cannot overlook the influence under which he, Shaye and hundreds of members of the movement have come under over the past few years. It is an influence that came through a series of education and political guidance and factional incitement operations under the supervision of experts from Iran and Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah in Beirut, and in particular in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital which have become a major political headquarters of the Southern Movement and its satellite media.

Abu Dhabi bears the moral responsibility for the statements and positions of Al-Zubeidi and other southern leaders connected to the UAE who are leading trained military units that were formed in the full knowledge of those in the region and have clear ties to the Emirates since they were first formed in Aden’s camps.

Thus, Abu Dhabi is required to explain the nature of its mission in Yemen, and whether or not this is in line with the Arab Coalition’s objectives or if it’s there to support the separatists. This clarification will help shape the position of Yemenis towards this rising power, which is obsessed with domination in a risky area.

Injustice is unacceptable and this provocation of Yemenis must stop, especially since today they are facing the criminality of the bloody coup on one side, while on the other are the disastrous mistakes of the coalition’s policies whose real goals are difficult to predict.

The UAE could make its intervention in Yemen a historically great achievement of a kind which all Yemenis would appreciate, if it was carried out well and if the Gulf State acted to establish the foundations of a country that is for all Yemenis. However, if the goal simply continues to be the liquidation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that alone, then it is a mission that may succeed or fail, but one that even Al-Zubaidi won’t applaud in the end.

Translated from Arabi21, 12 March 2016

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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