The formation of the "Southern National Salvation Council" (SNSC) was announced yesterday in Yemen's most eastern province of Mahrah.
The SNSC brings together separate groups from Yemen's southern governorates and opposes all foreign military presence in the south. The announcement, reported Al Jazeera, was made by former under-secretary of Mahrah Sheikh Ali Saleh Al-Huraizi, who is opposed to both the Saudi and UAE military presence in his country.
The southern bloc will seek to return power to the people through elected representatives and a referendum. The SNSC's formation follows in the wake of UAE-backed militants of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) taking control over the port city of Aden and some other southern provinces.
Despite the war in Yemen — currently in its fifth year — isolated Mahrah has largely avoided the conflict which has ravaged much of the rest of the country. It is a province which prides itself on its autonomy, culture and unique language, Mahri, which is similar to Dhofari in the adjacent Omani province of Dhofar.
This relative stability has been threatened in the past couple of years due to the presence of Saudi troops in the province, who have not only turned the civilian airport into a military base, but have also set up five more bases and approximately 20 smaller outposts, much to the disdain of the locals. The former Chief of Police in Mahrah, Ahmed Mohammed Qahtan, who is mainly based in the Omani capital Muscat these days, has said previously: "We wish to get a decision by the UN to order the UAE and Saudi to leave Yemen in 30 days. We would prefer Israel to the people there now."
Indeed, local people have held protest rallies against the foreign occupation which have been met with violence and arrests. Opposition has also been channelled towards the emergence of Salafists, who first appeared after the Saudis set up their base at the airport, having fled from other areas of the country.
It is understood that the Saudis are encouraging Salafists to settle in Mahrah, which may cause further tensions. Despite being religiously conservative themselves, the locals regard the Salafists as extremists.
Up until 1967, Mahrah was a 450-year-old sultanate, which included the UNESCO-protected Socotra Islands. Following a period as a British protectorate, it unwillingly became part of the separate state of South Yemen before unification with the north in 1990.