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The Saudi-UAE game in Yemen

September 13, 2019 at 4:00 pm

A soldier loyal to the Saudi and UAE-backed government in Yemen, on 8 August 2018 [KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images]

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are exchanging roles in Yemen. While the former pretends to be completely biased in favour of the legitimacy, which requested its interference, the latter has adopted a clear position in favour of its military militias in the south.

It is true that there is a difference between them reflected in some of their positions, statements and media policy, but that remains within the details, and not the objectives. Their objectives are very much shared, at least in the short and medium terms.

Almost a month has passed since the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) overthrew the international-backed government in Aden, yet Saudi Arabia, which is leading an Arab coalition in which the UAE is a member, has been unable to achieve any of its objectives.

There is an explanation circulating that the coalition wants the situation to remain as it currently is, where Aden, part of Abyan, along with Ad Dali, and Lahij remain in the hands of the STC and the forces of “legitimacy” remain on the doors of Zinjibar. This leaves it unable to regain its temporary capital until it agrees to talks with the new rebels in order to legitimise their reality. This opinion is reinforced by the statements made by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which continuously reiterate the call for immediate and unconditional dialogue. This simply means legitimising the coup and including those who staged it in the legitimate government, which still remains committed to its position of refusing any dialogue before the current situation is brought to an end.

READ: Revival, not revolution in southern Yemen

The legitimate government has no other choice but to remain committed to this position, exercise political manoeuvres and play all of the cards it has. These include threatening to lodge a complaint at the UN Security Council against the UAE’s actions as well as filing suits against it in international European courts, thus exposing its crimes in several forums.

On the ground, it must take certain steps to impose a fait accompli and invest popular and tribal support in strengthening its political and military position. It needs to avoid the trap of relying on the game of time and waiting for the situation to cool down, which is what the coalition wants.

It should not agree to dialogue before legitimacy and its civilian and military institutions are restored to Yemen and the rebel militias are disbanded. The president and his government must pressure the coalition through rejection and demanding that it bear its responsibilities, rather than remaining in a state of anticipation and pressure.

READ: Houthis carry out raid in Saudi’s Jizan region 

One of the most serious repercussions of Aden’s coup is to eliminate the sacrifices of five years of struggle and fighting to restore the state and end the Houthi control over it in Sanaa. It also puts the Yemenis in a position to choose between bad choices, either to accept the STC’s control of the south and separating from the country or accepting the Houthis in the north. The descendants of the Tubba reject this and they have expressed their rejection in several ways.

As I said in the beginning, there is a serious agreement between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in terms of goals including either weakening the legitimacy and not allowing the establishment of a strong authority or dividing and distributing influence and exhausting the national forces, thus keeping the country under their dominance.

The legitimacy and all Yemeni forces supporting it should assume their responsibilities, search for what will end this crisis, look beyond their own interests and grudges and deal with the coalition as nationals and decision-makers, not guests in hotels abroad.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Arab on 13 September 2019

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