Two years of tensions and power struggle culminated early this week with the full fall of Socotra to the UAE-backed separatists. The island is now under the control of the southern secessionists or it can be said it is under the hegemony of the UAE. The difference is nil.
The well-armed separatists have tightened their grip on the archipelago in the Arabian Sea and have flown the flag of the former southern state, bringing down the flag of Yemen from the roofs of government institutions and military units across the island. Socotra Governor Ramzi Mahrous fled to Al-Mahra province and the pro-government military units surrendered. Moreover, separatist leading figures on the island mobilized people to celebrate the “victory” in a rally. In their eyes, Socotra now is free and safe.
Taking over Socotra will embolden the separatists further and push them to work on the remaining southern provinces.
In essence, taking over Socotra will embolden the separatists further and push them to work on the fall of the remaining southern provinces which are still under the control of the Yemeni government, namely Hadramout, Shabwa, and Al-Mahra. This development clearly indicates how Yemen’s unity is steadily being undermined because of the foreign interventions that have played a vital role in creating the reality the country is witnessing today.
Since 2017, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) has been spearheading political and military activities in the south in pursuit of seceding from the north. It declared self-rule in South Yemen in April this year and it has been working relentlessly to depose the Yemeni government across the south. Hitherto, they have established a dominating military presence in Aden, Dhale, Lahij, Abyan, and lately on the strategic island.
The Saudi-UAE-led Arab coalition cannot be exonerated from the ongoing mayhem in southern Yemen. The coalition has blatantly diverted from its chief goal of restoring the legitimate government of Yemen. Instead, its mission now is centered on three points: bombing Yemen indefinitely, undermining the legitimate government intentionally, and supporting the southern separatists openly. The takeover of Socotra by the STC happened first in the minds of the coalition leadership before it materialized on the ground.
At present, the STC is pursuing in earnest the control of other southern provinces that remain outside its control. On Monday, the council mobilized a rally in Al-Mukala of Hadramout, calling for self-rule so that “[they] will be able to manage [their] affairs and resources for the service of [their] people.” Such political rallies usually precede the military escalation option.
The separatists used to protest against the government in Aden and finally wrested control of the city in August after a three-day battle with the internationally recognized government backed by Saudi Arabia. They simultaneously seized Abyan, Dhale, and Lahj. Therefore, the resort to violence could be replicated in the southern provinces which continue to recognize the Yemeni government.
Six months back, Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal between the two sides. The agreement was signed in November 2019 and it was supposed to cease the conflict and stem the violence. Neither has the pact been implemented nor have the escalations stopped while the Kingdom continues to urge the two sides to implement the agreement.
“Kingdom [and] Coalition states have made continuous efforts since signing the Riyadh Agreement for implementation, that was faced with many challenges that hindered and derailed it.”
Mohamed Al-Jabir, Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, tweeted on Monday, June 22: the “Kingdom [and] Coalition states have made continuous efforts since signing the Riyadh Agreement for implementation, that was faced with many challenges that hindered and derailed it.” Saudi Arabia put forward a peace plan but it has been unable to force the sides to implement it, or the Kingdom is really not serious about ending the conflict in the south.
The spokesperson of the coalition, Turki Al-Maliki, said the government and separatist forces have agreed to a ceasefire and will begin talks on implementing the Riyadh Agreement. He said in a statement, “The coalition regrets the latest developments in a number of southern provinces and calls on the parties to prioritize Yemen’s national interest . . . and to stop bloodletting.”
Mokhtar Al-Rahbi, Advisor to the Yemeni Minister of Information, ruled out the possibility of the agreement implementation. Rahbi wrote in a tweet, “When a city falls to the STC militias, talks arise about the Riyadh Agreement which has legitimized the militias’ stay and control of Aden as well as their expansion to other provinces.” He added that Saudi Arabia did not lift a finger to support the government though it has 1,000 soldiers on Socotra island.
The military presence of the separatists and their control of state facilities has grown stronger than ever before. In the middle of June, the STC fighters hijacked 64 billion Yemeni riyals (about $256 million USD), printed in Russia, and the sum was bound for the central bank in Aden. The STC admitted that its fighters seized the money and stated the action was taken to end corruption and “prevent the use of public money in supporting terrorism.”
Exiled, beleaguered, and fragile, the Yemeni government is at the mercy of Riyadh.
Seemingly, the recent developments in the south have not unfolded by accident and the separatists would not have made such gains without the green light from the coalition. Exiled, beleaguered, and fragile, the Yemeni government is at the mercy of Riyadh. It cannot protect its interests in the south and it is powerless in the north where the Iran-allied Houthis have the upper hand. Yemen’s UN-recognized government has repeatedly displayed its opposition to the Emirati agendas and called for its expulsion from Yemen. However, the Gulf state continues to do as it wishes in line with the Saudi deadly silence.
The Saudi-UAE-led coalition, or what’s left of it, can no longer hide its anti-Yemen unity agenda as the latest separatists’ takeover of Socotra is solid proof that Yemen’s unity is at stake. The separatists live in a state of euphoria since their seizure of Socotra island while the rest of the Yemenis experience a moment of bitter frustration and disappointment with the role of the coalition, which solely seeks to guarantee a stronghold on strategic locations including ports and coastal lines in the country.