The political landscape of Hadramawt, Yemen’s largest governorate, has shifted significantly following the announcement of the establishment of the Hadramawt National Council (HNC) last week.
The new political entity aims to tackle the pressing challenges confronting the governorate, establish a cohesive political vision, and present different alternatives to the secessionist aspirations of the Southern Transitional Council (STC).
The consultations of Hadramawt’s political and tribal components, who convened in Riyadh from 21 May to 19 June 2023 upon the invitation of the Saudi government, resulted in the approval of a political charter addressing the aspirations of Hadramawt’s people.
“Hadramawt finds itself at a crossroads, caught between two competing projects that are vying for control over the region”
The charter emphasised the rights of Hadramawt’s people to manage their political, economic, security, social, and cultural affairs with the aim of alleviating humanitarian suffering, achieving development, and restoring peace and stability in their governorate. More than 70 leaders, including members of the Parliament, the Shura Council, tribal and military leaders, and academics signed the charter.
Hadramawt, with its immense significance, plays a vital role in Yemen’s economy and geopolitical landscape. The governorate boasts abundant natural resources that serve as a crucial source of revenue for the Yemeni state. Moreover, its strategic location bordering Saudi Arabia adds to its geopolitical importance.
Consequently, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) perceives Hadramawt as a beacon of hope amid the challenges faced by the southern governorates under its control, which struggle with limited resources.
The STC’s aspirations to gain control over Hadramawt’s oil-rich territories have frequently faced significant resistance during the past few years from Hadramawt’s political and tribal components, who have sought support from Saudi Arabia. They believe that Saudi Arabia’s intervention can help curb the STC’s ambitions.
Hadramawt finds itself at a crossroads, caught between two competing projects that are vying for control over the region.
On one side stands the Southern Transitional Council (STC), supported by the United Arab Emirates, which advocates for the secession of southern Yemen and envisions Hadramawt as part of a separate southern state. On the other side, the political and tribal components of Hadramawt firmly oppose the STC’s objectives and instead advocate two alternatives: either autonomy or integration within a unified Yemen.
The STC has not yet expressed a definitive stance on the new HNC. However, the STC’s media outlets argue that the HNC lacks consensus and criticise the consultations in Riyadh for failing to represent the full spectrum of political and social diversity in Hadramawt.
The STC is likely to interpret the establishment of the HNC as a move aiming at undermining its separatist agenda. This perception may lead to an escalation of tensions and increased confrontations in Hadramawt.
The STC might reconsider deploying its forces to take control of the governorate, challenging the authority of the newly formed political council. Such a scenario would further complicate the already fragile situation in Yemen and jeopardise any prospects of a peaceful resolution.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been key players in Yemen’s ongoing conflict, each with its own interests and strategies. In the case of Hadramawt, both countries have sought to maintain influence and navigate the intricate tribal dynamics of the region.
“The unfolding events in Hadramawt may have wider implications for Yemen as a whole and introduce an additional player into the already complex negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis”
While the intentions of Saudi Arabia in relation to the STC and the HNC remain uncertain, the Saudi role as a key player in Yemen’s conflict signifies its potential to influence the outcome. With the establishment of the HNC, questions arise regarding Saudi Arabia’s true intentions, and whether the Hadramawt issue will be given priority in any final settlement for Yemen.
Though Saudi Arabia has supported Hadramawt’s political and tribal components opposing the STC’s goals, there is no guarantee that it will clash directly with the STC. Saudi Arabia has its own interests to consider, and it may seek to balance its relationships with various Yemeni factions. However, if the STC’s actions in Hadramawt threaten Saudi Arabia’s influence or stability in the region, it may take measures to deal with the STC’s activities.
Saudi Arabia, fully aware of the complex divisions within Hadramawt, has been delicately navigating the situation by engaging with various local stakeholders. This includes leveraging the influence of Saudi businessmen with Hadramawt origins. It is evident that Saudi Arabia aims to prevent any potential competition from other regional actors.
On the other hand, the UAE has thrown its support behind the STC, viewing it as a means to exert influence and consolidate control over the southern regions of Yemen. The UAE’s backing has empowered the STC, enabling it to gain traction and dominance.
However, if pressure mounts from Saudi Arabia or if the UAE deems it necessary to prioritise stability in Yemen, it may reconsider its support for the STC and withdraw its backing of the militias associated with the council.
The path forward for Hadramawt remains shrouded in uncertainty, leaving its political and tribal components, as well as the wider Yemeni community, eagerly awaiting further developments and hoping for a resolution that can bring much-needed stability and prosperity to war-torn Yemen.
The unfolding events in Hadramawt may have wider implications for Yemen as a whole and introduce an additional player into the already complex negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.
Yasser Ezzi is a Yemeni writer and senior editor for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language edition