Yemen secessionist organization—Southern Transitional Council (STC) aligned with other separatists, they surrounded Aden presidential palace on Tuesday, forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee. This brings an end to the STC-Hadi alliance in Yemen’s south against Houthi rebels. The outburst of armed confrontations stem from the contention among the alliance, STC supports an independent south while President Hadi wants to sustain the Yemeni unification.
The dissolution of alliances of convenience are happening across Yemen, not only the STC-Hadi alliance in the south but also the Houthi-Saleh alliance in the north. The ongoing Yemen Civil War, which began in 2014, attributes to the political dispute between Houthi-Saleh alliance and STC-Hadi alliance. However, both alliances are now facing the risk of alliance termination.
Experts hold sharply different views on the role of geopolitics in the Yemen Civil War. Some claim that the Yemen Civil War is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, while others regard the civil war as reflecting the tensions among the involute tribal factions.
Aden crisis: alliances of convenience unravel across Yemen
On Tuesday, fighters allied with the pro-secession Southern Transitional Council (STC) surrounded the presidential palace in Aden, the seat of the internationally recognised government of Yemen. Their presence has forced the prime minister to prepare to flee, and demonstrates that the unlikely bond between the two in their fight against Houthi rebels has come to an end.
Last month, there was a similar break in another unlikely alliance, albeit on the other side of the conflict in the rebel-held north.
In Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, Houthi rebels who had taken over the city in 2014 with help from forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh killed the former president. The Houthis accused him of changing sides and taking a conciliatory approach to Saudi Arabia, which backs the Aden-based government of the current president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The fracturing of the STC-Hadi alliance in Yemen’s south and the Houthi-Saleh alliance in the north is pitting former allies against each other in a country known for its complex tribal factions.
This risks making an already stalemated war, which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, even more intractable.
Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the Guardian: “There’s this theory that if the conflict drags on and on and on, it will develop into a situation where the Houthis will make massive concessions. But what we’re seeing is fracturing and weakening on all sides.
“After today, after the last few days, it’s going to be quite hard for the international power brokers, and this includes the Yemeni government themselves, to marginalise the STC to the extent that they’ve been marginalising them before.”
The war in Yemen, which began in 2014, was primarily a dispute between Houthi rebels previously allied with Saleh, who led the country from 1990 to 2012, and forces loyal to the ousted Hadi, who lives in exile in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The internal instability has also been seized upon by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which controls large swaths of land mainly in the country’s eastern territories.
But the civil war is also complicated by the wider geopolitics of the region, as many view it through the prism of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a US and UK-backed military intervention in Yemen, countering the advances of Houthis and launching airstrikes in Sana’a and other major cities that have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.
Saudis and their Sunni Arab allies view Houthi fighters, who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, as Iranian proxies and have accused Tehran of militarily backing them with missile supplies, a charge Iran denies.
Baron said tensions over longstanding divisions had been rising between the STC and Hadi’s government. The STC wants a return to an independent south like that which existed before 1990, but the unity of Yemen is a red line for Hadi.
The government of the United Arab Emirates had been supporting STC financially, but Baron believes “it’s foolish to think of the STC, as many view them, simply as Emirati puppets”.
“While the geopolitics of this might have its own significance, I think it’s crucial to remember that we’re talking about a group with domestic Yemeni aims and these are tensions that would exist regardless of whether regional powers would get involved,” he said.
Meanwhile in Sana’a, while the Houthi rebels have suffered some setbacks, “in the bulk of areas they’re in control [and] Houthis have consolidated their hold on power”, he said.
In a Chatham House report in December, the Yemen expert Peter Salisbury argued that “the conflict had mostly settled into a pragmatic, if economically destructive, stalemate”.
“Yemen more closely resembles a region of mini-states at varying degrees of war with one another, and beset by a complex range of internal politics and conflicts, than a single state engaged in a binary conflict,” he wrote.
Source: The Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehgan, Jan 30, 2018. Photo credit to Saleh Al-Obeidi/AFP.