Alwaght- Two Red Sea and Indian Ocean islands belonging to Yemen have been rented out to the UAE for what the media called a 25-year rental contract signed between Yemen’s fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Emirati officials.
The resigned president under Saudi Arabia supervision has signed a “suspicious document” with the UAE according to which the isles of Mayun (Perim) and Socotra will be hired out to Abu Dhabi for 25 years. A contract with the same terms also included the Port of Aden. The agreement is subject to extension, the Kuwaiti Al-Nabaa news agency reported.
Where are the islands and why are they significant?
The two islands of Mayun and Socotra are considered as Yemen's property with strategic position in the country’s southern and western waters. Mayun island is located on the mouth of the Red Sea. The island stands right between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Its position that makes it close to the Beb-el-Mandeb Strait makes the island of geopolitical importance which made the volcanic island fall to hands of the British Royal Navy between 1857 and 2967. Mayun then joined the southern territories of the Democratic Republic of Yemen that was founded in 1994. The island keeps its strategic status to date due to its closeness to the Beb-el-Mandeb Strait.
In 2008, an Emirati company announced a plan of $200 billion investment to connect the Mayun, called Perim in English, to the Djibouti coasts on the other side of the Red Sea. The project was named the world’s biggest sea bridge. However, it was suspended after Yemen’s domestic situation deteriorated and the Saudi-led Arab military coalition waged a war against Yemen.
Another island that is set for renting out to the UAE is Socotra. Socotra is not a single island, rather it is an archipelago located in west of the Indian Ocean between the Asia and Africa and on the mouth of Gulf of Aden. The archipelago that is home to 50,000 residents is 340 kilometers from the Yemen mainland and 250 kilometers from the Somalian coasts. Its place like the Mayun island gives Socotra island a strategic position. The British navy used the island as a military base during its occupation, before it was delivered to the Democratic Republic of Yemen in south. The two islands were accepted in 2008 as the UNESCO's world heritage sites for their highly special natural places and existence of some very specific tree species.
According to the agreement, the deal will also include offering operation of the vital Port of Aden to the UAE. The southern port is certainly the most essential place for the Yemeni access to the sea. The port, in fact, takes its vitality from its position on the coast of the Red Sea and its proximity to Beb-el-Mandeb, a strait that links Asia to Africa and stands as an access channel for the Persian Gulf Arab oil producers to the Suez Canal that in turn facilities access to the Mediterranean Sea and thus Europe.
Why were the islands rented out to UAE?
The agreement between the fugitive Mansur Hadi and Abu Dhabi raises questions about the drives behind it. To find answer for that, first there is a need to bring in spotlight the reasons why the UAE joined the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen.
A month after participation in the anti-Yemeni aggression in March 2015, Abu Dhabi started suspected efforts in the war-ravaged country. The UAE focused on the southern provinces like Aden, Hadhramaut, and Socotra archipelago as it had plans for them, indicating that the goal behind the UAE entry to Yemen was not restoration to power of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, rather the Sheikhdom sought getting foothold in the strategic south while the country was hit by chaos of war and domestic fighting.
The Emirati objective was unlike those of Saudi Arabia, the country that wanted the ousted president back to the capital Sana’a which has been held for three years by the revolutionaries. The issue since the beginning of war played out in the discord between Mansur Hadi and the UAE, a difference that later expanded to show itself in form of tension between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The row even reached its climactic point when Mansur Hadi, who transferred his forced rule to south, sacked in late April several UAE-loyal local officials in south. Abu Dhabi criticized the move as a “personal and irresponsible decision.”
The fiercest attacks against the fugitive president came by Dhahi Khalfan, the former Dubai police chief, who asserted that the first step for settlement of Yemen crisis was to end the Mansur Hadi rule in the country. Khalfan also condemned Mansul Hadi’s sacking of the pro-UAE southern figures, something led to clear shrinking of the Emirati influence in Yemen. He also went on to disparage Mansur Hadi for early April 2016 dismissal of Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, a politician widely known as Abu Dhabi's PM of choice. Following all of these developments, the unofficial news outlets began to talk about the UAE negotiations with son of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen and the current ally of the revolutionary Ansarullah movement, to govern the south.
Unlike Saudi Arabia that stands as a staunch supporter of Mansur Hadi’s return to power, the UAE is not interested to see him staying in power. Abu Dhabi even seeks an alternative for him among his opponents. Now the news of the islands and port deal come as some suggest that Mansur Hadi seeks appeasing the Emirati leaders to stay as opposition figure. If the deal is confirmed, he will possibly remain inside the opposition circle and survive more open UAE opposition to his position.
Is the deal valid under Mansur Hadi?
It is illegal that the UAE rents Yemeni territories after striking deal with the resigned president. The agreement in fact comes while at best Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi plays role of a resigned and exiled president sans legal legitimacy and authority, and consequently any accord under him is invalid. Another point is that even a legitimate president cannot rent out territories to other countries without referring the case to the parliament, where the deal should receive debate and approval.