Alwaght- As the United Arab Emirates' goals and plans for Yemen's southern port city of Aden become clearer days by day, the rifts between ABU Dhabi and Riyadh increase with the same pace.
Last week, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the resigned president of Yemen who has the backing of Saudi Arabia fired Aden's governor Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a political figure known to be close to the UAE.
In response, al-Zubaidi's supporters from Yemeni Southern Movement have challenged the governor sacking. They held rallies in support of al-Zubaidi and branded him a patriotic political leader.
The Saudi-Emirati discords in Yemen are not something new, but the two have tried to conceal them during the three years of the anti-Yemeni war. Now it appears that their differences have more room to emerge to the public as the military campaign majorly against Ansarullah movement is reaching a dead end.
Fresh reports suggest that the UAE has established contacts with the figures close to the Southern Movement, which predominantly struggles for full secession from Yemen or at least a high degree of autonomy in the south.
Hadi has strongly come against separation of the south from the country, however.
The recent dispute between the UAE and the fugitive Yemeni president saw a surge after Abu Dhabi officials sponsored a conference in Hadhramout, a province in extreme south of Yemen, on April 22. The conference was administered by the province's governor Major General Ahmed Saeed bin Brik, who holds close ties with the UAE.
The conference finished with a statement calling on Hadi to declare Hadhramaut an autonomous region. The sources familiar with the final statement have said that the document maintained that if the Hadhramaut people conclude that the union with the north cannot serve their interests, they reserve the right to withdraw from it.
The organizers of the meeting called the event as a supplement to the national peace process but the analysts cast doubt on their agenda, arguing that such branding is meant to reduce the sensitivity to the real Emirati objectives in the war-ravaged country.
On the other side, the political figures and tribal leaders close to Saudi Arabia in Hadhramaut officially announced boycotting the conference in the southern province. Riyadh officials declined to officially comment on the meeting. The experts noted that the conference laid bare the scale of differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on Yemen’s future, though they are members of anti-Yemeni military campaign.
It was at the heels of this gathering that the Riyadh-based Hadi sacked Aden's governor al-Zubaidi and a couple of local officials also close to the UAE, a measure that faced strong reaction from the Emirati officials. The Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan, the head of general security for the emirate of Dubai, in a Twitter post said that removal of Hadi is a Persian Gulf, Arab, and international demand.
Meanwhile, Hadi has accused Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the Emirati armed forces, of “behaving like an occupier of Yemen rather than its liberator,” the Middle East Eye website reported. The spat between the two has reportedly erupted when Hadi visited the UAE to debate with the Emirati officials who will be in control of Aden airport, a militarized site playing a crucial role in providing the Emirati as well as pro-Hadi forces with all types of support in the country’s southern front lines.
The disputes are taking place while the fresh UAE steps have begun to call attention and arouse the ire of the Saudis. The reports have recently said that the UAE has started building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemen that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait. Furthermore, the Yemeni sources have reported that Abu Dhabi is struggling to bring in its grasp Yemen’s main ports from Mukalla in east to Mocha lying on the coast of the Red Sea.
The final aim is to secure economic privileges in the Yemeni ports through staging a wide-ranging state-building process in Yemen's south. Apparently, the UAE's zeal to invade Al Hudaydah port, also in south, is driven by its long-term strategy for the region. But the operation to capture the port has been facing new challenges as Saudi Arabia and the UAE witness intensification of their differences largely because the forces foreseen to contribute to the assault are from the UAE-sponsored separatist Southern Movement.
The observers maintain that the UAE leaders have concentrated their efforts on materializing their aims in southern Yemen as they see no clear outlook for end of the three-year-long aggression against Yemen. This by itself sends into spins the Saudi officials who after 26 months of relentless bombing campaign not only declined to make gains in north but also see the south slipping out of their control.
If this trend continues, the two Arab allies risk facing a collapse of their alliance in Yemen. This makes the upcoming Aden developments decisive; something also understood by the German Ambassador to Yemen who tweeted that “all eyes are on Aden now.”