This month has seen the consolidation of power in the de-facto “South Yemen” capital of Aden, by the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a party which seeks to restore the statehood of South Yemen based on its pre-1990 borders. Street clashes in Aden by the STC aligned Southern Resistance Movement’s fighters, eventually saw its opposition on the part of President Hadi’s security forces collapse. The result has been the fall of the Aden government, while the much hated Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher has fled the country.
The leader of the Southern Transitional Council Aidarus al-Zubaidi has taken the decision not to actively depose titular President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, but in reality, Hadi has been reduced to a mere figure head who is now considered useless by his supporters while being loathed by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Movement which continues to control the borders of the former North Yemen. He is a President in name only, but the south of Yemen is now in the hands of the STC while the North remains in the hands of the Houthis and remnants of former President Saleh’s GPC movement.
Much has been made of the fact that while the United Arab Emirates supports the STC, Saudi Arabia has been closely aligned with the anti-STC forces of the Hadi government. However, it would appear that Riyadh has resigned itself to the fact that a Southern Movement which it actually supported during the 1994 Civil War in Yemen, is now the only force strong enough and legitimately popular enough to govern “South” Yemen. Aidarus al-Zubaidi’s visits to both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh look to solidify this reality while also healing the over-hyped rift between Saudi Arabia and its UAE ally regarding the transition of power in the south from Hadi loyalists to the STC.
In this sense, the UAE has won a kind of soft-power coup versus Saudi, insofar as it is now the UAE whose preferred faction is in control of the only part of Yemen with any hope of answering to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). By contrast, Saudi is now left with the hefty bill and prolonged embarrassment of failing to pacify the comparatively poorly armed Houthi Resistance in the north of the country.
Unless Saudi Arabia is willing to privately admit defeat in northern Yemen, even if it publicly declares its version of “mission accomplished”, it looks as though South Yemen will be de-facto reconstituted in the short term, while emerging as a sovereign state along the liens of its former borders in the medium term. For the Houthis in the north, there is a long term prospect of Saudi Arabia turning the former North Yemen into a kind of Transnistria, whose blockaded costs will serve to effectively landlock the country from would-be allies and partners. While a form of pragmatism has asymmetrically won the day in the South, the North is facing the prospect of long term conflict unless a third party steps in to negotiate a settlement.