Given its historic support for the group, the UAE’s opposition to the recent declaration of self-rule by Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) is mind-blowing – though was perhaps inevitable once the UAE decided to bring Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital, under its control.
Despite being part of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition on one side of Yemen’s civil war, the UAE and Riyadh disagree on the future for the STC – with the Saudi’s clear about backing President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi’s UN-recognised government.
The separatist group declared control over the key port city of Aden and other southern provinces while its leaders were in Abu Dhabi, and were instantly met with fierce opposition by many other southern provinces as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
This unilateral move is not the first standoff between the Saudi and Emirati surrogates in southern Yemen. There is much bad blood between the separatists and Hadi’s government. The STC complains about historical marginalisation by the northerners. They also grumble about the government sidelining them in favour of the Islah party, the sturdy Muslim Brotherhood branch in Yemen.
The government denies these allegations and preaches unity. When confrontations between the government and STC took a bloody turn last August, the UAE sided with the latter, even sending its fighter jets to bombard the very Hadi government it came into Yemen to support against the Iran-backed Houthis. However, this time, Abu Dhabi refused to intervene.