top of page
  • andrewmleber

KSA-UAE: Yemen, Hadi and the STC (8/23-25)

Saudi Arabia and the UAE

A range of reporting and analysis (Tim Lister for CNN, Alex Stark at FP, Taylor Luck for CSM) has focused on the mounting tensions in the UAE-Saudi coalition to restore Yemen’s UN-recognized government to power. Efforts by the UAE-trained and –backed Southern Transitional Council to seize power in Southern Yemen (with the apparent acquiescence of the UAE) prompted a furious response from President Hadi’s government, which has threatened to expose UAE human rights violations in Yemen unless the “legitimate government” (a common shorthand for the UN-recognized government in Arabic) is restored to power.

While some Yemeni commentators aligned with the Hadi government have voiced the occasional criticism of what they see as Saudi acquiescence to a UAE-STC fait accompli in Aden (“Why don’t we break up the Saudi state and give independence back to the regions by force?” opined one), Saudi officials have worked to ensure tensions did not publicly affect KSA-UAE ties.

However, tensions are starting to surface in the form of skirmishes between prominent Emirati and Saudi Twitter personalities, each speaking to (or trying to restrain) stridently nationalist social-media ecosystems.

Dubai’s ever-provocative police chief, Dhahi Khalfan, kicked off a wave of recrimination on Friday by tweeting out that:

Whoever fight alongside Hadi fights with a man of treachery and betrayal

الذي يقاتل بجانب هادي يقاتل مع رجل غدر وخيانة — ضاحي خلفان تميم (@Dhahi_Khalfan) August 23, 2019

This in turn prompted Saudi social-media personality Mansour al-Khamis to launch the hashtag #Dhahi_Khalfan_Insults_the_Kingdom:

Dahi Khalfan did not respect President Hadi’s presence in the Kingdom at the hospitality of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Dahi Khalfan did not respect the kingdom, which supports the legitimate [government] and is fighting alongside it to liberate Yemen from Houthis

لم يحترم ضاحي خلفان وجود الرئيس هادي في المملكة وفي ضيافة خادم الحرمين الشريفين. ولم يحترم ضاحي خلفان المملكة التي تدعم الشرعية وتقاتل معها لتحرير كامل اليمن من الحوثي. #ضاحي_خلفان_يسيء_للمملكة — منصور الخميس 🇸🇦 (@MansourAlkhamis) August 23, 2019

Khamis later posted a vaguer reference to betrayal, albeit using the same Arabic word for “treachery” – ghidr­ – as Khalfan.

The definition of treachery When you pledge to cross the desert with your friend and leave him halfway along the path, and as you’re leaving to say him ‘I’m better, as I helped you travel half the distance,’ then leave him in the desert to face his demise.

تعريف الغدر أن تتعاهد مع صديقك على قطع الصحراء فتتركه في منتصف الطريق وانت تغادر تقول له انا صاحب الفضل لقد ساعدتك على قطع نصف المسافة لتتركه في الصحراء يواجه الهلاك. — منصور الخميس 🇸🇦 (@MansourAlkhamis) August 23, 2019

That evening, Adhwan al-Ahmari – editor of the Independent Arabia, who has attempted to rein in hypernationalism on Twitter before – weighed in to try and calm things down.

The coalition is led by Saudi Arabia with the participation of several countries, including our brothers in the Emirates. We always say that the Saudi-UAE alliance is an alliance of brotherhood and friendship, with the blood shed liberate Yemen and return its legitimate [government] as evidence of that. What is happening now raises questions, and [we understand each other well enough to know that] these tweets aren’t coming out of nowhere!… There are observations on the legitimate government of Yemen, its performance, and rumors of corruption. But the destruction of what has been accomplished, undermining what the coalition has built, and dragging Yemen’s legitimate [government], along with dense tweeting from brothers in the UAE in support of the Transitional Council raise questions. Those tweeting do not represent themselves, and are not independent writers… Under pressure from ally and partner UAE to the STC, bin Brik will remain silent. Attacking Abyan and then Shabwah on the pretext of fighting Al-Islah is worthless. The coalition will occupy itself with the reason it was established and launch operations to restore the legitimate [government. The coalition is led by Saudi Arabia, and those who take part in it respect this leadership and do not compete with it.

التحالف تقوده السعودية، وتشارك فيه عدة دول بينها الإمارات الشقيقة. نقول دوماً أن الحلف السعودي-الإماراتي حلف أخوة وصداقة، والدماء التي سالت لتحرير اليمن وإعادة شرعيته دليل تلاحم. ما يحدث الآن يثير التساؤلات، وكما يقول المثل "كلنا عيال قرية"، من يغردون في تويتر لا يغردون من فراغ ! — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 23, 2019

هناك ملاحظات على الحكومة الشرعية اليمنية، وأداءها، وشائعات عن فساد فيها. لكن هدم ما تم والانقضاض على ما بناه التحالف والتعريض بالشرعية اليمنية وتغريدات مكثفة من الأشقاء في الإمارات داعمة للمجلس الانتقالي فهذه مثيرة للتساؤلات أيضاً.من يغردون لا يمثلون أنفسهم، وليسوا كتاب مستقلين. — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 23, 2019

بضغط من الحليف والشريك الإمارات على الانتقالي، سيلتزم بن بريك الصمت. مهاجمة أبين ثم شبوه بحجة محاربة الإصلاح، فهذه حجة لا قيمة لها. وإشغال للتحالف عن الهدف الحقيقي من إنشاءه وانطلاق العمليات لاستعادة الشرعية. التحالف تقوده السعودية، ومن يشارك فيه يحترم هذه القيادة لا ينافسها. — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 23, 2019

This in turn triggered a response from Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati academic who has been an aggressive online defender of the UAE government in recent years. In the subsequent exchange, both men suggested that the other “side’s” tweets represented more than personal viewpoints (given widespread belief that many media figures in the Gulf act, as Jamal Khashoggi once did, as surrogates for official viewpoints):

Adhwan, you are not successful in your tweets… with doubting questions. I’m sure that you represent yourself and aren’t expressing an official position, as is the case with every Emirati Tweeter expressing his personal convictions. It is their right to condemn the legitimate [government]’s dealings with the UAE and to support the right of the people of the South in their country to determine their own fate and future.

عزيزي عضوان لم تكن موفقا في تغريداتك وابتعدت عن الصواب في تساؤلاتك التشكيكية واجزم انك تمثل نفسك ولا تعبر عن موقف رسمي وكذلك حال كل مغرد اماراتي يعبر عن قناعته الشخصية فمن حقه ان يدين تطاول الشرعية على وطنه الامارات ومن حقه ان يؤيد حق شعب الجنوب في دولته وفي تحديد مصيره ومستقبله — Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (@Abdulkhaleq_UAE) August 23, 2019
Dear Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, there is no such thing as “expresses his personal conviction” when we see this intense tweeting about the North and South of Yemen with amazing synchronization, and some of those tweeting hold an official position. Imagine that the head of the Riyadh police tweeted at length about the situation in Yemen, and then we said he represents himself :).

عزيزي الدكتور العزيز عبدالخالق عبدالله، لا يوجد شيء اسمه "يعبر عن قناعته الشخصية" حين يتم تكثيف الحديث والتغريد عن الشمال والجنوب اليمني في تزامن عجيب، وبعض من غرّد له منصب رسمي. تخيّل أن رئيس شرطة الرياض يغرد بكثافة عن الوضع في اليمن، ثم نقول يمثل نفسه 🙂 . — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 24, 2019
He and others have repeatedly asserted that they are expressing personal convictions, and most have been questioned on this. But the question is whether you and other colleagues on the other side are expressing personal convictions or write according to official directives. Then [in case of the former] there’s no reason why we can’t disagree on the issue of the North and South without this meaning that there is a division between the two strongest allies in the region.

هو وغيره أكدوا مرارا انهم يعبرون عن قناعات شخصية ومعظمهم تعرض للمساءلة بسبب ذلك. لكن السؤال هل انت وبقية الزملاء في الطرف الآخر تعبرون عن قناعات شخصية ام وفق توجيهات رسمية. ثم ما المانع ان نختلف في قضية الشمال والجنوب دون ان يعني ذلك وجود خلاف واختلاف بين اقوى حليفين في المنطقة — Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (@Abdulkhaleq_UAE) August 24, 2019

When CNN’s Arabic-language website (based in Dubai) covered the interaction, Abdulkhaleq referred to the exchange as “a beautiful and serious discussion… between good friends who belong to the strongest allies in the region.”

شهد موقع تويتر جدالا بين الأكاديمي الإماراتي د عبد الخالق عبدالله والإعلامي السعودي عضوان الأحمري حول تطورات اليمن وتغريدات من الجانب الإماراتي والسعودي. حوار جميل وجاد وتم بود واحترام بين صديقين عزيزين ينتميان لأقوى حليفين في المنطقة. ⁦@Adhwan — Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (@Abdulkhaleq_UAE) August 24, 2019

Elsewhere on Twitter, Saudi media figure Khalid al-Matrafi slammed an Emirati columnist who had criticized President Hadi, saying “intelligence isn’t one of his qualities.”

This freak writes in the Emirati newspaper al-Bayan – has has slithered like a snake among the people of the UAE without them noticing that he’s a Houthi in the guise of a Southern separatist! They are the enemy, so beware of them

هذا المسخ يكتب في جريدة البيان الإماراتية وقد تغلغل كالأفعى بين أهلنا في #الإمارات دون أن يشعروا بأنه حوثي حقير بلباس انفصالي جنوبي! هم العدو فاحذروهم — خالد المطرفي (@Almatrafi) August 24, 2019

There’s a lot more going on than I can include here, but something to look out for in the days ahead?

Update (8/24/2018): UAE FM Anwar Gargash Comments

Emirati Foreign Minister Anway Gargash weighed in late Saturday/early Sunday, noting that:

The Saudi-UAE alliance is a strategic necessity in light of the surrounding challenges, with Yemen as a clear example. UAE participation in [Operation] Decisive Storm within the Arab coalition came in response to the invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and our continuation in Yemen within the coalition led by Saudi Arabia is linked to this invitation. It is a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, who decides whether we continue our role in supporting stability in Yemen within the Arab coalition or not. Our connection with Riyadh is essential and more comprehensive, especially in the difficult surrounding circumstances and in light of our firm conviction of the pivotal and leading role of Riyadh.

٢/١ التحالف السعودي الإماراتي ضرورة إستراتيجية في ظل التحديات المحيطة واليمن مثال واضح، فمشاركة الامارات في عاصفة الحزم وضمن التحالف العربي جاءت استجابة لدعوة خادم الحرمين الشريفين وإستمرارنا في اليمن ضمن التحالف الذي تقوده السعودية الشقيقة مرتبط بهذه الدعوة. — د. أنور قرقاش (@AnwarGargash) August 24, 2019

٢/٢ ومن واقع علاقتنا الاستراتيجية مع السعودية الشقيقة فهي التي تقرر استمرار دورنا في مساندة الاستقرار في اليمن ضمن التحالف العربي من عدمه، ارتباطنا بالرياض وجودي واكثر شمولا وخاصة في الظروف الصعبة المحيطة وعلى ضوء قناعتنا الراسخة بدور الرياض المحوري والقيادي. — د. أنور قرقاش (@AnwarGargash) August 24, 2019

Additionally, Saudi writer Hamood Abu Taleb wrote a scathing rebuke of all Yemeni parties, for Okaz, noting:

The Kingdom has tried sincerely, honestly and impartially to unite the Yemeni political forces under the umbrella of the legitimate government to confront one opponent – Houthis – who wanted to seize all of Yemen. But after more than five years, and after the recent events in Aden that spread to Shabwa and ready to spread elsewhere, we can say that the story will drag on and its plot become ever-more complex. The reason, it has become clear, is that the Yemenis do not want to rid their country of the catastrophe that befell it, and the Yemenis here are not the downtrodden people, but the Yemeni political system that leads the scene.

#حمود_أبو_طالب @HamoodAbutalib: نحن واليمن إلى أين؟ #عكاظ #مقالات_عكاظ — مقالات عكاظ (@OKAZ__Opinion) August 24, 2019

Update (8/25/2018): Smoldering Resentments

Attempts such as FM Gargash’s to refer onlookers to official UAE and KSA statements, in addition to op-eds from Salman al-Dosari and Abdullah Otaibi in Asharq al-Awsat criticizing the STC and re-affirming the UAE-KSA alignment, have had to contend with continued recriminations from prominent Twitter personalities from both countries.

Adhwan al-Ahmari tried to signal an end to discussions by retweeting Anwar Gargash’s remarks

Wise tweets from His Excellency, the learned intellectual Anwar Gargash on the Saudi-UAE relationship and alliance.

تغريدات حكيمة من معالي الوزير المثقف الراقي أنور قرقاش عن العلاقة والتحالف السعودي الإماراتي. — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 24, 2019

Yet as tweets do not disappear on their own, other Emirati commentators continued to engage with Awadh’s earlier remarks:

Unfortunately even the wise aren’t free from error. My dear brother Adhwan, your words are hurtful to us in the UAE. Please correct what you mentioned in your tweet.

للاسف حتي العقلاء مب معصومين من الخطأ. اخي الكريم عضوان كلامك جارح عنا فى الامارات. ارجو ان تصحح ما ذكرت فى تغريدك. — Mishal Kanoo مشعل كانو (@MishalKanoo) August 25, 2019

To which Adhwan quickly replied, quote-tweeting Mishal’s statement into his own (Adhwan’s) feed:

Dear Mishal, the leadership and people of the UAE are a red line for me and for Saudis. [I was talking] about those who set to work talking about the secession of Yemen and attacking the legitimate [government], and who spoke on behalf of the coalition without respect for the interests of Saudi Arabia and its leadership of this coalition.

In turn prompting efforts to play down any insult, if not an actual difference: “Brothers can disagree on any subject, but cannot doubt each other.”

اخي العزيز عضوان، تحية لك واحترامى لكل ما تقدمه. الصراحة ما يعاتبك الا اللي يحبك. يجوز الاختلاف بين الاخوان على اى موضوع ولكن الشك فى الاخوان لا يجوز. المملكة والامارات اخوى شعب وحكومة. اذا غلط احد منا سترنا عليه لعله يرجع الى صوابه. نحن اخوة تحت رحمة رب العالمين — Mishal Kanoo مشعل كانو (@MishalKanoo) August 25, 2019

Elsewhere, some Emirati commentators have taken to suggesting a connection between Saudi influencers and Muslim Brotherhood – one account replied to Mansour al-Khamis’ “treachery” tweet (mentioned above) by digging up an old screenshot of Mansour praising Yousef al-Qaradawi – the an influential religious scholar associated with the Brotherhood and based in Qatar.

Mr. Mansour, at least be like Qaradawi in your disagreement with others!

على الأقل يا سيد منصور كن مثل القرضاوي في خلافك مع الآخرين ! — بن ثالث (@iBinThaleth) August 23, 2019

Still, some Emirati commentators have likewise sought to focus blame on the Hadi government, which has garnered some traction among Saudi commentators as well – even Abdullah Otaibi’s op-ed in Aawsat had some words of criticism for members of the Hadi government “living in a state of luxury in Riyadh and not in the homeland.”

The deterioration of relations between Yemeni legitimacy and the UAE since the beginning of 2016 is a major cause in the case of the division in Yemen, which should not continue to seriously damage the objectives of the coalition. | These heroes of the UAE martyrs in Yemen deserve that everyone ensure that relations between the two countries remain distinguished, not in opposition.

تدهور العلاقات بين الشرعية اليمنية ودولة الإمارات منذ بداية العام 2016 هي سبب رئيسي في حالة الإنقسام الحاصل في اليمن وهو أمر يجب أن لا يستمر لضرره البالغ على أهداف التحالف | هؤلاء الأبطال من شهداء الإمارات في اليمن يستحقون من الجميع أن تكون العلاقات بين البلدين مميزة لا متصادمة — د. فايـز النـشوان 🇰🇼 (@DrAlnashwan) August 25, 2019

Update (8/26/2019) – Joint Statement and Dissenting Views

A joint statement on Sunday from the Saudi and Emirati foreign ministries sought to put an official end to discussion of a rift between the two countries, as highlighted by Hassan Hassan:

The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in line with their responsibility to support the legitimate [government] of Yemen in order to save the country and its people from the coup of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, emphasize the continuation of all their political, military, relief and development efforts with the participation of the coalition countries… The governments of both countries express their rejection and condemnation of the accusations and defamation campaigns targeting the UAE against the backdrop of these events, reminding everyone of the sacrifices made by the coalition forces on the ground of Yemen The governments of the two countries stress the need for full commitment to cooperation with the joint committee set up by the Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy for disengagement, and redeployment of forces within the framework of the military effort of the coalition forces. [They also] call speedy engagement with the Jeddah dialogue called by Saudi Arabia…

Around this time, Adhwan al-Ahmari had already tweeted out a photograph of Saudi special forces sitting with members of the legitimate government in Shabwa (one of the contested areas) to indicate that the matter was now settled both in word and in terms of facts on the ground.

رئيس الوزراء اليمني ووزراء، يرافقهم ضباط من القوات الخاصة السعودية في شبوة. الرسالة واضحة، الاعتداء على شبوة أو أي محافظة يمنية أخرى هو اعتداء على اليمن والسعودية. المجلس الانتقالي يعبث، والتغريدات التحشيدية من البعض في تويتر عبث كذلك. — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) August 25, 2019

Still, at least Dhahi Khalfan continued his commentary:

National unity in Yemen has failed according to experience, what do you think about national unity now[?]

الوحدة الوطنية في اليمن فشلت بحكم التجربة..نناديكم الآن بالوحدة الوطنية — ضاحي خلفان تميم (@Dhahi_Khalfan) August 26, 2019
6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page