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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 :).
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.https://www.okaz.com.sa/article/1743244
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
Update (8/26/2019) – Joint Statement and Dissenting Views
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.
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[?]