Saudi urges implementation of Riyadh Agreement

For the first time, a pro-government Saudi newspaper published an editorial suggesting that Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi should go.

LONDON - As fierce fighting in Yemen between the forces supported by the internationally recognised government and the Iran-allied Houthi rebels continued, issues between the Southern Transitional Council and the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi once again rose.

Even though the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-supported Hadi government fight on the same side in the almost 5-year-old war, sporadic battles between the two erupt, with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi usually stepping in to ease tensions.

In November, STC separatists seized control of the Yemeni government’s temporary capital in Aden, which led to further fighting.

That issue was supposedly resolved after the two sides signed the Riyadh Agreement in November. However, the agreement is yet to be implemented and hostilities and accusations between the two sides persist and it appears Saudi Arabia is losing patience.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry, on March 11, urged Yemen's government and the STC to implement the Riyadh Agreement and put the country's national interests first.

Saudi Arabia is dedicated to “the security and stability of brotherly Yemen and its endeavour to implement the (Riyadh Agreement) to achieve its goals and objectives,” the statement said, stressing that a stable Yemen where people enjoy a decent living and "all forms of terrorism are fought" was achievable.

"Based on this, the kingdom is working to establish various development projects and complete others that are under construction in all provinces, as part of its ceaseless support and care for the brotherly people of Yemen," the statement said.

"The kingdom invites the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement to work together to implement it and to put the higher national interest first," it added.

The Yemeni government welcomed the Saudi statement.

The agreement paves the way for Yemen to "complete its victory in its existential and crucial battle" against the Houthis, a government source told the government-run Saba news agency, adding that the inclusion of the STC would "beef up the country's anti-terrorism efforts."

The government is honouring "in earnest" its commitments in the peace deal "for the higher interest of the homeland," the source said.

The Riyadh Agreement called for the formation of a new government within 30 days of its signing. The government would include 24 ministers -- 12 from the south and 12 from the north. The agreement also called for tens of thousands of fighters loyal to the STC to be placed under the command of Yemen’s Interior and Defence ministries.

For decades, many southern Yemenis have said they felt exploited by leaders in the north, including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his associates. Anti-Saleh sentiment led to the formation of the Southern Mobility Movement in 2007, which has the re-establishment of South Yemen as an independent state as its main goal.

STC President Aidarus al-Zoubaidi and Hadi have a history of bad blood between them, stemming from May 2017 when Hadi sacked Zoubaidi as Aden governor. Zoubaidi then joined the southern separatists, which eventually rebranded themselves as the STC movement.

The Hadi government asked UAE officials to stop arming and training the separatists. Emirati officials, however, said the Hadi government is ineffective and that its ties to Islamists in Yemen continue to be a worrying factor.

Recently, for the first time, a pro-government Saudi newspaper published an article suggesting that Hadi should go. An opinion article in the Okaz daily by Saudi writer Hammoud Taleb suggested that the situation in Yemen might improve if Hadi and his government were replaced, saying elements in the Hadi government were “colluding” with the coalition’s enemies. Taleb did not clarify whether it was the Houthis or the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islah Movement that he meant by "enemies."

Observers said Riyadh was gauging public opinion and perhaps sending a message to Hadi with the publication of the anti-Hadi editorial.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.