UAE policy As a Threat to Yemen's Unity

Can the government reformulate bilateral relations in a consensual way?
Ali Mayas
March 1, 2023

UAE policy As a Threat to Yemen's Unity

Can the government reformulate bilateral relations in a consensual way?
Ali Mayas
March 1, 2023

The UAE adopts an expansionist foreign policy towards the Arab countries whose regimes collapsed during the Arab Spring revolutions, as the UAE took the Arab geographical area as a vital field for extending its regional influence.  Yemen represents one of the battlefields that UAE stormed in order to achieve its desired regional hegemony.  Whereas local observers classified the Emirati foreign policy towards Yemen as the greatest threat facing Yemeni unity, after the UAE shirked  and abandoned its moral responsibility towards this country reeling from the reality of war, and practiced unacceptable policies that undermined the structure and institutions of the country.

The growing Emirati ambition marked a radical shift in its foreign policy, which required maximizing both its hard and soft power.  In terms of hard power, the UAE compensated for the size of its small state by building a modern army with professionally trained local forces and by local agents outside its borders. It engaged a frantic arms race with its regional competitors.  International experts described it as "Little Sparta", depicting the extent of the growth of Abu Dhabi's solid strength, and its desire to enter military risks to achieve its political and economic goals.

Abu Dhabi is the richest emirate in the country, followed by Dubai. It reaps its huge wealth mainly from oil revenues, while Dubai gains huge revenues from tourism, port business, shipping and construction.  While Some of those interested in Emirati foreign policy believe that Dubai Ports "DP" represents a center of gravity in the UAE's cross-border ambition.  In terms of soft power, Dubai Ports "DP" funds hundreds of global events and activities in various aspects of life, such as art, sports, culture, and humanitarian aid, in order to maximize the soft power of the UAE.  Dubai Ports "DP" gains huge profits and have a significant market share in the global ports market, as it owns 6.7% of the global market share, behind Hutchison Port Holdings, which owns 6.8%.  Dubai Ports also seems to be a compass for determining the directions of the hard power of the UAE in the region.

Military risk in Yemen

Since the launch of the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen, during the attempt of the Iranian-backed Ansar Allah group "Houthis" to take control of the temporary capital Aden, in March 2015., the UAE dominated the military scene on the ground, as it deployed armored vehicles, tanks, and attack helicopters by its warships in different regions of Yemen, as well as hundreds of Emirati soldiers.  It trained and armed nearly 90,000 Yemeni soldiers, according to a senior Emirati official, who joined military formations which they are loyal to UAE. It also provided support on the front lines by carrying out massive air strikes to achieve a military progress on the ground.

In mid-2019, the UAE announced the complete withdrawal of its forces deployed in Yemen, however, a group of its forces are still present in bases to manage the military actions of its local agents.  In contrast to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which hinted publicly that its military intervention in Yemen was launched for reasons of harming its national security. The UAE did not clearly disclose its actual objectives that led it to carry out large-scale military operations in Yemen.  For all that, its military movements on the ground reveal its hidden endeavors. It aims to take control of the Yemeni coasts, islands, and energy resources, and to avoid, as far as possible, involving its forces in useless fighting in the northern and central regions of Yemen.

The UAE spends a huge amounts of money to polish its image and to increase its soft power around the world. It produces films, programs and books that promote its heroic and noble missions in Yemen.  However, the reality of the war has shown the UAE's contradictory and excessively brutal face, as it cannot wash away the stigma attached to it because of its shameful humanitarian file in Yemen. It has committed grave crimes and violations against civilians, some of them amount to war crimes, such as: the killing and wounding of thousands of civilians, and the torture and disappearance of hundreds of those who are opponents for its hostile policy in Yemen. Besides its indiscriminate air strikes, which terrorized entire cities, caused widespread destruction of infrastructure, including medical, services facilities, schools, and roads.

International UN agencies have repeatedly warned of the humanitarian consequences of the war that the UAE is involving in the poorest countries in the Arab region, Which caused them to be on the brink of famine, suffered by about 60% of the country's population.  The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been described as the worst in the world in decades. The UAE provides limited humanitarian aid to Yemen, despite the size of its responsibility which bears as a result of the destruction, it left behind, in large parts of the country, especially in light of the suspension of salaries and basic services, such as: electricity, education, health, and drinkable water, in addition to the spread of infectious diseases and epidemics.

Furthermore, peace negotiations between the parties of the Yemeni diaspora went through a tortuous paths, without any significant Emirati support.  The irony is that the truce was not a result of the warring Yemeni parties sitting at the same negotiating table, but rather in conjunction with the military attacks carried out by the Ansar Allah group "Houthis" with drones, against a vital sites in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It also seems that this military escalation represented a serious turning point in the history of the Yemeni war that has been raging for eight years, as it is an uncontrollable military escalation that is difficult to control and overcome its damages.  This forced Abu Dhabi to reconsider its foreign policy pattern.

Yemeni-UAE relations

Since the UAE entered the Yemeni crisis line, the bilateral relations between the two countries are facing increasing challenges that have placed the internationally recognized government at the center of difficult security conditions, whereas the UAE continues to adopt a policy of severe interference in Yemeni affairs. Moreover,  the UAE is working to fuel elements of tension in Yemen. It has also formed and armed military factions parallel to the government forces,  most of them belong to extremist religious groups, and others with separatist tendencies, which have become a source of threat to the unity and territorial integrity of Yemen, in addition to representing an actual challenge to the efforts of forming a modern civil state that believes in democratic foundations and the values ​​of modernity. The international community should expect that these extremist groups will generate future cross-border security threats, which will put the whole region in a situation that could explode at any moment.

The UAE closed the diplomatic and political windows in the face of the internationally recognized government throughout the war.  The government, in turn, made strenuous efforts for rapprochement and for the regular diplomatic contact with UAE for the restoration of the state institutions and stabilization in Yemen. However, the government's efforts lost its way towards understanding Emirati concerns, at a time when the government forces were unable to impose their hegemony over several Yemeni areas in the south of the country, including the temporary capital, Aden, which is under the rule of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces, as all the government's efforts failed to provide basic services and maintain security for these areas.

Actually, the UAE is acting with a colonial mentality in order to achieve a set of goals, foremost of these is preventing the investment of sea ports and disrupting the development of any marine infrastructure in the ports and the UAE-backed forces maintain military control along the Yemeni coast.  However, the UAE has misjudged towards its brothers ’’Yemen", as it cannot build its regional influence at the expense of the resources and stability of neighboring countries. The inevitability of the geography requires it to correct the distortion that afflicted its foreign policy, and rearrange its cards and priorities with the aim of strengthening the trade partnership with its regional surroundings and ensuring security and political stability in the region. In addition to replacing the military intervention and proxy war with dialogue and diplomacy.

Nevertheless, after the Saudi-Emirati rapprochement on the Yemeni file, the relations between the two sides took another turn, especially after the signing of the "Riyadh Agreement" between the Yemeni government and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, and the formation of the presidential council led by Dr. Rashad al-Alimi in April 2022, who began his regional visit, with the seven members of the council, to the UAE in the same month, and met with UAE President, Mohammed bin Zayed, on three occasions during the year 2022, and also the Yemeni Minister of Defense in the internationally recognized government visited the UAE in late November 2022 in order to sign a military and security memorandum of understanding related to combating terrorism, in addition to an official visits by Yemeni ministers to calm the UAE concerns.

Ultimately, it is recognized that the Yemeni government needs political and economic support from the UAE, which requires conducting a diplomatic dialogue with it openly and calmly, In order to ensure the reformulation of the bilateral relationship in a manner agreed upon by the two parties, and to consider the issue of establishing a department at the Yemeni Foreign Ministry that concerned with developing the relations with the UAE and developing ways of cooperation, besides paving a new paths in accordance with the common interests, including the path of cooperation with the “Dubai Ports” company, but on an advanced negotiating conditions. In addition to ensuring the security of the UAE, defending mutual benefits between the two countries, and providing political support at the regional and international level for the UAE.  Meanwhile, the messages sent by the UAE in the editorial of Al-Bayan newspaper, owned by the government of the Emirate of Dubai, talking about the specter of the geographical division of Yemen, should also be perceived and delivered positively, even if they were deleted.

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