Should Riyadh annex part of Yemen?

Should Riyadh annex part of Yemen?
Blog: A leaked letter from tribal figures urging Saudi Arabia to annex the Yemeni province of Hadramaut has proven unsurprisingly controversial.
3 min read
03 Sep, 2015
Hadramaut is the largest province in Yemen and has close bonds with Saudi Arabia [Getty]
A document signed by 95 tribal figures from Hadramaut, eastern Yemen, calling on Saudi Arabia to annex their province to the kingdom, has caused a storm on social media.

The signatories claimed the provinces of Hadramaut, Mahara and Shabwa were historically part of Saudi Arabia, not Yemen.

The document cites "Shia expansion" to justify the request.

"We hope that our country would be blessed by joining the banner of monotheism, to head off the ambitions of the Shia," the letter told King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

Oil-rich Hadramaut is the largest province in Yemen, and shares a long border with Saudi Arabia. More than a million people live there.

The document, whose text appears to predate Operation Decisive Storm, was leaked in parallel with controversial remarks made by the Deputy Chairman of the Dubai police, Dahi Khalfan, who called on Twitter for the accession of Hadramaut and Aden provinces into the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Reaction on social media was split.

Some saw it as deliberately provocative to compromise a large chunk of the Yemeni homeland. Others stated that Saudi Arabia had a better claim over the province than Yemen itself - and did not mind its annexation if such would help develop Hadramaut.

"We love the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and appreciate what it has done for our people... but this does not mean we should accept revisionism by weak souls," journalist and political activist Mohammed Yazidi posted on Facebook.

Blogger Mohammed al-Jabri also criticised the call: "It is shameful that such people have made themselves custodians over Hadramaut and its people."

Determining determination

Dr Abdullah bin Mahfouz, a Saudi official with roots in Hadramaut, meanwhile called for the Hadramaut tribal alliance to endorse the idea of annexation, for the benefit of "Sunnis, the people and the land".
Self-determination in Hadramaut can ultimately only be achieved through a referendum
- Abdul-Hadi al-Tamimim

Activist Murdim Basloum also supported the idea and criticised its opponents. "They call day and night to annex Hadramaut to corrupt, poor and ignorant statelets, but they accuse of treason those who call for annexing it to the kingdom that is worthy of the province."

Historically, Hadramaut once had its own passport and army, and was not part of the Arab Union of the South that formed under British occupation and ended in 1967.

Hadramaut was forcibly annexed to the Democratic Republic of Yemen, and has since suffered from marginalisation and dependency.

Calls for self-determination in Hadramaut have been known in recent years, but paled after the start of the current conflict in Yemen in March.

The National Dialogue concluded in January 2014 called for Hadramaut and other provinces to become autonomous regions. However, this angered south Yemeni secessionists, who saw the move as a step against their project.

The timing of the document's release has raised questions regarding its real objective. Some analysts see it as a move against southern secessionism - while others see it as testing the public opinion in Hadramaut regarding the idea of the province's secession.

Activists who spoke to al-Araby al-Jadeed criticised the signatories, saying they did not represent the people of Hadramaut. They also rejected the sectarian language of the document, which attacked Sufi and Shia Muslims.

Abdul-Hadi al-Tamimi, the head of the Hadramaut tribal alliance, however, told al-Araby's Arabic service that the document had little importance or influence. 

"Those who signed the document are ordinary people, and the best they can hope to achieve is obtain Saudi citizenship," he said.

Tamimi said self-determination in Hadramaut could ultimately only be achieved through a referendum.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition