Military and Defense - Religion
Al-Akhbar Lebanon, Lebanon
“Saudi invasion of Al-Mahrah: A Salafist “princedom” on Oman’s borders?”
On January 11, the Al-Akhbar daily carried the following report by Douaa Suweidan: “…The Al-Mahrah governorate located in the Yemeni east is witnessing an active Saudi movement on all the different levels, a movement that now exceeds the one launched by the UAE some months ago in that governorate that has so far not been affected by the fire of the war. This movement has become so wide, varied and extensive that it has become hard to overlook it or to consider that it has no political and security related objectives especially that, since late November, it has taken on an escalating pattern, a pattern that once again sounds the alarm bell for the Sultanate of Oman, which enjoys long borders and solid relations with Al-Mahrah…
“The effects of the Saudi “harassment” started to appear in the second half of last November when a military team was dispatched to the Shahn border access point and the Al-Ghida Airport to carry out a visit aimed at “examining the possible options for imposing full control on the governorate’s access points.” This was coupled with an extensive media flow in the Saudi and Emirati media outlets indicating that weapons’ smuggling operations by Ansarullah are being carried out from the Sultanate of Oman via the Al-Mahrah access points. Muscat repeatedly denied that, to no avail.
“Pressure increased against the leaders of the local authority, then led by the governor, Mohammad Abdullah Keda, in order to take back six terms he had laid out to accept the entry of pro-Alliance forces to Al-Mahrah. The three most important terms were: Abstaining from using the Al-Ghida Airport as a military base; maintaining the administrative, security and military team as it is; and constant coordination with the local authority…
“A decision was thus obtained from the ousted President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, on November 28, to sack Keda from his post and to appoint Rajeh Said Bakrit instead. This decision gives way to believe that Al-Riyadh was not happy with Keda’s opposition and that Al-Mahrah must be entirely handed over to Saudi Arabia. Bakrit is the perfect figure in this sense. The man goes overboard to please the Kingdom. He misses no opportunity to praise “its efforts to secure and develop the governorate.”
“These “efforts” start with the food baskets all the way to paving the roads, thus completing the “efforts” of the Emirati Red Crescent, which seem to have failed in infiltrating the Al-Mahrah fabric. This failure necessitated an intervention by Saudi Arabia because the Kingdom, unlike the UAE, has connections with tribal sheikhs in Al-Mahrah who had been granted the Saudi nationality and who benefit from some financial provisions. Thus, the activities of the Emirati Crescent – which had stirred a hushed Omani resentment expressed by the pro-Sultanate sides within the governorate – slowly disappeared only to be replaced by the Saudi activities that are bolder and have indications that go beyond those of Abu Dhabi’s actions.
“Currently, the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Action, is working on attracting the needy people of the governorate by distributing aid every once in a while. At the same time, convoys including buses, ambulances, hygiene vehicles and water tanks are being sent over in addition to working on covering the internal streets with asphalt, planting trees there and lighting those streets… These developments are taking place while Aden, the “temporary capital of the legal government” and the headline of what the Alliance deems as an achievement in Yemen, is still suffering from a massive lack of services on all the different levels including power, hygiene, and health.
“This paradox indicates that something lies beneath the Saudi “generosity” vis-à-vis Al-Mahrah, and that the objective behind Al-Riyadh’s “humanitarian” actions is to snatch away the affinity that the people of Al-Mahrah have for Oman… However, the most serious part consists of the fact that the Saudi “provocation” is not limited to competing with the Sultanate on the humanitarian level. The competing goes beyond that to take on some military and security related aspects that speak of “dark” developments within Al-Mahrah following the stability and calm now lived by the governorate.
“A few days ago, the second batch of the pro-Alliance forces reached the city of Al-Ghida, the governorate’s center, and deployed in a number of the city’s directorates…thus constituting the Alliance’s “eye and upper hand” in Al-Mahrah’s access points… Interestingly and also worrisomely, Bakrit announced that “the door of recruitment has been opened for the people of Al-Mahrah on the military and security fields based on our local plans and with the help of our brothers at the alliance.” This comes at a time where pieces of news are emerging on Saudi Arabia supplying the Bouqi Bin Hamid tribal alliance…with quantities of weapons under the pretext of “fighting the smuggling from Oman to Yemen.” These two developments open a wide door to the scenario of the governorate’s “militarization…”
“Moreover, the latest pieces of news coming from Al-Mahrah indicate that Saudi Arabia is working on establishing a center for the Salafists (like the center of Damaj in Sa’dah) in the city of Kashan, the third largest city in the governorate… Sources from the city of Kashan indicate that some individuals, including foreigners acting as displaced people, are purchasing land plots for outrageous sums of money that do not match the plots’ real value, and that suspicions have started to reign around these individuals who are widely believed to be Salafists who fought in Sa’dah…
“The sources indicate that these people’s presence in Al-Mahrah has received the blessing of the new governor contrary to the former one who opposed any “settlement” process of this kind. If this process was to reach its conclusion, it will constitute an initiative that will achieve an outcome about which there had been warnings in the past: a takfiri aperture on the borders of Oman, which had been preserved from the fatuity of Wahhabism for decades…”