Fighting in Aden: Four key questions answered


A look at the different groups clashing and the effect the recent developments will have on Yemen's peace prospects.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition made up of several Arab states aimed at combatting Houthi rebels who had, just months earlier, overthrown Yemen's internationally recognised government and seized control of the capital, Sanaa.
More than four years later, there are increasing signs that the coalition - unable to defeat theHouthis in a multi-layered war that the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis - is splintering.
In a complicated turn of events and despite technically being part of the same military alliance, fighters backed by the UAE and forces loyal to Saudi Arabia turned on each other this week in Aden, the temporary seat of the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Though tensions have long been simmering, the effective seizure of the southern port city by the UAE-trained Security Belt force has raised fears of a "civil war within a civil war" and exposed divisions among the alliance's architects - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - over the fate of Yemen.
After days of clashes that killed at least 40 people, according to the UN, the separatists captured government military camps and the presidential palace in Aden, prompting senior government officials to accuse the UAE of supporting a "coup".
Southern Yemen was once an independent country whose population has long complained of marginalisation since its unification with the more populous north in 1990.
The Southern Transitional Council (STC), which has the backing of Security Belt fighters and has been seeking the south's secession, has since agreed to a Saudi-brokered ceasefire and welcomed Riyadh's call for dialogue. 
Al Jazeera takes a look at the different groups fighting and the effect the recent developments will have on the prospect for peace in the war-ravaged nation.

Who fought who?

The latest conflict in Yemen was set off by the secessionist forces' offensive against government targets in Aden on August 7.
The assault came on the same day of the funeral of Munir "Abu al-Yamama" al-Yafei, a leading commander in the Security Belt, a grouping of paramilitary forces that fall under the nominal authority of the Yemeni government. 
Yafei was among dozens killed in a Houthi-claimed missile attack on a military parade in western Aden on August 1.
Members of the STC, however, have accused al-Islah, a Yemeni affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, of being behind the attack and more broadly of acting in concert with the Houthis to destabilise southern Yemen.
This is even though al-Islah and the Houthis stand on opposite ends in the conflict pitting Saudi-backed, pro-government troops against the rebel group.
"Although Saudi Arabia and the STC are both formally part of the same coalition, the Saudi alignment with Islah, Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, is a sore point for the STC rank-and-file," Samuel Ramani, a researcher at Oxford University, told Al Jazeera. 
"The UAE and STC used this attack on Aden to expel Saudi influence, and therefore, Islah's presence from southern Yemen.

What does the STC want?

The STC, like many groups before it, has been calling for the south's secession from Yemen. 
Separatist sentiment in the south goes back decades. 
Aden was the only British colony in the entire Arabian Peninsula to be administered directly by authorities in London between 1839 and 1967 as part of British India. 
Upon independence in 1967, South Yemen or officially the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen fell under the orbit of the Soviet Union. 
The collapse of the communism in the late 1980s hastened the reunification of the south and the north in 1990. 
But a disgruntled population angry that its wealth was being siphoned off and disproportionally allocated to northern provinces led to an attempted break away from Sanaa in 1994. 
A two-month civil war ensued in which the unionist forces of former President Ali Abdulla Saleh crushed the southern rebellion and led to power being concentrated in Sanaa. 
In 2007, al-Hirak al-Janoubi (the southern movement) was established as a way to challenge Saleh's grip on power and reaffirm the south's distinct identity. The Hirak gained momentum in 2011 after the fall of Saleh.
In the weeks prior to the 2015 Saudi-UAE-led intervention in Yemen, thousands of Hirak activists defended Aden against advances by the Houthis and Saleh. 
In May 2017, Aidarous al-Zubaidi announced the formation of the STC which he said would be tasked with "representing the will of the people".
In January last year, clashes between separatists and government forces broke out in Aden, killing dozens of people.
Even though there are still many questions surrounding last week's events, Rasha Jarhum, director of Peace Track Initiative, said the deadly violence "was not unexpected".
"We've already seen the same conflict dynamics that happened last year in January, when the presidential palace was surrounded," she added.
"The division is among those factions who have an agenda that is reclaiming the southern state and those who have a project for a united, federal Yemen."

Why is the UAE supporting the separatists? 

The STC is backed by the Security Belt, which the UAE has heavily supplied with military equipment and financial assistance since the beginning of Yemen's latest conflict in 2015. 
Analysts say that Abu Dhabi ultimately wants to secure vital shipping lanes along the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait. 
"The UAE would've supported the Houthis if their base was in the south and this is primarily because of economic interests in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, in Aden and Socotra," said Afrah Nasser, chief editor of Sanaa Review. 
"It (the UAE) sees economic benefits to the war it is waging in Yemen."
The strategy, according to an International Crisis Group report, is part of Abu Dhabi's economic diversification model. 
It is "built around its role as a logistics hub and regional headquarters" and is premised on freedom of maritime navigation, including through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb passageway. 
Nasser said that while the UAE and Saudi Arabia "are not being transparent with their purpose in this war", both sides have "a lot of economic, political and security interests".
For Jarhum, there doesn't appear to be a conflict between Saudi Arabia and the UAE but a "different set of priorities".
"The Saudis see that they need to first support the government of Yemen to end the coup, which is happening in Sanaa by the Houthis," she said. "They want to keep the discussion in terms of the peace process to be limited to basically a coup discussion ... ignoring old grievances and what is happening in the south."

What will this lead to?

But Ramani, the researcher, said that in seizing Aden, the STC had made their presence indelible at any future peace initiative.
"Their indispensability would be guaranteed, and they could be invited to a UN peace settlement for the first time. This is an especially coveted goal after they were left out of the [December 2018] Stockholm agreement." 
For Ramani, the STC considers dialogue with Saudi Arabia productive if Riyadh refrains from further military attacks. 
"But if Saudi Arabia uses coercion to forces an STC withdrawal from Yemen, dialogue will likely break down." 
Osama al-Rawhani, deputy executive director of The Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, said this week's events in Aden are going "to represent a radical change in Yemen's conflict".
"It's adding different layers of complexity and it is very obvious how, starting from the coalition's position towards what happens in Aden, reflects the unclear intentions of Saudi's intervention in Yemen," he added.
"Now, the government which the Saudi claims to help regain its legitimacy has no capital," added al-Rawhani, calling for "clarity on what is next".
"Now, the STC has taken over Aden, who is going to run the country?" he asked.
"The government is now in exile - the state institutions are actually based in Aden, there has been a lot of shift after the Houthi coup from Sanaa to Aden - and the question now is who is going to run these institutions? Who is going to provide basic services and who is going to pay the salaries of civil servants?"


Bahrain activist jailed after Grand Prix criticism is released


by Nosheen Iqbal


Najah Yusuf pardoned following three years in prison for Facebook post against race and regime

An activist who was assaulted, tortured and imprisoned for three years for criticising the Formula One race in Bahrain has been freed by authorities today.
Najah Yusuf, a former Bahraini civil servant and mother of four children, was jailed in April 2017 after she criticised the race and the regime on Facebook. Yusuf was pardoned under a concession ahead of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, which takes place on Sunday, and is the first political prisoner to be released since 2011. Her family received a phone call from Isa Town prison in Bahrain to confirm Yusuf could go home.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) has led an international campaign to secure Yusuf’s freedom, which peaked during Bahrain’s Grand Prix in March this year. Yusuf wrote a first-person account of her experience for the Guardian in March, in which she declared: “Every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of Formula One.” In it, she detailed shocking abuse and sexual assault at the hands of officers.
Initially, Formula One bosses admitted to having “concerns” about Yusuf’s case, but in a letter to Bird and Human Rights Watch in March, it said it had been assured Yusuf’s conviction “had nothing to do with peaceful protest around the Bahrain Grand Prix”. The Bahrain government also promised: “Anyone who merely criticised or continues to criticise Formula 1 is free to do so.”
The court judgement against Yusuf said she had written “no to Formula One races on occupied Bahraini land” and that she had claimed F1 coming to her country was “nothing more than a way for the [ruling] al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations”. She also called for a “Freedom for the Formula detainees” march to raise awareness of the protestors jailed for criticising the race, which was cancelled after demonstrations in the country in 2011.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadei, the director of advocacy at Bird, said: “This is a monumental result for those who tirelessly campaigned to secure Najah’s release. Najah Yusuf is a fearless woman who bravely spoke out about the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of the Bahraini security apparatus. She should not have spent one second in prison, and must now be fully compensated for her unlawful imprisonment.”
There are currently six female political prisoners in Isa Town prison. Among them is is Hajer Mansoor, who has been declared arbitrarily and unlawfully imprisoned by the UN. Najah is among 105 inmates released today.


Bahrain: Playing With Fire


Did the Bahraini government collude with al-Qaeda members to target Shia opposition figures during the 2011 unrest?

27 Jul 2019
By Tamer Almisshal

In February 2011, following unrest in Tunisia and Egypt in the early days of the so-calledArab Spring, opposition demonstrators took to the streets of the Bahraini capital, Manama.

The protests quickly gathered momentum, with demonstrators demanding greater democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni regime.
But in March, the protests were quelled. The king declared a state of emergency and brought in the Peninsula Shield Force, the military wing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The government called the unarmed protesters and activists "terrorists". Civilian demonstrators were tear gassed, beaten and shot.
Now, allegations have surfaced suggesting that the Bahraini government made attempts to coerce members of al-Qaeda in Bahrain to target key figures in the Shia Muslim community during the unrest.
In secret video recordings, former members of al-Qaeda say that the Bahraini government and intelligence officials tried to get them to assassinate key Shia opposition figures, on orders from the king.
In one recording, former al-Qaeda member Mohammad Saleh says: "A state security officer and another officer ... paid me a visit. They said they'd come on behalf of His Majesty the King of Bahrain at a time when the country was having a difficult time. He said that we, as fighters and members of al-Qaeda could help quell the Shia."
In a different recording made at the same time, Hisham Hilal al-Balushi - who was later a known leader of a Sunni armed group in Iran, before being killed in 2015 - talks about being detained by Bahraini security services and then recruited to infiltrate another group in Iran.
The Bahraini government has strenuously denied the allegations made in this film. The foreign minister called them "lies and fallacies against the state of Bahrain".
The minister of information said there were "attempts made by Al Jazeera channel to contact him and other officials, through unidentified telephone numbers, to record their conversations without their knowledge or official consent and to provoke them by using despicable methods".
Al Jazeera also wrote to the office of the royal family, the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask them to respond to the allegations but has not yet received any replies.
After an Arabic version of the film aired on Al Jazeera Arabic, Mohammad Saleh and Jamal al-Balushi (the brother of now-deceased Hilal) appeared on Bahraini television, saying that although they did make the recordings in 2011, what they said was false.
Mohammad Saleh said "they all agreed to make the recordings and to include several false allegations in order to give them weight that would help international human rights groups build pressure on Bahrain's government and security agencies", the state Bahrain News Agency reported.
According to John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer Bahrain, "thought they could divide their own opponents by having their opponents attack each other".
"The Bahraini government believed it could pit Sunni fundamentalists against the Shia population and keep both sides divided that way, and that is not what happened," he tells Al Jazeera. "What happened was it further angered the Shia population and at the same time encouraged fundamentalism among the Sunni."
In this film, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Tamer Almisshal examines the video testimonies and speaks to former intelligence officers, diplomats, human rights activists and security experts about the allegations.