Aden Governor’s resignation highlights UAE’s efforts to increase influence, which will fuel southern security deterioration
The Governor of Aden, Abdulaziz al-Muflehi, tendered his resignation on 16 November, saying that corruption had undermined his efforts to restore basic services to the city. Saudi-backed President Hadi appointed al-Muflehi, a loyalist, when he removed UAE-backed Aydarus al-Zubaidi in April, in an effort to limit Abu Dhabi’s influence in the South (see our 5 May Report). However, al-Zubaidi then formed a new body to advocate southern independence, which has received continued support from the UAE. Indeed, on 18 November the commander of the Emirati-backed security forces in Abyan Governorate praised the organisation for opening a new political office in Abyan’s capital, Zinjibar.
Al-Muflehi’s assertion that his work was hindered by corruption is credible, since graft in Aden is a major obstacle to good governance. However, his ability to improve services and infrastructure in the city will also have been significantly limited by the UAE’s efforts to expand its influence there. These have led to clashes as Emirati-backed militias and pro-Hadi forces compete for control of key infrastructure, such as the city’s airport, thus undermining the authority of the President and his government.
Moreover, such clashes have disrupted operations against jihadists, and so enabled militants loyal to Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to increase their tempo of attacks in the South. For instance, IS supporters assassinated a criminal investigator in Aden on 26 November, and killed four people in a car bombing outside the Finance Ministry three days later. Meanwhile, AQAP carried out at least eight IED attacks against Emirati-backed forces in Abyan Governorate from 15-28 November, and shot and injured an official in Hadramawt on 22 November. This violence has undermined Hadi’s efforts to show himself as an effective leader, particularly in the face of the increasingly assertive southern secessionist movement, and so has damaged his credibility.
Hadi has since sought to reassert his authority by shuffling positions among other southern politicians. For example, he promoted a former counter-smuggling official to governor in the south-eastern al-Mahrah Governorate on 27 November. This was also likely intended to bolster his support from Riyadh, which launched its own anti-smuggling campaign in the governorate in mid-November. Regardless, Riyadh justifies its intervention in Yemen by saying that it was requested by the country’s legitimate President, and at present the Kingdom sees no viable replacement for Hadi. His political position will therefore remain secure for the coming months, despite these challenges to his authority.
Indeed, Abu Dhabi will continue its efforts to ensure that Emirati-backed figures maintain a prominent role in southern politics. Further clashes between rival security forces in Aden and jihadist attacks in the city are therefore likely. Moreover, UAE-backed forces may carry out violence and crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood-linked al-Islah party, which Abu Dhabi strongly opposes. This would in turn increase the risk of AQAP attacks against UAE-linked fighters, as the group seeks to attract support from hardline members of the Brotherhood and al-Islah, with which it has previously had limited cooperation.