Saudi commentators go public in criticising UAE role in Yemen

FILE PHOTO: General view of Riyadh city, after the Saudi government eased a curfew, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh
FILE PHOTO: General view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo

July 18, 2021

DUBAI (Reuters) – Pro-government commentators in Saudi Arabia are publicly criticising the United Arab Emirates’ role in Yemen, a rare move that reflects political and economic tensions between the two Gulf allies that also led to an open standoff over oil policy.

Saudi Arabia is trying to contain a power struggle in southern Yemen between the recognised government backed by Riyadh and the main separatist group supported by the UAE – which risks broadening a war that Saudi Arabia is struggling to exit.

“If Abu Dhabi does not help in implementing the Riyadh agreement regarding the south Yemen crisis, and keeps obstructing it, I think that Saudi-Emirati ties will continue to be tested,” political writer Suleiman al-Oqeliy, who often reflects official Saudi positions, said in a Twitter post on Saturday.

“The Kingdom, government and people, will not allow anyone to tamper with Yemen’s security and harm it. Its patience may be great but it has limits,” tweeted Abdullah al-Hatayla, deputy editor of Saudi Arabia’s semi-official Okaz newspaper.

Social media is closely monitored by authorities in the Gulf Arab region and pro-government commentators in Saudi Arabia usually refrain from criticising the kingdom’s allies.

Saudi and UAE authorities did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.

The UAE is a member of the military coalition led by Riyadh that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthis who ousted the government from the capital Sanaa.

Abu Dhabi ended its military presence in 2019, saddling Riyadh with a costly and unpopular war, but continues to hold sway through Yemeni fighters it armed and trained.

Among them are forces of the Southern Transitional Council, also members of the coalition, who have twice seized the southern port of Aden, the interim headquarters of the Saudi-backed government, prompting Riyadh to broker a power-sharing deal which has yet to be fully implemented.

The criticism by the commentators comes after a public dispute between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that disrupted policy setting by OPEC+, a group that includes OPEC and its allies. OPEC+ secured agreement to boost oil supplies when it reconvened on Sunday after the two Gulf producers reached an understanding.

However analysts say increasing economic competition is laying bare differences between Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the kingdom moves to challenge its neighbour’s dominance as the region’s business, trade and tourism hub.

The regional alliance that saw Saudi Arabia and the UAE join forces to project power in the Middle East and beyond and combat Islamist groups – coordinating use of financial clout, and in Yemen, military force – has loosened as national interests come to the fore.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Frances Kerry)