Shatha Khalil *
The headlines of the recent events in Yemen appeared in the Arab and international newspapers, especially what happened in the Yemeni island of Socotra, where the UAE brought in military forces and equipment, some of which described it , the occupation, which caused a crisis between the two countries noting that the UAE participates in the Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia to support the legitimacy in Yemen, after the coup of the Houthi militias against the legitimate authority in Yemen in late 2014.
The Yemeni island of Socotra
The Socotra Archipelago is a Yemeni Island , a 3,050-kilometer with a population of about 150,000. It has an important strategic location, described as the most exotic in the world because of its unique biodiversity and environmental importance.
It is located on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in front of the city of Mukalla, east of the Gulf of Aden, where the confluence of the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea, and east of the Horn of Africa, about 350 km from the southern coast of Yemen. The archipelago consists of several islands, including Darsa, Samha, and Abd –el-Kuri in addition of six rocky islands. The capital of Socotra is Hidibu, and due to its strategic location, it is subject to the occupation of the Portuguese, the Romans and the English.
The biodiversity of the island of Socotra
UNESCO listed Socotra Island in 2008 on the World Heritage List and was listed in January 2017 as one of the world’s most important marine sites of biological importance.
The island of Socotra is home to the famous frankincense trees during ancient times, of which there are 25 species in the world, nine of which are on the island. Socotra is famous for its ancient civilizations, in which frankincense, incense and cactus are sacred goods. “and that is hy the Greeks and Romans called it “the Island of happiness”.
Socotra is the largest natural protectorate in its sea and land. It is the largest museum of plant wealth, medicinal herbs and perennial trees. It has a unique plant variety of some 850 plant species, of which 293 species are imported and rarely found in any area of the world other than Socotra. UNISCO considered Socotra trees part of the world heritage.
Socotra’s natural and cultural heritage aroused the curiosity of many European scientists during the 19th century, until the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 considered it among nine regions of the world which are still new , with no distortion.
Emirati control of the island
Socotra, like other parts of Yemen, suffered from the consequences of the war and its repercussions on the humanitarian and economic aspects, and even on the natural life that represents the world heritage of the island, where the inhabitants used to cut trees and use its wood for cooking and heating because of the lack of gas.
The British Independent newspaper published a report stated that the United Arab Emirates is seeking to occupy the island and turn it into a permanent military base, a tourist resort and perhaps the seizure of its heritage.
The dispute between the legitimate Yemeni government and the United Arab Emirates over the control of Socotra appeared at the beginning of May 2018. The UAE sent its troops to Socotra Airport without coordination with the Yemeni side, in conjunction with a visit to the island by the President Yemeni government Ahmed Obaid bin Dajr and ministers, a move rejected by the legitimate government and considered it unjustified .
The dispute has become public in a progressive manner and observers see that it has threatened the unity of the alliance , the Saudi-led coalition supporting legitimacy in Yemen .
Observers said that the Yemeni government’s response reflects an old dispute with the UAE for nearly a year and that it began after the dismissal of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the Governor of Aden Idruss Zubaidi, which was calculated on Abu Dhabi, indicating that the UAE moves away from the approach of the Saudi-led coalition and its conduct without contact with Riyadh.
The United States military aircraft loaded with soldiers and ammunition arrived in Socotra, to control the island airport, and the port, and to inform the staff there that their duties ended .
The Yemeni government condemned the military measures carried out by the UAE in an official statement, saying it was “unjustified,” while the Associated Press quoted a Yemeni official as saying that the legitimate government is considering sending a letter to the United Nations, demanding the expulsion of the UAE from Arab Alliance for Legitimacy in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia.
The other statement of the Yemeni government published by Saba News Agency said “The essence of the dispute between it and the UAE, the second largest Arab coalition supporting the legitimacy, is about national sovereignty, which is entitled to exercise it, and the absence of the level of joint coordination that appeared to be missing in the recent period,” .
While Saudi Arabia was reportedly not aware of the move, or of any previous steps taken by the UAE in Yemen, Saudi Arabia was quick to send a committee to find out about the latest developments in Socotra. Before leaving, the committee held talks with the Yemeni government, called the Saudis to work for departure of Emirati forces from the island.
Al-Shiroq quoted from the associated press Agency saying that an unnamed Yemeni official said his country would ask the United Nations to “expel” the UAE from the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia to restore Yemeni legitimacy.
According to some analysts, the UAE, which exploited the deteriorating situation in Yemen to extend its control and influence over this region, by controlling life activities there and working to buy Yemeni land, despite the authorities prevented the sale of land to foreign investors.
UAE said in a statement issued by the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation : “The UAE military presence in the liberated Yemeni provinces, including Socotra, is part of the efforts of the Arab Coalition to support legitimacy at this critical stage in the history of Yemen, and no aspiration of the UAE in the brotherly Yemen or any part thereof, and its steps taken by it in Yemen’s various provinces comes in support of the security and stability of Yemen, and help the legitimacy and the Yemeni people “.
It added that UAE is aware of the role played by the terrorist organization of the Muslim Brotherhood and those behind it in these malicious campaigns targeting the UAE, which is one of the pillars of the efforts of the Arab alliance aimed at establishing security and stability and restoring legitimacy.
The Ministry stressed that these malicious campaigns, led by the terrorist organization, especially with regard to the island of Socotra, come within a long and repeated series to distort the role of the UAE and its active contribution in the efforts of the Arab alliance aimed at countering the Houthi coup against legitimacy.
The UAE is working to rebuild Socotra in December 2012 as the island has opened its only hospital, the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Hospital, which treats more than 95 percent of the population.
The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement that the year 2016 was different for the people of Socotra Island, where the UAE is implementing development projects in the isolated archipelago and providing humanitarian and food assistance.
It added that the UAE has deepened wells to pump water to the city of Hadibu and provided water to remote, water-scarce areas whose population depended on rainwater stressing that the UAE was never far from Socotra’s humanitarian challenges.
Economic Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies