Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hadramawt

Yemen’s Region of Al-Mahra at the intersection of Interests and Competitions

Al-Mahra province, in the eastern part of Yemen, has become a regional battleground for influence between the different actors in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its military, civil, political and social efforts to consolidate its power in the eastern province.

Al-Mahra, the eastern gateway to Yemen, is an exception in Oman’s policy, having historical relations with the local authorities in the province. Muscat is feeling for the first time a real competition to its influence in Al-Mahra as the two Gulf allies (KSA and UAE) are attempting to enhance or maintain their leverage in this governorate, as has already happened in other Eastern Yemen regions (Hadramawt and Socotra).

Yemen’s Al Mahra

Al Mahra is one of the most remote regions in the Easter part of Yemen. It was considered as the most stable part of Yemen when the civil war erupted in 2015.

This region was Not infiltrated by the jihadi groups contrary to the Hadramawt province on its West. The Mahra province is inhabited by Sunni tribes (an estimate of 350,000 residents) with history of marginalization by Sanaa’s authority and a cross-border informal economy.

The agreement made after the revolution in Yemen aiming to transform the country into a six-region federation is unpopular to some groups in Al-Mahra due to a fear for a merge with the neighboring Hadramawt governorate repeating the 1968 history when Al-Mahra was overrun by socialist forces entering from Hadramawt.[1]

The governorate has somehow remained under the control of the international recognized Hadi’s government since the Yemeni civil war broke-out, although the former president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh had stationed military units in the region.[2] After months of the killing of President Saleh, the Emiratis and the Saudis have started to increase their involvement in Al Mahra.

Oman’s Foreign Policy: Security First

While ideology is driving the Foreign Policy of most of the Middle Eastern states, the Sultanate of Oman has followed its own course, believing that peaceful negotiation is essential to the overall, long-term goals of Omani security and prosperity.

The Sultan of Oman created a foreign policy based on non-intervention and non-alignment.

In the case of the Yemeni war, Oman played an important role as a mediator between the different warring parties. Its neutral stance regarding the Iranian Saudi cold war in the Middle East helped the Sultanate to have good relations with the Houthis and all other players.

Since the start of the latest war in Yemen, Oman has hosted Houthi leaders and representatives of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Furthermore, Muscat hosted secret negotiations between the Houthis and Riyadh in early 2016, and between U.S. officials and the Houthis in May 2015 and November 2016.[3]

Oman, Yemen and its Eastern Gateway

The important role of Yemen to the Omani leadership goes back to 1962 with the formation of anti-monarchist, pan-Arab, Marxist insurgency group called the Dhufar Liberation Front.

The main aim for the insurgency group was to overthrow Sultan Said of Oman and install a communist system with the help of South Yemen[4].

At the time of the Dhufar rebellion, Al-Mahra governorate of South Yemen, known as the Eastern gateway of Sultanate of Oman, had an important role to play in this proxy war between the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) and Oman.

Al- Mahra became the 6th Governorate of South Yemen after the British withdrawal from the region although the Mahari tribes were against the new Marxist-Leninist regime in South Yemen.

Declassified material from the British government’s archives, demonstrates that both the UK and Oman raised and trained groups of Mahra tribesmen – exiled from the PDRY – to launch cross-border raids into South Yemen between late 1972 and early 1975.

The archival material proves that both the Omani and British governments raised and supported the Mahra tribal militias (known collectively as the ‘firqat’, with each individual formation a ‘firqa’) for cross-border incursions.[5]

The Sultan of Oman used Mahra in a coercive as a response to the PDRY’s support for the insurgency in Dhufar.

Al-Mahra in the Emirati and Saudi Eyes

The killing of former President Saleh was the turning point for the changes on the ground in Eastern Yemen.

Many reports emerged about the UAE willingness to establish military units loyal to Abu Dhabi, “Mahri Elite Forces” as a similar model for the “Hadrami and Shabwani Elite Forces”.

The main aim for UAE and its ally KSA in this regard is to secure the land border with Oman and the sea borders from arms smuggling activities.[6]

KSA and its allies in Yemen were expressing concerns about Oman and Saleh loyalists in Al-Mahra smuggling weapons to the Houthis in North.[7]

A UN report mentioned that Iranian missiles sent to Houthis were transferred by pieces through the land routes from Oman or Ghaydah and Nishtun in al Mahrah governorate after ship-to-shore transshipment to small dhows.[8]

According to the British researcher Elisabeth Kendall, Mahri tribal voices raised doubts regarding UAE and KSA activities fearing that the trained armed units will be loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), the Emirati-supported ‘third Yemeni government’, which pursues independence of the South and has opened a headquarter in Mahra.[9]

Afterwards, Saudi Arabia played an essential role in securing an agreement with Mahri representatives were these forces will work along the local tribes to stabilize the region, strengthen anti-smuggling operations and aid development.[10]

Another development that raised questions about the Saudi role in Al-Mahra was the establishment of a religious center in the city of Qashan, the third largest city in the province, similar to the center of Dar El Hadith in Dammaj, a small town in the Sa’dah Governorate of north-western Yemen, were the Salafist students left it in 2014 after clashes with the Houthis that lasted for months.

The opening of the center led to the organization of two protests by women in the province against the Salafism expansion in front of the governor’s office in the capital city of Al-Mahra.[11]

Intra-Gulf Rivalry

The increasing role of the Arab alliance in Al-Mahra raised the concerns if the Omani leadership that perceive this province historically as part of its national security.

Oman policy in Al-Mahra remain in offering humanitarian aid, building alliance with tribal actors, and offering double citizenship for Mahris to facilitate their trans-border work between Yemen and Oman.

On the other hand, the Emirati power grows day by day in Southern Yemen through their backed and well equipped elite forces‏ and their strong alliance with the Southern Transitional Council (STC).

Oman may be fearing that Al-Mahra province will be a new “Socotra” for Abu Dhabi falling totally under its influence. An important factor for UAE’s role is the geo-strategic goal for pursuing the string of strategic ports in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean (for example in Eritrea, Somaliland and Somalia).

Hadrami, Mahri coasts and Socotra Island are an essential part of the geo-strategic UAE plan. For the Saudi side, their main aim will remain to fight Houthis control over all the Yemeni territories and prevent the Iranian arms smuggling through the Mahri coasts.

Riyadh is using the military aid, double citizenship, and the humanitarian aids through Al Ghayda’s airport to keep its eyes on the situation in Al-Mahra province. It seems that the Saudi leadership are taking the concerns of the Mahri citizens into consideration and trying not to anger their “unique feature” in Southern Yemen.

Our latest article by Ramy Jabbour

For the Saudi side, their main aim will remain to fight Houthis control over all the Yemeni territories and prevent the Iranian arms smuggling through the Mahri coasts.

#Riyadh is using the military aid, double citizenship, and the humanitarian aids through Al Ghayda’s airport to keep its eyes on the situation in Al-#Mahra province.

It seems that the Saudi leadership are taking the concerns of the Mahri citizens into consideration and trying not to anger their “unique feature” in Southern #Yemen.

[1] Wim,T. (2014). INTERVIEW -East Yemen risks civil war and humanitarian crisis, says UK expert, Thomas Reuters Foundation, retrieved from:

[2] Dhahab, A. (2016). Yemen’s Warring Parties: Formations and Dynamics, Al Jazeera Centre For Studies, retrieved from:

Genesis of the word Arab; (September 4, 2009)

The ancient Akkadian Empire in current southern Iraq, around the years 2,000 BC, used the word Aribi to designate the nomads exchanging incense, myrrh, and precious stones with the urban centers in the kingdom.

People have the tendency to lump all kinds of nomadic tribes as a uniform way of rough life and scarce food varieties. There are caravansary tribes transporting goods, and there are tribes paid to secure borders and trade routes.  There are cold weather nomads and hot climate nomads. I’ll write more on that topic in another post.

The major nomadic tribes or “bedwins, bedouin” were hired by merchants and the central government of the existing Empires to safeguard the main land trade routes.

The powerful tribes of current Yemen in the southern region of the Arabic Peninsula had exclusivity in raising camels and dispatching caravans to many directions. Thus, the job of many nomadic tribes was to roam a restricted area and have their encampments close to the resting stations on the trade routes.

In period of wars, and as trade dwindled, the nomads made incursions in the nearby urban centers and looted to survive. Thus, this enmity and bad connotations attributed to the bedwins. It is in that perspective that we could comprehend the harsh description of the historian/sociology Tunisian Arabic Ibn Khaldoun (15th century) concerning the behavior and characteristics of Arabs, meaning the tribes still adopting the nomadic lifestyle.

Those nomadic tribes transported their precious cargo by land on camel caravans.  There were vast land networks for the caravans.

In the eastern shores of the Arabic Peninsula of Hadramout, by the Indian Ocean, the city of Shabwa was a major center for incense warehousing.  Incense is a white product that is collected from special trees (Boswelia sacra) that grow from Hadramawt to Zafar in actual Yemen.

Caravans start at Shabwa and travel to Ma3in along the coastal Red Sea.  From the town of Ma3in the route fork to either north or west.  The northern route passes through Maarib and then Najran toward the port of Gerrha on the Persian/Arab Gulf for the Persia and Iraq markets.

The western route passes by Timna (the ancient Capital of Yemen), continues to Yathreb (known as Medina), then Petra in Jordan and resumes the trip toward Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Roman historian Pline recounts that there were 65 halts between Timna and Gaza. Gaza was the major depot for all kinds of incense, myrrh, and precious stones.  Alexander was about to lift his siege of Gaza when a side door to the impregnable fort was opened following a minor struggles outside the rampart.  Alexander troops entered the fort and he sent all the incense that his superstitious mother needed to burn for her Gods.

Another main trade route was known as “The King route” crossing Syria to the port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. The Jewish tribes would be hired to keep this route safe from minor nomadic clans.  Later, there would be established the “Silk Road” from China to Persia to Turkey to Venice and Europe.

Another varieties of nomadic tribes from Central Asia, bordering the Persian Empires extending from Turkey to west India, would be safeguarding this major and long route.

Maritime routes from India were also used, but they ended in the eastern shores of the Arabic Peninsula or in the southern shores of Iran at the entrance of the Gulf to be transported by land.

So far, archaeology has discovered the word Arab in a text during the reign of the Assyrian King Salmanassar III. The document of 853 BC describes the King’s victory in Tell Karkar in the valley of the Orontes River (Al 3assi, Syria) against a coalition of the Kings of Damascus, Hama, Achab, Israel, and the Arab Gindibu with his one thousand camels.

Gindibu’s tribe had settled in the southern desert of Syria.  Camels were used by archers who dismounted at close range for the fight.  The Assyrian Kingdom with capital in northern Iraq (mostly Kurdish districts now) had replaced the Kingdom of Babylon and had subjugated many Arab tribes in the north of the Arabic Peninsula.

The nomadic tribes had Matriarchal structure and their priestesses (such as Zabibeh, Samsi, and many other priestesses) were called Queens by the Assyrian Empire.  The Assyrian documents prove that the Arab tribes were disseminated along the “King Road” and even in northern Syria.

The Hebrew word of “Arabah” means desert. Thus arabah meant tribes leading a nomadic life in desert-like regions.  The tribes in the southern regions of the Arabic Peninsula such as Yemen never considered themselves as Arabs.

The word Arab in Yemenite documents of the second century AC refers to people not urbanized or living off agriculture; it is the same meaning that the Prophet Muhammad used.

The Arab Nabatean tribe with capital in Petra (Jordan) controlled the “King Road” for over two centuries; they spoke an Arabic dialect but wrote in Aramaic.

In about 140 BC, the southern Jewish tribes of Palestine, led by the Maccabe, established a Kingdom that lasted over a century.  The Maccabe Kingdom during John Hyrcan conquered the southern part of Jordan and most of Palestine, including the Galilee region.  John Hyrcan converted to Judaism and by the sword all the inhabitants of his Kingdom. The people were to be circumcised and follow the Judaic rituals and laws of the Jewish sect in Judea.

That is why Jesus was not considered a “true” Jew by the Pharisee cast in Jerusalem.  Most Arab tribes in that region were converted to Judaism and many settled in Yathreb (Medina) to control the caravan route going to Gaza.

Note 1: The word Aribi, transformed into Arab, meant “the neighbors” (to the Kingdom).  In fact the nomadic tribes were spread along the borders of the Kingdoms of Akkad and later the Kingdom of Babylon.  Nowadays, each one of the Arab States has its Arab “neighbors” and it has no confidence in the friendship intention of their neighbors.

Note 2: There is a myth that I don’t care about, but is all the rage in theology and affecting religious dogmas.  It is recounted that Noah had Sem who was head of the tribe Terah; Sem (Semitic race?) had three sons: Abraham was the eldest, Nehor, and Aran (Arian race?).

Abraham had his eldest son Ismail from his “Egyptian slave” Agar; he also had Isaac from his “legitimate” wife Sarah.

The Muslims consider Abraham as their first prophet and “father” and are entitled to all the “legitimate” legacies of God; the Jews would like you to believe that legitimacy is inherited from Sarah’s legitimacy.  That is how I understand it.

Note 3: Arab does not designate any kinds of ethnicity. It is the ability to write and understand classical Arabic language or the Arab dialect that was spoken in the City of Mecca (imposed by the Prophet as the language of his religion) that forms the basis to be categorized an Arab.  Indeed, Muhammad said it that every religion has its own language and vice versa since all monotheist religions are fundamentally the same.  Moslems around the world have the Arabic Koran as common denominators but the translation of the Koran into the appropriate local languages will generate as many Islamic sects as there are major languages.

Note 4: The Aramaic language was the language of the Middle East for over 3,000 years; it was spoken by the people of all Empires in that region from current Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western part of Iran known as Ilam in ancient history or (Arabestan for late Saddam Hussein regime).  Aramaic is the root language of Arabic; the Arab nomads spoke several Arabic dialects but wrote in Aramaic as all the urban centers in the Middle East.

Note 5: The Omayyad dynasty, founded by Moawiyah, selected Damascus for the Capital of the Arab Empire and the people in the Near East spoke Aramaic as well as most of the “Arabic” tribes that settled in and around the urban centers of Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. If there is an Arab civilization then it was created during the Umayyad period since the people in that part of the Near East could comprehend and write Aramaic.  The classical Arabic language was established and spread during the Umayyad dynasty.

Note 6: For the Arab Nations (about 22 States) to exist in the future they have to mind their classical language and enrich it with various modern “Arabic” slang words and expressions to be viable among the Arab people.




March 2023

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