Controversial shift seen in Oman’s role in Yemen

Oman considers Mahra province important, giving its residents free movement between Oman and Yemen.
Sunday 30/09/2018
A map locating Mahra province on the border with Oman.  (The Arab Weekly)
A map locating Mahra province on the border with Oman. (The Arab Weekly)

ADEN - Yemeni political sources corroborated the shift in Omani policy away from Muscat’s publicly stated neutrality to support the Houthi rebels against the internationally recognised government in Yemen and the Arab coalition supporting it.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed to signs, especially in areas of Yemen freed from Houthi rebel control, of Omani support of political and tribal figures provided the figures adopt a negative stance towards the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition.

The sources said this was evident in the appearance of former Yemeni minister Ahmed Mousaed Hussein al-Awlaki in Yemen’s Shabwa province where he has reportedly been meeting with local leaders, demanding they adopt an anti-coalition stance and holding the anti-Houthi alliance responsible for damage caused by rebels.

The sources said Awlaki, who has been based in Muscat since 2010, was in southern Yemen to recruit local political and tribal leaders, who have been relatively quiet during the conflict, to foment internal conflict in liberated provinces and hold the government and the Saudi-led coalition responsible for the declining security and economic situation in the country.

The sources stressed that Muscat was utilising former Yemeni figures in Oman to support the Houthi militias directly or indirectly.

Omani authorities host hard-line southern leader Hassan Baum, known for his strong ties to Qatar and Iran. Baum reportedly turned his residence in Salalah, Oman, into a base of operations to build an alternative to the southern movement run by his son, Fadi Baum, from Lebanon.

The sources revealed Hassan Baum has been receiving political and tribal figures from various southern provinces to undermine the Yemeni government. Recent anti-coalition demonstrations in southern provinces are the result of Baum’s initiative, the sources said.

The sources stressed that Omani-Qatari coordination regarding Yemen was at its highest level. The two countries are supporting and funding political moves against the Arab coalition and internationally recognised government, while creating unrest in liberated areas through political, financial and logistical support to the Houthis.

Elements linked to Oman are behind demonstrations in Mahra province, where protesters have demanded the withdrawal of Saudi troops, who are trying to curb arms smuggling by Houthi militias, the sources said.

Oman considers Mahra important, giving its residents free movement between Oman and Yemen. It has also begun naturalising hundreds of tribal militias in the province.

As part of Oman’s expanding actions in southern Yemen, sources said Muscat had a role in the return of the Istanbul-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Hamoud Saeed al-Makhlafi to Taiz province. Muslim Brotherhood supporters celebrated in the streets in Taiz, carrying pictures of Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.

Makhlafi reportedly received funding from Qatar to establish camps in Taiz. The Salafist Abu Abbas Brigades recently seized three military squads from Marib en route to reinforce two Muslim Brotherhood camps there that house more than 3,500 people.

Peace talks in Geneva recently failed to begin after the Houthis made a last-minute demand for an Omani aeroplane to land at Sana’a airport to fly their delegation to the Geneva talks, a demand that raised questions at the time.

Oman’s involvement in the war in Yemen has come under scrutiny before, including in 2016 when weapons smuggled through Oman allegedly meant for Houthi rebels were intercepted in Yemen.