Saudi-Yemeni Border: A Line in the Sand
By: Jomana Farhat
Published Friday, June 15, 2012
The recent revelation that hundreds of Yemeni officials and notables have been in the pay of the Saudis for decades casts doubt on a 2000 border agreement between the two countries in which Yemen conceded three provinces to its northern neighbor.
A few days ago, the Yemeni newspaper Al-Shareh revealed the names of high ranking Yemeni state officials and tribal sheikhs who have been receiving monthly salaries from Saudi Arabia.
Most Yemenis are aware that without this money, the Saudis would not have been able to secure the loyalty of Yemeni officials and influential figures to carry out Riyadh’s interests.
The clearest result of this bribery for many Yemenis was the signing of the Jeddah border agreement in 2000, whereby Yemen eventually conceded the decades-long disputed provinces of Asir, Najran, and Jizan.
In this context, a group of Yemeni activists and rights defenders recently announced the creation of the Asir Movement to reclaim these regions.
It describes itself as a “civil popular” movement. Its goals, according to its “initial” founding statement are “to create internal Yemeni awareness and establish and deepen the importance of a national popular awareness of its rights and territories under Saudi occupation.” Preparations are underway to establish a popular and civil protest movement against the Taif and Jeddah border agreements.
The movement stressed the importance of “unifying the internal Yemeni front through rejecting Saudi control over Yemeni decision-making processes and indicting public figures who hold their hands out to Saudi money.”
This is in addition to the “importance of taking legal action against them for their involvement and assistance in abdicating Yemen’s historical right to its territories – occupied by our usurping neighbor – and its wealth, land, and natural resources.”
But the movement appeared at a time when Yemen is being transformed into a regional bargaining chip. This led to various critical positions against the movement, leading some people to raise doubts about its timing and aims.
The director of Sabaa Center for Strategic Studies Ahmed Seif al-Mosaabi told Al-Akhbar that the demands cannot be fulfilled, therefore placing the movement in the context of a broader regional dispute.
He maintained that the border was agreed upon in the framework of international agreements and copies were sent to the United Nations. “The movement does not aim for Yemen’s best interest. It wants to pull the Saudis into secondary battles,” he said.
Mosaabi accused Iran of supporting and financing the movement, before declaring that it does not have any chance of success.
Nevertheless, the movement’s spokesperson Abdul Rahman al-Ashwal rejected such accusations. He told Al-Akhbar that the movement “does not have any parties supporting it, Yemeni or non-Yemeni, and we will never seek such support.”
He said that the movement will hold “several consultative meetings with Arab and Yemeni lawyers and experts to come up with an in-depth study and project proposal for a roadmap to restore Yemeni territories. It is a 100 percent patriotic project.”
An informed Yemeni source, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he preferred to discuss the legitimate demands and disregard the criticisms against the movement. Although he admitted that the goals of the movement could intersect with other internal and even external interests.
The source pointed out that the discussion revolved around Yemeni legitimate rights that have been appropriated with official collaboration which legislated the process. He explains that the border dispute is decades old.
During the signing of the Taif border agreement in 1934, it was considered a “pact of Islamic friendship and Arab brotherhood between the Kingdom of Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
It did not aim for a final demarcation of the borders between the two countries, although its fourth article delineates the borderline dividing the two countries.
The Yemeni source added that the situation remained the same after 1934, although the text of the treaty stipulated that it should be renewed every 20 years.
When President Ibrahim al-Hamdi took power in 1974, discussion returned about the need to settle the border dispute between Yemen and Saudi. The source indicated that during Hamdi’s visit to the Saudi region of Taif during his 3-year term in office, the border issue was introduced.
“I am still in Yemeni territory. If you wish to discuss the issue, we can start with this point,” Hamdi is said to have replied. The issue was later forgotten following his assassination. Some say the Saudis were responsible and had supported many Yemeni politicians who wanted to neutralize him, due to the intersection of local and foreign interests that saw him as a threat.
During the term of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the source explains that there was some give and take on the border issue, before the two countries signed the Jeddah border treaty in 2000. The treaty gave the Saudis total control over the Asir, Najran, and Jizan provinces, in addition to almost a million square kilometers of Yemen’s territories.
He said many promises were made at the time, including admitting Yemen into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), receiving Yemeni workers, and reinforcing the collapsing economy. Although people welcomed the promises wholeheartedly and criticism was rare, they were never fulfilled.
Nevertheless, the source maintains, territorial rights do not have a statute of limitation. Although he admits that those who negotiated and signed the agreement had been authorized by the constitution, he mentions several leads for appealing the case to the competent authorities to nullify the agreement.
He spoke about a flaw in the foundations of the treaty, especially on the issues of delegation and consent, indicating that the focus will be on revoking the authority of the signatory. This is based on bribes that Saleh and other signatories received from the Saudis in return for the sale of Yemeni territories, and thus they betrayed their authority.
He added that the other party to the treaty should also bear responsibility, especially since it was an accomplice to the fraud.
Those who rally behind the cause, he said, know that they will need to take their time in preparing the case file and other documents, in addition to arranging the right atmosphere for taking the case to the authorized courts.
He does not deny that there will be several challenges to the activists, especially the willingness of the political class in Yemen to demand the return of these provinces through international institutions.
It will not be long until this class – including those who were on the side of the revolution while receiving money from the Saudis – is burned politically. Time will show the magnitude of the fraud in signing the Jeddah treaty.
On the other hand, Mohsen Abdullah Khashaa al-Awlaki, an official of the military committee charged with monitoring and measuring border problems, could not confirm to Al-Akhbar that such fraud did happen.
The committee’s mission focused on preparing the ground for specialized technical teams to do their jobs. He indicated that the issue cannot be solved in a day. It took around 10 years until it was completed by a German company. He said he believes that the treaty is realistic, and saved the two countries from conflict and catastrophes.
There seems to be a gaping split in Yemeni society concerning the Asir Movement and its goals, even on Yemen’s usurped rights. This will lead it into being pulled into regional and local quarrels. But this is not the only obstacle it will face.
On the other side of the border, Saudi Arabia is not expected to show any leniency or give up any territory, especially since the region is rich in oil.
It will not hesitate, at any given time, to use its network of allies it developed over decades inside Yemen to abort any attempt to unite the country over this cause. That is if the Saudis feel that it is a serious issue.
However, there are no indicators up till now that the Saudis feel threatened. Several Saudis figures who are close to the regime declined to comment on the movement’s demands.
They concurred that the issue does not even deserve discussion. Others spoke about the “hazy dreams” of “suspicious Yemeni sides.”
In the Name of Abdel Nasser
When speaking about their rights to the provinces of Najran and Jizan, in particular, Yemenis reminisce about the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser at the height of the political conflict between Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
During the 1962 revolution in Yemen, Riyadh had supported the royalists against the Cairo-backed republicans.
In his speech, Abdel Nasser asked if “any power can attack the Yemeni people,” stressing that “the Yemeni revolution is our revolution, and the revolution of all the Arabs.”
Abdel Nasser added: “We could simply isolate Saudi from Yemen completely by taking Jizan and Najran. The Jizan province belongs to Yemen and was usurped by the Saudis in an invasion in 1930.”
“The Yemenis have the right to demand [the return] of Jizan and Najran. We will be fighting in this war – we Egyptians alongside the Yemenis...Therefore no power can attack the Yemeni people’s revolution,” he insisted.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.