Saudi Arabia hopes the move, which will see a separate Saudi-backed Yemeni parliament meeting in Aden or in Saudi Arabia in early 2019, will force a moratorium on Yemen’s domestic energy development, as the Saudis hope to secure control of Yemen’s substantial oil reserves for themselves.
SANA’A, YEMEN — Hoping to secure control of Yemen’s oil-rich provinces, Saudi Arabia is attempting to circumvent Yemen’s legitimate parliament by holding its own parliament sessions outside of Yemen’s capital. Saudi Arabia hopes the move, which will see a separate Saudi-backed Yemeni parliament meeting in Aden or in Saudi Arabia in early 2019, will force a moratorium on Yemen’s domestic energy development, as the Saudis hope to secure control of Yemen’s substantial oil reserves for themselves.
A Yemeni parliamentarian, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MintPress News that Saudi Arabia gathered former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi with members of the House of Representatives currently on house arrest in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in late December. Those members of Yemen’s parliament were detained and put on house arrest after being invited on a visit to Saudi Arabia. The source added that Saudi Arabia will force the MP’s to hold a council session in Aden,away from the Yemeni parliament’s original headquarters in Sana’a, when the arrangements are completed.
According to the source, the first session is important, as a new council speaker will be elected, replacing the legitimately-elected current speaker, Yahya al-Ra’I. Al-Ra’l is still presiding over the council’s sessions in Sana’a along with deputies who refused to support the Saudi-led coalition and to give it legal cover for its occupation of Yemen. Meanwhile, parliament chief al-Ra`l, a leading figure in Saleh’s General People’s Congress party, urged all MPs “outside the country to review their positions” and invited them to retake their seats.
Yemen’s parliament, based in Sana’a, refused the Saudi plans, saying in a December 15 statement to the U.S. Congress that Yemen’s parliament and its lawmakers in Sana’a are the sole representatives of the Yemeni people according to the Yemeni constitution, and that whoever impersonates parliament is breaking the law — adding that lawmakers who joined the Saudi coalition no longer have status in Yemen’s parliament.
The statement also said that former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohammed Ali al-Shaddadi, who is slated to chair the Saudi-backed session in Aden, can no longer serve as deputy speaker of the House, as his appointment expired with that of the president, who was elected in 2016. According to Article 17 of the internal regulations of Yemen’s House of Representatives, the term of the presidency in Yemen is only two years.
A parliamentary end run to Yemeni oil?
According to high-level diplomatic sources, Saudi Arabia is seeking to obtain a mandate from its own session of Yemen’s parliament for Yemen to refrain from domestic oil drilling and exploration activities, including in Yemen’s Rub’ al Khali desert, where the current government has attempted to develop domestic oil production, and in the areas between the governorates of Al-Jawf and Marib provinces.
While Western media outlets usually refer to Yemen as a “small” energy producer, the country is sitting on substantial oil and gas reserves, which Saudi Arabia and its allies have long sought to control.
Yemen’s al-Jawf Province holds most of the country’s oil reserves and enjoys a unique status as it neighbors two oil-rich regions of Saudi Arabia and borders Yemen’s oil-rich Marib province.
Currently, Yemeni tribal leaders with Saudi nationality and allied mercenary forces are blocking domestic oil exploration in al-Jawf. Riyadh bribed the former Yemeni government to refrain from oil drilling and exploration activities in the area, hoping to secure the rights over those oil resources for itself. Now, Saudi Arabia is hoping to force Yemen’s parliament to approve a moratorium on domestic oil exploration in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is also seeking to obtain legal cover from its own session of Yemen’s parliament to build a port and construct a pipeline in the al-Mahra province of Yemen, which would allow the kingdom to transport oil directly to the Arabian Sea, bypassing the turbulent Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.
The United Arab Emirates has joined the Saudis and is seeking to obtain its own legal cover to secure a 100-year lease that would allow it to control a number of Yemen’s islands and ports, including the island of Myon where the UAE established a large military base, along with the island of Socotra, the port of Aden, and Bab-el-Mandeb.
Saudi Arabia’s move is not without precedent. In June 2000, Yemen’s parliament — under the regime of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh — was pressured into signing a land and maritime boundary treaty with the Saudis, which resulted in the current borders, vaguely set in the Treaty of Jeddah.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has been securing its objectives in Yemen through long-term agreements with allies in Yemen’s government after enabling them to take power, often through coups and other subversive means. Yemen’s history is rife with these sort of long-term agreements, including the Treaty of Taif signed in 1934 between the emerging third Saudi state and the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which handed Saudi Arabia control of Jizan, Najran, and Asir.
Constitutional, political, popular hurdles
Much controversy surrounds the constitutionality of holding of parliamentary sessions in Aden, as Yemen`s constitution provides that the headquarters of the House of Representatives is the capital Sana’a, and determines the rules for the circumstances in which the Council may hold meetings outside the capital.
Article 5 of the Yemeni constitution states:
The seat of the House of Representatives is the capital of Sana’a, and the Council may not hold its meetings outside the capital except for compelling circumstances where it is impossible to convene the Council in the capital.
The parliament, which has been convening daily, derives its survival from the constitution. The constitution does not give the president the right to dissolve parliament, except on the condition of calling for elections within 60 days. This is unlikely to occur as a result of the war in the country.
Saudi Arabia also faces another constitutional obstacle. The convening of parliament in Aden requires a basic condition: the quorum of attendance, which means that at least half of the parliament’s MPs are present. It is therefore expected that Saudi Arabia will be unable to attract the required number of lawmakers to fulfill the quorum. The Assembly of Representatives has 301 members, but Saudi Arabia has only 107 members under its influence.
Moreover, a group of separatists in southern Yemen, including the Southern Transitional Council (STC), reject the convening of Yemen’s parliament in Aden. The STC considers this move a threat to the project of “independence” of the south from the north and has said that parliament would be barred from convening in Aden or anywhere else in southern Yemen.
In January 2017, Saudi Arabia announced it would relocate Yemen’s parliament headquarters from Sana’a to the city of Aden. Aden was announced the interim capital of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition in 2015 after the war began. But no parliamentary sessions have taken place in Aden.
Countering the Saudi move
Faced with widespread protests against his administration, Yemen’s former president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and his government had resigned and escaped into Saudi Arabia in 2015. As a result, Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah movement took state matters into its own hands after the mass resignation of members of Hadi’s government led to political turmoil in the country.
On August 2016, members of Yemen’s parliament convened in the capital Sana’a with a quorum for the first time since the war began, giving constitutional legitimacy to Higher Political Council formed by Ansar Allah, the political wing of the Houthis, and the General People’s Congress (GPC) party — and removing the last semblance of any power or legitimacy of the resigned president, Hadi.
People in Yemen would later hold huge demonstrations to express their approval for the formation of the Higher Political Council and the reopening of parliament. The demonstrators flocked into the streets carrying placards voicing support for the GPC and parliament and refusing Hadi, who according to many Yemenis, had made the country vulnerable to Saudi interference,.
According to Yemeni politicians who spoke to MintPress, the meeting in Aden, should it be held, will not deal a blow to the Houthis, who are striving to counter Saudi plans in Yemen, as the Houthis enjoy legitimacy through popular support. They are also considering alternative measures in case of a Saudi move, including calling for early elections in areas they control or electing new members to replace the vacant seats of lawmakers who have died, in line with Yemen’s constitution. There are currently 29 vacant seats formerly occupied by deceased lawmakers.
Top Photo | In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, a cargo ship and an oil tanker ship sit idle while docked at the port of Hodeida, Yemen. Hani Mohammed | AP