In the face of adversity, the words are meant to be optimistic. “The military situation has improved compared to the last few weeks. Marib has lost none of his fighting and military capacities. We hope to regain lost ground ”, insists Sultan Al-Arada, the governor of the Yemeni province.
In the process of being surrounded, regularly targeted by ballistic missile and drone fire, the city of Marib had never found itself in such a precarious position in seven years of war. Facing the Houthi rebels, a group of Shiite origin from the north of the country and supported by Iran, the defenders are assembling a coalition of tribes, what remains of the country’s former army and forces close to the Brotherhood of the Muslim Brotherhood. At their head, a man who has become a national personality. An exhibition that would undoubtedly have gone well a few years ago.
At 61, Sultan Al-Arada is a figure of one of the region’s most powerful tribes, the Abida, who cultivate family and historical ties with Saudi Arabia. He rules this tribal and deprived region which has so far enjoyed relative prosperity in seven years of conflict. In the eye of the storm, the city lived more or less in peace. Security was ensured there when the state disappeared and the country fragmented. But that was before the belligerents designated it as the mother of all battles and the fronts came closer: the fault of its strategic geographical position and its subsoil, rich in gas.
Marib marks the old border between the two Yemen, before the reunification of 1990. It is the last stronghold in the region of forces loyal to the government, recognized by the international community, called “legitimate” government. He is now supported at arm’s length by Saudi Arabia, which in 2014 took the head of an Arab coalition to prevent the rebels’ territorial gains.
“After the Houthi militias invaded the governorates in 2014, from Saada to Sanaa, then to Taiz and Aden, they moved towards Marib. We have resisted and continue to resist this hour. We are attached to state institutions, to legality ”, assures Sultan Al-Arada who, faithful to the president recognized by the international community, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, denounces a “Foreign aggression” orchestrated by Iran. The Houthi camp qualifies the intervention of neighboring Arab countries as“Occupation”.
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