Rageh Bakrit: Two Years of Enabling Saudi Arabia in Mahra and the Creation of a Different Kind of Governorate 
- AL-Mahra- Exclusive Monday, 01 April, 2019 - 10:37 PM
Rageh Bakrit: Two Years of Enabling Saudi Arabia in Mahra and the Creation of a Different Kind of Governorate 

[ Rageh Bakrit ]

Having been constitutionally sworn-in in Riyadh on 28 November 2017, RagehBakrit stayed there for a month during which he held several meetings with government officials, chief among whom Maeen Abdulmalik who was Minister of Public Works at the time and had accompanied Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammad Al Jaber on all his visits to the liberated governorates of Yemen under the guise of implementing reconstruction projects.


These figures also included his meeting with the President of the Republic Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, Vice President Mohsen al-Ahmar, foreign ambassadors and Yemeni officials under the pretense of presenting the projects and priorities needed by the Governorate of Mahra.


On the 1st of January 2018, Rageh Bakrit arrived in the Governorate of Mahra in a Saudi aircraft, landing at the Ghayda Airport which remained closed to civil aviation by the Saudi forces present at the airport. His arrival in Mahra heralded the start of a new era which Mahra was to experience for the first time in its history. It went from being one of the Yemeni governorates that had stayed clear of wars to a governorate witnessing an unstable security situation, functional disorder, social rifts, widely present foreign forces, and a heavy deployment of the militia that had arrived from outside its territories.


His first meetings after returning to take up his functions were with the press in the governorate, the officials of the National Security Service, the administration of the Central Organization for Control and Auditing and several government agencies. It was a sign that made people optimistic about the restoration of state institutions and the emergence of a renaissance in the development of the governorate. But months later, Bakrit neglected all those government agencies and held on to the press corps, which recently culminated in the inauguration of ALMAHRAH TV which constitutes the primary media outlet for promoting the Governor, improving the image of the Saudi forces in Mahra and tarnishing the image of Saudi Arabia’s opponents.


In a statement to the editor, a local official said: “When Rageh was appointed by a Presidential decision, the people of Mahra cheered the decision and saw in it a good omen. Six months after the appointment, people became aware of an unsound and illegal behavior in Mahra, perpetrated by the Governor. This led to the launch of the public movement against such behaviors.”


Creation of the Militia


Days into assuming his office as Governor of Mahra, Bakrit took several steps and decisions that paved the way for him in the governorate, and for the Saudi forces behind him who made him a front for passing their projects and agenda in Mahra.


The first such step was to create a multitude of militias in coordination with the Saudis, from which they created a security force designated the Presidential Protection Forces or the Rapid Intervention Forces. This force reports directly to Governor Bakrit and is locally known, within Mahra, as the “masked men” for wearing masks over their faces when they go out into the streets. The force is not subject to any official supervision from the Ministry of Defense or Ministry of the Interior in the legitimate Yemeni government.


These forces are headed by a man called Waddah al-Kaladiwho hails from the region of Yafa in the Governorate of Lahij. They arrived in Mahra on the day following the arrival of Bakrit in the governorate from Riyadh. Headquarters were allocated for them at the Ghayda Airport. They constitute the Governor’s right hand in dealing with those he sees as his opponents inside Mahra. The forces handled several security operations for the Governor, like the infamous Anfaq [tunnels checkpoint]incident, and other similar incidents in the city of Ghayda which will be addressed in dedicated exposés later.


In a statement to the editor of Al-Mawqea Post, a security official described these forces simply as a gang belonging to the Governor who recruited them under the cover of legitimacy and the uniform of the Coalition. The majority of the members are not regular soldiers. Indeed, some have criminal records while others joined out of greed for the paycheck, the official said. “We believe that their handling security missions in the governorate is illegitimate. They have no capacity and their creation is illegitimate,” he added.


Rageh’sexercising of his functions as Governor of Mahra was the start of the official dealings and coordination between him – as the chief official of the local authority – and the Saudi forces on creating military boot-camps and sites which were eight in number at first, facilitated by the Security Committee of the governorate which tries, as much as possible, to resist the Saudi desire for military expansion. But Saudi pressures on the committee seem to grow, especially with the facilities offered by the Governor.


During his tenure as Governor of Mahra the presence of the Saudi forces at the Ghayda airport intensified and transformed into a military barracks, a prison for detaining opponents and a headquarter for managing military operations in Mahra by the Saudi forces. This was revealed in the report of the Human Rights Office. Saudi Arabia was forced, as a result, to send government officials to cover up the picture exposed by the report. Among the visits, which coincided by the editor’s presence in Mahra, was a visit by the Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments and Guidance Muhammad AydhaShabiba, and a visit by the Minister of TransportSaleh al-Jubwani who inspected the Ghayda Airport, the Mahra crossings (Sarfayt and Shahan) and Nashtoun port and augured the resumption of civil flights to the airport. And they did resume later, but under the shadow of the management of the Saudi forces which control the identity of travelers from and to Mahra.


A security official believes that Governor Bakrit marginalized the security apparatus, created militia forces that report to him as an alternative to that apparatus, that he marginalized the local authority, worked alone, and in the first six months after his arrival in Mahra did not hold a single meeting with the Security Committee.


Mass Dismissals


Bakrit removed many of the leaders in the governorate. He used two methods in doing so, in coordination with Saudi Arabia: reward and punishment. Rewards consisted of donations, gifts and cars. Punishment consisted of silencing free local voices in the governorate and ousting from their offices those he believed will stand up to him or criticize his approach and policy.


According to multiple figures interviewed by the editor, Governor Bakrit gradually ousted a number of government leaders who worked in several fields. He brought in figures who had never exercised any functions before, were incompatible with the official posts assigned to them and lacked experience. They were appointed instead of those government leaders he had dismissed.


The dismissals were a way to introduce himself to the community in Mahra after being appointed, and to impose his standing and prepare a new environment in line with his inclinations and the Saudi agenda.


The Governor announced on his Facebook page on 31 January 2018, i.e. one month after he arrived in the governorate following his appointment, what he described as a series of upcoming changes under the employee rotation plan to inject state institutions with new, young and qualified blood, and to nominate previous cadres to senior positions as tribute to their long service, as he claimed.


That same day, he issued decisions tasking fifteen individuals as general managers, deputy general managers, office directors and rotation employees in some of the governorate’s utilities.


The editor obtained a list of the names of government figures dismissed by Bakrit and the names of the successors who replaced them. The findings of the inquiry show that those dismissals targeted officials who supported the sit-ins carried out by the people of the governorate and were against Saudi presence. They were also aimed to buy the loyalty of other figures, especially those working in the Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council headed by Sultan Afrar, leader of the people’s opposition to Saudi Arabia. These included Saleh Alyan, member of the General Council’s Administrative Board, who was later appointed as Deputy Governor; and the governorate’s security chief Colonel Mufti SuheilNahyanSammoudah who was appointed Security Director and used to be a member of the General Council’s General Secretariat.


Bakrit had met with the majority of the dismissed directors of directorates and government administrations as soon as he arrived from Riyadh, and had discussed with them the obstacles in their tasks and the plans they are working on. Then they were replaced by others.


Through these dismissals, Rageh promoted many of his relatives to hold offices in several government positions, especially key posts. They include: the appointment of Salem Bakrit as Director of the Sarfayt Customs in early March 2018, and the appointment of Khadija Muhammad Bakrit as Assistant Undersecretary for Women’s Affairs.


He also strove to assign his old friends to several government posts, including the appointment of Muhsin Ali Muhammad Balahaf – with whom he shared business relations which continue to be shrouded in mystery to this day – as director of the Oil Corporation’s governorate branch.


Some of these decisions led to the promotion of figures holding the Saudi nationality and working for the Saudi forces present in the governorate, notably Saleh Alyan – a Saudi national and member of the General Council’s Administrative Board – as Deputy Governor.


Local officials, whose opinions the editor sought, noted that the majority of those appointed are not qualified to hold the position assigned to them, that their government agencies were not consulted and they were not appointment on merit. The appointments also came after former Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr’s issued a decision preventing hiring.


The dismissals he undertook later increased the number of his opponents in the governorate and revealed the nature of the inclinations he was working on and which served Saudi interests. These were attended by his total neglect of security agencies such as General, Political and National Security, against his fostering of a special militia to serve, guard and obey him.


Among the decisions issued by Bakrit post-appointment was the annulment of previously issued decisions to appoint advisors to the Governor and suspending all their rights and privileges. Some saw this decision as a good omen. But the Governor issued a series of other decisions, serving himselfand his circle, regardless of legal considerations.


Those decisions also created a state of chaos the like of which Mahra had never seen. During Bakrit’s tenure of almost two years, many local officials were ousted, especially deputy governors, security agents and civil servants, who were all dismissed in the service of the Saudi camp. Most notable among them were the dismissals of Brigadier General Ali Salem al-Hureizi from his office as Deputy Governor of Mahra for Desert Affairs and of Colonel Qahtan the former Security Director by virtue of presidential decisions issued on 14 July, following Saudi pressures, after Al-Hureizi rejected the practices of the Saudi forces and despite the fact that Qahtan had been officially commissioned by the President of the Republic to resolve the problem between the protesters and the Saudis.


Among the key dismissed figures are: Deputy Governor Said Saadan who led the anti-Salafist demonstrations in QishnDistrict and called for preventing the opening of their religious center there, after their arrival in Mahrahad been smoothed by Governor Bakrit and the Saudi forces. His position was one of the reasons for his resignation and replacing him with a Saudi national.


Also, there was the decision to dismiss Ali Afrar, Director of the Human Rights Office, following the report he published, which revealed the Saudi forces’ practices in Mahra. Deputy Governor BadrKalashat was later pressured and Governor Bakrit announced he was suspended from work and under investigation.


One of the main consequences of Bakrit’s appointment at the helm of the governorate was his neglect of the members of the security agencies, including Political Security and National Security, whose role he deactivated. He did not consult them in the decisions he issued or about the security movementscarried out by his militia.


The role of the local council as an executive and regulatory authority was also eclipsed. The councils were divested of their tasks. Visibility was primarily given to the figure of the Governor, followed by the Deputy Governor for Technical Affairs Salem al-Abawi whose name frequently appears in the Governor’s announced activities on his official page or through the governorate’s Media Center.


Financial Corruption


When you listen to the different perspectives in Mahra about the performance of Governor Bakrit, the only constant among those who differ with the Governor’s performance or oppose him is the spending he practices, through the donations, grants and contributions he orders and disburses to many figures, to buy some of their loyalty or silence others.


The people there talk about funds distributed by the thousands of Saudi riyals, most of which goes to buying cars and financial assistance, in a blatant draining of the governorate’s resources and its monetary reserve. The editor obtained financial statements showing the purchase of cars through local dealers, including the sums disbursed for the dealers and the sums that will be settled later.


The statements were presented to a car importer whose name appeared on the document, and he confirmed its validity, noting that it was but a fraction of the total spent at the instruction of the Governor since he assumed his functions in the governorate.


We tried to reach official figures in the governorate for further inquiry into the matter, but the Governor had transferred the power to disburse the funds he orders from the governorate’s Finance Office as the agency in charge to the Oil Corporation in the governorate which is headed by a figure appointed by the Governor, who is related to him by marriage and used to be his former business partner. The company now handles the disbursement of funds after creating a special account on behalf of the governorate at the Central Bank of Yemen’s Mahra branch, under the supervision of the Oil Corporation.


Financial sources even stated to the editor that the sums spent in such a manner by the Governor are from the governorate’s revenues generated from the crossings and ports, and are unrelated to the sums spent by Saudi Arabia too on their sympathizers in the governorate, conducted through other, different mechanisms and which the Saudi camp disburses directly.


The aspects of extravagant spending are also revealed in the Governor’s statements in local media outlets affiliated with him. They are aspects unconnected to the core of his functions and his responsibilities. On 17 July 2018, he stated that the total spent on Mahra students pursuing university education outside Mahra between January-June was 174,452,464 riyals, including the rent of 34 residential apartments for Mahra students in Aden University and Hadramaut University.


Previously, he stated on 13 April 2018 that he had instructed an increase in student living allowances in and outside Mahra to the amount of 1500 USD disbursed each term per student hailing from Mahra and studying in Europe, China and America, 750 USD each term per student in India and Malaysia, and 500 USD each term per student from the governorate studying in Arab countries.


Mahra student accommodations were to be allocated within the Republic. An allowance of 25,000 Yemeni riyals was disbursed each term per student outside the governorate. A sum of 1000 USD was allocated per student defending a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation.


Before the Saudi’s arrival in Mahra, all of Governor Bakrit’s tweets spoke of his instructions for implementing development and service projects in several fields in the governorate, while revealing their costs, regardless of whether that was accomplished on the ground or not. But these tweets ended completely with the arrival of the Saudis to Mahra, when the allowances and donations granted by the Governor increased while the Saudi camp headed the development projects he was carrying out at the expense of the Saudi Reconstruction Program.


Speaking of the Saudi Reconstruction Program, and after compiling a massive database of the projects that Governor Bakrit announced were being implemented at the expense of the local authority and those which wereannounced by the Saudi Reconstruction Program, a large overlap appeared between the two camps’ projects. Projects implemented by the local authority or other international bodies were contracted to the Reconstruction Program. The most blatant example was the GhaydaGarden project which was implemented at the expense of the local authority and when the project was inaugurated the local authority announced that the Saudi Reconstruction Program was the garden project funder. This will be discussed in greater detail in a separate exposé.


A security official who spoke to the editor reported that Governor Bakrit “engaged in several violations, starting with financial corruption, and the millions he donates, on to violating the Local Authority Law and Civil Service Law. We believe that the legitimate government is aware of the violations he is perpetrating. It would be an even greater tragedy if they aren’t aware. If they know and are keeping silent then they are partners in conspiring against the governorate.”


Recruiting the Tribes


The appointment of Bakrit as Governor of Mahrain parallel with the presence of the Saudi forces in the governorate was a chance to reignite contact with the elders of the tribes in the different districts of the governorate which is divided into tribes of varying loyalty to Saudi Arabia, others that reject their presence and a third camp that remains silent.


The first actions of the Saudis among the tribes was to give them a share of the recruitment process, by allocating a set of recruitment quotas for each tribe based on its weight, power and presence. One tribe was given 1500 soldiers, each collecting 1500 Saudi riyals per month. The shares varied from one tribe to another. The elders of those tribes received those huge sums every month, in exchange for carrying out some tasks such as guarding the military sites in the areas of their presence and facilitating the creation of the military boot-camps and barracks that the Saudis wished to create.


It went further though. Different types of weapons were distributed to those tribes, some of whose elders hold the Saudi nationality and were among the key instruments that helped in the Saudi forces’ arrival and welcomed them when they first appeared in Mahra.


The editor’s examination of the meetings held by Governor Bakrit with the different entities and figures since his appointment revealed that the highest number of his official meetings were with the elders of the tribes in Mahra, whether at the level of the elders of each district separately or at the level of each tribe per se.


During each meeting with the tribal elders, Bakrit spoke about Saudi Arabia and the role it plays inside Mahra, about future development in Mahra implemented by Saudi Arabia through the Reconstruction Program, and about the imperative of closing ranks in the governorate in support of the Arab Coalition. Those meetings became an opportunity to promote and generate loyalty for Saudi Arabia by luring those elders with recruitment and the implementation of different development projects.


Vague Details


Many incidents are still vague in their details, in connection with the Governor of MahraRagehBakrit. Most important among these is the death of one of his bodyguards in a hotel, not to mention that one of his bodyguards was thrown out of a hotel window by anonymous parties. We tried to unravel the treads of these details as much as possible but our attempts failed for several reasons.


Spying on Opponents


On February 3rd, 2018, Bakrit tweeted: “Mahra security and peace are a red line. Attempts to mar its reputation with false news and falsified data behind fake identities will not be disregarded. We are in the process of activating an electronic unit to identify and prosecute them in accordance with the law.”


After that date, Facebook and Twitter accounts of anti-Saudi activists and journalists started being hacked, notably: activist and journalist Ahmad Balahaf; member of the sit-in committee andVice President of the General Council’s Youth DirectorateSaid Afri; activist and journalist Yaser al-Jadhi, and others, not to mention the incidents experienced by the editor while in the Governorate of Mahra when his Facebook account was hacked more than four times.


Sources close to the Governor report his statement about the existence of an electronic unit in Ghayda Airport that will detect anyone opposed to the Coalition, based on which the necessary action will be taken.


Later, local sources spoke about observing the Saudi forces, early last February, installing special devices mounted on poles (not identified) near the telecommunications broadcasting towers. A similar occurrence was noted near the village of Damqawt in theHawf District, on the border with Oman, following the growing popular rejection of Saudi Arabia in the district.


A telecommunications tower was installed on the coast of the SayhutDistrict where Saudi forces are heavily present. The nature of the tower which appears in the photo is yet unidentified.


The cases of spying and surveillance were not limited, under the tenure of Governor Bakrit and the Saudi forces in Mahra, to this domain alone. Local governorate figures spoke of thermal cameras to monitor and detect any figures approaching the fences of the Ghayda Airport. Eye-witnesses assured the editor that the airport’s security forces arrested individuals on the charge of photography, despite the distance separating the airport fence and the location of the Saudi forces within.


Compromising Sovereignty


Speaking to the editor of Al-Mawqea Post, one of the leading elders in Mahra said that Bakrit was not there to exercise the recognized functions of a governor. His mission is closer to that of a contractor. “Saudi Arabia designed a plan for Mahra by which they will take over the airports and crossings and marginalize the local and security authorities – issues that the UAE had failed to accomplish before,” he added.


He also stated: Saudi Arabia promised Bakrit two two-story villas in Riyadh and 10 million Saudi riyals, in addition to being appointed by the Yemeni government, under pressure, as ambassador to any European country in exchange for carrying out this plan. He responded by demanding that two of the biggest Mahra figures be taken to Riyadh – former Deputy Governor sheikh Ali al-Hureizi and former Security Director, Major General Qahtan.


He added: Bakrit is a contractor for Saudi Arabia to destroy the legitimate institutions and replace them with colonial institutions. Saudi Arabia does not deal with him as a governor, but rather as a person in charge of implementing the plan designed by Saudi Arabia for Mahra. That is why we do not consider him a governor.


According to this tribal figure, RagehBakrit failed to pass the plot as proposed by Saudi Arabia. He has achieved it in part, but he has perpetrated crimes in the governorate.


A security official who spoke on condition of anonymity commented to the editor that Governor Bakrit is currently operating as governor, secretary general, deputy, administrative board, security committee and intelligence. “And still he doesn’t supply accurate or reliable information to the Saudis. For instance, Governor Bakrit was behind the attack on the fishermen in Al-Faydami by the Saudi forces who claimed there were drugs concealed in their fishing gear. The Security Committee and the local authority were not informed of the details of the incident until after it was reported by the fishermen the next day,” he added.


This official diagnosed the situation in Mahra as having the current Saudi commander in Mahra controlling everything. Before him, there was a Saudi officer called Abou Khaled, and before that another Saudi officer called Abou Ali al-Sharif. Each of the officers held all the powers and authorities, and so the governor became the enforcer of those officers’ instructions.


“At the moment, there are no institutions operating in Mahra. There has been no institutional activity since the Saudis arrived. This rotten situation serves them. It serves their remaining in and controlling the governorate. If the institutions are restored and assume their full part, it will weaken the chances of their staying on. It won’t give them what they want. This confirms that they are occupiers. Disrupting institutional operation in a state or region is one of the goals of occupiers,” he continued.


Another local official who spoke to the editor on condition of anonymity said that the Governor, the local authority and the current security leaders in Mahra cannot do anything in the governorate without orders and authorization from the Saudis who run the governorate and control everything. “They can’t even release an insane prisoner, how then a sane one,” he added, mockingly.


Future Outlooks


Based on the findings of this exposé, Bakrit has offered Saudi Arabi much of what it has sought to accomplish on the ground. But the ongoing popular protests in Mahra have weakened the Governor and hemmed in his movements. The reward and punishment attempts have not succeeded in completing the overarching project that Saudi Arabia is striving to carry out in Mahra.


Private sources told the editor that the relationship between Bakrit and President Hadi was derailed because of what he gave to the Saudis in Mahra. But he emphasizes that it is impossible for Saudi Arabia to dispense with him unless they find a figure they have a direct tie to and will play the part that Rageh is performing in Mahra, or if Saudi Arabia declares its full withdrawal from Mahra – which is unlikely, he claims.


It is clear that the Saudi forces in Mahra, prior to Bakrit’s appointment, found themselves forced to negotiate with their opponents because they had failed to achieve any breakthrough in subduing them. The negotiation consisted of two mileposts. First, when these forces signed a document with the protesters including their specific demands, and the agreement was also signed by the local authority. The second was when a presidential security committee visited Mahra in mid-March this year and met with the two camps to find comprehensive solutions to calm the situation in Mahra.


The committee that visited Mahra has not issued anything up to the writing of this exposé. But it is expected, based on general observations, that the visit will lead to sacrificing Governor Bakrit and dismissing him from office as a satisfactory compromise for everyone.




In the first and second exposé on the performance of Governor Bakrit, we tried to obtain explanations from him but those efforts were unfruitful. We could not reach the Governor or his office for comment on the two exposés prior to publication. Attempts are still ongoing. The response will be posted whenavailable.


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