I’d wager that not many Americans have heard of Socotra, an island 240 miles off the south coast of Yemen and 150 miles east on the horn of Africa (Somalia). One of the senators should have asked Pompeo yesterday. Last week I flew to Thailand via Doha on Qatar Air. It’s a silly, arduous and very long way to get to Thailand from L.A. Don’t do it. But on the way there I sat next to a young Kuwaiti who loves travel as much as I do. He told me about Socotra, a rarely visited place he had visited. The context was the war Saudi Arabia and its UAE allies were waging against Yemen, and to a lesser extent, against Qatar (courtesy of Jared Kushner). Qatari planes are not allowed to fly in Saudi or Emerati airspace which was extending an already very long trip as the plane was forced to fly a strange and unnatural route that took us over Iran. So what Abd al-Aziz told me was that the UAE had captured Socotra from Yemen and was exploiting it. If you want to visit the island and enjoy the famous dragon’s blood trees and white sandy beaches, you get a visa from the UAE and fly on a UAE plane (Rotana Air).
It’s now a UAE military outpost and the UAE is trying to develop economic zones in formerly protected unique environmental ecosystems. The top economic activity on the island is fishing and locals accuse the UAE of using their own fishing fleets which deplete the fish stocks and push native fishermen out of work. They claim the fish are exported on military ships and aircraft to the UAE.
Local tourism operators have protested against «the monopolisation of tourism by the UAE,» which is reportedly controlling the influx of tourists by tying plane tickets to the purchase of a package holiday including hotel, car hire and guided tour— all provided by UAE business operators.
Since the UAE controls the air and naval traffic on the island, local operators are pushed out of the market.
Local youths have reportedly been granted ID cards to emigrate and work in the UAE as hotel maids, shop assistants and companies security guards, draining the local economy of labor.
Socotra is undergoing multiple and intertwined political, ecological and economic crises.
Aden’s diminishing hold on southern Yemen has encouraged the UAE’s expansionism, and a lack of oversight on this remote island risks depleting Socotra of its natural and cultural heritage.
There have been reports that UAE plan to hold a referendum in Socotra, «offering» the island the option of joining the United Arab Emirates as its 8th member state. Such an annexation would however be a violation of international law, and the news has been met with outrage in Yemen.