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Abubakr al-Shamahi

UAE mourns losses in Yemen

The soldiers have been officially remembered as 'martyrs' in the UAE [AFP].

Date of publication: 14 September, 2015

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The death of 53 Emirati soldiers this month in the Yemen war, the heaviest since the formation of the UAE in 1971, has deeply affected the Gulf nation.

In the UAE press and official statements, talk of martyrs  is everywhere.

53 Emirati soldiers have died during operations in Yemen this month, including 52 in a Houthi rocket attack that targeted a Saudi-led coalition barracks in the country's Marib province, where United Arab Emirates forces are massing, along with coalition and Yemeni soldiers, in a bid to retake Yemen's capital Sanaa from the Houthis.

The losses were the heaviest the UAE has suffered in its history, owing to its relatively young age as a country (the UAE was formed in 1971), and its limited participation in military conflicts.

The unprecedented nature of the losses was highlighted by the fact that, in the week since the rocket attack, the country's authorities have announced the naming of a 'Martyrs' Street', the construction of monuments and the renaming of squares to honour the country's deceased, and even the inauguration of a 'Martyrs' Day'.

This all came along with a national three-day mourning period, in which high-ranking Emirati royals visited the families of the deceased soldiers and paid their respects, with official photographers sent in tow.

For such a young country, the UAE has a strong sense of national identity, and the conflict in Yemen, and the country's fallen soldiers, has given the state the opportunity to cement this.

The deaths of the soldiers are regarded in the official, and unofficial, press as sacrifices for the nation and its security, however true that may be.

Gulf News, based in Dubai, reflected this in its editorial on the death of the soldiers in the September 4 rocket attack.

“Yes, the deaths of these brave officers and men represent a loss to this nation,” the newspaper proclaimed. “But the sacrifice of these brave soldiers will never be forgotten by this nation either. And the best way to ensure that the loss of these men does not go in vain is to ensure that the UAE accomplishes its mission in Yemen.”

Yet the editorial also appeared to be preparing its readers for more potential losses, indicating that the battle for Sanaa will be tough.

The battle for Sanaa has yet to begin in earnest. And when it does, there will be no let-up until Yemen is free, safe and stable. We owe that much to our 45 heroes.”

The prospect of unrest in the UAE at the country's losses is something that has seized upon with glee by its foes.

The Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency carried a report on September 8 stating that protesters had taken to the streets in Abu Dhabi, and that the reason why they strangely appeared to be the only outlet reporting the protests was “severe censorship”.

The UAE media has carried its own anti-Iranian rhetoric, and there have been statements by UAE officials to this effect as well.

“Tehran should reconsider its policies towards the region, acknowledge the policy of good neighbourliness and conform to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other countries,” the UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, said.

Iran is allied to the Houthis and accused by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition of backing the group. The UAE has also had a long-standing territorial dispute with Iran over three islands in the Gulf.

The more aggressive rhetoric has been echoed by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Muhammed bin Zayed al-Maktoum, who, while visiting the relatives of the deceased soldiers, was filmed vowing to raise the Emirati flag over the historic Marib Dam in Yemen, where the Maktoum family trace their lineage to.

Muhammed bin Zayed also told local press that the UAE would “purge Yemen of the scum”, in reference to the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's ex-president who is allied to the Houthis.

“Our revenge shall not take long,” he added. 

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