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Political challenges against the Council of Islamic Courts

Should the Council leadership politically survive and thus stabilize the failed state (Somalia)?

By Idris Aden Ali (Abu Suhaib)


This article examines the political power conflicts, and the unexpected rises of the Council of Islamic Courts in Somali politics.  As I also focus by analyzing the possible political and military challenges that might face the Council of Islamic Courts domestically, regionally and internationally. In short, the political turmoil in the country had so far lasted more than fifteen years and seems to remain very much the same for the years to come. Yet, during these years the political power conflicts in the country were just between and among the Warlords and tribes.  As a result, the country has become one of the worst failed states in our modern political history. Therefore, this article addresses; whether the unprecedented rise of Council of Islamic Courts changes the status quo of the political power conflicts or whether they would be a new face of ideological conflicts. This is what this article explains in depth...



Most intellectuals and political scientists are intuitively aware of the fact that Somali political nature is messy, complex and hard to be comprehended by outsiders as well as insiders. Generally, the term ‘government’ itself and its ‘Institutions’ are not fully understood by many tribal leaders, warlords and many Somalis as well. Naturally, the term government specifies the adopted institutions in a country through which a country and its people are governed by elected officials alone but not entire tribes’ members (Collier, p24)1. Likewise, the Warlords and their supporters (tribes) had failed throughout these years to recognize the importance of such institutions in the country and instead chose to engage endless warfare, lawlessness, and anarchy in their own country and the very people that they might govern one day.  


It may be the case that, many Somalis now inside and outside the county hope and clearly expressed both through local and international media that the unprecedented rises of the Council of Islamic Courts would be the final opportunity for the failed state to revive and thus might change the status quo of warlordism, anarchism and tribalism in the country and hopefully they might stabilize the country. In spite of, the public support, yet the political stands of the Union of Islamic Courts and the possible challenges that might face them would definitely be the political determinants of the political stabilities or a new era of ideological conflicts in the country.


In short, the Council of Islamic Courts had internal, regional and international challenges and to overcome such challenges require political concessions, knowledge of political bargaining and finally proper mechanisms to deal with the international communities, regional countries and the Transitional Federal Government.


Therefore, before I reach a conclusion, let me  address the topic question of this article, and explain first the possible challenges that the Council of Islamic Courts encounters internationally, regionally and domestically, and whether the Council is capable of dealing these challenges and leads the country into political stabilities or otherwise.


Firstly: Internal Challenges:

The Council of Islamic Courts who themselves rise to the power through military force, after they have defeated the powerful warlords in Muqdisho the capital, would definitely encounters right now internal challenges from the Somali political structure, which is based on tribal allegiance rather than ideological beliefs. Yet, the Council leaders should have to decide in first place how to deal the very complicated internal challenges that they might face, which can be summarized as follows;


Firstly, the defeated warlords whose presences in the country still pose possible threat to their very existences.  Secondly, the Transitional Federal Government, which theoretically based on the tribal political power sharing. Even though, it’s weak but enjoys international recognition from the United Nations and regional countries as well. Thirdly, Somaliland’s secessionist.


Naturally, many Somalians may ask why their civil strife lasted all these years. Yet, no solution had been reached to resolve the disputes. The Political Scientist Fearon (1995b) had attributed two possible reasons that make the civil wars and ideological wars in the world more complex and hard to be resolved peacefully like the civil war in Somalia. Therefore, allow me to explain further how these two causes had directly affected Somali polity and thus prolonged the civil conflicts that lasted for almost sixteen years and remains to be so for years to come. Therefore, the two possible reasons are; firstly, commitment problems, and secondly, indivisibility problems. (2)

Let me explain how these two political theories relate to Somalia polity.


1) - Commitment Problems:

What politicians mean this? Commitment problem exactly means when two functions or sides of the conflict  come to the negotiation table to strike down a dealt to finalize or otherwise bring to an end the disputes, the other side assumes and regards that his counterpart would not fulfil the agreement and therefore breaks down the deal even though both sides have signed an agreements. As a result, the wars and conflicts continue to be so, as the case of Somalian conferences show us for almost last sixteen years, many reconciliation conferences were held, transitional governments were formed in different parties of the region but conflicts were not resolved and the disputes remain very much the same.


For instance, the last reconciliation conference held in Kenya, after two years of intensive negotiation between rival warlords and tribes, with the support of international community, regional countries, and most warlords had produced not only very weak government but also very controversial and unpopular president in the power. For this reason, agreements were broken down by some warlords and government and its parliament were denied access to the capital. Meantime, the weak governmental institutions were also in crisis for months between the speaker and his supporters on the one hand and the president and prime minister on the other hand.

Sh. Sharif Ahmed & Sh. Hassan Dahir Aweys

As the data show, if this conference and similar conferences proves some thing, it clearly proves the presences of commitment problems throughout these years in the conflicts. However, would this problem continue to be so between the TFG and the Council of Islamic Courts which is the subject matter of this article or not.  It may be the case that, the last week’s agreement reached in Sudan between them suggests that the commitment problem still exists between the representatives of the Council of Islamic Courts and the TFG and in such their agreement did not address very crucial issues; such as deployment of peace keeping forces  etc...  Specifically, let us examine one of the articles that both sides agreed upon in that particular agreement and determine whether commitment problem exists or not. Basically, both parties agreed to recognize each other, what this means politically? The term ‘recognition’ of each side is vague, ambiguous and could be misinterpreted and breached by either side of the conflicts. However, the Union of Islamic Courts’ announcement and transformation of the new Council, leadership and Council members is regarded parallel branch of government and thus it may be consider breach of the recognition article of the deal, which is the  recognition of the TFG, the one that they have already recognized its existences and legitimacy. In respond, this would put the weak TFG to continue campaigning  behind their approved motion for deployment of international peace keeping forces in the country, in which the Council of Courts strongly rejected in one word as Sh. Shariff puts Aljazeera news that Somalia does not need peace keeping forces at this time especially. Interestingly, the Shariff and his Council of Courts would not hand over their weapons to the TFG or peace keeping forces because simply they do not trust either one. Moreover, appointment of Sh. Hassan Dahir Aways as the leader of the Council of Islamic Courts, the very controversial figure in the eyes of Americans, regional governments and some TFG leadership would definitely result existences of commitment problems between the TFG and Council of Islamic Courts.  As I have demonstrated, these commitment problems between the two parties still pose possible internal threat to the Council of Islamic Courts and thus would hinder reconciliation process expected by many Somalis inside and outside the country.  


In short, if these are commitment problems between the two parties, let me discuss how the indivisibilities of the issues also matter in Somali polity.


2) - Indivisibility of the Disputes. 

What politicians mean indivisibility problems? Political indivisibility means political compromise; concessions and an acceptance all sides to allow either side of the conflicts through bargaining mechanism to govern the country certain period with clear and concise legal process administered by independent judiciary and determined by general public. Respectively, the indivisibility of the issues and lack of compromise in the political issues always complicate the Somalia conflicts which are not based on ideological differences or political agendas. For instances, the political issues that would never accept divisions among the parties are such as; presidencies, leadership, political agendas etc…, Therefore, throughout the history, we never see where two presidencies or kings run a country. Again, the issue of deployment of peace keeping foreign troops between the TFG and the Council of Islamic Courts in Somalia is indivisible political dispute but can be resolved through compromise and dialogue. And each side has his political right to make his case to the public and thus allow the public alone determine the issue rather than a military conflict. These and similar indivisible issues could be resolve peacefully and through political institutions rather than civil wars.   For this reason, the ball now is in the side of the Council of Islamic Courts, who should have to decide how to deal with such internal indivisible challenges, either on the gunpoint, which the nation is no longer interesting  it or through political dialogues to all issues.


In short, as the studies suggest if the issues are indivisible and the parties of the conflicts would not compromise or otherwise negotiate peacefully it always results a military conflicts. Therefore, would this be the case between the Council of Islamic Courts and the TFG over the deployment of foreign peace keeping forces in the country?


As I have demonstrated, the political stands of the parties and absence of compromise and negotiations suggest the imminent danger of  military conflicts between the parties, as the case is now, and thus the country and its people would continue to remain the shadow of anarchy and lawlessness for the years to come.


In conclusion, the internal challenges that the Council of Islamic Courts faces would be the actual test of their political ambition, credibility and thus determine their very presence in Somali polity.


Secondly: The Regional Challenges.

Despite these complicated internal political challenges that the Council of Islamic Courts is facing inside the country. The regional challenges are also more dangerous and complex to deal with comparing to the internal challenges that I have elaborated earlier.

The regional challenges mean the threat that might come from the neighbouring countries and might directly affects the internal stability of the country.


Certainly, the regional countries have different political strategy toward Somalia. While some support the TFG others support the Council of Islamic Courts for their own political gains. For instance, Ethiopia is the actual challenger of all reconciliation conference held since the fall of Siad Barre’ regime and nothing would work regionally and internationally for Somalis unless satisfied and consulted with Ethiopian government. Thereto, Ethiopia is the most powerful country in the region militarily and economically, and thus it is a strong and reliable allied of American governments and European allies in the war against terrorism. However, the new Council of Islamic Courts’ provocative press conferences that considered Ethiopia the number one enemy of Somalis and their claim towards regaining the Somali West Region in Ethiopia seem intimidating and pose real threat to the Ethiopian government which already have its internal political crisis. In addition, the appointment of Sh. Hassan Dahir Aways, the leader of the Council of Islamic Courts is also another threat to the Ethiopian government. Therefore, if you recall this week the Prime Minister of Ethiopia calls the control of Council of Islamic Courts in the capital and its newly appointed leader Sh. Aways in Muqdisho are troubling some and dangerous threat to Ethiopian stabilities. However, what can we understand from this, would Ethiopia intervene militarily and overthrown the Council of Courts’ forces from the power and bring the TFG instead. Of course, Ethiopia would most likely prefer the later option, (TFG Leadership), which is friendly ally, secular and have history of confronting such religious forces in the past. Would such military intervention justified under the modern international laws and the charter of United Nations to pursue what is known ‘terrorism’ inside another territory? Would Ethiopia act as an agent of American government in their fight against international terror network?  Would they get support from American forces stationed in coastal city of Djibouti?


It is true that, Ethiopia would justify its military intervention and would get international support from America and its allies. However, the question is who would suffer most and pay the highest price, The Council of Islamic Courts or the Somalia public at large? Of course, the public would pay the highest price specifically those who supported the Council of Islamic Courts’ military occupation in the country and those appointed its controversial figure Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aways.


It may be the case that, where Osma Bindladin claims that his forces would fight Americans in many places included this time Sudan and Somalia; in this autotype, he referred Somalia twice, and another type attributed to him, he threatened the TFG and its president Abdullah Yusuf. How these claims would be interpreted politically? However, this could be interpret politically that Alqaeda members headed by Bindladin have already forces present inside the country, as Washington and Ethiopia might consider this interpretation, while the Council denies more than one occasion…


As a result, Ethiopia might manipulate these claims and this might justify that Ethiopian forces with the support of TFG behind them dismantle Council of Islamic Courts and bring to an end the Sh.Aways’ leadership and thus hand over the control of Muqdisho to the TFG who enjoys both regional and international recognition.


Meantime, if Ethiopia poses the greatest regional threat to the Council of the Islamic Courts, and reconciliations as many of us believe, what about the remaining countries’ interest in Somalia such as; Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea and Arab countries. First, Kenyan and Ethiopian political interests in Somalia and towards Council of Islamic Courts would be very much the same, as both countries prefer not to deal with an authority that claims some part of their countries, (Somali Western Region in Ethiopia and NFD in Kenya). Secondly, Sudan’ government is involving Somali politics right now than any other time before. Because, this might be translated that Sudan wants to cover up its disturbing humanitarian crisis in Darfur and its denial of United Nation peace keeping forces deployment which is similar what the TFG demands from African Union right now and Council denies. For instance, Sudan’s president Mr.Bashir suggests and supported the position of the Council of Islamic Courts in respect of the foreign troops. As he made similar claims that Somalia and Sudan would not need foreign peace keeping forces for this time and both countries are capable of dealing their internal political difference through dialogue, and that may be why Sudan called the latest meeting between the Council and TFG.  In addition, this stand is supported by Eritrea which has also border disputes with Ethiopia and prefers escalation of war between Council of Islamic Courts and Ethiopian government. Moreover, the Arab league members who have not yet politically involved whatsoever in Somalian politics for almost last 16 years of anarchism, had been seen the latest conference held in Sudan between Council of Islamic Courts on the one hand and TFG on the other hand. Respectively, Arab League presence would not change any thing, as the organization is powerless and have no authorities over any thing whatsoever in the Arab crisis as the case of Palestine, Iraq, Sudan. Interestingly, Djibouti’ political stand is disturbing, because Djibouti cooperates with Washington’s fight against terror and thus they would support the Ethiopian and Washington’s fight against terrorism where ever that might be. Therefore, any effort to dismantle and confront the Council of Islamic Courts in Muqdisho by Washington or Ethiopia is acceptable politically Gele’s administration.


However, the regional challenges that Council of Courts encounters from the regional countries especially Ethiopia and its allies are real and thus endangers the existence of the Council of Islamic Courts’ leadership Sh.Hassan Dahir Aways.


In conclusion, so far my discussion covers the internal and regional challenges that Council of Courts faces after their defeat of Muqdisho warlords. Therefore, let us view briefly what the international challenges mean to the Council of Islamic Courts and whether they are capable of dealing them.


Thirdly: International Challenges

As I have demonstrated, the international challenges which the Council of Courts faces are tougher and directly influence both the internal and regional challenges that I have discussed earlier. Therefore, the Council of Islamic Courts had already met tremendous pressure from the international communities especially from American administration. Of course, America is regarded at the present era the world’ super power militarily as well as economically and thus its commitment to fight against what it calls terrorist networks has been felt all over the world. In addition, American military forces already stationed in coastal city of Djibouti had been allocated to confront what they call terror networks in East Africa specifically Somalia and Yemen. However, America had realized its wrong policy towards supporting the warlords who have been defeated by the Council of Islamic Courts. Yet, America was closely monitoring and evaluating the political ideology, stands and forces of the Council, and whether they might accept American demands to hand over those believed to be Alqaeda members that still hiding out in Somalia or otherwise. Therefore, in respond to the political changes, America held international consultation conference where they consulted with contacting partners such as Italy and Britain formal colonies of Somalia and United Nations.     


Consequently, America finalizes its demands from the Council to hand over the three Alqaeda suspects believed hiding out somewhere in Somalia who were somehow accused their involvement in the U.S embassies bombings in Kenya and Tanzania on 1998. Instead the Council of Islamic Courts denies any presences of such Alqaeda members in the country. Interestingly, American political stand had suddenly changed after the Council of Islamic Courts appointed Sh. Hassan Dahir Aways, as its leader, who’s Washington and United Nations already added the terror list suspects.


In addition, latest Bindladin’s instruction to the Council would definitely back fire the Council of Islamic Courts’ claim of political modernity, and might associate them to the Alqaeda network period. Unless the Council sends a clear message and condemns Bindaldin’s calls for internal conflict between the TFG and the Council over the foreign troops.


As a result, American stand toward the Council have changed and Washington’ military fights in Somalia are real either proximity (Ethiopian forces or TFG) or direct involvement (its forces stationed in Djibouti) which is the actual policy that Washington might pursue to either capture and bring those it believes to be linked with Alqaeda members or current leadership of the Council of Islamic Courts. 



As I have demonstrated, the Council of Islamic Courts who defeated the powerful warlords in the capital encounters multiple political and military challenges from international communities, regional countries and current internal political structure as well. In short, the commitment problems and indivisibility of the political issues in Somalia, which had resulted sixteen years of civil war and total destructions of the government institutions are  still exist between the Council and the TFG leaderships. In addition, the announcement of the Council’ structure and its leader Hassan Dahir Aways may back fire the Council’s claim of modernity. Moreover, Bindladin’s autotype supporting the Council’s political moves to establish Islamic State in Somalia and his warnings towards the TFG president, Ethiopia and America might also increase both the regional and international pressures over the Council. Besides, the American demands of Al-Qaida members in Somalia which is another issue that the Council needs to address politically.


However, if the Council attempt to resolve these issues through dialogues and political negotiations they might survive from the conspiracy against them. Even though, the chance of survival from these challenges seems very narrow, yet it is up to the Council to decide between military or political negotiations.


In conclusion, the Somalia civil conflict had entered a new face of ideological disputes between the secular and religious forces, which would complicate the internal political stabilities and thus increase the chance of military conflicts in the country for the years to come.


Author: Idris Aden Ali (Abu Suhaib) 

Legal Expert & Political Analyst.
Graduate Studies in Political Science Department.

North Eastern Illinois University, Chicago, USA.
[email protected]


1) Paths toward Democracy (1999) P, 24 Ruth Berins Collier.

2) Political Science ‘State of the Discipline’ (2002) p, 175 Morrow.


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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