By M. A. Shaikh
Thursday, July 05, 2007
It sounds strange, but even the highly secular western media now admit that the people of Somalia "yearn" for the return of the Islamic Courts Union, which had ruled some parts of the country, including the capital (Mogadishu), for several months before it was toppled as a result of the US-backed invasion by the Ethiopian army. The admission follows the failure of the so-called transnational federal government (TFG), restored by the invasion and backed by the West and the UN, to introduce even a semblance of peace or law and order since the expulsion of the ICU. Even European diplomats have now openly placed the failure to hold an international peace conference at the feet of the TFG.
It was in June of last year that the ICU first drove the warlords masquerading as an ‘interim government' out of Mogadishu, and took possession of most of central and southern Somalia, thereby forcing the retreating warlords to take refuge in Baidoa under Ethiopia's military protection and the political and diplomatic backing of the UN and western governments, particularly the US. It also quickly restored peace, which had eluded the country since the overthrow of the dictator Siyad Barre in 1991, eliminated corrupt practices and enabled the Somalis to lead far more normal lives than before. But that achievement has now disappeared and the old, violent and corrupt order is back with a vengeance.
Not surprisingly, "Somalis yearn for Islamic rulers to return and tame the warlords", as a headline in the Independent of London read on June 15. Steve Bloomfield based his article partly on material he had collected in Marere, a rural district in southern Somalia, including interviews with its inhabitants. The article contrasts how the UIC restored peace and tranquillity in the three months it controlled Marere and the neighbouring region of Jilib, with the manner in which the restored traditional government has failed - and continues to fail - in the past six months to manage the region's affairs. It also sets out the opinions of those interviewed, who clearly miss the ICU, while castigating the corrupt practices of the restored transitional government and its failure to take charge or restore peace.
According to the article, local people "from teenagers to elders now talk of the brief period of rule by the Islamic courts in wistful tones". The reason is that "for the first time in a generation, there was a level of security in the district that few had believed was possible." To take only one example, "the various clan-based militias which terrorised the region, setting up checkpoints and settling disputes with guns, buried their arms". Before the ICU's assumption of control, there had been nine roadblocks along the route from Marere to Kismayo, a port about 100 miles away. The individual militia groups controlling the roadblocks demanded money from everyone who passed through.
According to this article, the roadblocks disappeared when the ICU took control, and "the effect was immediate". Not only did food prices in Marere fall because "traders no longer had to factor in the cost of roadblocks", but the price of travel between Marare and Kismayo also fell from 100,000 shillings to only 30,000. That the Islamic movement made possible a return to normal life, not only in this area but also throughout the country, is not in doubt. Nor is the fact that the transitional government - with the military backing of Ethiopia and the US - has destroyed that achievement, restoring the mayhem that had prevailed before the ICU took over in June last year. Any doubts lingering in the minds of any Somalis was effectively removed by the resurgence of violence, leading to assassination-attempts against members of the government, the imposition of a curfew on Mogadishu on June 23 (which failed to put an end to the gun-fights), and the postponement of reconciliation talks for the second time.
The postponement of the talks proved highly embarrassing to the transitional government, as international diplomats, and even a British minister, put the blame for the failure on the government. One diplomat, for instance, said that the international community had been unwilling to support perceived moves by the interim government to use the conference to "entrench the political order". The Financial Times on June 14 quoted him as saying that "We want a conference managed independently of the transitional federal government and one that is fully inclusive. We want an occasion where reconciliation can take place, and a road map for the elections [set for 2008]." The London daily also quoted Lord Triesman, Britain's minister for Africa, who was involved in efforts to hold the talks: "You've either got a peace process in which all of the credible groups get a stake in a future government or you have the continuation of a failed state with all the pre-conditions for a war between clans, sub-clans and other groups."
The most "credible group" - if not the only one - is the ICU, whose representatives said earlier that talks could not take place before the departure of Ethiopian troops. The diplomats and Lord Triesman could not make a similar demand because they support the intervention of the US and Ethiopia, and have no wish to see the ICU restored. After all, they all support the coalition forces' aggressive and ruinous presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the US role in both countries has destroyed its reputation, as has its war on Islam, not only in the eyes of Somalis but of all Muslims. To implement its war on Islam - feebly disguised a "war against terrorism" - Washington has established prison wards in several African countries, particularly Ethiopia and Kenya, where hundreds of Muslims are held on the pretext that they are terrorists. Claiming that al-Qa'ida ‘terrorists' have infiltrated East Africa, Washington has ordered its troops to bomb "suspected UIC militias" - mostly using its warships and its military units in neighbouring Djibouti and Ethiopia.
But while the US has been totally discredited in the eyes of most Somalis more recently, Ethiopia - which occupies large Somali territories, such as the Ogaden region - has always been seen as an open enemy. Consequently, any Somali groups cooperating with or allied to it are seen as "traitors", while those resisting it are seen as "heroes". This partly explains why the ICU has the enduring respect and support of the people of Somalia. It also explains why the US and Ethiopia do not want it back, and why they had to engage it in the first place. Both Washington and Addis Ababa want a client-regime in Mogadishu that is prepared to back their war on Islam and Muslims, and prepared also to cooperate with them to crush the growing resistance to Ethiopia's occupation of the Ogaden region.
In pursuing their war on the IUC - and indeed Somalia - the US and Ethiopia are encouraged by the indifference shown by Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, although Somalia is a member of the Arab League. After all, why should they come to the movement's rescue when Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are openly holding a conference with Hamas to force it to recognise Israel and leave the running of the Palestinian territories' affairs to Fatah, which recognises Israel and is ready to cooperate with it? Egypt, which is also a member of the African Union and considers itself the most influential Arab country, should have been one of the first states to intervene. But it recognises Israel, allows it to continue its occupation of the Egyptian territories it conquered during the Arab-Israel war of 1967, and is engaged in its own war against the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood), the country's largest ‘moderate' Islamic group.
Egypt under Mubarak is a client-state of the US and cooperates with its ‘war on terrorism'. But the UIC, a tiny group eager to resurrect a failed state, is prepared to defy the US and Ethiopia, and the people of Somalia are proud of its courage and resilience.
By M. A. Shaikh