Warlords pledge Islamic law for Somali Muslims


Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 4 March 1993


SOMALI Muslims claim to have assurances from leaders of the country’s main military factions that Islamic shariah law will be introduced. It is part of the reconstruction after peace talks due to start in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, next week.

While leading Muslim clerics remain uncertain about the sincerity of the warlords, Islamic groups have substantial influence in parts of the country, exerting pressure for the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia.

Predicting growing tension between Muslims and the 30,000 foreign troops in Somalia, Sheikh Ibrahim Mohamed Ali claimed yesterday that even if the warlords reneged on shariah they would be overridden by public opinion which has become increasingly disillusioned with the clan-based military leaders.

“The next government should be planned as an Islamic government. The basic rule of the country should be shariah. Both [the warlords] General Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed have said they will do what Islam says, and we think they will fulfill their promises,” Sheikh Ali, the influential imam of Mogadishu’s Ali Sufi mosque, said.

Muslims analyse the crisis in Somalia on a longer term than politicians and warlords intent on manoeuvring into positions of strength to haggle over the country’s future at the Addis Ababa talks.

Rather than looking at who controls the most territory, the imams have stressed the failure of the political system since the seizure of power by the deposed dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, and before him during the colonial era.

“We are sure that there will be an Islamic government. We saw socialism, communism and democracy. So we turn now to applying shariah,” Sheikh Ali said, referring to Gen Barre’s flirtation with both the former Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war. “The decision is in the hands of the people,” he said.

In his first interview with a British newspaper, Somalia’s most powerful imam, and director of the country’s influential Assembly of Muslim Scholars, Shiekh Mohamed Moalim Hassan, said that by helping to break the deadlock at previous peace talks, the imams had proved their importance and were preparing to assert the demand for a reconstructed Somalia governed by Islamic principles.

“The country is already 100 per cent Muslim and the Muslims are wanting a Muslim government. But they won’t have any deals with the military leaders,” he said.

Rivalries within Somalia’s clans, between hardliners and appeasers, are likely to give the Islamic groups an opportunity to exploit the continued instability.

Sheikh Moalim acknowledged that armed Islamic groups have played a military role in the civil war which has wracked the country since 1991. It is the first time a Somali religious leader has admitted a direct link between the Islamic militia and senior members of the religious hierarchy.

“They are armed and among the people ‘who are supposed to take power one day,” he said. He refused to add whether support had come from other Islamic countries.

Both Sudan and Iran have been accused by Gen Aideed and Mr Ali Mahdi of supporting the Islamic groups, although both countries have denied it. The United States, which forms the bulk of the military force in Somalia, has played down the role of Islamists, publicly at least.

However, a possible rise in Muslim fundamentalism was among the many reasons for sending the force, in the hope that stability would prevent its emergence.

The United Nations secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, proposed yesterday that a formal transfer of command from the US-led force in Somalia to a new UN force, eventually comprising 28,000 troops; should take place on May l.

Sheikh Moalim said relief agencies have distributed cans of food labelled simply “meat” but which include pork, and that relief workers have been distributing bibles.

“Religion is being interfered with. And when we see all these foreign troops here it’s like colonial rule. It’s preventing the Somalis from thinking about how they should confront their problems. The foreign troops should leave. But we know some will be here forever,” he said.


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