[dehai-news] Somalia: A Moderate Islamist Takes Power, But the Struggle Continues


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From: Tsegai Emmanuel (emmanuelt40@gmail.com)
Date: Mon Feb 02 2009 - 21:35:05 EST


Somalia: A Moderate Islamist Takes Power, But the Struggle Continues Stratfor
Today <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis> February 2, 2009 | 2016 GMT
  [image: Somaiian President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed]
ABDURACHID ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Somalian President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed
Summary

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president of Somalia on Jan. 31. Sharif will
be supported by regional and international interests as a moderate Islamist
politician, but he still faces opposition from hard-line Islamists meaning
the conflict in Somalia is far from over.
Analysis

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president of Somalia
on Jan. 31 in a vote by the country's transitional parliament. He
succeeds Abdullahi
Yusuf, who resigned as Somalia's president Dec.
29<http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20081229_somalia_yusufs_resignation_and_possibility_peace_deal>amid
strong criticism for failing to incorporate moderate Islamist elements
into the government.

As president, Sharif will be expected to represent these moderate Islamist
interests; he does not, however, have the support of radical elements who
have been fighting the Somalian government and its backers in Ethiopia and
the African Union (AU). Sharif will be supported by regional and
international interests hoping to isolate hard-line Islamists in Somalia,
but opposition from Somalian radicals including the militant group al
Shabab means the conflict in Somalia has not fundamentally changed.

Previously, Sharif was the leader of the political wing of the Supreme
Islamic Courts Council (SICC), which briefly controlled southern and central
Somalia during the second half of 2006. After Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia
in December 2006, Sharif fled to the savannah of southern Somalia, where he
was captured; he was then taken to Kenya, where his interrogators included
U.S. Embassy officials<http://www.stratfor.com/somalia_washington_pressures_sicc_negotiate>.
Sharif was subsequently released into exile in Eritrea (though he has also
traveled to Yemen and has been in touch with the Saudi government), where he
became a leader of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS). He
has not returned to Mogadishu since fleeing after the Ethiopian invasion.

Sharif, in exile since January 2007, is taking over a de facto
government-in-exile. His supporters are also parliamentarians in exile the
vote in which they elected him was taken in neighboring Djibouti. They have
not convened parliament in Somalia, and it is not clear whether they will be
able to, as the parliament building is occupied by hard-line Islamist al
Shabab fighters, who are opponents of Sharif.

Neighboring countries, including Ethiopia, will support Sharif politically
in order to try to reduce Somalia's political tensions and the resulting
conflict. This support is a departure from the recent past, in which the
Somalian government and foreign interests, driven by the United States and
Ethiopia, were aligned against the Islamists. These players are now backing
moderates such as Sharif against Islamist hard-liners, however, in an
attempt to end the Somalian insurgency <http://www.stratfor.com/end_war>.

U.S. support of Sharif will be aimed at isolating radical Islamists in order
to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven for international jihadists. (As
in Afghanistan, Washington will support religious
nationalists<http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090126_strategic_divergence_war_against_taliban_and_war_against_al_qaeda>as
long as they do not collaborate with transnational jihadists.) For its
part, Ethiopia will be driven by its national security
imperative<http://www.stratfor.com/somalia_ethiopias_islamist_fears>of
preventing Islamist hard-liners from collaborating with ethnic Somali
rebels inside Ethiopia to threaten Ethiopia's territorial integrity.

As Sharif takes office, two of the issues that had motivated the Islamists'
fight against the government are now off the table. The first of these was
the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, where they were viewed as
occupiers; Ethiopia began pulling back its troops on Jan.
13<http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090113_somalia_strategy_behind_ethiopian_pullback>.
The other issue was the failure of the Yusuf government to accommodate
moderate Islamist elements which of course is negated by Sharif's
election. Sharif's break with the hard-line Islamists could signal, however,
that Islamism in Somalia is on the
wane<http://www.stratfor.com/islamism_post_islamism>.

But Sharif's support inside Somalia is limited. He has no political base in
Somalia's northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland, and consequently will
have zero influence over the piracy that has been rife off the Somalian
coast<http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090115_japan_somalia_pirate_infested_waters_getting_crowded>.
Furthermore, as a moderate Islamist politician who has spent the last two
years in exile, Sharif has not had control over the direction of the SICC,
nor its militant wing, al Shabab. Al Shabab has already voiced its
opposition to Sharif, calling him a secularist proxy of U.S. and Ethiopian
interests, and has called on its members to fight against the new
government. The new Sharif government will be defended by the 3,000 AU
troops deployed in Somalia, and by the moderate Islamist militant group Ahlu
Sunna Waljamaca, which has been fighting al Shabab for control of central
Somalia. But opposition to Sharif will be violent and swift.

Regional and foreign interests will support Sharif in order to try to
isolate radical Islamists from gaining control over the country. But the
Sharif government will be fought just the same by Islamist insurgents intent
on defending their gains against a government in exile.


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