Somalia Enters a Revolutionary Situation

Posted in Africa | 18-Jul-06 | Author: Michael Weinstein

Since June 5, when the Islamic Courts Union (I.C.U.) -- now institutionalized and renamed the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C) -- took control of Somalia's official capital Mogadishu, routing a rival alliance of Washington-backed warlords, the country has been in an incipient revolutionary situation.

The revolutionary character of Somalia's politics became evident when the hard-line Islamist faction of the I.C.C. led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on Washington's list of al-Qaeda supporters, gained ascendancy over the moderate group headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on June 25. Whereas Ahmed had said that the I.C.U. was not interested in imposing an Islamist social model on Somalia and was only concerned with bringing peace and order to the country, Aweys insisted that the new I.C.C. would not be satisfied with anything less than a state governed by Shari'a law.

The rise of the I.C.C. changed the balance of power in Somalia's stateless society decisively, throwing the internationally supported but increasingly impotent Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), based in the town of Baidoa, on the defensive. As the I.C.C. swept through most of Somalia's south and consolidated its gains, the T.F.G. desperately pleaded for support from international and regional organizations in the form of a peacekeeping mission, and was met with a tepid response. Alarmed by the possibility of a hostile Islamist state on its border, Ethiopia sent troops into areas of Somalia as yet outside I.C.C. control and reportedly deployed troops and armored vehicles in Baidoa to protect the T.F.G.

Pushed into a corner, the T.F.G. acquiesced in negotiations with the I.C.C. brokered by Sudan and the Arab League (A.L.) that ended in an agreement on June 22 in which the adversaries committed to a cease-fire and recognized one another. Mutual recognition was a severe blow to the T.F.G., which had clung to its international recognition as the sole legitimate authority in Somalia. The Khartoum agreement, which immediately preceded the I.C.C.'s formation and shift to hard-line leadership, soon began to fall apart as the I.C.C. moved militarily to eliminate remaining rivals in its sphere of control and began to set up a political and administrative apparatus in direct competition with the T.F.G.

As prospects faded that the I.C.C. and T.F.G. would hold a second round of talks in Khartoum on July 15 to begin work on a reconciliation process, the political situation in Somalia began to polarize under the pressure of the I.C.C.'s revolutionary momentum. During the week of July 9 and into the week of July 16, polarization widened as the T.F.G. backed out of the Khartoum talks -- scuttling the only extant option for international mediation of the conflict -- and a longstanding split between its executive and legislative branches widened, with parliament authorizing independent negotiations with the I.C.C. On July 17, the T.F.G.'s executive branch caved in and agreed to work with parliament on how to enter talks with the I.C.C.

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