Policy WATCH:Mubarak's Musings
Mubarak's Musings
The New Islamist Split Within the TFG
By MUBARAK 02/29/2012
Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

The Islamist star within the TFG may be setting in Somalia.

This was not the case three years ago when the Ethiopians withdrew, an Islamist was elected president of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), half its parliament was drawn from the Islamist-dominated Djibouti wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). The cabinet was filled with Salafists (in the form Al-I’tisam, an offshoot of the “original” Somali Islamist group, al-Itihaad al-Islamiyya) and nationalist Islamists.

When Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president of the TFG, the pro-Sharif wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Djibouti-ARS combined to control most of Mogadishu, most of Middle Shabelle region, almost all of Hiran region, and some areas of Galgaduud region.

Faced with growing calls for Shariah implementation from the pro-TFG Islamists and to weaken the rebel Islamists, the Islamist-dominated parliament voted in early 2009 to make Somalia an Islamic state ruled by Shariah. This did nothing to discourage the rebels from continuing their war, saying that voting for Shariah is itself disallowed in Shariah, and that there would be no implementation of Shariah by the TFG. They were right: Shariah was never implemented in the few blocks of Mogadishu into which the TFG was boxed for the greater part of three years.

In early 2009, even the Shabaab admitted that the pro-Sharif forces had better arms and more men than them. They skilfully played their cards, casting Sharif as a puppet, controlled by foreign masters, with no say in the future of the country except what he was told to say. ICU members started defecting to the Shabaab in droves; entire districts with their administration intact would join the Shabaab (interestingly, mass defections also took place among the ranks of the Islamist faction Hizbul Islam, which was also initially more powerful than the Shabaab, at least in early 2009).

In the first days of the fighting between the pro-Sharif and anti-Sharif Islamists, some sheikhs, including the Qatar-funded “Organization of Somali Islamic Scholars (OSIS)” took a middle stance and opted to give some time to Sharif to prove he would implement Shariah, and also asked for African Union Peacekeepers (AMISOM) to withdraw its then almost 4,000-strong force.

At least one major commander from the ICU who had defected to the Shabaab, Mohamed Kofi, listened to the sheikhs of the OSIS, despite having joined the Shabaab just weeks before with hundreds of his men (he did not get back even one, due to the Shabaab's habit of dispersing and mixing new recruits).

The Shabaab made the mistake of not listening to the Islamic scholars, instead following al-Qaeda and Osama’s labelling of Sharif an apostate that had to be fought.

The ideological war between the Somali Islamists has gone online, with rival groups posting videos and audio clips supposedly showing the heresy of the opposing group, and posting rebuttal videos when the other side is on the offensive.

For example, last year pro-HSM youth posted online an audio that featured the I’tisam head, Sheikh Mohamed Idris (an Eritrean who can speak better Somali than me; his mother is Somali) saying that he did “not care about Mogadishu”. In his defense, those youth kept asking him questions about Mogadishu at a Minneapolis mosque, but they made it look like he had no empathy for the suffering of people in Mogadishu, when in fact he merely seemed to be angry about their interruptions.

The Islamist break has made it into the heart of the TFG. While the TFG Islamists of all stripes (with the exception of the Sufis) had enjoyed good relations with one another, lately they have showed signs of breaking up and those groups that are more similar have coalesced around one political party.

Members of the Salafist groups Al-Islah (New Blood Faction), Al-I’tisam and Ala-Sheikh united under one political party , "Native Party," on February 13 to present one candidate in the August 2012 elections. Perhaps to give an impression that they are nationalists, their logo doesn’t have any indication that they are Islamists. No Quran, or Shabaab-style flag; just a map of Somalia draped in the Somali flag.

Feeling left out, the more nationalist elements formed their own political party days later, on the 19th, and called it the "Unity Party." This party has its logo clearly showing that they are an Islamist party: they have a Quran, but above it they have the Somali flag. They could have easily written “Islamist Nationalist” on their logo and the result would be the same.

Neither of the two parties was invited to the London conference, but both have members that are very influential in the Islamist scene in Somalia. Not to worry, since they share the lack of invitation with Ras Kamboni and the—dare I say—the "real" Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa.

While the different Islamists factions are “uniting” to form political parties, their collective power is diminishing as their differences are now magnified. You have the more nationalist and clan-based faction in the form of the Unity Party on one hand, and the Salafist Native Party on the other.

This disunity of the Islamists will most likely cost them the presidency of the federal government in the upcoming elections—a good thing for Somalia. Unless President Sharif uses state funds to bribe MPs to vote for him. In Somali politics, campaign money goes directly to the “voters:” all 550 of them (225 in the coming reformed parliament).

The Islamists' squabbling and bloodletting has shown how they are not too different from the secularists in the TFG. Sharif was elected to gain the TFG more territory and bring peace to Somalia; he failed to do both.

Hopefully, the new parliament will not vote as president an Islamist who may harbour sympathy to the Shabaab, as Sharif is accused of by the secular faction of the TFG

Somalia can not stand four more years of Islamist mismanagement. The Islamist division will hopefully prevent that.