The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Somalia's new leader

The NYT profiles Hassan Dahir Aweys, the new head of Somalia's Islamic Courts movement. Aweys comes across as a more hardline leader than the Islamic Courts' previous spokesman, Sharif Ahmed, and is on US terrorist lists.

One of the emerging stories about Somalia's new leaders -- other than the risk of "Talibanizing" a country that, like Afghanistan, is already is dire straits -- is that it could cause further instability in in Ethiopia and Eritrea, notably over illegal arms trade:
In fact, some analysts said that the appointment of Mr. Aweys might prove a good thing by bringing his hard-line views into the open. Sharif Ahmed, the movement's former leader, considered more of a moderate in his views toward secular government, remains head of a newly formed executive committee that will handle day-to-day affairs, officials said.

"Engagement is still the answer," said Mr. Raffaelli, who has urged his government and others following developments in Somalia not to respond precipitously to the elevation of Mr. Aweys. "To say a so-called bad guy is in charge will only serve to reinforce the extremists. This movement continues to have moderate voices."

Mr. Aweys's backers are known to be well armed, and his ascendance is seen as connected to a regional struggle in the Horn of Africa. A May 2006 report by a United Nations panel of experts studying violations to the arms embargo in Somalia said Mr. Aweys's militant group still had operations in the country and had received numerous arms shipments from Eritrea, which analysts say is trying to destabilize its avowed enemy, Ethiopia.

Mr. Aweys has clashed in the past with Ethiopia. His militia was soundly defeated by the Ethiopian Army in the early 1990's. Ethiopian officials have made it clear in recent months that they do not intend to allow any government that threatens stability in their country to emerge in Somalia.
It'd be interesting to see where the arms come from -- I would guess Egypt or Israel.

Also, PINR discusses the Arab League's role in the ceasefire recently signed between the Islamic Courts and the warlords:

The fluid and unstable situation was transformed by a bold diplomatic initiative of the Arab League (A.L.) led by Sudan, which succeeded in bringing the I.C.U. and the T.F.G. together in talks in Khartoum that resulted in a cease-fire agreement on June 22 in which the two sides granted recognition to one another and promised to meet again on July 17 to begin work on a power-sharing deal.

Much to its displeasure, the A.L. had been sidelined in early external efforts to adapt to the I.C.U.'s ascent. In particular, the Washington-led Contact Group (C.G.), composed of European states and Tanzania, had not even granted the A.L. the observer status that it had given to the United Nations and the African Union (A.U.). Arranging an agreement between the I.C.U. and T.F.G. represented a diplomatic coup for the A.L. and for Khartoum, which assumed the role of honest brokers, crowding out the other external players, particularly Washington and Addis Ababa.

The June 22 agreement does not portend an immediate stabilization of Somalia's chaotic politics. On June 25, the I.C.U. reorganized itself into a more institutionalized governing structure -- the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) -- and named as its leader hard-line cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who had previously repeatedly rejected the legitimacy of the T.F.G. and announced his aim of making Somalia an Islamic state governed by Shari'a law.

The I.C.C. declared its intention of honoring the June 22 agreement, but the victory of Aweys' fundamentalist faction over the moderates within the I.C.U. threw into doubt the possibility of successful negotiations.

At the present moment, the essential feature of Somalia's political situation is fluidity. The cease-fire deal is a problematic attempt to dam up the political tides and canalize them into regularized flows, but its success is far from certain; the players are not yet positioned in a stable power configuration because they have yet to test themselves against each other and, more importantly, because they have not yet figured out how to put their interests into action through operative policies that forge firm alliances. The players are not sure what they want in terms of what they believe they actually can get, so a general climate of mutual uncertainty, often laced with severe distrust, makes it impossible for them to determine what the others will do, creating a tentativeness punctuated by bold initiatives -- the prescription for fluidity.
The article goes on to describe the central role of Sudan, which currently has the presidency of the Arab League, to sealing the deal. Two things stand out about this: that the League and the Sudanese government can actually contribute positively to anything at all, and that it was all done in the name of countering foreign influence. As PINR argues, this "Khartoum process" is now the only game in town for a diplomatic resolution to the Somali crisis. Who would have thought...