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Somalia's Security Comes at a Price
Union of Islamic Courts impose strict sharia law in many areas
Liam Bailey (wordsworth)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-24 15:40 (KST)   
Since claiming victory in the battle for Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, in late June, the Union of Islamic Courts have fought their way through southern Somalia.

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By September they controlled most of southern Somalia including Mogadishu but with the exception of a small area around Baidoa.

Since September not only have they kept hold of the towns and regions they had taken in the south but they have expanded their control by taking more.

They are currently controlling most of southern and central Somalia, with the exception of the area around Baidoa, where Ethiopian and Ugandan troops are assisting the Transitional Federal Government in holding the town.

According to the most recent reports the UIC has reached the town of Abudwaq in the Galgadud region, where they were warmly received by residents.

The Union of Islamic Courts is bringing security and stability, but also spreading sharia law throughout Somalia as they gain control of more and more territory.

They achieved further success in their goal when the authorities of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland recently announced that it was adopting sharia law.

The move came after sustained pressure from the UIC, which had led to clashes with Puntland forces as the UIC advanced toward Puntland territory.

According to Sheikh Fuad Mahamud the announcement came after he and other religious leaders met with Puntland's leader, General Muhammed Adde Muse, and recommended that sharia law be adopted in the region.

According to a local journalist, Muse was also influenced by similar advice from religious elders on his recent visits to the Mudug town of Galkayo, close to the border with UIC forces.

Whatever influenced his decision, the announcement means that yet more of Somalia is under the often brutal and oppressive rule of sharia law.

Since the UIC won the battle for Mogadishu in June and began taking control of most of southern Somalia, they have been imposing strict standards of behavioral and religious discipline. Not by issuing official directives but by using punishment and propaganda to set the standards, slowly but surely imposing sharia law.

However, the UIC is made up of 11 separate court systems, split into 27 sub systems inside Mogadishu, all running autonomously, this means that civil liberties and freedoms are reduced more in some areas than in others.

A Mogadishu journalist told the U.N. news agency IRIN that his personal freedoms had changed in many ways since the takeover, "good and bad."

"In some areas there is no music or cinemas, radio stations have closed down, we have no freedom to write, and they are doing public executions," there is a "wait and see" atmosphere.

The confusion comes from the internal battle in the UIC between the courts following hard-line Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is widely thought to be responsible for the militant uprising that has swept the UIC to power in Somalia, and courts following moderate cleric Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sheikh Aweys teaches the hardline Salafism strand of Islam, an offshoot of the Saudi Wahabi school of Islamic thought. Salafism teaches against rationalism and compromise, and views things like television and sports as vulgar. Jihad, holy war, is the hinge pin of the ideology.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed teaches the slightly more moderate Qutbism strand of Islam. It comes from Egyptian Islamic teacher Sayyid Qutb's book In the Shade of The Koran.

Qutb's teachings are less extreme towards modern western civilization than Salafist Islam. Sheikh Ahmed and his moderate UIC followers have called for engagement with the transitional government and the international community.

The moderates have their work cut out as the hardliners known as the Shahaab group, including some of the UIC's most prominent members, shun all contact with the non-Muslim world, advocate strict religious codes and punishments and invest heavily in militarization.

One such prominent hardliner is Sheikh Abdullahi Mo'alim Ali "Abu Utayba," according to local journalists the chief of security for Mogadishu said publicly that anyone not praying five times a day should be shot.

One of the most worrying things for the rest of the world is the shining example UIC's rampant success is to followers of Salafi and Wahabi Islam.

It shows jihad groups all around the world, that their aim of creating an Islamic state and imposing sharia law in their respective countries can be achieved using the jihad that their ideology revolves around.

We have all seen the disaster Iraq has become for the occupying coalition. Jihad is rife. Apart from the sectarian death squads and rival militias killing each other Sunni on Shia, suicide bombs, car bombs, roadside bombs, grenade attacks and snipers have all added to the heavy death tolls for the occupying coalition and local population. Afghanistan looks to be going the same way.

There has been literally no resistance from Somalia's civilian population to the Islamic Courts gaining and keeping control.

This is because they reinstate security, removing road blocks and gunmen from the streets, allowing people to go back to their every day lives. As well as imposing their strict codes of behavior they are bringing back law and order. Some reports even say that they are warmly received by residents when they take control of new towns and villages.

It would seem that the people of Somalia, fed up with war tearing the country apart, prefer any form of law order and security to total anarchy.

One businessman told IRIN that: "There are two sorts of freedoms, going about our daily lives is the most important freedom we can have now."

But he said one freedom may come at the price of another. "People do not want to lose their personal freedoms."

The same journalist I quoted earlier in the report echoed his sentiments saying: "When it comes to security, we feel freedom. When it comes to personal freedoms, we feel worried."

The people of Somalia are right to be worried. The Union of Islamic Courts is currently united against a common enemy, and Sheikh Aweys currently needs Sheikh Ahmed to pacify UIC critics at home and abroad. However, it is widely thought that a fall out between the two is inevitable.

It is likely if the UIC defeat their enemies and take complete control of Somalia. If the Salafist arm of the Islamic Courts does prevail in Somalia, the country will be ruled under the strictest form of sharia law. There will be no cinemas or televisions, nothing modern or western. The problem is, should the people risk another war-torn decade to overthrow the UIC?
This article will appear on War Pages
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Liam Bailey

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