It's about damn time the U.S. and Ethiopia got the hell out Somalia and let the Somali people choose the leaders that they want -- "Islamic", or otherwise, and regardless of imperfection. I've been following this for what feels like a long time (nearly 2 years and I'll never forget Christmas day 2006). It feels good to count a victory every once in a while for the anti-imperialism movement in Africa.
(NY Times) Somalis Cheer the Selection of a Moderate Islamist Cleric as President: Pumped-up mobs poured into the scarred streets of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, once again on Saturday, but this time they were demonstrating in support of the government, not against it.
Thousands of cheerful Somalis sang, whistled and hoisted up posters of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the moderate Islamist cleric who was just selected as the beleaguered country’s new president. There was even a pro-government rally at a Mogadishu soccer stadium.
“It’s good to give a chance to the Islamists,” said Mohamed Wehlie, a teacher in Mogadishu. Sheik Sharif, he said, “is the sort of man who can make a change, and we really need a change.”
To many Somalis who have survived relentless cycles of rebellion, displacement, famine and war, Sheik Sharif’s victory was the best news they had heard in years. Although the government he leads is locked in a battle against hard-line Islamist militias, which still control large parts of the country, many Somalis seized on the news as a window of hope, a possible path out of the violence.
The exit in December of the transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, an unreformed warlord widely reviled for his warlike ways, and the selection of Sheik Sharif, 45, a cleric who is generally respected as being scholarly and temperate, are seen as an opportunity to bring together Somalia’s warring factions and end 18 years of chaos.
The Somali Parliament, after an all-night session in neighboring Djibouti, voted overwhelmingly for Sheik Sharif early Saturday morning.
Several moderate Islamist militias, who control different parts of the country, including some neighborhoods in Mogadishu, have indicated that they will throw their military muscle behind Sheik Sharif and will fight to keep him in power.
Despite the flicker of optimism, huge challenges remain. Somalia is a land of blown opportunities; 13 previous attempts at forming an effective transitional government have failed.
The government controls only a few city blocks in Somalia, a country almost as big as Texas. Last week, the Shabab, one of the most fearsome Islamist militias, took over Baidoa, the central Somali town where the transitional Parliament used to meet. Masked Shabab fighters soon began imposing a harsh brand of Islamic law, which in the past has included stoning to death a teenage girl who had been raped.
With the selection of Sheik Sharif, Somalia has come nearly full circle to where it was in the summer of 2006, when an Islamist alliance seized control of Mogadishu and pacified it for the first and only time since the country’s central government imploded in 1991. Sheik Sharif was one of the leaders of that alliance, which was a mix of moderate and hard-line elements, including the Shabab.
Many people still credit Sheik Sharif for those days of peace, which proved cruelly short.
“That peace was like a daylight dream that will never come true,” said Mohamed Ghedi Awale, an engineer in Mogadishu who said he fully supported Sheik Sharif.
The Islamist experiment came to a violent end when Ethiopian troops, with American backing, stormed into Somalia in the winter of 2006 and drove the Islamists underground. That set the stage for a bitter guerrilla war that has killed thousands of civilians.
The Ethiopians recently pulled out, partly because of a deal that Sheik Sharif helped broker, and various Islamist factions rushed to fill the power gap. Sheik Sharif has cultivated the loyalty of some of the more moderate militia leaders and the important businessmen who bankroll them. But the question is whether that will be enough to repel the advances of the more radical groups.
Clan politics are yet another minefield, and Sheik Sharif’s first order of business is picking a new prime minister, presumably from a clan different from his own, the Hawiye. (source)