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The Threats Of The Islamists Should Not Sidetrack Somaliland
The leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) have stepped up their threats to Somaliland, accusing it of being politically un-Islamic. However, these threats lack substance, lean on weak assumptions and don’t take into account of the realities on the ground in Somaliland.
Here are some inescapable facts, which the UIC leaders and their supporters must face up to. Firstly, they will need to understand that Somaliland has peacefully reconciled religion with the state administration. In Somaliland, debates took place between those who preferred democracy and those who argued that democracy would be seen as a betrayal of the principles of Islam. The issue was whether the Quranic text ought to be considered as a blue print for the way the country should be politically managed, or whether it would provide a broader national identity and value that underpin the state functions. The former presents the faith as an ideological tool and justifies radical revolutionary reforms, while the later regards religion as a source of reference for the state and encourages dynamic interactions between the faith and the human creativity to maximize social benefits.
These negotiations did not take place in a vacuum. At the heart of this debate was the concept of Ijtihad, which means a critical reading and interpretation of the key Islamic texts including Quran and the Prophetic tradition known as Sunna. As result of this process, Somaliland has adopted a broad-minded and historically grounded approach to these texts, taking into account both history and the contemporary needs.
The outcome was a production of a national constitution. This has led to the introduction of democracy in Somaliland and the incorporation of Islamic principles into the state functions. Since then Somaliland has been practicing a democratic system where leaders are voted in and voted out by the general public.
This was followed by the entry of some religious leaders into politics. State systems have been put in place with full regard of the fundamental Islamic teachings. This resulted in some members of the Somaliland’s religious groups being integrated into mainstream politics. Some even went on to become members of the elected bodies and government councils.
Therefore the UIC’s claim that Somaliland’s religious groups have been denied access to the state formation process remains unsubstantiated. On the contrary, Somaliland’s ability to reconcile religion with politics through negotiation and not through Jihad has actually prevented UIC from gaining in Somaliland a political space to squeeze in. And this is a fact, which the UIC would rather like to avoid telling their supporters.
Secondly, the people of Somaliland enjoy freedom. There are no oppressed people in Somaliland who are eagerly waiting to be freed by the members of the UIC, as it was the case in Somalia. The Somalilanders have their rights protected by the law; they can elect the government of their own choice and they can send unpopular government out of office. They express their views freely and engage in political dialogue. And they are free to move around with no green-lines and barricades dividing their cities.
Unlike Somalia, there are no restrictions on Somalilanders for watching TVs, or for working for local and international NGOs. Women in Somaliland are allowed to work and have their rights safeguarded by organizations they themselves set up and operate. And they don’t have to adhere to a compulsory dress code. The people in Somalia are denied all these rights under the Islamic Courts’ code of conduct.
Thirdly, the recent threats from the leaders of the UIC towards Somaliland have opened old wounds. The UIC’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, told the media recently that Somaliland worships what he calls “peace” instead of Allah, and added that he was determined to crash that “peace” so that the people of Somaliland will come back to worshiping Allah and will join to the Islamic Courts. Another UIC leader, Colonel Hassan Turki, who is believed to have committed crimes against humanity in Somaliland during the rule of Said Barre, has added insult to injury. He said on a radio broadcast on several occasions that the UIC would forcefully invade Somaliland, adding that it was only a matter of time before they attack Somaliland.
This rhetoric has revealed UIC’s plans for Somaliland. It has become clear that the UIC leaders harbor ill feelings for the people of Somaliland. This has brought back bitter memories from the past, which Somalilanders would rather like to forget. But the rhetoric also unified Somalilanders against the UIC’s intentions in their country.
However, these threats by IC leaders should not sidetrack Somaliland. The people of Somaliland gained impressive achievements to be proud of. They embraced democracy, produced winners and losers abiding by the rules, maintained a culture of negotiation and benefited from positive contribution of the traditional authorities, all within their means. They have defied skeptics both within and outside and have gone on establishing an independent nation-state. These are extra-ordinary achievements for which the vast majority of Somalilanders are prepared to defend.
Finally, the threats by the UIC to Somaliland are empty political rhetoric with limited strategic and operational capacity to carry out. Before they get carried away by the desire to interfere Somaliland, the UIC leaders should worry about the numerous caveats in front of them. First they have to narrow down the widening political gap between the Shabaabs and the moderates within the UIC. Then, they should answer to the needs of the people whose liberty they have just won. Furthermore, they need to sort out the escalating conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and themselves, before they even have to deal with the inevitable and the thorny issue of Puntland. If they are lucky and survive through this long journey, they will come face to face with the realities of Somaliland. Until such a time, these threats should not be taken serious.
Dr. Mohamed A Omar, London, UK
Academic and political analyst