Moment the independent researcher mainly interested in international relations, international development, good governance, security and strategic issues


MomentHistorySociety – It’s now a decade, when Islamic courts union captured the capital city and may parts of southern Somalia beginning a new era of Somali politics. The union easily defeated the Alliance for Restoration of peace and counter-terrorism (ARPCT), a loose coalition of ruthless warlords sponsored by US. For the first time the residents in Mogadishu walked freely in the streets of the capital without fear.

The rise of Islamic courts caught by surprise to many non-specialists, who started their analysis narrowly as “a revolution of population who have been fed up with warlords” yet the movement have been in preparation for almost a decade before its ascendancy to the power in 2006.


Shairf and Aweys Sharif Ahmed and Aweys, former leaders of Islamic Union Courts

Meanwhile, the fall of Islamic union was simply viewed like a cat that has eagerly continued to walk over the edge of a precipice until it found itself hovering in the air, yet Islamic movements have been controlling large swathes in south-central Somalia. How come such a strong movement was reduced to a guerrilla band within two weeks? Nonetheless, the defeat of Islamic Courts in 2006 marked the tenth anniversary of a similar incident that Islamic militants were defeated by Ethiopian troops in Gedo region, several years before that, Al-Itihad militants met the worst annihilation at the hand of Somali salvation democratic Front (SSDF) in 1992. What we see is a vicious cycle of conflicts that at the end, Islamic movements are the losers.

History of Political Islam in Somalia: one step forward two steps backward

The emergency of Islamic movements in Somalia dates back in 1970s when young graduates from Alzhar University returned to the country, they were inspired by the Islamic brotherhood model of Islamism. The movement was augmented by the return of economic migrants from Saudi Arabia who carried the ideology of Wahabbism into the country.

In its early years, political Islam did not arise as a power actor primo facie rather it worked underground, emphasising the Islamization of the population. In the mean time, the government of Siad Barre sought them a menace to its scientific socialism and started repressing them, the oppression reached at peaks in 1975 when the regime summarily executed 10 clerks who opposed the controversial family law which explicitly contravened the tenets of Islamic law. Following the execution, the activities temporarily stopped.

After the collapse of Somali government in 1991, Islamists felt solace and found a window of opportunity to reincarnate, this has placed them in confrontation with non-religious militant groups; USC in kismayo and SSDF in Puntland, during the civil war, Islamic movements were enmeshed in higgledy-piggledy quagmire. On the one hand, they were so labouring, spending a lot of time and efforts inculcating their ideology in Somali people, on the other hand they were so brittle in holding firmly the momentum they gained, for instance in 1991, after a defeat in the hands of USC in Kismayo, they regrouped in Puntland gaining the trust of the elders in the region who in turn handed over to them the only active port in the country, unfortunately, they launched a campaign against the same people who trusted them leading them a moment of melancholy that engulfed the whole movement, they were barred, mosques associated with them were also closed and anybody with the sign of the movement were attached with stigma and disgrace.

The repercussion of 1992 war with SSDF was so scourge in a way that, it took many years for the organisation to tinker the bruises and ameliorate what has gone wrong. From the year 1997 onwards, Islamic movements veered towards new strategy, withdrawing direct military confrontation, they have assimilated within the community acting on tribal bases, and with this strategy Islamic movements regained the support of many communities, placing them at the top of every functioning institution in Somalia i.e. the economy, education, health or even traditional elders.

Moreover, the years of 2000s was the golden age of Islamic movements in Somalia and the whole country was going on their way, their efforts become prolific producing a new generation of young men who committed for the sake of the movement. But as usual, Islamic movements unleashed a new wave of violence that destroyed what was built for decades making their achievements intermittent and durable, in 2006, the docile population again revolted against the conmen whom they thought belonged to them but in reality were controlled from a far.

Why Political Islam has failed in Somalia

For many, the failure of Islamic movements is always externally-induced phenomenon, because the powerful western countries and their pawns in the region do not want Islamic state in the horn. This is partially true, but at closer look, majority of the hurdles and setbacks were internally induced. Let me try some of the factors that stymied the triumph of political Islam in Somalia:

“Capture the state” was the first and foremost goal of Islamic movements in Somalia, forget about everything else, it is now unequivocally clear that power hungry clerics was pushing the agenda of political Islam who consider themselves the only legitimate authority to govern the state. If you ask any of them; how far is Somali state Islamic? Their answer is faltering, despite the fact that Somali culture has been fused with Islamic religion a long time age.

Tribalism: this factor has been visible within the movement up initio; in 1970s the newly young recruits were used to send Arab countries in line with clans, practically the division deepened during the civil war when Hawiye clerics refused to side with their Daarood counterparts in the defence of kismayu in 1991, alternatively, the Daarood wing allied with the secular Somali National Front (SNF). Again in 2006, Hawiye clerics dominated both the houses of Shura and the executive branch of Islamic counts, a move that agitated many supporters of Islamic movement outside Mugadishu.

Greedy politics: Islamic movements has been so greedy in getting too much resources, the evidence for the latter point is provided by somewhat unexpected source the late sheikh Abdi kadir Nur(AUN), one of the leading figures of Islamic movements in Somalia. After he was criticised his role in the dissolution of Al itihad Al-islami in Puntland in 1994, and his position to refrain the violence in the south by Alshabaab. He boldly uttered “it was their greedy politics not me, they have demanded 70% of the revenue of port Bosaso when even they could not answer what they will do for it” pinpointing the genesis of the war between Al itihad and the people of North-eastern Somalia.

Lack of strategy and unified goal: a strategy can be defined as a policy desired to achieve overall goal, Islamic movements start floundering mediocrity whenever the reach a milestone achievement, Thanks to lack of unified goal among them. Although conservative westerners view Islamists two sides in the same coin, political Islam compose of different factions coalesced together. They became open space where the only rule in the game is “display some signs of the sunna” some of them were tribalists, others believe in global Jihad, while others albeit small don’t even know what is going on.

Disdain with other Islamic movements: it is one the characteristics of contemporary political Islam but is not unique to them; Paul Krugman for instance argues that Neo-conservatives in US have aversion to listening. Islamic movements in Somalia don’t only disassociate with themselves but also are pejorative to each other.

In conclusion, generally Islamic movements can be categorised in to two broad movements; neo-fundamentalists and Islamism, where the latter view the only viable way to implement Sharia law is to capture the Islam whereas the former emphasize a bottom-up strategy that involves the islamisation of the population (Olivier Roy, 1994). In Somalia, Islamic movements seem to use a mixed strategy; Islamization of the population and when opportunity comes “capture the state by force”. The first strategy worked for them very well but the latter extremely failed, therefore, after many years of vicious cycle of violence, will Islamic movements in Somalia change their strategy again or what we see today is the demise of political Islam as extremists(alshabab) and neo-fundamentalists(Al i’tisaam) point guns at one another.



Moment the independent researcher mainly interested in international relations, international development, good governance, security and strategic issues


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