Governing Somalia:

What is more important, freedom or security? Asks Liam Bailey

In the last throes of 2006 Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, and with Somalia’s Transitional Government (TG) forces drove the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) out of Mogadishu, and with the help of American air strikes, supposedly, out of Somalia. Somali residents had lived in a state of anarchy since the dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. The Union of Islamic Courts restored order and allowed people to go about their normal lives in relative security.In UIC controlled areas children could go to school safely and once more hospitals could treat the sick without flows of injured coming in from daily violence. However, the UIC ruled with a strict code of Sharia law, meaning the security came at the cost of some personal freedoms and civil liberties. With the UIC ousted, 2007 began a new chapter for Somalia, a new chapter of violence and insecurity.The UIC began their sweep to power, taking the capital Mogadishu Jun 2006. By December they controlled most of Southern and Central Somalia. The Transitional Govermnent’s one remaining stronghold was Baidoa and a small area surrounding it, where it is widely believed Ethiopian troops were stationed to protect the government.

The United Nations was responsible for the imposition of the TG. In early December they still recognized it as the only governing body in Somalia or “The only route to peace and stability” –as it was called in Resolution 1725–, despite it being made up of warlords. The warlords were responsible for much of the violence, insecurity and terrorization of the civilian population before the UIC took power.

The U.S gave strong support to the TG, against the UIC forces. Strong support to the very warlords that, by inflicting heavy casualties, forced the withdrawal of U.S. forces in a peacekeeping mission in the early nineties. U.S support failed to stop the UIC advance. Shortly before the Ethiopian invasion the U.S presented a draft Resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The Resolution laid out the rules of engagement for a proposed Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and African Union force to enter Somalia. The fore was to protect the TG, to restart the peace negotiations between the TG and the UIC, but ultimately to reinstall the UN recognized government and engage any forces running contrary to that mission.

It was adopted as Resolution 1725 but the UIC’s rapid sweep to power gave the impression that they were a strong determined and highly capable fighting force. This combined with the UIC’s war declaration on Ethiopian forces in Somalia, their threats to attack peacekeepers and the Iraq quagmire, which started from a similar mission, to make IGAD countries reluctant to send their forces into what could easily become another Iraq.

Ethiopia showed no such reluctance, because Ethiopia had no such noble intentions. With U.S. support, Ethiopia responded to the UIC’s final attack on the last remaining government stronghold of Baidoa. Ethiopia said throughout that it had no intention of occupying Somalia, its only mission was to oust the UIC and return the TG to the seat of power. Unexpectedly the UIC put up little resistance, displaying none of the fight to the death attitude they had spoken of. Ethiopian and TG forces made short work of removing the strict regime of the UIC. As they beat a hasty retreat the UIC made statements to the press promising to wage a guerrilla war, “like Iraq”.

So, it seems that the U.S., Ethiopia and the UN believe freedom is more important than security.

Ethiopia is keeping to its word and their forces have already begun to withdraw. The UIC is also keeping its promise and since their defeat, Somalia, more specifically Mogadishu has been rocked by almost daily, mortar, rocket propelled grenade attacks, and occasional suicide bomb attacks. According to reports an 8000 strong African Union force is now expected to enter Somalia in mid-April 2007. Uganda was due to announce a date for a small Burundian advance force but the news conference was cancelled.

Given the failure of 7000 AU troops to stop the violence in Darfur, Sudan, it is unlikely they will adequately fill the vacuum left by the Ethiopian forces. It is also unlikely they will afford the TG the same protection as the Ethiopian force and a UIC uprising could begin anew. Given the consistent UIC statements to view peacekeepers as an invading force it is almost certain the peacekeepers will become targets for insurgent warfare, and even more certain they will fail to stop the insurgency.

Mogadishu residents are fleeing the city en masse to take residence in makeshift refugee camps on the outskirts. Without security people can’t live their day to day lives but have the freedom to make personal choices. I believe Somalis would rather be secure in their day to day lives, be able to live in their homes, be able to go out without getting caught up in violence or fear of not returning home, or having no home to return to, and be able to send their kids to school without fear of them being killed on the journey. Even if it meant they couldn’t enjoy western comforts, listen to western music, or go to the cinema.

So, by trying to give the Somali people freedom, Ethiopia and the U.S. have returned them to the anarchy they have already endured far too much of. Some people are forced to leave their homes, and so not free to live where they choose, others are forced to stay indoors. Therefore security is more important than freedom, because without security there isn’t much freedom, and what little there is can’t be enjoyed.

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Ethiopia Gave Hobson’s Choice for Christmas

Somalis have recently been under a harsh Islamic regime, but the alternatives are much worse.

By Liam Bailey

Predominantly Christian Ethiopia gave its Muslim Somali neighbours perhaps the worst Christmas present of all. The reinstatement of full-blown war to replace the weeks of sporadic artillery fire and months of socially restrictive calm brought by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC)sweeping to power in June.

Ethiopia entering the conflict proper by launching air-strikes on UIC towns and positions Dec. 24, brought report after report of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces taking towns and of the Courts in retreat. Reports Dec. 27 put the advancing forces at 50km from Mogadishu having taken control of all major towns en route to the capital.

Upon Ethiopia’s entry into the conflict the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting in which members met regarding a call to end the fighting in Somalia. No call was made however, because the U.S. and several of her allies objected to the text, saying that it singled out Ethiopia and that stability from a political agreement was needed before foreign troops could leave. Lebanon/Israel all over again, I wondered how many Somalis would be killed and displaced before the U.S let the UN pull its finger out. Literally, to point objectionably and tell them to “stop it”, about all it is good for of late.

The U.S of course, supported Ethiopia in fighting the UIC, viewing the action as part of the broad War on Terror. Again similarly to the war in Lebanon earlier this year, the U.S urged restraint by Ethiopia, and the maximum protection of civilians. Clearly the U.S has learned nothing from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islamic fundamentalism is not like any ideology or threat the world has ever faced and cannot be dealt with by military force. The current wave of terrorism around the world is fuelled by the literal Quranic interpretations of Salafism and the Jihad it presents as central to Islam. Not only literal interpretations are the problem though, the translation of Islamic texts to suit an ideology of terrorism also contributes in the besiegement of the world.

Take the recent spate of suicide bombings… Suicide is forbidden in the Quran, but Salafism hails Jihad above all else, so suicide bombing as an act of Jihad therefore, is acceptable in their ideology. According to the same ideology those fighting Jihad are seen in a special light by Allah and those dying while doing so go straight to paradise, suicide bombers included.

Dec. 28 reports from Somalia were that the UIC had surrendered in Mogadishu, returning it to clan rule. The Courts had said they would re-group there and continue the war.

Somalia’s envoy to Ethiopia told reporters Dec. 27 that they planned to avoid civilian casualties by not fighting for Mogadishu, instead surrounding and besieging the capital until the UIC surrendered. Their strategy worked in a far quicker time than the Court’s rhetoric would have suggested.

It does now look like the transitional Federal Government has regained control of Somalia with Ethiopia’s assistance. What happens now however, is unclear.

Ethiopian ministers have stated that they do not intend to impose a government in Somalia and that they are there to defend their interests only. They had also said that TFG forces would be on their own in fighting for Mogadishu. Somalis however reported Dec. 27 Ethiopian tanks and troops marching towards the capital with TFG forces.

If Ethiopian ministers speak the truth and indeed intend to leave Somalia now that the courts have surrendered, Somalia will undoubtedly return to the anarchy of the 15 years before. On the other hand, if Ethiopia does intend to take some part in the running of Somalia, I hope it is planning for a long conflict. Somalis may have been worried about the loss of personal freedoms under the Courts, but as the recent demonstrations in Mogadishu displayed, they want to be ruled by Ethiopia even less.

Either way in one of the world’s poorest countries, already enduring severe drought, famine and the aftermath of severe floods, things are set to get far worse for the Somali people. The war has already put an end to the humanitarian efforts being made and created thousands of refugees. In the coming months Somalia’s population will be faced with an environment similar to Iraq, with ex Courts militiamen, foreign fighters and clansmen waging unconventional warfare in Jihad against the Ethiopian occupiers. Or they will be returned to the previous 15 years of lawlessness, chaos, insecurity and violence, again, pretty similar to Iraq.

Somalis don’t get a say in the matter, but if they did it would be Hobson’s choice.

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Somalia Resolution: No Peace to Keep

Peacekeepers should never be expected to establish peace.By Liam Bailey

The 15 Member United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1725 Dec. 6 2006. The U.S led resolution authorizes a regional force from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) to establish a protection and training mission in Somalia. And the lifting of the UN arms embargo in relation to supplying the peacekeeping force. The previous UN mission in the country, started similarly but ended in a bloody battle and the death of 18 Marines attempting to disarm rival factions. The current resolution states its intention to consider taking measures against those that seek to prevent or block a peaceful dialogue process, overthrow the Transitional Federal Institutions by force, or take action that further threatens regional stability. Suggesting that, like its predecessor it could become far more than a protection and training mission, which may well have an adverse effect regional stability.

The U.S pushed for the resolution fearing that, predominantly following Salafist Islam, based on the Wahabi ideology that drives Al Qaeda’s Jihad. The Union of Islamic Courts will turn Somalia into a safe-haven and breeding ground for terrorism if they succeed in taking complete control of the country.

The current situation and likely near future presents similarities with other regions in the world past and present, none of which have gone well, in fact quite the opposite. When the U.S proposed the resolution, immediately analysts were calling out on the U.S’ intention to send troops into another Muslim country they were not wanted. In Iraq’s case that is where the similarities end and the opposites begin…

The U.S led coalition invaded Iraq to topple the government, whereas, no U.S or Western forces will enter Somalia to ensure that the government is not toppled.

The resolution reiterates that Transitional Federal Charter and Institutions are: “The only route to peace and stability” in Somalia, a northeast African nation without an effective central government since 1991. Statements like that, and passing the U.S led resolution authorizing a force, predominantly to protect the TFG in their stronghold of Baidoa, and train their security forces to counteract Islamist rule. Suggests they share the U.S’ desire, or ideology if you like to lump all Islamic militants together. Immediately make them the bad guy’s in any conflict, and proceed to meet them with force under the heading of the War on Terror. As in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, where the U.S and their supporters are finally being forced –by Iraq– to admit that this one size fits all policy just may be a mistake.

Despite Kofi Annan saying Thursday that the nations providing the troops should convince the UIC that they would not be an invasion force, adding: “It is important that we get the Somalis to understand that the force is coming in to help.”

The resolution and proposed force are provoking a predictable reaction from the Somali Islamists. Ibrahim Adow of the UIC told the BBC Friday: “Deploying foreign forces to Somalia is seen as invading forces and the Somali people are prepared to defend themselves against aggression.” Another UIC spokesman, Abdirahin Ali Mudey told The Washington Post Thursday that the resolution will introduce sophisticated weapons into Somalia and provoke a war between his group and the government. The UNSC hopes the resolution will restore peace and avert wider conflict in the region. But Mudey accused them of allowing Ethiopia to occupy Somalia and said that his movement would now reconsider attending the scheduled peace talks with the government later this month.

The UIC considerations would have taken a turn for the worse Friday when TFG forces, according to eye-witnesses accompanied by Ethiopian troops attacked UIC controlled Dinsoor. Some analysts, like BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut are warning that it could be the opening shots of the long awaited war for control of Somalia. I think it more likely that they are attempting to grab as much land before the arrival of the peacekeeping force, to give them more leverage in the power-sharing agreement that will supposedly follow the UN mission.

A peacekeeping force in Somalia may yet be a long way off, as many of the IGAD and AU nations are reluctant to send forces into the depths of the Somali conflict. Uganda, the only country to pledge troops for the force are now saying they may hold off until the security situation improves. Their Deputy Defense Minister called the lifting of the arms embargo “a first step” but said “It may be that we will think of holding off until the terrain is not so hostile for Ugandan forces.” And that the situation had changed since they first backed a peacekeeping force January 2005. Some are saying the UN’s adoption of the resolution is more a symbolic display of support for the TFG.

If or when a peacekeeping force do arrive in Somalia I suspect they will be in for a rough time. In the final comparison with Afghanistan, not the current war, now led by N.A.T.O, of which the coalition invasion would draw the same comparison’s as Iraq with Somalia’s current plight; the invasion of a Muslim country to topple a Muslim government not in the U.S interest. The earlier invasion however, when Soviet forces entered to strengthen the weak Afghan government they supported against a Mujahideen onslaught, is identical to the current situation. In that the IGAD and AU forces are entering on behalf of the UN, to protect the Somali government which they support, despite it controlling only a fraction of the country. Also identical in the level of outside support for both sides, intent on fighting a proxy war inside Somalia.

So if the examples of conflict in Somalia’s last peacekeeping mission, Iraq, Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan past and present are anything to go by. The AU and IGAD nations’ reluctance to pledge troops is understandable. And if a peacekeeping force ever does enter Somalia it won’t achieve its title aim, especially if it follows the UN mandate. Imposing Sharia law throughout Somalia by Holy War (Jihad) if necessary is central to the UIC’s Salafist ideology, force is the operative word and they will always meet it with force. And they will always have outside support from the world’s extremists.

The only way to avert all out war in the region is by reaching out to Somalia’s moderate Muslim’s with diplomacy to secure peace first, followed by an appropriate force to make sure the agreements are implemented. After a decade of war Somalian’s deserve peace. Not the U.S hijacking diplomacy to open yet another front in the War on Terror that will end in catastrophe. I’m really surprised and disappointed with the UN and the U.S’ failure to learn from their –many– mistakes.

Somalia’s War Will Revitalize Terrorism Around The World!

Islamic militants’ success sets a worrying example for a world fighting extremism.

By Liam Bailey

Since claiming victory in the battle for Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital late June, the Islamic Courts Union have fought their way through southern Somalia. They controlled most of southern Somalia including Mogadishu but with the exception of a small area around Baidoa by September. Since September not only have they held the towns and regions they had taken control of in the south but they have expanded their control by taking more towns and regions and are currently controlling most of Southern and Central Somalia, still with the exception of the area around Baidoa, where it is widely believed Ethiopian and Ugandan troops are massing. Most recent reports are that the UIC has reached the town of Abudwaq in Galgadud region, where they were warmly received by residents.

The Union of Islamic Courts is spreading Sharia Law throughout Somalia as they gain control of more and more territory. They achieved more success in their goal Oct. 21 when the self declared autonomous region of Puntland’s authorities announced it was adopting Sharia law. The move came after sustained pressure from the UIC, which led to clashes with Puntland forces Nov 6 as the UIC advanced toward Puntland territory. According to UIC vice-chairman Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Umar Puntland forces attacked UIC positions near the Mudug town of Galinsoor, UIC forces repelled the attackers but did not pursue them. According to Sheikh Fuad Mahamud, one of Mudug’s religious leaders, the announcement came after he and other religious leaders met with Puntland’s leader Gen. Muhammed Adde Muse and recommended that Sharia law be adopted in the region. According to a local journalist Puntland leader 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 Southern Somalia, they have been imposing strict standards of behavioral and religious discipline. Not by issuing official directives but 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 meant that civil liberties and freedoms were reduced more i.e. women being forced to wear the Hijab in some areas but not others, and in the same areas oppression was worse and harsh punishments like public floggings were being dolled out for minor infringements of the strict standards, like men and women selling drugs, chewing Khat and “immoral behavior”

A Mogadishu journalist told Allafrica.com 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.UIC leadership told allafrica.com that centralization of the courts took place in late September, when they had been brought under a central authority the UIC officially established a judicial court under Sharia law. The Supreme Court of Benadir Region was opened and an appeal court set up in October. Representing all courts The Supreme Justice Committee now has to give the go ahead before and public execution or flogging can be carried out, photographs and videos of the punishments have now been banned by the UIC. Police Stations are not fully operational and sentenced prisoners are being held in Mogadishu central jail.

The fighting continues in Somalia, between the UN recognized Transitional Federal Government, holding only a small area around Baidoa, rival Warlord controlled factions struggling to hold the North and the UIC advancing North from its controlled south and central regions. Not only are they imposing Sharia law on the regions they control but residents are also noting an emphasis on Jihad, including Jihad seminars for men and women; bringing a “visible” increase in militarization in the regions. Training camps are also being built to unite the new militia men and women into a centralized force. One of the most worrying things for the rest of the world is the message the UIC’s rampant success is sending to Islamic Jihad groups all around the world, and not only in their taking and holding control. We have all seen the disaster Iraq has become for the occupying coalition, Jihad is rife, apart from the sectarian death squads ad 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. Afghanistan looks to be going the same way.

Since the UIC have taken control in Somalia, despite the systematic removal of most civil liberties as the strict behavioral and religious standards were imposed, the harsh public punishments and increased militarization of the young population the residents have remained largely happy and their has been literally no resistance from Somalia’s civilian population to the Islamic Courts gaining and keeping control. In fact some reports say 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 was tearing the country apart; brining lawlessness and insecurity throughout Somalia since the central government collapsed in 1991, prefer any form of law order and security to total anarchy. The changes in UIC controlled areas make the publics reaction understandable and are similar to the changes in Mogadishu, which I will now cover.

No more roadblocks and gunmen roaming the streets. The price of many products has dropped because lorries are no longer hi-jacked or have money extorted by gunmen. Traders make it home with their earnings, children go to school regularly without fear and hospitals can again concentrate on helping the sick without the constant trauma of conflict. A recent visitor from the Diaspora, who has not been to Mogadishu in six years, told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) that he was astounded by the changes. “I drove through areas no one has driven in 15 years – like Bermuda [named after the Bermuda Triangle, previously one of the most dangerous areas] – without any security escort or even a gun. Five months ago this would have been unthinkable, even with a heavy security escort,”

The renewed security in return for harsher controls and les civil liberties leaves Somali’s at a bit of a quandary. 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 renewed stability in most of Somalia has allowed humanitarian aid back into Mogadishu, Leo van der Velden, Deputy Country Director of World Food Programme for Somalia told the (IRIN) that the new authority had “done the right things and said the right things” to encourage humanitarian access, and that good security allowed transporters to safely carry and deliver. As a result food aid arrived at the newly opened port for distribution outside the city for the first time in over a decade. In the same INIR report CARE International confirmed that a consignment of sorghum from the United States had arrived in the port in October, and was successfully handled, transported and delivered to areas outside the city – a logistical achievement impossible for more than a decade, when the port and its resources became a flashpoint for factional fighting.

The aid in October would have been badly needed since September, when all humanitarian aid agencies in Somalia had announced their withdrawal from areas under UIC control in response to fears over their security. Fears caused by the murders in Mogadishu of an Italian nun and a foreign camera man and the assassination attempt on the TFG President in Baidoa. The aid agency withdrawal came just after talks began with the UIC, much to the dismay of moderates within the organization.

There is an 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 hard-line strand of Salafist Islam, an offshoot of the Saudi Wahabi school of Islamic thought. Salafist ideology is against rationalism and regards sports and television as –lahw- vulgar- past-times, hence the cinema’s being closed down by hard-line courts. Salafist teachings are a rigid and literal interpretation of Islamic texts and view all other Islamic sects as deviants. Salafism teaches against compromise and holy war is the hinge pin of their ideology. Sheikh Awey’s Salfist followers; the UIC’s hardliners view security, defense of the country and religion as the priority.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed teaches the moderate Qutubism strand of Islam, from Egyptian Islamic teacher Sayyid Qutub’s book In The Shade of The Koran. Qutub’s teachings are primitive and 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 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. Another, Abu Utayba appeared with other prominent UIC members in a Jihad video doing the rounds in Somalia and the Diaspora. Praising Osama Bin Laden the video shows military training camps in Mogadishu, and, calling Somalia “the new Afghanistan of the world” calls on “any marginalized Muslim to come to Somalia.”

Fortunately some of Sheikh Ahmed’s moderate followers are in prominent UIC positions. Head of the UIC foreign affairs department Professor Ibrahim Hassan Adow, told IRIN that the greatest challenge for the UIC is to meet basic needs. “Our biggest challenge is to go beyond peace and provide social services, to provide the basic needs, whether it is food, medical care, shelter, education, employment. While we do this, we have to simultaneously show the world that we want to pacify Somalia and defend the Somali people, and establish a working relationship [with the international community].”

Leading UIC cleric and moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said, also to IRIN that the UIC could provide security for international organizations to work in Mogadishu, and had encouraged humanitarian groups to take advantage of peace in the city.

“We had started negotiations and the process was going well, but then the humanitarian community declared it was leaving the areas where the UIC was in control. We regret that because we see it as a violation of people’s rights.”

A sentiment shared by Sheikh Ahmed’s followers. According to IRIN: Key members of the UIC leadership are working to secure international support and assistance in rebuilding Somalia. There is consternation in the movement that, having successfully delivered peace and unity in Mogadishu after nearly two decades of chaos and conflict, the humanitarian community has pulled out. The moderates are concerned that isolation from the international community serves to strengthen extremism and undermines opportunities for humanitarian assistance.

There is clear division in the UIC but in a society currently ruled by the gun, it is likely that Sheikh Awey’s militant strand of Salafist Islam will prevail, the current lack of engagement between the UIC and the Transitional Federal Somali government suggests the hardliners already have more power in the Union. In fact moderate Sheikh Ahmed has hinted at resigning in an interview with London based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. 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, but it is widely thought that a fall-out is inevitable, 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, which, given Sheikh Ahmed hinting at resignation in London’s al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper I have no doubt it will. Somalia will become a shining example to followers of militant Salafi and Wahabi Islam, making up terror networks like Al Qaeda and their affiliates worldwide 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. This will undoubtedly increase the number of young Muslim’s, who may currently be, as Somali Sheikh ‘Abu Utayba’ said “marginalized” and undecided joining the revitalized networks.

This article was published by Desicritics and a shortened version by OhmyNews International.