On Friday 16 January, while Israel continued its brutal slaughter in Ghazzah, less than a thousand miles away, another foreign army was being forced to withdraw its troops from Muslim land it had also illegally occupied. On that day, to the joy of millions Somalia, Ethiopia was forced to pull its troops from Mogadishu, having invaded and occupied it just over two years earlier. Through a close examination of the conflict, one can draw valuable lessons for Hamas and the Muslim world.
In June 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) came to power in Mogadishu having militarily defeated all their opponents, including the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the various US-backed warlords who had sporadically ruled Somalia since they toppled Somalia’s last effective government 15 years earlier. Prior to the rise of the UIC, anarchy and violence engulfed Somalia. Peace and security were romantic notions that most Somalis could not even imagine being implemented in their lifetime.
So when the UIC declared victory on June 5, 2006, the Somalis celebrated. The UIC was not like any other militia the Somalis had suffered for 15 years. The UIC emerged out of a judicial system funded by the powerful business community to try and bring some law and order to the country and later developed into a powerful army to achieve its objectives. Even the BBC reporting the conflict at the time conceded how the UIC were the most popular political force in the country and how much they were trusted by the people, because of their restoration of law and order. BBC reporters discussed how life was getting better with far fewer checkpoints where gunmen used to extort money from passing motorists and commercial vehicles. In addition, food prices dropped and disarming of people meant resorting to the gun was no longer a routine part of life. The narcotic khat was prohibited and robbers and criminals were punished according to the shari’ah giving the people a new sense of security and liberty. Over the next six months, the UIC opened both Mogadishu airport and seaport for the first time in over a decade. Piracy, which had been rampant off the coast of Somalia for years, was declared a crime and incidents of piracy fell dramatically during UIC rule.
Despite all this success, the US and neighbouring Ethiopia could not tolerate the existence of an Islamic government in Somalia. They offered the TFG their full support and backing despite its complete impotence and inability to govern an inch of territory outside Baidoa. It was declared to be the only legitimate government of Somalia with its President Abdullahi Yusuf given full recognition as its leader.
Although the situation on the ground was rapidly improving for ordinary Somalis, the TFG continuously threatened to invoke the assistance of other African armies, even Somalia’s archenemy Ethiopia, to try and oust the UIC from power. Although the UIC were politically and militarily powerful enough to completely overrun Baidoa, they chose not to, opting for dialogue instead. While the TFG met them for discussions, they treacherously conspired with Ethiopia to invade. Ethiopian troops began to trickle in by the hundreds before an official invasion was launched which led to the overthrow of the UIC on December 26, 2006.
The reaction of the international community was typically weak. The Muslim world, severely infected by racism, barely batted an eyelid. Muslim governments felt no need to even condemn the actions of Ethiopia, while rank-and-file Muslims peacefully protested from within their homes; there were no demonstrations, no condemnations, no care or concern. The UN Security Council was wheeled out but as ever, could not agree on a resolution, due to Qatar’s courageous stance to insist that any resolution include a statement on the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Somalia. The regional power, the African Union, did not know how to react. Initially it stated that Ethiopia had the right to intervene militarily as it felt threatened by an Islamic militia operating in Somalia. The next day, in an astonishing turnaround, it called on Ethiopia to withdraw all its troops immediately.
The US directly joined the war in January 2007 launching brutal airstrikes over Somalia, its actions not only condoned but sanctioned by the power-hungry TFG. Over the next two years, 16,000 civilians were to die with over a million made homeless, as Somalia descended back into the violence, lawlessness and chaos. In October 2007, the International Maritime Bureau reported that piracy attacks in the region had increased by 14% that year, and attributed this to the ousting of the UIC.
Although the UIC was officially dispersed with many of its members either killed or in exile, the insurgency against the Ethiopians, the TFG and the AU peacekeepers rapidly accelerated. A new group, called al-Shabab, was formed and for two years, carried out a ruthless campaign against both Somali and foreign soldiers. It declared its intention to re-establish law and order according to the Shari’ah and slowly, Muslims from all over the world travelled to Somalia to assist them in their mission. In words reminiscent of the Ansar during the time of the Prophet (saws), Abu Mansoor, the leader of al-Shabab, vowed to “welcome any Muslim from any part of the world who wants to join us” and to “allow him to wed our daughters and share our farms.” Al-Shabab rapidly began gaining control of numerous towns and cities until all that remained was Mogadishu, from which the Ethiopians finally withdrew last month. Whichever areas came into their control, were governed with shari’ah bringing security and stability, thereby winning the praise of the locals.
But unlike the UIC, al-Shabab have proved less tolerant of anything they regard as innovation in religion and have set about destroying shrines of saints. Rather than try and win the hearts and minds of the people through gentleness, they have been harsh in their attempts to bring Islam back. In addition, they differ from the UIC in that their vision is wider and they aim to continue the war against oppression outside their own borders, once they have proved successful in Somalia. So, in essence, while Ethiopia invaded and the US attacked out of fear of the UIC establishing an Islamic state in Somalia, their actions have led to the rise of an even stronger and more “fundamentalist” movement from the ashes of the UIC.
So what lessons can Hamas learn from this? Like the UIC, Hamas too is a grassroots Islamic movement that came to power upon a tide of public support. It too seeks to rule according to the shari’ah and is being targeted and attacked by Israel and the West as a result. Like the TFG, a puppet government in the form of the Palestinian Authority is recognised by the international community, although it lacks any real political power or popular support and can only come to power riding Israeli tanks. As in Somalia, the UN could not agree on a resolution during the latest genocidal chapter in Palestinian history, and the Arab states were complicit in what took place.
The difference though was that the Muslim world came out into the streets in hundreds of thousands and marched against the Israeli invasion. Petitions were signed, letters were written to ministers and MPs, funds were raised, and Israeli goods were boycotted. With all the good that this did in winning over public opinion, in the end, Israel withdrew when it decided to withdraw. Nothing the world said or did made a difference to its timetable. Contrast this with Somalia where there was a fraction of the Gaza media coverage, there were no demonstrations, no petitions, no letters to MPs and no fundraising. The only action that was being taken was jihad fi sabeelillah which forced the Ethiopians to withdraw. Al-Shabab do not care what the UN thinks or decides when it comes to defending their rights and liberating the people from oppression. It is time that the Palestinians did the same. For how can a body that created the very entity from which their misery emanates be their saviour? It has proved weak and pitiful, and the carefree bombings of its institutions in Ghazzah underlined this pathetic state. Like battered housewives, the Palestinians return time and time again to the UN begging for recognition. The history of this conflict and all conflicts has demonstrated that might is right and possession is 9/10ths of the law. There is only one solution to the question of Palestine and al-Shabab have shown the way.
For the West too, there are lessons to learn. If Hamas is displaced like the UIC, what will rise from the debris of Ghazzah to replace it?