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Does the Problem Lie in Growing Beards? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An official from the Somali opposition Hizbul Islam [Islamic Party] held a press conference a few days ago specifically to announce new orders issued by the party granting 30 days for Somali men to grow beards and trim their moustaches otherwise they will face harsh punishments by the armed party. Sheikh Hashi Mohammed Farah, Hizbul Islam’s governor of the Somali capital, said in the press conference, “We will not allow the growing of beards and moustaches together, and we will not allow the shaving of both; they [men] must grow the beard and trim the moustache.”

These orders are not the first of their kind to be issued by this party or other Islamist militias that divide Somalia into areas of influence and areas of war and conflict. In the past, the Hizbul Islam and Al Shabaab movements issued orders for men to shorten the length of their trousers, women to wear the Hijab [Islamic veil] and radio stations to stop broadcasting music in addition to banning people from watching the matches of the World Cup tournament that is currently taking place in South Africa on the bases that it is a waste of time. Furthermore, earlier this year, the Al Shabaab movement announced that it banned the operations of the [UN] World Food Program from taking place in Somalia on the pretext that it uses food aid for political purposes.

This is happening in a country where over 40 percent of the population relies on foreign food aid and where 20 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition. The UN says that Somalia is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in around 18 years. The UNHCR says that it is a country where there are over 1.4 million internally displaced people because of the war and that the number of registered refugees outside of the country stands at over 600,000 in addition to the thousands who fled to countries around the world but are not registered as refugees on the UN’s records. As for the death toll, the most conventional reports estimate that the number stands at 300,000 since 1991 as the country has known nothing but wars and conflicts since then.

In light of this tragedy the militias are battling over influence and are completely indifferent to dividing the country and the suffering of its people and no one is even rushing to claim that these movements are fighting for the sake of an Islamic project. The clearest evidence that this is a case of a battle over authority and influence – which feeds on a complex tribal structure and the lack of any real central authority – is that the Islamist movement and militias are fighting and battling among themselves and not because of religious differences but rather in order to get their hands on power. In fact they are now fighting against a president who emerged from the womb of these movements themselves.

In many respects, the current situation in Somalia resembles Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power and if any extremist Islamist movement were to impose its authority on the country it would establish an “emirate” like the “Taliban emirate” which opens the door wide to the Al Qaeda organization. There are reports that some of its leaders moved from Yemen to Somalia and that some of its cadres are actually fighting there. US jets launched raids and operations targeting what were said to be Al Qaeda elements especially as some of the perpetrators of the two 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Nairobi fled to Somalia at the time.

Somalia has become an example of “the failed state” in which the central authority and the institutions have no influence. People live in harsh conditions and are deprived of the most basic services and basic necessities. In a state where many people no longer know the meaning of the law, it was not strange to see that there is a generation of pirates who made the coasts opposite Somalia the most dangerous international waters despite that there are warships that travel in the region to secure navigation. In light of the collapse of the situation, Ethiopia and Eritrea entered a war by proxy on the Somali coast after their direct war ended and conflict and tension between them continued.

Though the Arabs stood powerless or watching the situation in a country that is a member of the Arab League and left the matter down to the African Union, which was better as it sent peacekeeping forces to fight despondency in support of the government in Mogadishu, Israel did not fail to notice the repercussions of the Somali situation on numerous regional issues. As a result, an Israeli official stated in February that his country is willing establish ties with “the Republic of Somaliland” in the north of the country, which declared its secession [from Somalia] in 1991. The Israeli official was cited as saying that his country wanted bilateral ties with this Muslim country “that overlooks the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and the Bab El Mandab Strait,” indicating that Israel currently has ties with African states in the region such as Tanzania, Uganda and Djibouti.

The Somali crisis could further deteriorate and the repercussions will not stop at the borders of this troubled country just as we saw in the scenes of piracy that threatened and are threatening navigation in this vital region. The same applies if Al Qaeda transfers its operations to Somalia and if movements that do not think about providing food or security and services to a suffering nation but only think about growing beards and trimming moustaches seize power.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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