Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Interview with Leader of the Islamic Courts in Somalia Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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(Asharq Al-Awsat) How did Kismayu fall?

(Aweys) We entered Kismayu as peacemakers, not as fighters. We were afraid the city might become a landing point for the African peacekeeping forces that the transitional authority is trying to bring to Somalia with support from Ethiopia. We had to move and deal a preemptive blow in order to deprive all parties from the opportunity to use Kismayu as an advanced base for dropping and deploying any African forces. This is our natural right since we categorically oppose the authority’s position in this regard.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Somali Government accused you of breaching the peace treaty and the agreements reached in Sudan; how would you respond to that?

(Aweys) The government has nothing to do with what happened in Kismayu and it is none of its business because the city was never under its control. The government can only speak about its headquarters in Bidawah because it is currently the only city in Somalia where the government has a presence and is in control. Our presence in Kismayu is extremely normal and is not surprising.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why did you not go to the city and personally oversee its handover as was planned?

(Aweys) I had an urgent medical crisis that prevented me from heading there, but I will visit the city when God blesses me with good health. There is nothing to stop me from going there, for it is a Somali city and its residents are our brothers, some of them fought alongside our forces against the warlords and the armed militia commanders we expelled from the capital Mogadishu.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What will become of Defense Minister Adan Shir? Do you plan on tracking him down?

(Aweys) All I know is that he fled the city before our forces entered it. This man knew we were coming but he went against us and eventually claimed that we were extremists and criticized us. He knew that his guards were part of our organization. This is not what we expected of him; it seems Transitional President Abdullah Yusuf succeeded in luring him with power and its fake prestige, and convinced him to work with him and assume the defense portfolio, but he is not fully aware of the requirements of this post. At the end of the day, the defense minister fled Kimsayu after he was sure that our forces had the upper hand there.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You now control nearly 70 percent of Somalia, do you feel that you are in reality the strongest man in the country?

(Aweys) I know very well what you are getting at, and the answer is no, I do not think that way. On the contrary, I always see myself as the poorest, weakest, and simplest of all Somalis had it not been for the grace of God. My political platform will not change and I will not think of myself as a leader or president. I am serving my people from my position and I am not at all interested in power nor do I like it.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Even though the city was (peacefully) handed over, your militia killed at least two people on its first day there.

(Aweys) I have not heard of this, but what I do know is that our forces were forced to fire in the air to disperse some angry protestors whom we had deprived of Qat (a narcotic drug) after the plane transporting it failed to land in the city as usual.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you plan on assaulting Bidawah, the transitional authority’s stronghold?

(Aweys) No, there is a treaty between us, one that we reached under the sponsorship of the Arab League and Sudanese Government. We will honor this treaty, which forbids each party from attacking the other, and we will not be the ones to initiate an attack on the city under any circumstance. Besides, why would we attack it so long as there is security, stability, and a government there? We entered Kismayu without fighting and upon the invitation of its residents. We were never invaders and we never sought to occupy lands here or there. All we care about is how to achieve security.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But you had said earlier that you would not attack Kismayu.

(Aweys) Yes, that is true, and we kept our word, but the reality is that this city was not safe enough and its residents asked us to come help them. When our forces moved, everyone there knew what we were going to do. We did not fight and we did not take off from Mogadishu with the aim of occupying the city — we only wanted to help the residents contain matters and avoid a state of lawlessness.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean that you would do the same if asked by the residents of Bidawah?

(Aweys) No, this is not how it is. Matters were on the verge of anarchy in Kismayu and we had to intervene quickly and resolve matters there for the sake of the residents. As for Bidawah, there is a government and an authority there that can guarantee security and that have an interest in doing so. We will not, therefore, go there.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But you just said that you will fight the Ethiopian forces there.

(Aweys) Yes, we will do so because they are invading forces that came without the Somali people’s consent. We will confront them. We do not seek war, but if the Ethiopians force our hand, we will fight and we will not hesitate to defend our lands and our country’s sovereignty.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Excuse me, but these forces came primarily to protect the transitional authority?

(Aweys) Transitional President Abdullah Yusuf would be mistaken to think that these invading forces can guarantee his security and that of his government. We believe he no longer capable of an independent political decision in light of the presence of these forces, in other words, the transitional authority in Bidawah has entirely transformed into a toy in the hands of Ethiopian authorities, which have imposed their control on it.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Okay, and the solution is?

(Aweys) We advise the president and the members of parliament and government to leave Bidawah because it is no longer safe for them and to come to us in the capital Mogadishu unaccompanied by any forces. We will protect them and relinquish power to them provided they establish an Islamic state.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But the transitional president rejects your Islamic project and will not agree to this.

(Aweys) How can he refuse to be the president of an Islamic state that rules by God’s law and His prophet’s tradition? How can he agree to be a hostage in the hands of the Ethiopians, who we think have become the real decision makers in Bidawah after the transitional authority was completely marginalized?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will the president be safe in Mogadishu?

(Aweys) Yes he will. We publicly and officially vow that they will not be harmed. He is our president and we have the right to advise him because the decision is no longer his, and it unfortunate that he would allow himself to play this role, which contradicts with the interests of the Somali people.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will there not be attempts on his life in the capital?

(Aweys) No there will not, and we believe that we can, with the help of God, guarantee his personal security and that of all those currently serving in the authority, government agencies, and parliament. The attempt on his life was made in Bidawah, his stronghold, and not in Mogadishu.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have been unofficially accused of involvement in that attempt?

(Aweys) This is not true, we had nothing to do with it, and we expressed our sorrow over this deterioration in security. We believe the president should be wise and understand that we are not Somalia’s enemies, but only did our duty to protect the people’s lives and property in light of the central government’s absence. What we are doing is basically the government’s job and part of its duties, but because it is absent, we must fill in for it temporarily and take matters into our own hands. The government’s continued presence in Bidawah will not solve the problem, but will further complicate it.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you still committed to the peace negotiations despite this all?

(Aweys) Yes we are, and we will attend the third round as scheduled. We feel it is important that dialogue between the Courts and the authority continue because the alternative will not be in the interest of our people. Again, we do not seek military confrontation with anyone, but if we have to, we will do so without hesitation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) I understand you are in the process of restructuring the Islamic Courts?

(Aweys) Who told you this? We are still preparing for this organizational process because we believe it would be wrong for the Islamic Courts’ structure to continue to be based on tribal considerations. This has to be changed. We need to have special frameworks that rise above the nature of Somalia’s problems – problems in which tribalism has played a dangerous and unfortunate role. We want to establish a sort of government body without having to endure bureaucracy and routine, and want the circle of Shura (consultation in Islam) to widen and for the people to be asked their opinion in all matters concerning them. We must have a different and better system that rises to the level of future challenges, and we must work on forming a local government in the capital Mogadishu to run its affairs. We have not finished discussing these matters.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will you retain your post as leader of the Islamic Courts, or will you turn into a spiritual mentor and stay clear of executive matters?

(Aweys) I have never considered this – it depends on what the Courts’ leaders decide in their deliberations.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You talk as if you will be leaving your position soon.

(Aweys, laughing) I do not know, I am in the service of the Courts, and as you know, I was appointed in absentia and they went to lengths in convincing me to assume this post.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you planning an early retirement, before the Courts seize control of all of Somalia?

(Aweys) I do not wish to go into these details or to comment on them; the only thing I want to emphasize is that I am here to serve my people and the Islamic Courts regardless of any other considerations.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there anything new regarding your indirect contacts with the US Administration?

(Aweys) No, we hope the Americans treat us justly, stop trying to interfere in our affairs, and understand that we did what we did simply for the sake of our people’s interests and not for the sake of seizing power.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) They met with your deputy Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad in Kenya and called him a reformist and you an extremist, do you not fear attempts to drive a wedge between you two?

(Aweys, laughing) I know what you are getting at, but Sheikh Sharif is not the man America thinks he is. I have complete trust in him, and he has informed me of what has happened. We are aware of this American game – this is a wrong tactic that will not work with us at all.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have there been any breakthroughs in your Arab relations?

(Aweys) We hope there will be. As you know, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad recently met with the amir of Qatar, and we were in Djibouti not long ago. We hope the sisterly Arab countries give themselves a chance to hear us out. We ask all Arabs not to deal with us or with Somalia at a political level, but to look towards the areas in which they can help the Somali people, areas like education and health, and to implement projects that can link Somalis to their large Arab nation. We believe Somalia will remain a strongpoint for Arabs and their impenetrable dam in east Africa and the African Horn area. The member countries of the Arab League should open their eyes to this truth and deal with us accordingly.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Did you issue a fatwa ordering the Vatican Pope’s murder for what he said about Islam?

(Aweys) No, none of the Islamic Courts’ leaders said anything of the sort, and we are not about to sanction his killing, but I feel that the Pope did not speak well about Islam and was wrong. We are however optimistic about what he said, because in the days of the first Muslims, when people spoke ill of the prophet (may God’s peace and prayers be upon him), it was a sign that the Muslims would defeat them and conquer their lands.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean that Muslims will invade the Vatican for example?

(Aweys, laughing) No, it is not like that, but I am optimistic Muslims will triumph, and you will soon see that I am right.