Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad denied that there exists a US proposal for direct military intervention in his country. However, he affirmed that he does not object to a US military support to strengthen the government institutions. To justify his stand, he said that it would be an indirect US support for Somalia.
In an interview that Asharq Al-Awsat conducted with him during his visit to Dubai to attend a conference, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad said Somalia turned into an ideal environment for Al-Qaeda and its ideas. He added that all attempts to remove him from power will fail because Somalia’s history is full of failed attempts of this kind, as he put it.
However, the Somali President stated that he extends his hand to all Somali parties that are opposed to him, without exception, including the Mujahidin Youth Movement. He said it is no secret that the armed parties in Somalia embrace the thought of Al-Qaeda and receive support from it and from some states, which “do not want the war in Somalia to end.”
The Somali president noted that the most dangerous thing in Somalia is that crimes are committed and Muslims and innocent people are killed in the name of Islam. “All parties are asked to stop the Somali people’s suffering”, he added.
Sheikh Sharif called on the Arab and Islamic states to take a firm stand to stop the bloodshed in Somalia. He said: “These armed groups emerged as a result of the vacuum and internal conflict in Somalia that lasted a long time.”
He added: “In order to deal with this problem, we must reinforce the government’ role because the absence of authority gives these groups an opportunity to continue their activity. Therefore, it is very important to strengthen the state institutions.”
He continued: “In addition, the dialogue must be advanced forward and the needy and affected people must be provided with relief aid. The Somali people suffer from famine and health problems, and when humanitarian aid is provided for them, their suffering will ease.”
Asked if military support is important in controlling the situation, the Somali president said military support is important in order to reinforce the government institutions. He noted that he does not object to asking the Americans for military support. He said: “I do not object to seeking military support from the Americans.”
He said there is no direct US intervention in Somalia and that there is no US proposal for direct military intervention. He added: “What we are taking about is support for the government to reinforce the state institutions. This is what I meant and what I seek.”
In reply to a question as to whether the Americans bombed the positions of the armed movements that are behind the violence in the country, Sharif said: “With regard to the Al-Qaeda members, if their positions are pinpointed and movements monitored and the Americans want to target them, this is something that we may discuss.” Nevertheless, he pointed out that “the government is interested in reaching a solution with” the other armed movements in Somalia.
The Somali president affirmed that he is ready to talk to all Somali parties that are opposed to him with the aim of reaching a settlement to put an end to the massacres in Somalia.
He said: “I will sit with any Somali party that wants to sit with us, be it the Mujahidin Youth Movement or others, to reach a solution that will stop the bloodshed.”
But he refused to say which Somali parties are the most difficult ones to reach a solution with. He remarked: “We seek to enter dialogue with all parties. Therefore, I will not name any party.”
Sharif was in Dubai to attended a tow-day conference called “Somalia … The Voice of Wisdom and Shariaa” [Islamic law], which was called by Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Bih who presented a document to halt the violence in Somalia. All conflicting Somali parties, except the Mujahidin Youth Movement, supported the document, and this stand prompted figures who attended the meeting to describe it is positive.
The Somali president said he affirms his commitment to applying the Islamic Shariaa in running Somalia and added that he is ready to sit at one table with all conflicting parties in Somalia, without exception. He noted that Somalia “legalized” the Shariaa laws and turned them into a constitution for which the Somali Parliament voted unanimously and which the president signed.
Sheikh Sharif refused to explicitly accuse certain states or parties of supporting militants in Somalia saying: “Their support is well known, and so is Al-Qaeda and its ideas. There are states, which believe that the continuation of violence in Somalia serves their interests, but I do not want to name these states at present.”
He said that, as president of Somalia, he will not lose hope. However, he admitted that great difficulties face his government.
He said: “There are difficulties, and the parties that rebelled against the government are intransigent. These parties continue their attacks on the government, not only to take power, but also to cause bloodshed. But I tell them that taking power does not require bloodshed, as Somalia is rich with experiences showing that these attempts are futile because they fail.”
Sharif referred to states, which, he said, support the armed parties in Somalia. However, he refused to name them and said that what takes place in Somalia affects world security.
He warned: “The parties that support these ideas will suffer adversities, and the same ideas will shift to their countries. We urge these states to stop backing these movements because the Somali people wish to live in peace and security. Our people are Muslim, and there is no place for extremism in Somalia.”
Sharif said that the armed parties, which carry out operations against the government and civilians “are affiliated with groups based in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” He added: “These groups’ aim is to continue the war and worsen the situation.”
Noting that these parties have no project to make a change in the country, he said: “The difficulty is that they do not seek security and stability in Somalia and want to enforce the Shariaa. Application of the Shariaa needs security, peace, and an authority to enforce it. The Muslims in Somalia are violated, and these are not the ethics of Muslims.”
Sheikh Sharif expressed his conviction that the situation will improve. He explained that he wants security and stability to return and the government institutions to end the armed movements’ activity. He stated: “These groups receive support and they benefited from the absence of a central government in Somalia for a long time. Therefore, they found an opportunity to establish themselves, transfer Al-Qaeda leaders and other foreign elements from abroad to Somalia, and train Somali youths who did not manage to gain a true knowledge of religion.”
Asked whether Somalia is an ideal environment for Al-Qaeda, Sharif said: “Somalia turned into an ideal environment for Al-Qaeda. We may say this, because, for many years in the past, there was no government to establish security in the country. These ideas do exist but are concealed. Today, these groups’ relationship with Al-Qaeda is obvious, and their acts are similar to the actions that Al-Qaeda carries out in several states, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
When asked if he would give up power in favor of the opposition in exchange for a political program to end the violence, how would you deal with such an offer?
Sharif said: “I am not interested in power as much as I am interested in saving the Somali people. But there is a group that tells me that I must leave in order to calm the situation. This is rejected.”
He added: “We must agree with any party that seeks to take power on means to allow all parties to share power. I have the right to run [in elections] and govern, and they too, as Somalis, have the same right.”
He continued: “I do not exclude anyone from power and do not allow anyone to exclude me from power. When we negotiate, we will reach a solution. But let us say in the beginning to these groups: Stop the war and come with your demands, so that we may negotiate.”
The Somali president expressed his optimism that the conference, which he attended in Dubai, will “have a distinctive effect in Somalia, motivate Somali Ulema to respond to this initiative, and prompt these groups to stop the bloodshed to which they are accustomed.”
He said: “Sheikh Bin-Bih issued a powerful appeal to stop the bloodshed, which has not stopped one single day. This was a good initiative on his part, and I hope that all Muslim Ulema will support it. Wrong ideas cannot be changed by force alone. They also need a change of thought and cooperation between the Muslim Ulema.”
The Global Center for Renewal and Guidance was established in London in 2007, under the chairmanship of Somali scholar Abdullah Bin-Bih. Its aim is to contribute to resolving the crises that face the Muslim world by explaining the Shariaa provisions regarding concepts and practices that are carried out by some of the parties to these crises and by conducting mediation efforts in this respect.
The conference, which was chaired by Sheikh Bin-Bih, was attended by the vice president of the World union of Muslim Scholars, the head of the Global Center for Renewal and Guidance, and former Deputy Speaker of the Saudi Shura [consultative Council Dr. Abdullah Omar. It was also attended by former Sudanese President Marshal Abdul-Rahman Siwar al-Dhahab, Representative of the UN secretary general [in Somalia] Ahmad Ould-Abdullah, and Deputy Chief of the Organization of Islamic Conference Ambassador Abdullah Alim.