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Islamists Bring Rare Peace, New Worry to Mogadishu - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An armed Somali Islamic militia poses in the town Jowhar (R)

An armed Somali Islamic militia poses in the town Jowhar (R)

MOGADISHU (Reuters) -Somali gunman Nur Faryama has wielded an AK-47 for two decades — since he was eight in fact.

Like thousands of others in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, Faryama has spent his whole youth charging in and out of battles and riding on the back of “technicals” — pickups made into war machines — with bullet belts draped round him.

Finally, however, thanks to the rise to power of the Islamic Courts for whom he fought in recent months, the 27-year-old hopes he may be able to put down his gun and go to school.

“For 16 years, when the warlords ruled, there was no economy, no education, no nothing,” he said. “Now we have stability, we can start our lives. I would like to go to school. I don’t want to be a gunman for ever.”

Islamic militia linked to the courts ousted U.S.-backed warlords from Mogadishu earlier this month after battles that killed some 350 people. That has left them in control of an important swathe of Somalia, which has had no central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Somalis interviewed by Reuters in Mogadishu — and Jowhar and Balad to the north, which the Islamic militia also captured last week — almost unanimously expressed happiness at the new-found stability on their streets since the power shift.

Transport was moving more freely, business was flourishing, roadblocks had come down, and guns were less visible on the streets, they said.

Enthusiasm on the street was tempered by fears the peace may be short-lived if the Islamists’ newly-won power is challenged, or that the courts could impose hardline religion on the generally moderate Muslim population.

Women have been covering themselves more often in Mogadishu, and the popular, and mildly narcotic, qat leaf chewed by many Somalis is frowned on by the courts.

And though there is no official ban, residents say some apparently over-zealous Islamist militiamen have been stopping the showing of World Cup games in some public cinemas.

Further, there have already been some public whippings of suspected thieves in areas taken over by the courts.

“When I see them, I just run away and I always wear a cap on the street,” said Faisal Dhagane, 22, who fears his long, curly hair will be forcibly shaved by Islamic court militants as he says happened to some of his friends.

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group of 14 of the courts which sprang up in the late 1990s to provide justice and order in the world’s most anarchic city, is based on sharia law.

But the ICU says it is no hardline group like Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers.

“We have no special aims, interests or hidden agenda,” the courts union chairman, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, told reporters in Jowhar. “But the people wanted stability and security after 16 years of bloodshed and civil war. This was a popular uprising.”

Invited to visit Mogadishu and Jowhar by the Islamic courts, and reliant on them for security and orientation, foreign reporters saw plenty of evidence of change since the ousting of the warlords.

Notorious roadblocks in and around the city, where levies were charged at gunpoint by militia linked to warlords, have disappeared.

Roads were bustling with buses, trucks and donkey-pulled carts. Ships were lining up outside the nearby port.

“A bus fare from Mogadishu to Jowhar used to cost 70,000 shillings ($5). Now it is less than half, about 30,000,” driver Mohamed Ali Ahmed said.

“The price dropped overnight when the courts took over, because the roadblocks went, so now the journey is toll-free.”

In Balad, where a notorious warlord was run out of town last week, residents said the Islamic militia received a tumultuous welcome.

“We are happy to see religion revived, to see security and tranquillity returned to our town,” added shopkeeper Ahmed Abukar. “We are Muslims, we want to practice our religion. If the Americans think that makes us terrorists, they are wrong.”

20-year-old gunman from the Islamic Courts Union militia poses with gun outside the group's headquarters in Mogadishu, (KRT)

20-year-old gunman from the Islamic Courts Union militia poses with gun outside the group’s headquarters in Mogadishu, (KRT)

Somali Islamic courts chief Sheikh Sharrif Sheikh Ahmed addresses residents at Jowhar (AFP)

Somali Islamic courts chief Sheikh Sharrif Sheikh Ahmed addresses residents at Jowhar (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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