Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Has Egypt actually put forth an official initiative to resolve the Somali crisis?
This question was brought up after Ambassador Muna Omar, the Egyptian foreign minister’s assistant for African affairs, announced this initiative in Cairo a few days ago. Hours after this announcement, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmad Sharif telephoned Abdullah Hassan, Somalia’s ambassador in Cairo and its permanent envoy to the Arab League [AL], to ask about the Egyptian announcement. Sheikh Sharif’s astonishment, which he conveyed to his ambassador, was justified for he had just participated in the African Union summit held last week in the Libyan city of Sirte and no Egyptian official had informed him of this initiative even though a large Egyptian delegation (which included the prime minister and the foreign minister) was participating in the summit after President Hosni Mubarak decided not to attend at the last minutes.
On his part, Somali Foreign Minister Muhammad Abdullah Omar– who recently met the Egyptian foreign minister’s assistant in Cairo –denied there is a clearly-defined and clear Egyptian initiative, said this meeting did not deal with any details of such a thing, and noted that the discussions were general and about how to solve the current Somali crisis and find a solution for the growing phenomenon of sea piracy off Somali coasts. The Somali minister did not only make this denial but also asserted to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from New York, which he is visiting to take part in a UN Security Council meeting today to discuss current developments in Somalia, that achievement of peace and reconciliation does not require holding conferences or foreign mediations to bring the Somali parties abroad to the negotiating table. He asked: “Why do we need a foreign initiative when all those concerned with the crisis are now inside the Somali capital Mogadishu!” He added: “Sheikh Hassan Tahir Uways, leader of the Islamic Party, or the leaders of the Youth movement who represent the hard-line Islamic groups seeking to overthrow the transitional authority led by Sheikh Sharif, needs only to make a local telephone call to inform us of their desire for dialogue.” He then noted that “the cost of this call is not more than 10 American cents. They do not even need to dial the international 00 number before completing the call. The matter is quite simple. They would have done this if they were serious about negotiations and solving the crisis. We are ready to respond immediately.”
But the Somali foreign minister has apparently to wait along time before this contact is made as the Islamic rebels do not seem interested in the proposal. An official in the (opposition) Islamic Party told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are not interested in what this or any other official is proposing.” Regarding the Egyptian initiative, the official — who asked to remain unidentified – said in a telephone call from somewhere inside Mogadishu: “We heard about this from the media but we do not have any ideas on it. No one has contacted us about it.”
Samir Hosni, the AL’s official in charge of the Somalia dossier — who had made statements welcoming the Egyptian initiative — said he has not been informed so far of any initiatives, adding that the AL would welcome immediately any Arab effort helping Somalia. An official AL source denied that relations between the AL and Egypt were lukewarm or that there were any Egyptian reservations of any kind about the AL’s role in Somalia.
A Djibouti official in Cairo told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We heard about the initiative from the media. There was no prior coordination about it with Egypt.”