Friday, February 6, 2009

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys: What does he want?

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was a former colonel in the defunct Somali Army. When the Somali central government collapsed in 1991, he became a member of Al-Ittihad Al-Islami-a notorious religious movement that became famous for guerrilla activities in Somalia. The movement was finally disbanded after Ethiopia's Armed Forces inflicted heavy losses on its file and rank in the Gedo region. Sheikh Hassan Dahir is said to have even captured former President of Somalia, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who was at that time head of a guerilla movement, in combat in the 90s, though he finally released him. The Sheikh appeared in Somalia's political scene in 2006, when together with the current Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, they defeated the vicious warlords that terrorized Somalia for over a decade and a half. When Ethiopia's occupation forces invaded Somalia in December of 2006, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys defected to Eritrea where he was given asylum and a base to operate from. He was added onto U.S. "terror list" after the 9/11 incident for having links to Al-Qaeda. Though he claims to be innocent of any terrorist activities, his frequent outbursts targeting Western regional influence, his alliance with Eritrea's strongman Issaias Afewerki, his opposition to the fallen Ethiopia-friendly Somali transitional government headed by former foe Abdullahi Yusuf, and his desire to spearhead a strong imaginary Caliphate, saw formidable forces opposed to his whimsical designs mobilize to his own detriment. So far, several of his comrades-in-arms have perished in aerial bombardments carried out by highly sophisticated military air crafts that catapulted from naval warships from the coasts of his tiny war-plagued Horn of African nation of Somalia or by precision-guided remote-controlled cruise missiles that delivered the most debilitating blows upon contact with enemy hideouts.

While President Sharif enjoys a degree of moderation, Aweys embodies extremism and Jihadist philosophical thoughts. His struggle and determination rests on the eventual creation of an Islamic Caliphate encompassing the current war-ravaged Somali state, the occupied-Ogaden region of Ethiopia, and the former Northern Frontier Districts in Kenya. His concurrent fire-spitting declarations, threats and intimidation, and his unwarranted vituperation upon crushing the warlords resulted in Ethiopia's two-year occupation of Somalia without seeking approval from the international community and the Africa governing body-the African Union.

Despite the departure of Ethiopian troops from Somali soil, Aweys has never given up his mouth-bashing, tongue-lashing, and explosive rhetoric aimed at the Transitional Somali Federal government and the African Union peace keeping troops in Mogadishu. Despite the selection or election of his former colleague in struggle, Sheikh Sharif as President, Aweys seems not satisfied with any political deal and policy implementation that can be of benefit to Somali cause and stability. For him, Somalia without Sharia rule is tantamount to hypocrisy. He is an Islamic scholar who is vigorously in pursuit of the imposition of divine rule for Somalia-an ideological rule perceived by the West as a threat to the region and to their political and economic interests.

Sheikh Aweys belongs to the same clan as the current President, Sheikh Sharif, though of a separate sun-clan. The Henna-dyed, goateed septuagenarian Aweys has opposed almost every Somali transitional government, political dialogue, and reconciliation. The Sheikh seems to be in opposition to any political ideology and the formation of any central central government with secular leanings that differ from his strong Islamic beliefs. With so many warring factions and political divisions wrecking havoc on Somalia, Aweys has not shown any inclination to any political party of interest. Despite the fragmentation of the Asmara-group in to two divisions with differing thoughts and processes, Aweys' group remains in complete limbo politically, socially, and economically.

Despite President Sharif making avowed enemies in the past, at present, he seems to be admired even by the administration in Addis Ababa that was responsible for the defeat, collapse, and fragmentation of his powerful Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Ironically, Sharif was feted by Africa's heads of states at the recently concluded African Union convention held in Ethiopia. Surprisingly, he met and shook hands with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia-the man who once branded him a Jihadist and extremist. He is currently seen as the only hope for the future of Somalia and has so far captured the hearts and minds of many Diaspora Somalis. With the exception of a few web sites spewing hate and division, majority of online publications that are owned and operated by Somalis seem to concur with his heroic achievements. Many nations have thrown their support behind him and the number of press congratulating his election successes are quite overwhelming. President Sharif has gone down in history as the most popular transitional Somali President since the collapse of the central government in 1991.

On the contrary, Sheikh Aweys' activities, location, and influence in Somali politics remain shrouded in mystery. On the other hand, he issues communiques and gives interviews from undisclosed locations-a sign of seclusion and rebellion. His Somali opponents are dumbfounded by his failure to compromise and give peace a chance. Islam means 'peace' and peace can only be attained when Muslim leaders take the lead responsibly by avoiding all sorts of transgressions that undermine stability, life, and property. If Sheikh Aweys has the welfare of the Somali people at heart, why can't he make peace with his Muslim brothers-in-arms? What is preventing him from taking the right measures to avert further death and destruction of his Muslim nation? Why can't he absolve himself of the crimes he is said to have committed through legal process if he feels he is innocent rather than hiding under a veil of deception in a material world of amusement and play that is clearly stated in the Qur'an?

The proposed Saudi initiative circulating in Somali media aiming to reconcile Aweys with President Sharif, will, if effectively scrutinized, bear fruit and pave the way for Aweys' inclusion into the much anticipated Somali administration. Perhaps, Aweys is in search of recognition; may be he is being driven by the power of greed and that he wants nothing short of the Presidency; he could be a petty spoiler who only wants to shine in the Somali political arena and nothing more; or may be he wants to prove to be a dynamic hero who wants to fight tooth and nail against all kinds of foreign influences and alien religious practices; or maybe he wants to prove to the world that he is the reincarnation of an ancient saint. Only historical chroniclers and his army of admirers will prove to the world the kind of person he was long after he reclaims his place in the after-world.

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