What are the reasons for the rise and expansion of political Islam in Somalia? What is the nature of Somalia’s Islamist actors? This book chapter examines the origins and status of political and military Islam in Somalia. It argues that fears of the threat posed by radical Islam in Somalia are exaggerated, but not totally unjustified. The strength of Somalia’s Islamist actors has little to do with clan relations, but is instead based on the provision of security and basic services.
The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) consolidated its power in Somalia through a local and legitimate political process undertaken in partnership with the Somali business community. However, extremist elements hijacked the courts and used them to pursue radical Islamist goals, resulting in the Ethiopian intervention against the UIC. Nevertheless, the real importance of Somalia’s Islamists is that they successfully targeted the needs of urban society. The business class of Mogadishu found the Islamic courts a useful mechanism for providing law and order, which enabled the Islamists to increase their influence. While external factors and ideological motives are important, the enduring appeal of militant Islamic groups in Somalia lies in their provision of security.
Some argue that the Islamist constituency in Somalia is narrow and that the UIC is dominated by and unable to expand beyond the Hawiye clan. However, while the UIC did not realise its goal, it did intend to transform into a multi-clan national movement. The actions of the UIC during its brief occupation of central and southern Somalia demonstrates the extent to which radical Islam has spread in Somalia. The UIC:
Author: Medhane Tadesse
Source: Tadesse M., 2008, 'Sharia Courts and Military Politics in Stateless Somalia', in Hot Spot Horn of Afirca Revisited: Approaches to Make Sense of Conflict, Lit Verlag, Berlin