Four years ago, in an interview for Ikhwanweb, the official website of the international Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Bashe Omar, chairman of al-Islah, assured members of the Brotherhood across the globe that there were no problems bedeviling the Somali branch. “The movement is not suffering any internal problems,” Omar emphatically said. “In fact, it is in its strongest stages in terms of fairness, commitment, and sacrifice.”
For the last few days, however, al-Islah has been anything but a harmonious organization.
Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Nur “Garyare,” a co-founding father of the group, announced that the movement had frozen the membership of three of its top leaders: Chairman Ali Bashe Omar, Dr. Ali Sheikh Ahmed (current president of Mogadishu University and former chair and co- founding member of al-Islah) and Mustafa Abdullah Ali, head of the southern division of the organization. The accusations leveled by Garyare and his supporters against the three leaders ranged from the mundane--poor leadership, sowing discord among members-- to the more serious charges of misappropriation of funds and treason. Dr. Ali Sheik was specifically accused of cavorting with unnamed foreign entity, in the name of fighting “terror.” In an interview with the BBC, Garyare made it clear that he was, for all practical purposes, the new leader of the Islamic movement. The cleric, who lives in Toronto, Canada, was dismissed by a recent declaration of the deposed leaders as an individual who speaks for none but himself. The current discord in al-Islah resembles the one that occurred in the Somali parliament several months ago when the speaker was deposed and a new leadership was installed, which led to the unending question of who is actually in charge of the Somali legislature. The drama continues.
For students of Somali politics, the question is: What led the turmoil in al-Islah to occur now? The international Muslim Brotherhood is having the best era in its 84 years of existence—thanks to the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt won both the parliamentary and presidential elections, the Al-Nahda is currently in charge of Tunisia, and Syria’s Brothers are in the forefront in the existential fight against Bashar Assad. Morocco’s branch of the MB is also in control of the government. The only exception has been Libya where a pro-Western secular leader, Mahmoud Jibril, won the recent elections to lead that country. But then again, Libya was able to buck the trend, if one is to believe the Washington Post’s conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, because it is “less a country than an oil well with a long beach and myriad tribes.
Al-Islah, the internationally-recognized MB outfit, can best be described as a small organization with an elitist bent. Many of the rank- and- file members are educated and have no commonality with the average Guled or Maryam. Whereas the Egyptian MB shares the same elitist quality with its brethren in Somalia, it was nevertheless able to articulate its political and social agendas with the Egyptian masses. Al-Islah, on the other hand, has generally steered of being part of Somalia’s political process because it lacked vision, grass-roots support among the masses, and a willingness to cooperate with other--and in some cases bigger-- Islamic movements in the country. For the last two decades, al-Islah has distinguished itself by telling the international community that it is not Salafi, and hence militant. The leadership has failed to define its movement other than reciting that it is not Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) or al-Shabab. The movement’s former vice chair, and now presidential candidate, Abdurrahman M. Abdullahi “Baadiyow” had articulated, in his various writings that the state of militancy in Somalia is due to the presence of Salafis in the country. The Sufi orders and the Muslim Brotherhood, argued Baadiyow, are peaceful and tolerant, whereas the Salafis are “confrontational.” Therefore, “the root of the Islamic conflict lies with the ideology of Salafism as practiced in Somalia.” However, Baadiyow’s moderate beliefs have not endeared him to the very audience he has attempted to reassure in the West. According to several independent sources of al-Islah—one a top-ranking figure— who spoke to this writer, Baadiyow is not allowed to fly to the United States. It is not clear why Washington did that as Baadiyow, in his writings, speeches, and interviews, has never advocated violence.
There are two camps in al-Islah: One group emphasizes the development of Islamic identity for the individual and the society based on Islamic ideals, whereas the other camp has shown a Machiavellian approach to attaining political power. Sheikh Garyare and many members of the organization want the group to return to its roots and ideals, and not be corrupted by the pursuit of power. Dr. Ali and Baadiyow (who oddly escaped the wrath of Garyare) believe that the MB should have a political party in order to gain power, because political power brings about change faster, and is more effective (a lesson al-Islah learned from Tajamuc, better known as Ala Sheikh). Not long ago, a prominent member of the group had circulated a bizarre and unethical idea to buy votes from the council of traditional elders, $5,000 a piece, in order to win parliamentary seats. Baadiyow, in fairness, has publicly called for clean and fair elections, but demands that he disclose who is funding his candidacy have fallen into deaf ears.
The root cause of the discord among al-Islah was the proposal to form a political party. The proposal was, of course, led by Baadiyow and Dr. Ali, and was rejected by Garyare and his supporters, mainly because they felt disempowered by the ‘politico’ wing of the group, which by then had full control of all the finances, as well as the group’s jewel: Mogadishu University.
The recent turmoil in al-Islah weakens the organization as the divergent leaders of the group are going through identity crises. The fact that the leaders have failed to iron out their differences internally, but have aired out their dirty laundry to the public, is an indication that there is an organizational break-down caused by a lack of necessary mechanisms to resolve conflict. The discord among the leaders might have an impact on the functioning of Mogadishu University, perhaps, the most successful project the group has ever undertaken in Somalia, the institution provides high-quality educations to thousands of Somali students. Some say that the organization is over-extending itself, especially in its pursuit of power, and, hence, does not know its own limitations. Perhaps, it would be better off heeding to the popular Egyptian adage, “Calaa addil xaafaha, mid riglayk,” (based on the length of the mat, extend your legs).
Hassan M. Abukar
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