In Somalia, the former chairman of the
Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was elected as the country’s new president over the
weekend. Reaction to the election of Sheik Sharif Ahmedhas been generally positive, although Islamist hardliners have
Shinn, former US ambassador to Ethiopia and professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, spoke favorably about Somalia’s new president.
generally a positive reaction. It shows that the Djibouti peace process is
alive and well and it is an indication that at least the possibility exists
that Sheik Sharif and those who support him and the Djibouti process can in
fact create a government of national unity. I don’t think there was any
prospect of this until this development,” he says.
the significance of the new leader’s former association with the ICU, Shinn
says, “It’s significant, but it’s very difficult to know how much real
grassroots support he has. Seemingly, he has a considerable amount. But that
will certainly bring a number of Somalis into his camp. It might alienate a
few, but he did have a reputation as being something of a moderate. So I don’t
really see it as being a significant handicap at all. It’s probably much more
of a benefit.”
says Ethiopia, which recently withdrew its troops from Somalia, has expressed
favorable reaction to the election. However, the hard-line militia, al Shabab,
views it differently.
Shabab opposes it of course… saying they will not join this new unity
government. But al Shabab is opposed to just about anything that has the
possibility of bringing peace and unity to Somalia. I think al Shabab would
only be happy if it were in charge of everything,” he says.
unclear at this time whether Somali’s new president will have the military
support to stand up to al Shabab. “That’s the big question and it will
certainly be necessary to start peeling away some of al Shabab’s support. And I
think that’s possible,” Shinn says.
says he doubts al Shabab members have any strong political commitment and may
remain loyal to the group as long as they’re paid well. The selection of a new
prime minister may also affect support for the hard-line group. He says the
more broad-based the new government is the more successful it will be.
former ambassador says the international community must support this process,
saying, “There’s really no other game in town.” But he says the Arab world can
play a key role.
“The Arab world can play an absolutely
critical role, perhaps a more important role than that of any other group of
nations. Both the Arab League and the organization of Islamic Conference…can,
behind the scenes, simply get behind this effort to help make it work and to
support it financially. And if they do that it will enhance enormously the
possibility that this unity government will function well,” he says.