A moderate Islamist leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has been
chosen as the new president of Somalia. The new president, who has the
general backing of the international community, was elected by members
of Somalia's transitional parliament in Djibouti early Saturday.
Sharif received 293 votes in a runoff round, defeating Maslah Mohammed
Siad Barre, the son of former President Mohamed Siad Barre, who
received 126 votes. Sheikh Sharif will replace Abdullahi Yusuf, a
former warlord who stepped down as president, under international
pressure, in December after four years in office.
Sharif's victory appeared assured after Prime Minister Nur Hassan
Hussein withdrew from the race. After the vote, Sheikh Sharif praised
Since Sheikh Sharif and Hassan both belong to the
same clan, Hassan is barred by Somalia's constitution from remaining as
Sheikh Sharif headed the Union of Islamic Courts
that took control of Mogadishu in late 2006 before being ousted by
Ethiopian troops backed by the United States. He has since emerged as
the face of the moderate Islamist opposition, with substantial backing
from many of Somalia's various factions. Ethiopia meanwhile, withdrew
its troops from the country following two years of battling Islamist
Following the vote on Saturday, thousands of Sheikh Sharif's supporters celebrated in the streets of Mogadishu.
year, Sheikh Sharif's wing of the opposition Islamist Alliance for the
Reliberation of Somalia signed an agreement with the transitional
government, part of United Nations-backed peace talks being held in
Djibouti. This week, the parliament voted to double its numbers to take
in 200 members of Sheikh Sharif's group. The UN's special
representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, called on Somalia's
lawmakers to come together.
"Give yourself and your people a new
sense of hope. Ensure that today's election is a break from past
practices. At the end, Somalis, including all of you will be the
winner. The failures and successes of the last two decades should
provide important political lessons and help you to move forward in a
positive spirit of reconciliation," said Abdallah.
Sharif now faces the immensely difficult job of finding a solution to
the violence and lawlessness that has plagued Somalia for the past two
decades. He called on other armed factions to join the peace process.
The radical Islamist al-Shabaab, responsible for much of the violence
on the ground in Somalia, as well as the hardline members of the
Islamist Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, have rejected the
peace agreement signed by Sheikh Sharif.