Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke on Sunday hailed parliament's approval of Islamic law, or Sharia, as a major step toward establishing peace and stability in the country. But the prime minister rejected suggestions that imposition of Sharia would lead to establishment of a Taliban-type state.
Prime Minister Sharmarke predicted that parliament's passage of Sharia law would neutralize extremists who have sworn to crush his government and create a radical Islamic state. In a VOA interview, Mr. Sharmarke said the decision to use Sharia as the basis of Somalia's civil law takes away the main argument used by radical groups such as al-Shabab to rally opposition to his government.
"This shows nobody actually has a monopoly on Islam," said Prime Minister Sharmarke. "And by doing so, this removed any justifications for any opposition group to use this as a political end - to use Islam for political ends. But [it is] no longer that [al-]Shabab or any other opposition can claim Islam."
Mr. Sharmarke is the western-educated son of Somalia's first president, who was assassinated in 1969. He emphasized that Islamic law in Somalia would not mean the government would condone practices such as cutting off the hands of thieves.
"People always think of the Taliban and Talibanization of a country. But that isn't the case," said the prime minister. "I think Sharia in Somalia is part of the laws for thousands of years, and we never had this kind of a thing. Besides, it doesn't have to be that way, cutting hands."
Mr. Sharmarke says he expects a few hardcore elements to continue to resist government control. He appealed to the United Nations to drop the arms embargo that prevents Somalia from equipping its security forces with weapons needed to fight both the insurgency and the rise of piracy off the country's long coastline.
"Not only the front of al-Shabab, but also the piracy issue," he said. "You know we cannot win with AK-47s. [Al-]Shabab has AK-47s. The pirates have AK-47s. And people expect us to win on these two fronts? It's impossible. We need to have superior capability to prevail on these two fronts."
Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed appointed Mr. Sharmarke prime minister in February. The move was seen as a signal to the international community and to millions of Somalis living abroad that the government was finally serious about ending the downward spiral of a failed state where the two biggest growth industries seemed to be insurgency and piracy.
Prime Minister Sharmarke and President Ahmed are scheduled to attend an international conference on Somalia this week in Brussels along with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several potential donor countries. A U.S. State Department spokesman says the Obama administration will send its top Africa diplomat, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Philip Carter, along with officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development.