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Somali President Courts Insurgents

"You have to have a vision," President Sharif Ahmed said in Nairobi. "What I will do is establish a stable and effective government by reconciliation."
"You have to have a vision," President Sharif Ahmed said in Nairobi. "What I will do is establish a stable and effective government by reconciliation." (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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A U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2006 ousted the Islamic Courts and installed a fragile transitional government headed by Yusuf. The move immediately spawned an insurgency led by al-Shabaab, which broke from the Islamic Courts and began deploying roadside explosives and staging suicide bombings, once unheard of in Somalia.

While Ahmed was forming an opposition coalition in hotel conference rooms in Djibouti, al-Shabaab was fighting on the ground, gaining strength and eventually helping to drive the Ethiopians out and force Yusuf's resignation.

Two years later, the group controls most of southern Somalia, and Ahmed is back in power facing a problem similar to the one he faced as head of the Islamic Courts: how to deal with al-Shabaab.

This time, though, Ahmed has the backing of the United Nations, the United States and, it appears, even the Ethiopians who drove him out.

In the interview, he rejected al-Shabaab's accusation that he is a puppet of the West, saying Somalia and international players have "mutual interests." Asked whether his election represented a shift in Somali society toward a more political strain of Islam, Ahmed said that, on the contrary, it represented a shift in the outside world.

"The way Western governments view religion's role in society has changed quite dramatically because of the phenomenon of interdependence," he said. "Attitudes are changing."

Special correspondent Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this report.


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