MOGADISHU, 27 August 2009 (Somalilandpress) – The Qatari Arabic television of Aljazeera held 40-minute interview with Somali President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, correspondent Fahd Yasin in Mogadishu. Interviewed him.
Yasin begins by asking the president about the fall yesterday of the (Beled Xaawo) town on the Kenyan-Somali border to the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a Islamic group after the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin [Mujahidin Youth Movement] evacuated it, and the government’s relations with the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a. He says that this is part of the recent clashes between the two, and adds: “The current position is that all must support the government because without the presence of a central government to control all the Somali areas there will be further bloodshed. The attempts to implement the shari’ah law on individuals and groups and impose this on the people by force will lead to many problems. We believe that Islam orders us to uphold unity and reject disunity. Their current interpretation of Islam is a wrong interpretation.”
Asked about his previous stand in support of the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a, he replies: “We supported them because they came under attack by the Al-Shabab. This is our duty because we are responsible for protecting them.” Asked if there is no contradiction in an Islamic awakening movement like his movement supporting a Sufic group, Shaykh Ahmad replies that all Sufic movement in history called for the Islamic religion. He adds: “In my capacity as president, I must deal with people without any discrimination. That is what Islam demands. Islam orders us to treat people kindly.”
Yasin asks Shaykh Ahmad about reports that the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a group is supported by the Ethiopian forces and regime, and if his government contacted Ethiopia to stop Ethiopian support for the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a, given that the transitional government does not control the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a politically or in matters of security, he says: “Of course any interference in any Somali groups by any state is considered interference and we reject it. We have made our position clear to the Ethiopian government and others that no state should support them except their own country, and we are prepared to deal with them and support them.”
Asked with which group he prefers to deal, Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a group or the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin, he says he deals with all movements and all sectors of the society as president of the Somali people. Asked what achievements he has realized for the Somali people since he took over seven months ago, he replies: “There are great achievements that many might not know about. First of all, the government moved to the capital after the elections, and this is a great achievement because its presence in the capital demonstrates its seriousness in establishing security in the country. Secondly, the Al-Shabab and the Islamic Party prepared a plan to pounce upon the government, but the government was able to survive and pass this stage. Thirdly, the most important aim of the Somali people is to find a government to rule them by Islam. God be praised this has been realized. We have improved the administration – the banks and financial institutions – and improved relations among the various sectors of the Somali society, and they had never experienced this before.”
Asked about “what you have described as terrorists and foreigners who entered Somalia,” and when they arrived in the country and if he had known about their entry, he says: “Most probably they appeared during the reconciliation talks in Djibouti because this was a period of struggle and transition to a new authority. After the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces, they found an opportunity to enter the country and they infiltrated the ranks of the resistance and began recruiting youths and others.” He says he cannot specifically say when they entered the country.
Asked if he does not feel that his rhetoric and his statements about terrorists and foreigners are similar to the rhetoric and statements of former president Abdullah Yusuf, given that he rejected Yusuf’s claims in the past, he says: “To begin with, all the acts that the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin and others are perpetrating, in terms of bombing and the killing and displacement of people are considered acts of terrorism. The Al-Qa’idah’s rhetoric, including that of Usamah Bin-Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri and their call for overthrowing the government, and the new policy that Al-Qa’idah is implementing in the Islamic world is a proof that what we say is right.” He adds: “A short while ago, we spoke about the infiltration of terrorist individuals and groups of Somalia and when this happened. This declaration and these acts, as well as the recordings that we have now and the positive response of the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin to this call do not require much explanation.”
Asked if he had known during his leadership of the Islamic Courts that the persons who planned the attacks against the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 were present in Somalia as the United States claimed, he says: “Not at all. Moreover, it might be true and it might not be true that they were present because the Islamic courts did not control all areas. We had no information on this.” Asked to react to Western reports that he had personal relations with these men, he replies: “This information is baseless. We know how the Islamic courts began and spread,” adding that the Al-Shabab Movement was not present during the time of the Islamic courts.
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Asked if he does not think that “he was a terrorist” by US standards and that he should have known these men, he says: “This was not my responsibility. I was fighting for the cause of my homeland and I am still fighting for it. I cannot influence the US views and I think your question should be addressed to the US administration.”
Shaykh Ahmad says: “We want security and stability to return to Somalia. The Al-Qa’idah organization does not believe in this. If you speak on any form of a Somali state, be it Islamic or non-Islamic, they will not support you. The US government now realizes that its war against the Islamic courts and the Somali people is not being fruitful. The shari’ah principle is a legitimate demand and the Somali people will never concede this in any case whatsoever. Therefore, the United States is reconsidering its attitude towards Somalia.”
Asked if he agrees with the United States that the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin is a terrorist group, he says: “Their actions and ideological principles make this description appropriate to the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin because they cannot approve of any Muslim outside their organization. This never happened in Islamic history. Differences in views happen among Muslims and among the members of the same family. This never reached the extent of holding other Muslims to be infidels or kill them. This group in my opinion is holding people to be infidels, killing them, and permitting the shedding of their blood and the transgression on their honour. It is inventing various methods to terrorize the people. It seems that they want to rule people by terrorizing them and this tarnishes the image of Muslims.”
Asked if those who belong to the Al-Qa’idah organization in Somalia are violating the Somali law, he says: “No doubt Al-Qa’idah organization is a terrorist organization. It uses all sorts of terrorist methods, including bombings and terrorizing people and killing them. Regrettably, their ideas have nothing to do with Islam because Islam cares for Muslims and spares their blood, their honour, and property. This group hurts Muslims more than others. No doubt this organization is a terrorist one and it plays a negative role in its attitude towards Muslims and Islam.”
Asked how he succeeded in having himself elected president given that be has an Islamic background, Shaykh Ahmad says this is due to God’s will, adding that when he was in the Islamic Courts he never tried to be a president but “I wanted to play my role as a Somali citizen who wants to restore security and stability to Somalia,” and adds: “However, fate has led me to this place.” Asked if he still considers himself an Islamist, he says: “No doubt I consider myself Islamist and I am proud of my Islam.”
Asked what topics he discussed with the Ethiopian prime minister during his recent visit to Addis Ababa, he replies: “We agreed with him that this government is not an enemy of Ethiopia and is trying to realize Somalia’s interests, and that the Somali interests are the most important at this stage. The painful legacy of the past battles and tragedies must be shaken off.”
He says: “Our relations with Ethiopia are within our joint interests. As Somalis and Somali government we want stability in Somalia. I think that the Ethiopians and the Ethiopian government have the same vision.” Asked how he can treat the sensitivities that the Somalis feel towards Ethiopian, he says: “Such sensitivities do not exist because what we want is security and stability in Somalia. We do not give Ethiopia any negative role in Somalia. Since they are neighbours, it is more appropriate to reach common grounds with them.”
On relations with Eritrea, he says: “Regrettably, our relationship is extremely bad. The Eritrean government interferes in the Somali affairs and rejects this government and the continuation of dialogue among the Somali people. We had never expected Eritrea to have an agenda in Somalia except the restoration of peace and security to Somalia because the Somalis played a role in Eritrea’s independence. We thought they would return our favour but we discovered that they wanted to use the Somali territory against Ethiopia and Somalia and to perpetuate instability in Somalia. Therefore, we have no relations. This is the only state in the African Union that did not recognize this government. “He says if they want normal relations, they must stop interfering in Somali affairs.
Asked how his government was able to improve relations with the United States, he replies: “I believe that the Americans themselves felt that the danger that threatened the Somalis might harm the Americans themselves. If the anarchy that has been prevailing in Somalia for the past 16 years continues they will have to pay a heavy price. They realized that this government can control the situation. Therefore, we felt that the US administration was interested in supporting this government.”
Asked to react to the notion that his government will now be prepared to “cooperate with the United States concerning the so-called war on terrorism and strike at the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin” and if this “led to his meeting with Hillary Clinton,” he says: “Not only this, because there are other big and strategic political and economic interests, in addition to the problems of the pirates and the terrorist groups and international terrorist organizations like Al-Qa’idah. However, the basis of this cooperation is that each state has its own interests. Our interest is to restore security and stability to Somalia and have sufficient support to enable us to restore peace and security to Somalia.”
Shaykh Ahmad says that the anarchy in Somalia has harmed the Somalis to a great extent and it also affected the neighbouring states and world countries.
On Somali reconciliation, he says it is continuing and “contacts are being held with those who are against us.” He adds: “Certain groups have joined the government, such as the Party of Islam as well as the Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a group.” He says his government “enjoys a wide scale popular support, but terrorist attacks against the government have prevented us from maintaining close contacts with the Somali people. Now we want to build state institutions – army, police, and others.” He says he cares for relations with world countries, especially the Western countries to help the Somali people, “because we cannot repair the destruction in Somali all by ourselves.”
Asked why he shook hands with Hillary Clinton in front of a large audience, despite his Islamic background and his being from a religious family, and if this was “a political requirement,” he replies: “No doubt those who understand the rules of the shari’ah and the current needs and circumstances will understand this.” He says there are many shari’ah rules on this issue. He adds” In view of the circumstances, those who understand Islam will understand that this is the right way.”
Asked about his plans to effect reconciliation with Shaykh Hasan Dahir Aways and others, he says he still entertains hopes that the reconciliation will be reached, noting that “they do not want reconciliation or understanding with us.” He also says that he is prepared to talk with any group or person who wants to hold talks with the government, including the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin. On the issue of the Puntland autonomous region and the president of the province’s claim that Shaykh Ahmad’s government does not believe in the federal system, he says we have no problem with them, and that this “government was based on the federation covenant,” adding: “We have not changed anything.” He says that “his claim was based on misunderstanding.”
Asked when the AU forces will leave, he says the AU forces want to realize security and stability, noting that the government plans to strengthen the police and the army. Asked why the African forces continue to guard the palace, he says that the government is coming under attacks and they are protecting the government, adding that “we intend to train our forces to enable them to carry out this task.” Asked about claims that the AU forces are shelling civilians from the Palace area, he replies that the armed groups intentionally open fire from the market place and from residential areas, adding that sometimes, “we are forced to return the fire and we sometimes miss the target, and we regret what happens to innocent people, but we try as much as possible to hit only the fighters.”
Answering a question, he says there is no tribal fighting because the entire Somali people support the government and there is a “large-scale international backing for this government, which is determined and which has a plan to restore security and stability,” noting that there are also plans to reconstruct the country. On the economy in Somalia, he says improvement in economy requires security, noting that the recent drought has exacerbated the poor humanitarian conditions. He says the humanitarian assistance that arrived to the government was distributed to those affected.
Asked about reports on a cabinet reshuffle, he says this is natural and the prime minister has the right to do that. He says neither his own tribe nor others oppose the government.
On Arab relations, Shaykh Ahmad is asked why the Somali government rejected Arab assistance that was conditional on reconciliation and, subsequently “you withdrew your request” for assistance, and if the matter was resolved later on, he replies: “Not at all. It was not resolved. I do not know why the Arab governments do not want to help Somalia. We had expected that they would contribute towards restoring security and stability and the establishment of the Somali state. So far we do not know the reason but the problem is still there and the request is still suspended.” Asked why he does not visit the Arab states so that the Somali issue can be presented to Arab heads of state, he says he has been endeavouring to visit Arab states and urge them to help Somalia but “nobody has met our request.” He says Somalia has good relations with Yemen and “we hope to visit it shortly, God willing.”
In conclusion, Shaykh Ahmad says: “The Somali people have been suffering from lawlessness for the past 19 years and this government represents a genuine opportunity for the Somali people. The continuation of anarchy will weaken the Somali people. We want our people to continue their support for the government. We ask all those who have relations with the opposition to approach them because many Somalis joined these organizations, which are trying to undermine the government in this country, and this will only lead to bloodshed and anarchy. Everybody shares responsibility, not only the government. What we need is effective participation.
“To the Arab world, we say: You have a moral, religious, and historical obligations to help the Somali people, who are trying to overcome this crisis. It is not right for you to wait until this government controls all the areas without your support. We appeal to you, from this forum, to back the government and the Somali people.”