Hundreds of Somalis took to the streets of the capital of Mogadishu on Monday, protesting the militant Islamist group Al Shabaab that controls large swaths of the country. In a demonstration closely overseen by pro-government security forces, women and children, as well as traditional warriors shouted slogans such as “down and defeat to al-Shabaab.”
Shabaab, a militant group with ties to al Qaeda has attracted foreign fighters from around the world, including the United States, and has effectively sidelined Somalia’s fragile Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, in most of the southern areas of Somalia. The TFG came to power in 2004 with the backing of the African Union, United Nations, and the U.S., but now only controls a handful of blocks in the capital city.
Civilians are not only caught in the crossfire between Shabaab and government-aligned forces; they are often targeted. Numerous groups have documented these attacks, including Amnesty International which brought attention to the problem in a report issued just last week.
Yesterday’s protest was a bold expression of disgust for Shabaab’s tactics. In particular, people gathered to protest the desecration by Shabaab of the tombs of seven revered Sufi clerics, who represented a more moderate form of Islam than the Shabaab seeks to impose.
In a related development, the prominent Sufi group Ahlu Sunna signed a power-sharing agreement with the TFG last week, pledging that "together, we are going to eliminate radical Islamists from the country.” Ahlu Sunna is one of the strongest forces battling Shabaab and has controlled parts of the central Somalia since late 2008.
Amy Doherty contributed to this post.