August 23, 2006


Sharia Law for Buccaneers: Somalia's Islamist militia has taken control of a major base of piracy north of Mogadishu. The waters off the Horn of Africa has long been a dangerous region for shipping. Now, the militants said they will put an end to the seaborne threat. (Der Spiegel, 8/23/06)

The West may have the better navy -- outfitted with all the newest high-tech toys -- but Islamist militias in Somalia seem to have the upper hand battling piracy. Last week, Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which has spent months consolidating control over the southern part of the country, moved up the coast and took control of a town widely considered to be a base for piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.

"The actions of the pirates were unlawful, unacceptable and un-Islamic," Sheikh Said Ali, an ICU official, told the AFP news agency. "Anybody suspected of aiding pirates or being among them will be punished according to Sharia law."

The pirates, belonging to at least four different groups and based largely out of the town of Haradere some 400 kilometers north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, had made the waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa some of the most dangerous in the world. Since March of 2005, the International Maritime Bureau has recorded 41 attempted seizures off the Somali coast -- with pirates being successful in 19 cases within almost the same time period according to the United Nations. Along with waters near Bangladesh and Indonesia, the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia ranks as one of the world's regions most prone to attacks by pirates. [...]

The move to reign in piracy along the Somali coast has been welcomed by the UN World Food Program. Pirates had disrupted UN aid shipments to the country on more than one occasion and tradesmen had largely ceased doing business in the affected areas. According to the WFP, more than 1.4 million Somalis are suffering from hunger as a result of draught.

By providing security where none previously existed they shrink the Gap, even if such is not necessarily their intent.

The 'New Middle East' Bush Is Resisting (Saad Eddin Ibrahim, August 23, 2006, Washington Post)

[P]resident Bush made something of a comeback in the first year of his second term. He shifted his foreign policy rhetoric from a "war on terrorism" to a war of ideas and a struggle for liberty and democracy. Through much of 2005 it looked as if the Middle East might finally have its long-overdue spring of freedom. Lebanon forged a Cedar Revolution, triggered by the assassination of its popular former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election in 50 years. So did Palestine and Iraq, despite harsh conditions of occupation. Qatar and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf continued their steady evolution into constitutional monarchies. Even Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections.

But there was more. Hamas mobilized candidates and popular campaigns to win a plurality in Palestinian legislative elections and form a new government. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt achieved similar electoral successes. And with these developments, a sudden chill fell over Washington and other Western capitals.

Instead of welcoming these particular elected officials into the newly emerging democratic fold, Washington began a cold war on Muslim democrats. [...]

According to the preliminary results of a recent public opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center, Hezbollah's action garnered 75 percent approval, and Nasrallah led a list of 30 regional public figures ranked by perceived importance. He appears on 82 percent of responses, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (73 percent), Khaled Meshal of Hamas (60 percent), Osama bin Laden (52 percent) and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (45 percent).

The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively.

None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures. While subject to future fluctuations, these Egyptian findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept. They are, at best, ambivalent about the fanatical Islamists of the bin Laden variety. More mainstream Islamists with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide are the most likely actors in building a new Middle East. In fact, they are already doing so through the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the similarly named PJD in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and, yes, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

These groups, parties and movements are not inimical to democracy. They have accepted electoral systems and practiced electoral politics, probably too well for Washington's taste. Whether we like it or not, these are the facts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2006 8:44 AM

Marwan Barghouti is hardly a prisoner of 'conscience'.

Posted by: ratbert at August 23, 2006 3:09 PM

But he is the next leader of Palestine. If he were more than a political prisoner they'd whack him.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 3:15 PM

OK, let's all run out and celebrate two parties electoral success based on the insane platform, played to an insane electorate, "Destroy Israel and all Jews in the ME"!
Rule of Law gives validity to elections,if the law is unredeemingly biased, see mid-30's Germany, elections are meaningless excersizes.
BTW, the only thing holding your idealized Turkey together is a secular military, which, were it to become Islamisized, Shar'ia law would be back overnite.

Posted by: Mike Daley at August 23, 2006 11:49 PM

Likud routinely runs on the notion of a greater Israel that precludes Palestine and South Lebanon. Is Israel no a healthy democracy?

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 11:55 PM